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Numbered by the Beast

Sometimes, if we look with a fresh mind, a news report can reveal to us just how much we have already given up, how complacent and unquestioning we have become, and how comfortable we are wearing the chains forged for us.

A February 20 article from the London Telegraph reports that clerics and theologians of the Russian Orthodox Church met "to decide whether changes to Russia's tax system heralded the coming of the Antichrist." The reason for this extraordinary meeting? The introduction of an individual number for each taxpayer.

According to the report, the conference sought to allay the fears of an imminent apocalypse. Thousands of believers are boycotting the tax codes and some dioceses are in a panic over the changes. The source of this remarkable resistance is a passage in the Book of Revelation prophesying that the Beast "causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand or in their foreheads." The believers denounce the tax numbers as the mark of Satan and "a humiliation of man's dignity incompatible with the holy design of man in God's image and form."

This story did not receive much play here in the Land of Mammon, where the Social Security Administration's "numbered from birth" initiative proceeds apace, and an individual's SSN increasingly becomes the key link to more and more commercial and government databases. No, no such qualms from this nation's clerics and theologians; no need to question the nature of this government based on the revelations of the nature of evil in scripture. No silly superstitions here. We are a pragmatic people, and readily recognize the administrative necessity of accepting and using the "name" given to us by the State in lieu of the one given us by our parents. Come, let's enjoy a chuckle at the fears of these simpleton Russians.

This is not the first occasion, however, that orthodox believers have resisted numbering by the State. The former Soviet Union labored mightily to free its people from the superstition of religion. The masses could have no legitimate need for opiates in the Worker's Paradise. Stalin, especially, was so impatient to hasten the withering of the State foretold by Marxist-Leninist doctrine that he imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Christians in the labor and death camps – to help clear the way.

It was the practice in these camps to assign each prisoner a number and require him or her to sew it on in three places on his newly issued prison garb. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn documents a remarkable case of resistance to this practice:

"Then again, they quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis a practice which had proved valuable to them – the substitution of a number for the prisoner's name, his "I," his individuality, so that the difference between one man and another was a digit more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures. . . . .

"The people for whom the numbers were indeed the most diabolical of the camp's devices were the devout women members of certain religious sects. There were some of these in the Women's Camp Division near the Suslovo station (Kamyshlag) – about a third of the women there were imprisoned for their religion. Now, it is plainly foretold in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 13,Verse 16) that u2018it causes all . . . to be marked on the right hand or the forehead.'

"These women refused, therefore, to wear numbers – the mark of Satan! Nor would they give signed receipts (to Satan, of course) in return for regulation dress. The camp authorities . . . showed laudable firmness! They gave orders that the women should be stripped to their shifts, and have their shoes taken from them . . . , thus enlisting winter's help in forcing these senseless fanatics to accept regulation dress and sew on their numbers. But even with the temperature below freezing, the women walked about the camp in their shifts and barefoot, refusing to surrender their souls to Satan!

"Faced with this spirit (the spirit of reaction, needless to say; enlightened people like ourselves would never protest so strongly about such a thing!), the administration capitulated and gave their clothing back to the sectarians, who put it on without numbers! (Yelena Ivanova Usova wore hers for the whole ten years; her outer garments and underwear rotted and fell to pieces on her body, but the accounts office could not authorize the issue of any government property without a receipt from her!)"

(Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Volume 3, Westview Press, 1998, pp. 58, 66-67.)

Imagine that! Here was a group of women who, infused with the passion of belief, perceived their world in the light cast by scripture, and so knew that the desire to number them revealed that their government was – the Beast! And then acted upon that belief for the sake of their immortal souls! Not for a day, not for a week or a month, not to "make a statement" or for the sake of the evening news, but until the end of their sentences – or death. This they perceived, this they acted upon, while Western intelligentsia and academics were busy orating and penning encomiums to, and apologies for, Communism as the greatest, most moral system yet devised for instituting the brotherhood of man on earth! What greater illustration of the difference between belief in God, and belief in Man as the Measure of All Things?

Here we have some indication of just what it is to resist the State. Solzhenitsyn's story perhaps gives some clue that the Russian orthodox clerics have in essence capitulated to the use of tax numbers. The theologians do not say that the desire to number citizens indicates that the government is Evil incarnate and call for resistance. Instead, they criticize the proposal on the basis of the more mealy-mouthed, secular humanistic claim that the numbering system does not respect the "dignity" of man.

Well, man's "dignity" is a thin reed to hang resistance upon. Few things are more quickly bargained away. Besides, it seems that our "dignity" has a remarkably compressible quality, always shrinking to a new level that is just below the reach of the latest encroachments by the State, so that we do not have to take action – just yet. No, that day will come when some new encroachment crosses the line – as yet undrawn. So the State wishes to number us. Pffft! Big deal. It's just a number for administrative convenience, to distinguish me from all the other persons, past, present or future, who have the same or a similar name. Surely my dignity does not inhere in so little a thing as use of my name! Call me what you like; I will use any name you like. It's not the real me.

For those who require a more "objective" assessment, consider this. Tax time is upon us. It is necessary, in order to claim a personal exemption for one's dependents, to report their social security numbers on Form 1040. This year, a personal exemption is worth $2,800, and marginal tax rates are 15 to 39.6 percent. Thus, if you dutifully fill in the number, you will receive a tax benefit of somewhere between $420 and $1,109. Here, then, I suggest, is the going price for a man's dignity. Unless, that is, "dignity" does not inhere in consenting to the numbering of your children, but dwells in some more rarefied, removed, compressed sphere.

I do not believe that the women who resisted Stalin's numbering system did so because they thought it inconsistent with their "dignity." I think that they thought that their State – or certainly the camp administration – was Evil incarnate, that they believed that to accept the numbers would be to surrender their immortal souls to Evil, and did not shrink from acting on this belief.

No such resistance here in the Home of the Brave. Here, the most we will do is vote for a politician who will, hopefully, maybe, someday, begin to reverse course. If helped by other politicians elected by others.

Many Americans doubtless believe that numbering is an innocuous administrative necessity. In truth, your SSN is becoming the gatekeeper that establishes your status as a citizen in good standing and permission for your activities. The laws creating your feudal status have already been enacted and are rapidly being implemented, and if you are interested to know the extent of it, you may check Charlotte Twight's article, "Watching You – Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans," in The Independent Review, Volume IV, Fall 1999.

Let's look at just one fact. Under current federal law, your employer cannot hire you unless the government confirms that you are not an illegal alien, a process that requires submission of your SSN. Thus, the reality is that you cannot (legally) work unless you have an SSN. In Stalinist Russia, they stripped women to their shifts. But here in the Land of the Free, you cannot live unless you are numbered. Oh, and do not think you will be eligible for the State's charity if you do not work. No, you also need the Number to receive welfare and food stamps.

If, then, you persist in thinking that numbering is a mere matter of orderly procedure, then I would submit that by this law the State has indicated, oh so casually, that it is willing to hold your life hostage to compliance with its administrative dictates, that its administration trumps your need to support yourself – your right to life. Whether this be Evil, is between you and God.

March 23, 2001

Jeff Snyder is an attorney who works in New York. He is the author of the upcoming book, Nation of Cowards – Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control, available in April from Accurate Press (800-374-4049).