Letters

|

ZEN QUESTIONED

The appearance of James Chesher's Review of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in REASON (March) is, to me at least, puzzling. While it is not my intention to read anyone out of the movement, or advocate a rigid party line, some positions are simply too outrageous to pass over without comment. Chesher's review is one such.

To begin, there is the (implicit) denial of objective reality, a denial so absurd as to be hardly worthy of the dignity of critical discussion, if were it not for the great seductive powers of this Venus Fly-Trap of the mind. Here is Chesher quoting Pirsig, apparently approvingly ("Sometimes his observations are sharp-edged and critical; at other times, almost fluid, written with the pen of a poet"). His quotes follow:

Those Indians and medieval men were just as intelligent as we are, but the context in which they thought was completely different. Within that context of thought, ghosts and spirits are quite as real as atoms, particles, photons and quants are to a modern man…Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know. (Page 32 of Zen, etc.)

What is essential to understand at this point is that until now there was no such thing as mind and matter, subject and object, form and substance. Those distinctions are just dialectical inventions that came later, (p. 367)

And Chesher himself: "The reader will definitely be challenged, particularly by the philosophical twists and turns that haunt Phaedrus, who does his best to overturn what he takes to be our greatest intellectual obstacle—the dualistic world view bequeathed by Aristotle."

Well, I do not feel challenged by this claptrap, and I do not find Aristotle's philosophy, particularly his logic, an obstacle to anything but confusion, error and absurdity. On the contrary, Aristotle's logic is what has given Western thought its distinctive impetus out of the swamp of Oriental death-worship and mysticism.

Chesher does not make matters any better merely by pointing out that Aristotle is not an "ogre," a back-handed compliment if ever there was one.

Readers interested in a more thorough discussion of what I call "magical thinking," which is what I take Pirsig's world view to be, are referred to my upcoming article in REASON, "The Crock in the Cosmic Egg."

George Morrone
Warminster, PA

Mr. Chesher replies: I'm greatly relieved that Mr. Morrone does not intend to read me out of the movement. As for his claim that I deny objective reality by approving of Pirsig's observations, let's look at the facts. In the first quote, Pirsig is making a conceptual claim about context. His underlying point is not so much that ghosts and spirits are real, as that atoms, particles, photons, and the like are not. Rather, these are theoretical constructs, and we make nearly as serious a mistake philosophically to take them as real as if we took ghosts to be real. Consider the mistake some philosophers made shortly after the turn of the century when they argued that since a table is made of atoms and mostly empty space, the table is mostly empty space, not really solid. Now this is claptrap and a denial of objective reality. Similarly with mind, matter, subject, object, etc. We can carve the world out in this fashion if we wish, and there are contexts in which it makes perfectly good sense to do so. But just try to establish as philosophically sound, regardless of context, that the "objective world" is neatly and irreversibly divisible into mind on the one hand, matter on the other, form on the one hand, substance on the other. Neither the world nor the language work that way.

Put simply, one does not have to accept atomic physics as the final explanation, or to accept atoms as real in order to affirm objective reality. That would be taking a rigid party line indeed.

I look forward to Mr. Morrone's upcoming article. No doubt it will give me the opportunity to get in print once more.

APRIL FEEDBACK

Two notes of special appreciation are due for your excellent April issue.

First, you were wise to include David Bergland's "The Risks of Tax Resistance" as a caution to many who might otherwise be unaware of the futility of this strategy.

Contrary to what is unfortunately purveyed by otherwise correct and well-intentioned spokesmen—Rene Baxter being a conspicuous example—it is next to impossible today for a person to attack successfully the substantive content or issues in an existing statute on the books, particularly in a lower court, before judge or jury. All tax resisters and unorthodox medical practitioners have found this out to their sorrow: even if they get a jury trial the judge will not allow the jury to consider a constitutional argument based on philosophical principles, however accurately stated, one like our Founding Fathers were accustomed to hearing win in court. Anyone who has read Spooner's Essay on Trial by Jury knows that there is little or no chance for a natural law argument to overturn a statist statute today. Resisters will exhaust their procedural due process remedies and the boot of the tyrant will fall. One would hope they would stop wasting their time and resources and concentrate on re-educating the public about the nature of justice and why there is so little of it today.

