Steve G.

Boycott the Census

In First Amendment, Humor, Protest, US Government on March 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm

When the founders drafted the U.S. Constitution, they included the sentence, “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” Nevertheless, the actual census mailed out by the federal state (at the tax-payer expense) often includes more questions than simply, “How many people live in your household?”

I first began thinking about the census a few years ago while talking to the perennial Libertarian candidate Lorenzo Gaztañaga. I was helping the Libertarian Party of Maryland at a fair, and a man (whose name I do not recall) had been asking me about the Green candidate for U.S. Senate, Kevin Zeese. This man told me that he didn’t want to vote for the Republican candidate Michael Steel because Steele might then go on to become President. I looked at him with obvious confusion on my face, to which the man responded, “We must keep the White House white.” I turned away from the man with disgust and walked back under the tent we had set up. When Gaztañaga got back, I told him about the incident, and Mr. Gaztañaga said to me, “Good for you. Good for you.” Presently, he told me that when he and his wife (who is currently running for Governor here in Maryland) filled out their 2000 census, they refused to give a racial identity. Instead, they wrote in “HUMAN,” since they recognised themselves simply as members of the human race. I loved this idea, and vowed that I would do the same from there on out.

Well, the 2010 census has arrived! And, boy, am I excited! Why? Because this is the first of many census questionnaire that I shall be boycotting.

Interestingly, I have heard many people tell that they will not include any information about race, since it’s “none of the government’s damn business.” Naturally, I agree. But, honestly, I don’t see what business it is of the government as to how old I am, either, or with how many people I live.

So I would simply recommend, boycott the census. This is a very simple form of civil disobedience, since all it requires you to do is to go about your day normally. There’s no reason you should have to waste even a second on the census if you don’t actually want to. Despite government propaganda, the world will not come to a screeching hault if they don’t have your name, age, date of birth, gender, and place of residence. Remember, you are not their slave; the courts have repeatedly said that the government doesn’t owe you anything, so it stands to reason that you cannot possibly owe it anything, either.

Of course, the government threatens to steal $100 from you should you fail to fill out the census (and $500 should you present false information), however I have been informed that punishment for failure to respond is not usually enforced. Naturally, one must access the risks for herself.

And, naturally, since I believe one should live by what she or he preaches, I’m following my own advice. I actually did fill out the census, but only to inform the central state that I do not consider many statistical data to be any of its business. You can see my census answers here.

Finally, even though the return envelope had one of those pre-paid labels on it, I have opted to place a stamp on the envelope. It’s my general understanding that those who do not include their own stamps will have their mail paid for by the Census Bureau, which of course gets “its” money in turn from innocent tax-payers. Since I did not want to see tax-payers have to shell out forty-four cents on my behalf, I opted to spend my own forty-four cents in this act of civil disobedience.

—Alexander S. Peak

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  1. I refuse to participate with the census because as a Gay Man–I have no rights in the United States. My partner and I have been together for almost 21 years–longer than most straight marriages–and yet because of the Consensus of Bigots; we are just two fags. I do not sanction the War on Iraq, approve of giving corporate bailouts and being the slave of a government that violates HUMAN RIGHTS.

    Besides–they know who we are. They have our data. They have our birth dates, SSN, telephone numbers, etc.

  2. Are you stupid? You have to be stupid. You equated Civil Disobedience with not filling out a piece of paper. You want people to boycott the census as a form of Civil Disobedience. How incredibly naive is that? Next week you’ll have us boycotting turn signals, and traffic lights.

    Grow up.

  3. Dear Justin,

    It is obvious you are a very mature person, and I thank you for your articulate replies. Please allow me to answer your questions to the best of my ability.

    You ask, “Are you stupid?”

    This is a very important question, and I’m glad you asked it. The answer, as far as I can ascertain, is no. Although stupidity is certainly a relative condition, and thus we are without any inherently objective criteria for the constitution of “stupidity” as an empirical condition, we do have certain tests (e.g. I.Q. tests) to gather some a general idea of where one might fall on a spectrum of intelligence (or, perhaps more specifically, problem-solving) relative to others taking the same test.

