Last night I watched the documentary, Escape to Canada, about “2003 when by apparent coincidence, gay marriage is legalized and the prohibition of marijuana is removed on the same day.” While watching this film, I noticed several instances of the argument that is the title of this post. Canadians interviewed for the film argued that they wanted to be free and part of what freedom meant to them was the ability to pay their taxes (examples below the fold).
In this film clip, begining at 8:23 we hear the argument:
8:23 A white woman identified in the film as Watermelon says: “You have a huge community of people who want to pay their taxes and aren’t allowed to participate.”
This clip begins with a similar argument from Marc Emery, a founding member of Canada’s Marijuana Party.
In the first minute of this clip, Marc Emery argues twice that pot should be legalized and taxed. Earlier in the film, Emery has linked pot smoking and freedom. Again we have a link between enhanced freedom for an activity and the inclusion of that activity among those that are taxed.
So here we have an argument from pot activists that stresses their desire to have greater freedom, which they believe will be achieved when marijuana is legal. For these activists their fight for freedom includes the fight for their right to pay taxes on their pot selling businesses.
I found this argument very interesting, especially in light of the recent Tea Party arguments that often seem to equate paying taxes with having one’s freedom removed (for example, the Tea Party celebrated “Tax Freedom Day” on April 9, 2010. This is the “date on which Americans will have finally worked to pay their tax obligations to federal, state, and local governments,” according to the Bakersfield Tea Party Patriots.)
There is a significant difference of orientation between these two arguments. The Tea Party sees freedom as the ability to step outside of, or avoid, social obligations and duties to their social organization (the government). For the Tea Party, the extent to which you are free is the extent to which you can avoid social obligations that are state-imposed rather than self-imposed. Freedom involves the individual stepping away from the organizations of the society and the duties imposed by these organizations.
In contrast, the pot activists interviewed in this film equate freedom with being able to fully participate in the obligations of their society. For them, to be unfree is to be excluded from social obligations. On this line of argument, to be free means to have one’s society include one’s activities among its set of activities that impose social obligations (like paying taxes). Freedom means being included within the society and the obligations of social living, unfreedom means exclusion from society and exemption from social obligations. To be free is to be “allowed to participate” in our shared social institutions, including social obligations such as paying taxes.
Obviously, not all Canadians would view freedom in this way. Many Canadians hold opinions similar to those expressed by Tea Party members where taxation is linked with unfreedom. But I think this particular argument is perhaps uniquely Canadian (at least unique in the North American context). I have heard similar inclusion-type arguments from Americans, but rather than putting it in terms of freedom, the argument is usually put in terms of equality. American arguments for equal marriage, for example, often take the form of arguing that equality requires inclusion. In these arguments equal marriage involves the right to participate in social institutions (marriage, divorce, medical decision-making, spousal-sponsoring for immigration and so forth). The argument here is not that you are more free if you are able to marry, but instead that you are more equal.
ETA 1: If anyone is interested in a more formal discussion of the distinction in the senses of “freedom” that I am using in this post, here is a link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on “Positive and Negative Liberty.”
ETA 2: Perhaps there are some examples of the use of freedom to mean “right to participate in social institutions” in the USA. Here is Dan Savage on Marriage equality that uses the idea of freedom in the argument.