Murray Rothbard is to be thanked for exposing the U.S. support given to the phony "pro-Western" factions in Angola. The presence of the Soviet-backed M.P.L.A. only gave our government the excuse to fuel the forces under Communist Holden Roberto. The fate of Angola would have been the same either way. Rothbard was a bit amiss by referring to Roberto's record in the early 1960's as one of "mass rapes against Portuguese women in northern Angola." What began under his leadership on the morning on March 15, 1961, was the killing and dismembering of a thousand whites and about eight thousand blacks. At least Rothbard was right about one particular "cold war" historical matter, the fact that "there is not a dime's worth of difference between any of the three factions." In fact, before being sent in 1960 to Moscow, Prague, and Leipzig, for Soviet training in guerrilla warfare, Roberto had formed the Angola People's Union, which absorbed the Angola Communist party. (See: Reader's Digest, November, 1961; New York Times, March 20, 1961, p. 3; and Bernardo Teixeira, The Fabric of Terror, New York: Devin-Adair, 1965.)

Bill Mcllhany
Newport Beach, CA

S. S. RESISTANCE

It would appear that the April issue is almost a one-firm issue, as 50 percent of the lead articles originated in the same law firm. Tsk. Members of the same firm tend to use each others' research, and hence tend to come up with similar approaches.

I should point out that Mr. Bergland's assertion that the benefits of Social(ist) (In)security exemption are available to the Amish alone is simply not true. In fact, there is a very strong case to be made that they are generally available to anyone who objects to government insurance programs. No case of a non-Amish filing exemption has ever been brought to the Supreme Court, and in one case, the IRS has simply failed to prosecute, thereby allowing the self-exemptee to walk away. He is still not paying.

The case that exemption is generally available is based on close parallels to Conscientious Objector cases in the draft. The original law made C.O. status available only to Quakers, but in Seeger v. U.S., the court held that this rule established a religion, and ruled that C.O. status was available to all. In Welch v. U.S., the court held that C.O. status was available to those who objected to a particular war, not just to war in general: i.e., you didn't have to be a pacifist in order to claim C.O. status.

I am surprised that neither Bergland nor Martin mentioned one of the best defenses in a criminal case (also a good, but not great, defense in civil cases): the utter confusion of the tax codes. To illustrate; in Bersten v. U.S., the 5th Circuit Court observed that the IRS code is so complicated that even the lawyers don't know it. In U.S. v. Martin, Martin failed to file because he read on the Form 1040, "Attach check here and mail in," and assumed that that meant that he was required to send the payment in with the return. Since he didn't have enough money in his checking account, he didn't send in the return on time. The 7th Circuit upheld him.

No, come to think of it, I shouldn't be surprised that neither Bergland nor Martin mentioned this. The I RS law is so damned complicated that the lawyers don't know it. Neither do the bureaucrats, and therein lies our advantage: we have to use their ignorance on them.

Charles Curley
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Bergland replies: It appears that Mr. Curley missed the point and purpose of my article. In particular, if he will reread the portion on the Social Security exemption, he will note that I do comment on the unconstitutionality of the present law. I hasten to assure Mr. Curley and anyone else who is interested that I am fully aware of the constitutional arguments for broadening the religious exemption from Social Security taxes from its present limited statutory status to include anyone who desires exemption on principled philosophical grounds. The point of my article is that under the present statutory scheme, anyone who applies for the exemption who does not meet the very narrow statutory requirements, will have his request for exemption denied. It will then be up to the individual involved to take the challenge to the courts himself. What one can do in this regard is largely determined by whether one is an employee (whose employer is obligated to withhold the Social Security tax) or whether one is self-employed so that he can refuse to pay and make the government come after him. The latter individual is in a better position to make the constitutional challenge with his money in his own pocket. More power to him. The purpose of my article was to make sure that such individuals understand the very considerable risk of criminal prosecution. As a legal counselor I would not want to advise a person to violate the terms of a criminal statute even though I thought the statute was unconstitutional. If Mr. Curley wants to advise someone to do so, perhaps he should do it himself first, to demonstrate how confident he is of his own ability to predict the outcome.