    Unfortunately, I have, to date, never taken a professionally-administered I.Q. test. Thus, as far as I.Q. testing is concerned, all I have to go by are Internet-based tests I have in the past taken. And while these Internet-based I.Q. tests have identified me as possessing a rather superior intelligence, I do not believe we can regard these Internet-based tests as necessarily accurate, for multiple reasons not worth going into here. Thus, I cannot give you at this time a measure of my I.Q. as derived from a professionally-administered test.

    I could, however, provide grades and other education-based data I have received over the years. For example, I could testify that I will be receiving my BS in Political Science in May. But this alone does not guarantee intelligence, for it’s not impossible that I have cheated my entire way from kindergarten through college.

    And this brings us to your next sentence:

    “You have to be stupid.”

    It’s obvious that you are a very mature, very grown-up individual. I am also sure you’re issuing this comment in order to provide constructive criticism, rather than issuing it simply as argumentum ad hominem. After all, (1) you must be a smart man (for otherwise you would not risk calling others stupid), and (2) as a smart man, you would recognise that ad hominem arguments are invalid. Therefore, (3) it must be that your motivation is merely benign: you want to help me become less stupid, and you recognise that in order to help a person eliminate something problematic in her or his life, she or he must first recognise the problem (which is, in my case, my latent stupidity).

    You do not merely speculate that I might be stupid, but instead explicitly declare that I have to be. Although you provide no evidence of this, I’m sure you have it, for otherwise you would not have issued such a blunt claim. Now that I recognise my own stupidity, I can take steps to eradicate it, or to eradicate my own existence should it be discovered that eradication of the stupidity itself is impossible.

    I thank you for bringing this to my attention. It was a very mature and thoughtful thing to do. I am forever grateful to you for this information.

    Next you write, “You equated Civil Disobedience with not filling out a piece of paper.”

    More accurately, I described the refusal to comply with the U. S. Census Bureau as a form of civil disobedience. And, by definition, it is. Would you disagree, and if so, what is the basis of your disagreement?

    Following this, you add, “You want people to boycott the census as a form of Civil Disobedience.”

    Well, my goal is two-fold.

    (1) I want people to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.

    Now you may ask, “Why nonviolent?” I say nonviolent because I believe that Joe Stack-type retaliation will not further the liberty movement, but will instead simply give the state apparatus further excuses to provide for its own security at the expense of the natural, inalienable, innate rights of its subjects.

    You may also ask, “Why civil disobedience?” This is a bit trickier to explain, since so many falsely assume that law comes from the state. But this ignores the classical liberal tradition of natural law, which so invigorated the thought of revolutionaries like Jefferson and Paine.

    Naturally, one who is consistent must recognise, as Lysander Spooner did, that if natural law and natural justice are real, then these things must be superior to all man-made law. Thus, all man-made laws in conflict with natural law are inherently unjust, inherently criminal. Likewise, all man-made laws in concert with natural law are redundant. If statutory law were confined to reinforcement of the precepts of natural law, then it would be a very benign thing; but because states regularly violate natural law and infringe upon natural rights, they tend in actual fact to be rather dangerous instruments.

    (Let’s say, in the contrary, that you believe natural justice and natural law to be fictitious. Then, as Spooner also argues, it would stand to reason that you would have no reason to advocate any system of statist control whatsoever. After all, people only argue for the existence of states as a means of ensuring justice. But if justice is a fiction, it cannot be brought into existence by legislative fiat, and all government whatsoever would be pointless. But it must be noted that I would not agree with you if you take the stance that natural law and natural justice do not exist. The reason why I believe in natural law is a bit complicated and not worth going into currently. I also do not intend to go into any detail on the mechanism by which we can figure out what natural law says concerning legitimate versus illegitimate human action, but I can point you toward certain books, such as The Ethics of Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard.)

    In order to promote natural justice and to fight against the criminal impulses of the state apparatus, an effective tool would be to encourage the development of a culture in which civilians do not stand idly by as infringements upon rights take place, in which civilians actively defy all edicts that do not inherently promote natural law and natural justice. (Even if you do not believe in natural law and natural justice, hopefully you can recognise the utility in pretending they exist in order to promote the creation of a society founded on voluntary interaction.) If we had mass civil disobedience, the state apparatus would be incapable of enforcing its arbitrary and liberticidal edicts and regulations. What would the government (or private security firms) be able to enforce? Only those things that people collectively believe it should enforce, such as prohibitions on murder, rape, and theft.

