April 11, 2011

Death by Taxes. ~ James MacAdam

Photo: laverru

Where is your tax money going?

My wife and I finished our taxes this week. We got married in 2010, and received a several hundred dollar tax penalty. Awesome. Whether you are writing a check to Uncle Sam this April, or receiving a “refund” (an interest-free loan you provided to the government), taxes suck. As the saying goes, death and taxes are the few things in life we can reliably count on.

Taxes suck on one level because it can be difficult to see their tangible benefit. Sure, they pay for the highways we drive on, but they also go to things (here in Arizona) like an agency whose sole job is to try to get people to film movies in our state. Our state legislators are also busy at work passing important legislations like liberalizing gun laws, requiring birth certificates for Presidential candidates, and generally outlawing brownness—but I digress. Oh yeah, and 54% of your and my federal taxes go directly to the military.

Photo: Russell Trow

For the thinking, feeling person, tax season is a time of reckoning. It is a time to acknowledge responsibility—yes, we are paying for the killing of human beings, among other things.

It is also a time for another reality check: whether we like it or not, we are part of a nation.

Many of us engage in various practices to connect with something bigger than ourselves (the “community,” Spirit, whatever), while ignoring—or at least holding at arm’s length—the often inconvenient fact that we are citizens of a country. We may be “global citizens,” or islands of self-determination in our own minds, but we (Americans) are also part of a big, honking, military-industrial, Tea Party-to-Ralph Nader nation. As citizens of that nation, we have a responsibility to own our part in it.

Taking the responsibility of citizenship doesn’t have to involve writing your Senator futile letters or sending care packages to the troops. I have a friend who has been a war tax resister for years, which means that he has refused to support war with his money, and so does not pay taxes. He has taken that money and donated it instead to what he sees as good causes, like local charities and international peace organizations.

I greatly admire the personal sacrifice he has made to live in integrity with his values—he’s not been able to have any assets or credit, as they are subject to seizure by the government. Whether or not we see this particular strategy as useful, imagine what the country might be like if we all put this much conscious consideration into our roles as American citizens.

This Tax Day, may we take a moment to contemplate our part in the national “we.” May we remember that civic responsibility is not something we assume, it is something we inherently have. Whether as resisters, activists, participants, abstainers, or complainers, we are always creating a nation that has very real effects in people’s lives, here and around the world. Amid our “media diets,” political disgust, and sense of helplessness as but one individual in a country of 300 million, may we transcend our limited self-senses to contribute to something larger than ourselves.


James MacAdam is a Renaissance Dude. He spends much of his time working with NGO Watershed Management Group to green cities across the Southwest U.S. He has studied widely and deeply across various spiritual traditions including yoga and Zen, is a (currently inactive) certified Anusara Yoga instructor, and has found major health challenges to be one of his most powerful teachers. He is a tree-hugging nature buff. James writes a monthly column with an integral perspective on sustainability and the green movement, entitled “Thinking Beyond Green” for The New Southwest. Links to his most recent columns are here. James lives with his wife Rachel and their miniature poodle Teddy in Tucson, Arizona. You can find him on twitter, facebook, and on his blog.

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