Mr. Curley's suggestion that the complexity of the tax laws is a worthwhile defense to criminal prosecution for violating the tax laws is another piece of advice that I would not recommend to anyone whose friendship I value. Most courts still follow the adage that "ignorance of the law is no excuse," even the unreasonably complex tax laws. One must remember that the crimes under the tax law are not that complex or numerous, e.g., willful failure to file, filing false information, failure to provide information, etc. Although I have not specifically researched the point, I feel reasonably confident that damn near every defendant criminally prosecuted under the tax laws has included as part of his defense an argument based on his ability to understand his obligations. In fact, one is better off if he seeks advice of counsel, violates the law, and then argues that he thought he was okay because he acted on advice of counsel. The Court's view is that the taxpayer has the obligation to inform himself and if he makes such an effort, he will be dealt with more leniently.

I would like to conclude by saying that in my experience, most tax lawyers and accountants are not terribly imaginative when it comes to taking on the tax laws in an aggressive manner. Many good ideas have come from laymen who could afford the luxury of plunging ahead in ignorance of the full complexity of the government bramble bush. For one, I am grateful for any good idea regardless of its source, particularly if it helps to undermine the tax extraction system. However, I still maintain that circumspection is good advice and when it comes to the tax laws, most laymen are not sufficiently circumspect.

PRO-NATALISM

The anti-reproduction crusading of Ellen Peck ("Spotlight," April) may be commendable inasmuch as it may allow for a more free choice among individuals as to whether to have children or not, but the results of such successful campaigns will be so noxious that I am moved to write and raise a dissenting voice.

There is very little doubt that Peck's exhortations not to reproduce are popular today, especially among the more educated of our population: in America today we are rapidly approaching that demographic nirvana of "zero population growth;" the idea of having children at all is under heavy attack, and any joy in having and raising is denigrated to the point of non-existence.

In the meantime, the rest of the world's population is virtually exploding at an increasing rate; demographers tell us that the point where mass famine and destruction can be avoided in the latter part of this century has already passed, and the areas of the world where this destructive trend is occurring least are among the world's most advanced and educated societies, such as Western Europe. America can be seen as a microcosm of this trend: while the educated classes—that is, the classes that provide the thinkers, the producers, those who "get things done" in our society—drastically decrease their reproduction rate, guess who is reproducing at a much higher rate? You guessed it, the portions of the population that don't "produce," don't read and don't take part in the fashionable anti-reproduction crusades of the upper classes.

It doesn't take a group of socially conscious academics to see what the results of such demographic changes will be. If we are willing to grant that any intelligence or problem-solving abilities are genetically inheritable at all, the result will be a net decrease in a civilization's ability to successfully meet and solve its problems. And in the age of the "global village," the problems of "civilizations" are the problems of the entire earth. Yet, as a result of Peck's and others' fashionable crusades against reproduction—effective almost exclusively among the more productive segments of society—we may well be committing a kind of genetic suicide, a retrogression in our species' ability to intelligently cope with existence.

I also find the assertion that our society condemns childlessness laughable, especially among the intelligentsia. I can only wonder where the author of "Spotlight" was getting her or his information. One can readily understand newspaper carriers of Peck's advice-to-teenagers columns dropping her exhortations: advising open thought as to whether to reproduce is one thing; urging young teenagers affirmatively not to reproduce is totally different, and one-sided. In addition, if our society is so "pro-natally" oriented, why the best-selling status of her anti-reproduction book, The Baby Trap?

In fact, in the April 1976 issue of Harper's Magazine, author Michael Novak perceptively observes that, "Choosing to have a family used to be uninteresting. It is, today, an act of intelligence and courage. To love family life, to see in family life the most potent moral, intellectual, and political cell in the body politic is to be marked today as a heretic."

What? Could it be that today, in actuality, choosing to have children and a family brings forth reactions exactly the opposite from those postulated by the last REASON "Spotlight"? Yes, in fact, it could be. It is.

Novak goes on to analyze the reason for this anti-natal attitude among the current American intelligentsia: "At an advanced state capitalism imparts enormous centrifugal forces to the souls of those who have the most internalized its values; and these forces shear marriages and families apart.

"To insist, in the face of such forces, that marriage and family still express our highest moral ideals, is to awaken hostility and opposition."