    (2) I want people to boycott the census.

    Even if it were not the case that refusal to comply with the U. S. Census Bureau were an act of civil disobedience, I would still want people to refuse to comply for entirely independent reasons. It just so happens that this second objective (promoting the boycott of the census) happens to also coincide with my first objective (promoting civil disobedience).

    A reason to promote the boycotting of the census, fully independent of the fact that such a boycott constitutes an example of civil disobedience, is that the census is a liability to those who do comply. Another such reason is that it is extremely costly.

    Although the federal state continues to promise that census information is fully protected, it also continues to ignore this promise and to share the information it collects with other agencies. According to Wendy McElroy, census information has been used over the years to loot farms, to go after innocent draft-dodgers, to force innocent Americans of Japanese descent into internment camps, to go after innocent tax-evaders, and even to target Muslims living in America in 2003.

    According to the Chicago Tribune, many libertarians, undocumented immigrants, and Muslims are among those wary of government intrusion, and are declining to participate in the census process, despite the potential fines associated nonparticipation.

    You write, “How incredibly naive is that?”

    I assume this is a rhetorical question, implying that the position is “quite incredibly naive” as opposed to “not incredibly naive at all.”

    If the question were serious, I would respond as follow: “On a scale from zero to one hundred, I would say zero. It is zero percent incredibly naive.”

    But since you are likely asking the question rhetorically in order to imply that my position is “quite incredibly naive,” I am left scratching my head and wondering if you can please explain how, or in what way, my position is naive.

    It appears from the structure of your sentences that you are saying that boycotting the census is not actually a form of civil disobedience, and that I am “incredibly naive” to believe it is. But I fail entirely to understand in what sense it is not an act of civil disobedience.

    Perhaps you’re right about me being stupid, for if I were smarter, perhaps I would understand in what way(s) a census boycott is not an act of civil disobedience.

    I assume you’re not saying that the actual boycott itself is “incredibly naive,” for if that was your position, you would not have focused to the degree you did on the fact that I have described this boycott explicitly as an act of civil disobedience. (This is not to say, of course, that you don’t find the boycott itself to also be “incredibly naive,” but rather that if you do, you have provided absolutely no indication here of holding that view in addition.)

    A patiently await your response, your explanation as to why a Venn diagram would have the civil disobedience bubble and the census boycott bubble mutually exclusive from one another.

    Finally, you write, “Next week you’ll have us boycotting turn signals, and traffic lights.”

    And with this comment, you prove undeniably just how “stupid” I am.

    Clearly, I must be stupid, because I would have thought that my position on roads was that even on a completely unowned road within the “state of nature” (to borrow a term from Locke), what we could call the “rules of the road” would arise spontaneously. (For more on spontaneous order, read Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek.) I would have thought that I’d have argued that these rules (e.g., everyone drive on the right-hand side of the road) would arise spontaneously because people would recognise their utility, and because those who refuse to comply would (A) either die or (B) face lawsuits from others on the road whose lives they have taken or whose property they have damaged.

    I also thought I would have argued (as John Stossel argues) that private owners of roads provide a far better product to drivers, and at far better prices, than state-owned roads paid for through compulsory taxation. And I thought I would have argued that private road owners not only have a right to establish rules for their private property, but that they would tend to establish the best rules for the promotion of consumer demand in order to derive the greatest profit possible, and that consumers would typically have a demand for roads with some sort of rules. I would have even thought that I would have argued that consumers should be free to choose whether to boycott a given road company, as they wish, for having “too many” or “too few” rules.

    Lo and behold, I did not even know my own position. I now learn, thanks to you, that I was stupid and immature to believe these were my beliefs.

    You, my good sir, have been a huge asset to my political development. I am forever indebted to you teaching me, in a few sparse lines, the manifest folly of my ways. Hopefully, one day, I shall be as mature and enlightened as you, my wise teacher.

    Thank you for everything,
    Alex Peak

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