(Re)setting the Precedent
When I worked for the IRS, my job was to figure out what happened during a particular year and then apply the tax law to that situation. Through interviews and document review, I sussed-out what the tax return should have looked like. If the taxpayer got it right, then no adjustment was needed and everybody was happy. If they did something other than the correct reporting, I proposed an adjustment and they owed more or less tax. Sometimes everybody was happy; sometimes not.
The law itself is complex (thanks to Congress who writes it), so it's several someones' job at the IRS to craft volumes of explanation to clarify the law. These Tomes of 'Splaining are called Regulations. Tax law has a great many moving parts, so the tax preparer then uses the regulations to play whack-a-tax-mole, fitting all the parts of life and business into the structure provided by the government. Eventually, it's the court's job to decide whether the regulations are correct and reasonable when John Q Public challenges the IRS interpretation of the law.
When drawing my conclusions and writing my reports, I relied on and cited legal precedent. I spent a significant amount of time looking up what the court had already decided was the most appropriate application and interpretation of the law. I carefully considered the theories and choices of those who came before me. I took great care explaining to the taxpayer how the facts in the court case aligned with or differed from the facts in their own situation.
Some people agreed with my findings gladly, others agreed even though they did not like the outcome. Not very many disagreed entirely, and those were always the most outlandish and entertaining cases. I had people who didn't like the standard mileage rate, so they mathemagically calculated their own. Not allowed. I had a human who claimed their whole life was tax deductible because their existence was entirely in service of their career. Also not allowed. I even met with a conspiracy-entrenched human who earnestly insisted the bizarre punctuation they added to their signature unlocked the secret government bank account reserved for each citizen who cracked the access code. Definitely not allowed (or real).
No matter how reasonable or unreasonable the taxpayer position, my job was to apply the law handed to me by the people who wrote it. I was to carry out the Agency mission in the way my supervisors decided was best. I was supposed to perpetuate the precedent and I was very good at it. I was so busy applying my utmost effort in executing that assignment, it was a long time before I realized I might not be using my powers for good. I was perpetuating one of the many broken systems in our society. I was perpetuating a system that breaks people.
Clearly we need some new precedents. In tax and many other places.
It turns out there are plenty of other precedents to rely on. Unfortunately the ones not aligned with the dominant narrative are hidden away, deliberately or through neglect. Historian Rebecca Hall spent years painstakingly uncovering stories of women who incited and led slave revolts in the US. Each of those femwarrior's story is incomplete because they were dismissed or undervalued by the record-keepers of America.
But they were there. They were real. They rose up in opposition to their mistreatment and they stand as precedent we can follow today. It's amazing what treasurers of inspiration are lurking in the cob-webbed corners of history if someone has enough time and an inclination to seek them out. Just like all the classical literary usage of they/them pronouns for singular individuals I learned about this week. Language for a gender identity beyond the binary is not new, it's use was just hidden away for a while.
Like tattoos. Which are not simply a counter-culture emblem of rebellious youth in the modern era or the mark of a criminal lifestyle, as certain popular and disparaging narratives would have us believe. They are cultural, spiritual, and religious symbols. They are healing rituals. They are art, connection, and belonging. And these kind of tattoos were obscured by the erasure efforts of colonialism and white supremacy.
Once we start to question any of these long held societal conventions, it suddenly makes sense to question all of them. Like the point of having sex if lovers don't want children, which materials we use to make clothing more sustainably, and how we heat and cool our homes in the face of more extreme climate conditions.
The current conventional ways of moving through the world and relating to each other are only prevalent because they have been popular with the dominate caste of the moment. But it’s just one set of conventions. There are many ways to human. More than I thought. And there are many more examples to follow than most of us know. Seek them out and lift them out of obscurity. We can all benefit from their wisdom.
Information and Inspiration
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.