Whether we care to admit it or not, these current societal attitudes have extreme import for libertarians. Although Novak can hardly be termed a libertarian, he places the point of a sharp analytical knife squarely on the center of the question, for libertarians: "It is difficult to believe that the state is a better instrument for satisfying such human needs than the family…Millions of dollars are spent on the creation of a larger and larger state apparatus. Resources are systematically taken from the family. Is that an accident? One by one, all centers of resistance to the state are being crushed, including the strongest, family. The trend does not augur well for our liberties."

Indeed, it seems clear that the incubational center of opposition to the State is the family: parents begetting children and inculcating them with values in diametrical opposition to those acceptable to the State. Thus, the family may turn out to be the last and strongest institutional bastion of anti-statism, one so important that in its absence opposition to Big Brother will eventually die out.

Do we want that? Are we willing to accept the enjoyable hedonism urged upon us by modern post-industrial society along with the sure knowledge that the idea of freedom and opposition to the Omnipotent State will die? Will we complacently watch such opposition wither on the vine of our own perceived enjoyment of "freedom"—freedom from nurturing the generation that must carry the torch one lap farther?

If that be so, live with it. I propose not to let this happen. I intend someday to bear, nurture and socialize my own children into a mold that holds individual freedom and responsibility for one's own existence as the highest of ideals. This, to me, is obviously the only hope for the future. And for future generations.

Timothy Condon
Gainesville, FL

BREADTH OF INTEREST

This is just a short note to heartily support Ms. Winokur who calls for more breadth in her letter in the April issue.

For my part, I would like to see diminished coverage of the activities of the Libertarian Party, whose activities strike me as naive, self-serving, boring. Look out, Libertarians! Like any special-interest group, the hustlers can and will find you easy targets!

With any special-interest and/or idealistic group, all they have to do is make the proper noises to gain credibility. ("Liz Carmichel" and the "20th Century Motor Works" comes to mind.) I must admit that some of the writings of a few of the leaders of the LP have that sort of superficial gloss that resembles the output of individuals that are politicians first and libertarians second.

Last, I must cast my vote in sympathy with readers Dunn and Caldwell in their condemnation of the "You can profit from the coming mideast war" ad. I have read the ad, and it belongs in Soldiers of Fortune magazine rather than REASON. Your faith in libertarian human nature as expressed in your reply does not match mine. I think there will be a tendency for any individual to encourage, whenever possible, any situation upon which he makes a profit. This is known as "warmongering." I have mongered a little myself over the last ten years, and made a lot of money from, for example, the Vietnam conflict. I must admit, from what I have seen, profiting from human misery does not have beneficial effects on the outlook of anyone. (One does not have to sell arms to support a war—one could vote for pro-war candidates, for instance, or one could support pro-war economic policies, etc.)

Rev. E. John DeHaven
Wayzata, MN

ROTHBARD VERSUS GREENSPAN

When Richard Nixon appointed Objectivist Alan Greenspan chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in July 1974, Murray Rothbard penned a confident denunciation in advance (REASON, Sept. 1974). He predicted Greenspan would have no "appreciable free-market effect on government policy," but would end up defending statist measures from conservative and libertarian critics. Using the behavior of Nixon's earlier economists as an example, Rothbard declared the whole strategy of getting libertarians into positions of power a failure, and called instead for mass action from the bottom. "It will be instructive for all of us to keep close tabs on Greenspan in high office," he wrote.

It has been. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 31 that Greenspan "has become the top economic policy adviser in the Ford Administration…and one of the most influential chairmen in the council's 30-year history." It credited Greenspan with "successfully urging" Ford to veto a $6.2 billion public-works law, with successfully opposing Rockefeller's plans for national health insurance, and for trying, but failing, to get Ford to veto the extension of price controls on oil.

Naturally, Greenspan didn't achieve any basic libertarian reforms in the economy, nor could he be expected to. But if he convinced Ford to block the measures listed by the Journal, then he's done a lot more immediately to change public policy than any other libertarian alive, including Murray Rothbard.

Rothbard ought to re-evaluate his strategy, which rules out a course of action Greenspan has made pay practical dividends. Perhaps also he should re-evaluate the tendency in his column to predict disasters and to crow estatically when they happen. At least he ought to own up that he was wrong about Alan Greenspan.

Bruce Ramsey
Berkeley, CA

LIBERTARIAN PARTY ISSUES

Precisely because REASON is NOT a publication of the Libertarian Party and has so far aired all views represented within the LP, I want to suggest the following.

