With Government, You've Already Lost

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September 30, 2008

It doesn't have to be anything as dramatic as being dragged into court on criminal charges, though that certainly qualifies. It might be a routine traffic stop, whether or not the cop issues you a fine. It might be a nastygram sent via the U.S. postal monopoly from the IRS . It may only be one of those absurd forms the U.S. Census Bureau mails to us every ten years. Any, and, or . . . you've already lost.

Bureaucrats, you see, produce nothing. They only consume the fruits of others taken at gunpoint. What they also consume is our time, which is irreplaceable. Let's look at a more concrete hypothetical example.

John Q. needs to conduct some quick business at the local bank this afternoon, and it's already 20 minutes of five. Further, John has to pick up his kids at the daycare center, as his wife, Jane, called him earlier to say that she'd be working late at the office, and wouldn't be able to make it on time. So, with his own work hours already over for the day, John makes a beeline straight from his employer's parking lot for downtown. The drive, even though John deliberately exceeds the posted speed limit by ten miles an hour, takes an equal number of minutes, and now things are right down to the wire.

He pulls into a space at curbside in front of the bank, darts from the car, and then spies the parking meter. Shooting it an exasperated glance, and still walking towards the bank entrance, he fumbles in his pocket for some change. He then remembers he'd spent the last of his coins this morning before work at the local country store, purchasing a newspaper and a doughnut. Needing only a scant few minutes to square away affairs with the bank, he ignores the meter, and sallies inside.

The bank teller is both courteous and expedient, as well as understanding. Folks are busy these days, she tells John with a smile, and he is far from the first customer she has assisted at the eleventh hour. Relieved, and glad to have taken care of loose ends, John thanks her, and exits the bank eight minutes later, smiling. For the moment.

There is a slip of paper tucked prominently under the driver's side windshield wiper on John's car. Smile slowly fading, he removes it, and has a look. It is a ticket ' a fine, in other words ' for the sum of five dollars, payable in full to the town in which John has parked his car and transacted his business. He glances around, hoping to spot the policeman or meter maid who issued the ticket (it is handwritten, and bears an illegible signature), but no dice. Whoever the busybody bureaucrat was who delivered this nasty little present, they are no longer in evidence.

Disgusted and disgruntled, John gets in his car and pulls away, tossing the ticket on the dashboard where it is at least slightly out of sight. Out of mind is another matter for John, however, and en route to the daycare center, he begins reviewing his options with respect to this latest incursion of government into his life and wallet.

He can, of course, contest the fine in court. This will, however, require missing some work hours, and this is hardly justifiable given the amount of the fine versus the money he will lose ' after all federal and state taxes, of course -- by being absent from his job. Further, he has little hope of winning such a case, given the language of the town ordinances, to say nothing of the fact that the district attorney, the judge, and the officer who issued the fine in the first place are all employed by the same institution purporting to impose the fine in the first place. So much for any prospect of a 'fair' trial. Then there is the time and aggravation involved in presenting his case to begin with to think about. John would far rather be spending time with his kids, his wife, reading, and trout fishing than poring over reams and reams of local traffic law.

As he drives, John ponders his other options, of which there are precisely two: He can simply write the check and pay the fine (eating the cost of both the check, and sufficient government postage to ensure it arrives in the hands of whatever nameless, faceless bureaucrat will deposit it into the town's coffers to boot), or simply ignore it altogether. Crumple it up and pitch it in the trash.

This is the most tempting of all three available alternatives, and pulling into the daycare center's parking lot (which, thankfully, is private property and bears no meters in evidence), John contemplates the benefits of such a course of action against the potential consequences.

It may well be that the whole incident will be forgotten; that somewhere in the bungling bureaucracy, the fine imposed upon John will be overlooked, deleted, or accidentally lost in the shuffle. This is a calculated risk, however. With 21st Century computer technology at their command, government bureaucrats are far less prone than in prior times to lose track of the records necessary to perpetuate kleptocracy. So if the fine is not so easily forgotten, where does this leave John?

Likely, he'd first receive a nastygram through the government postal monopoly (after all, they'll have his address from having recorded his license plate number ' read tax ID number), reminding him of his 'obligation' to pay the fine. Should he trash and ignore one or two of these friendly little 'reminders,' likely he'll receive a summons to local traffic court. Should he ignore that, his state-issued driver's license will be suspended, and a 'bench warrant' issued for his arrest. Meaning, of course, that they may not come to his house, but if he is pulled over by the fuzz anytime from here to the end of his life in his 'state' of residence, he'll be making a trip to jail. Unless, of course, he resists that arrest, in which case he can expect to be beaten, tased, or even shot for his egregious non-compliance with a costumed government 'official.' And if they do come to his house, even if it's years later (Note: the author recalls one such incident in Lewiston, Maine, in 1995, where a married woman with three children was handcuffed right on her front doorstep, hauled to jail, and forced to pay a $300 fine for failing to pay a parking ticket she received while a student at the University of New Hampshire back in 1979), he can likely expect the same.

Sighing, John gets out of the car to bring his kids home. When they all get there, he figures he'll be writing a check, and preparing to drop it in tomorrow's mail.

This is dealing with government, friends. There is no way ' none ' to 'win.' At best, any contact with government or bureaucrats whatsoever, however slight or seemingly insignificant, is merely a matter of damage control. It's simply a matter of choosing the course that eats up a minimum of your time and money so that you can go back to doing something productive, recreational ' or, in the best of all circumstances ' both. There is no possible victory so long as government exists.

For as I hope I've shown, with government, you've already lost.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.