"Not being able to govern events, I govern myself." ~ Michel de Montaigne
The Census Taker's Gun
Column by B.R. Merrick.
Exclusive to STR
“A Census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” ~ Hannibal Lecter, “The Silence of the Lambs”
Okay, so a while ago, I had to go to a specialist to get something cleared up. Quite mild, all taken care of. It reminded me of how nice it is to have a good-hearted doctor in whom I can confide. Little did I know how much of that is bullsh*t to the state. For, you see, the good-hearted doctor had no choice, according to some federal law hidden within the stacks, but to report the “something” to the county health department, who dispatched a flunky to my door with a letter and a piece of tape, demanding that I call them immediately.
No sooner had I done so than I discovered that the county health department knew everything my doctor knew, and proceeded to ask me more and more personal questions, to the extent that I found myself actually refusing to answer any more. They persisted in calling, so I saved their number in my built-in electronic phone book in order to assign them a special ring (the silent one), so that I might ignore further intrusion into very private matters, indeed. We're talking about my body, people.
That's all in the past now, and I realize from this point forward that with delicate medical matters, I will need to inquire of whatever doctor I see whether or not my diagnoses get reported; the death not only of my volition, but some part of my relationship with all future doctors, in whom I am no longer able to trust completely. Whither wealth?
What do my insignificant health concerns have to do with the Census, though? Shortly after this unhappy episode, which left me feeling quite violated indeed, the goddamned, motherf*cking Census arrived in my mail. I forgot to answer it, and unfortunately, it went into the shredder by accident. Then it arrived again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Notices on my door that I forgot about, I can assure you. (I love filling out surveys!) Knocks on my door that I didn’t hear. (Shostakovich can get loud.) Me driving into my parking lot, suspecting an individual sitting in another car might be “him” or “her,” but driving right back out again because I had forgotten something that needed to be done, oh, a good 25 miles away. I was gonna come back. Honest.
I wondered when it would stop. I thought that it had. I'm sick of being asked questions, personal or impersonal. I want to be left alone. Most of the time, I am. Except when the government comes calling. Whether it's a fraudulent parking ticket, a “speeding” ticket, the county health department, or the a**wipe Census taker, I have discovered that I cannot be left alone, unless I do as they say.
I did, however, get used to it. Accidentally ignoring the reminders became very easy, and since the health department had stopped pestering me (when I sicced my doctors on them), I figured the man or lady would get bored eventually, and I really need to fill out that thing that he or she left. I discovered to my dismay that this ain't the county health department.
Just a short while ago, the reminder that I was so used to accidentally ignoring came with a signed letter from someone named John Wagner, a violent man whom I never wish to meet. The body of the letter said, in part:
“It has come to the attention of the U.S. Census Bureau that you have refused to allow an enumeration of your household. [Prove it. As you can see, I have testified on my own behalf that I just forgot.]…
“The law makes it a crime not to answer the Decennial Census, the American Community Survey and other mandatory censuses [Wow. There’re more? I thought this was my government! That’s okay. I love surveys!], and authorizes the courts to impose a fine of up to $5,000 for failure to respond [emphasis in the actual letter]…
“We must have your cooperation in order to ensure a complete and accurate count.”
The state, you see, is the only “charitable” organization, one erected solely for the preservation of my “rights,” that would do such a thing. Imagine a group of nuns outside a WalMart store, their little table set up, a white tablecloth on it, a picture of a sad little kid in a wheelchair, and you walk out of the store. Sister Louise looks at you with her kindly old eyes and says, “Pardon me, sir. Would you be willing to make a donation to The Children's Hospital of Our Lady of the Holy Cow? We don't ask for much.” I reply, “No, thanks. Not right now.” And go on my way. There isn't much to the imagination, is there? (Except for the “Holy Cow” part.) Well, this happens several times, and each time I get a little bit more of a guilt trip than before, but I still turn them down. Then one night, Sister Louise, hunched over, baked goods on the table, withered little-old-lady hands clasping a rosary, looks at me with her kindly eyes once more and says, “Pardon me, sir, but I have spoken to you several times, and I'm afraid this time, I'm going to have to insist. We need your donation and you need to participate. I'm afraid that you'll have to make a donation this time, or someone might get hurt.” How do you feel about shopping at WalMart now? How do you feel about the church to which this woman belongs? How do you feel about nuns?
Well, that's how I feel about the nonfictional, shove-it-up-your-butt Census, conducted for our welfare, for our benefit. I didn't see a gun, but as far as I'm concerned, that letter put me on notice for the big reveal. In the moment that I read that disgusting letter, I was certain that the very next time,the Census taker would be accompanied by a police officer. I kid you not. I don't know if that's true. I don't know if it's ever happened, and I probably won't bother to ever find out. That's how little interest I have in these people. I saw a gun in my mind, and I detest dealing with cops, who, as cute as some of them are, are now a good 20 years younger than I, and I hated being ordered about when they were 20 years older. Now it's doubly worse. The worseness, in fact, quadruples when the 20-year-old has a gun. So, I called the number to speak with a man who sounded as bored as anyone behind the window at municipal court. Other than the invasion of privacy, the principles I hold dear that it violates, the audacity of the state’s accusation that I had willingly refused to take the Census when they had no material evidence or witnesses, and the fact that I had to turn it into a Shostakovich Day in order to cope, it was relatively painless.