I believe it would be a great service to all libertarians to dedicate one entire issue of REASON to the various controversies at present under discussion. Most of us are not as aware of these issues as we would like to be, and I for one am left with an uneasy feeling that I would gladly be rid of. To put it simply: the Libertarian Party qua political organization is simply not viable, regardless of the valuable effort put forth by many of its members. I believe this is primarily due to a lack of definition, or to the need many of its members feel to avoid internal confrontation. Thus, no real issues can be pursued, and no issues can be really pursued. To be viable, a political party must make its imprint on the society within which it has chosen to operate. To make an imprint, it must be able to speak out and act on the issues of the day, with the full support of its membership. This is especially true for a "party of principle."

Principles that can only be expressed in philosophical terms are quite useless in the political arena. We must start addressing ourselves to the solutions to those problems on which we have a principled stand, or abandon the pretense of being a political party, and revert to a debating society. Note that there is not a thing wrong with a debating society—but it is not a political party.

I know that the decision to "go political" was not an easy one within the libertarian movement. But it was made. So let us either go political without pulling punches, or let's clean house and have the theoreticians go one way and those that like political action another. They can help and complement each other, they need not be antagonists. But they cannot function competently within the same framework. Whether we talk about anarchists and limited government advocates, or activists and "purists" is in no way relevant. But I believe that they must part company and get out of each other's way if both are to function to the best of their considerable ability. If we are to change society, it is imperative that we show the man on the street, the voter, why it is to his or her advantage to vote for us. To accomplish this, we must know how our philosophy will affect reality, and hence his or her life. As long as we cannot reach that level, we are wasting our and their time. Which in our own words is what every other political party is doing. I welcome the readers' comments.

Carlos Henkel
Hollywood, CA

SUDETENLAND QUESTIONS

Editor Machan tells us that he believes that America is not quite as bad as some of the other nations and asks "Am I wrong?" I think he's right. In smashing icons, the revisionist historian must avoid the temptation to cast and raise icons of his own. He should strive for a balanced account. Instead we often find two biased histories standing like two lawyers' briefs with only a pretense of objectivity.

App's "Sudeten German Tragedy" is an example. The Sudeten mountains were heavily fortified and were the key to the Czechoslovakian defense against Germany. Without them Czechoslovakia was at the mercy of Germany. Benes resigned three days after the Munich pact and four months later Hitler dissolved Czechoslovakia, thereby violating the Munich pact and revealing that he had lied when he said that he sought hegemony over Germans only.

Chamberlain's act was a violation of the tripartate treaty between France, Britain and Czechoslovakia and must have been an act of desperation rather than of belated justice. He was obviously buying time so that Britain could re-arm. The British aircraft industry, however belatedly, was so mobilized for war that he flew to Munich in an American-made Lockheed plane.

M.D. Isely
Trona, CA

Dr. App replies: Mr. Isely impugns the Munich Pact because it deprived Czechoslovakia of "The Sudeten Mountains…and the key to Czechoslovakian defense against Germany" and because four months later Hitler "dissolved Czechoslovakia."

Hitler's converting Bohemia and Moravia into a "Protectorate" is irrelevant to the right or wrong of the Munich pact, as little as Moscow's making a Captive Nation out of Czechoslovakia in 1948 invalidates the propriety of its liberation from Germany in 1945 by the Western Allies. Nor did Hitler annex these provinces; he placed them in a "Protectorate" to prevent what happened to them in 1948!

But the real thrust of Mr. Isely's letter is his invalidating the Munich Pact because the Sudeten Mountains constituted an important defense line for the Czechs. In trying to base boundaries on favorable lines of defense, Mr. Isely in effect throws international relations back to the jungle of might makes right.

If a nation is justified in taking or keeping any territory it deems most easily defensible, a strong enough nation could soon claim the whole world. The Sudeten Mountains are as much of a defense line for Germany against the Slavs as for the Czechs against the Germans. The Soviet-Russians now claim them thus. If Mr. Isely's argument holds, they can one day similarly claim the Rhine, and thereafter the Atlantic!

No, what is defensible may not properly and justly determine boundaries, but only the wish of the rightful inhabitants. The wish of the inhabitants of the Sudetenland for over 700 years was union with Austria and Germany. They got it belatedly—by twenty years—in the Munich Pact.

Advertisement