If you don't know Dmitri Shostakovich, get to know him. He was a genius composer of the 20th Century, living his entire life within the confines of the Soviet Union; sparse, economical orchestrations and thematic materials; sharp, angular writing; far too depressing and harsh for many listeners outside the immediate vicinity of the concert hall. I love it. He's one of my top three favorites. I discovered him for myself in college. His symphonies spoke to me. I was unhappy. (I now know exactly why, and it has to do with systems of coercion and the attendant oppression. Maybe some other time.) So I would drag myself to the library, pull out the scores, and listen to recordings while discovering everything amazing about his cycle of 15 symphonies. (WARNING: For the uninitiated, some of his material is Soviet propaganda, whether it was forced on him to write it or not. It’s brilliant Soviet propaganda, but on my iPod I had to replace the titles of the four movements of his Twelfth with the Italian tempo markings to avoid vomiting.)
Shostakovich wrote an opera in the 1930s called “Lady Macbeth of Mtensk.” The infamous Soviet paper “Pravda” savagely denounced it. Some suspect that Stalin himself wrote the review. Any way you slice it, one sentence of the review is translated into English as, “This could end very badly” (for the “enemy of the people,” of course). Shostakovich immediately shelved his Fourth Symphony, which didn't receive its premiere for another 20 years, after the dreaded Stalin was dead. It was his most angular and modern-sounding symphony to that date. It's a masterpiece. He refused to have a single note altered for the premiere. To me, his symphonies speak of the harshness and loneliness of oppression; a strange, dark, cold world that those who are justifiably and courageously sad may inhabit. That's me. In spite of the “Holy Cow” crack.
And that's where I was a few weeks ago, when the Census taker took out his gun. Think about it. This man volunteered. There's a difference between a cop who arrests someone because a judge tells him to, but he doesn't agree, yet he “has to do his job” since he’s afraid of the free market; and a man, an ordinary “citizen,” who goes out of his way to volunteer to threaten people with the confiscation of their wealth, at the eventual point of a gun (Perhaps the reluctant policeman's gun?), for not answering inane questions that will promptly be sunk into a database that has no capability whatsoever of “administering justice.” He went out of his way, folks. He threatened to steal my money, for no reason that makes any sense. Why is government the only “charity” that does this? What sort of jerk volunteers for this?
Having calmed down from the horror, just a bit, and having had my fill of Shostakovich for one 24-hour period, I can actually see something positive in all of this. I learned things. I always learn things, even when I don't wish to. (If humanity has any ultimate purpose or destiny, it must have to do with constant, non-stop learning, which is what the brain does.) But the lessons from this are actually quite instructive. I now know what is behind the Census. It is the same thing behind the health department, the tickets, the signs, the buildings, the parks, the roads, the rules, the regulations, the taxes, the Head Start program, the schools, the military, the women’s shelter, food stamps, the FBI, the CIA, the FDA, the CDC, the DHS, the NSA, the KMA, the LOL, the WTF, and every other thing the government sets up to defend my rights against hunky-but-angry Middle Eastern males. Behind the Census is a gun. I now have proof. It is instructive not only for me, but for anyone with an Internet connection who accidentally stumbles on my sad little story. I'm telling everyone I can. Literal proof.
Nuns don't have guns. The Seventh-Day Adventist homeless shelter doesn't have guns. (But Seventh-Day Adventist moms do have the tendency to murder their own children. Thank God the Australian government exists to protect us all from them!) There are privately-funded drug rehabilitation centers that don't have guns. My doctor doesn't have a gun, although a gun is forced on him by the ones that do have guns. The trivial, easily lost data that was required of me apparently demands a gun. The only reason it does so is because it is a coercive, involuntary, death-oriented entity that requires the data. It is everything that they do. It is death. It killed off much of what Shostakovich might have written, probably killed him prematurely, and it has killed a little part of me. Now I know that just like sitting in traffic court for hours in a long line for a fraudulent parking ticket, and everything else the government's gun culture does, it is designed for very little choice or no choice at all, so that we will cave in. Now that I have seen the gun, I will comply.
Therefore, having learned yet one more lesson of the awfulness of this death-oriented entity, what, you may wonder, am I prepared to do about the 2020 Census? I plan on answering it honestly and immediately. I also plan on crumpling it up, dripping hot chocolate on it, perhaps one or two more random stains of some kind, airing it out, then folding it back up the way it was in the original envelope, and submitting it. I shouldn't be the only one to suffer. Just don't mistake my passive-aggressive manner of dealing with governmental intrusion to be the initiation of coercion. I am not death-oriented. The gun-toting Census taker is.
When you’re sick, think twice before consulting your doctor.