Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sanctifying Rage


When my son died about three years ago, someone was saying to me that his death didn't make sense. I told my comforter, 'If you want to drive yourself crazy, start trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense.'

I've been thinking of this in light of the news of Joe Stack, the 53 year old software engineer who, in an act of madness, rammed his plan into an Austin building to protest his grievance against the IRS.

It doesn't make sense. Its not supposed to.

It is, as I wrote, a tragic, nonsensical, act of blinding, mind-numbing madness. We can learn from his online ravings his rationale for this violence. We can know the troubles that he had and the failures of his efforts to resolve them. But we will drive ourselves crazy if we try to make this a 'desperate act' of a 'victim' of a government bureaucracy.

No law, or tax statute warranted this act, and nothing we find out about Stack, his troubles, his anger will make sense of this.

"Before flying his single engine Piper PA-28 into the hulking black-glass office building Thursday morning, A. Joseph Stack III apparently posted a rambling screed on a Web site in which he railed against "big brother," the Catholic Church, the "unthinkable atrocities" committed by big business and the governments bailouts that followed."

"In the note, signed "Joe Stack (1956-2010)" and dated Thursday, he said he slowly came to the conclusion that "violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.""

"My dad [Vern Hunter, who died in the crash along with Stack], in that building, he didn't write the tax laws," Ken Hunter said. "If he would have talked to my dad, my dad would have helped him."

In a statement, Hunter's relatives said their thoughts also are with Stack's family.

"We are not angry at them because they did not do this," the statement said. "We forgive Joe for his actions, which took Vern's 'pound of flesh' with him."

We can grieve with Vern Hunter's family. We can feel sorry for the family of Joe Stack. But what we cannot do is what Stack's daughter Samantha Bell intimates we try and do: sanctify this senseless act of rage.

"According to his daughter, he was taking a stand against the government."

""His last actions, the suicide, the catastrophe that caused injuries and death, that was wrong," said Samantha Bell, Stack's daughter in an interview with Good Morning America. "But if nobody comes out and speaks up on behalf of injustice, then nothing will ever be accomplished. But I do not agree with his last action with what he did. But I do agree about the government.""

I'm sorry, this was no martyr dying for a cause. This was not a movie in which the tragic figure gets to vent his final frustration in some orgasmic blaze of cinematic glory. This will not go down in history as a watershed moment in which the government will be confronted with its own institutional heartlessness.

This is madness, pure and simple. Any attempt to conflate this act of madness with the countless other acts of sacrificial patriotism on the part of countless other sacrificial patriots, amount to selfish, senseless attempts to sanctify it far beyond its significance. And in doing so, insult true acts of patriotism. This is not a dramatization of Thomas Jefferson's quote about 'The tree of liberty...'

It was a crime. A senseless crime. Two families are left grieving and searching, as we humans must do, to find meaning in the madness of this moment. Eventually, they will find meaning, if not 'meanings'. The meaning or meanings will bring inspiration for one family and shame for another. But the act won't make sense.

There are those who will politicize this moment and try and make Joe Stack a 'hero'. I hope anyone who does this will be shouted down and shamed.

I don't know if Tea Party activist Pam Stout had Joe Stack in mind when, in she tries to explain the possible 'necessity' of the use of arms or civil war in achieving it's goals, she says, "Peaceful means are the best way of going about it. But sometimes you are not given a choice."

Yes, you have a choice. But the choice is not acts of violent madness by the deeply disturbed. When they happen, they shouldn't even faintly be cited as the rationale for violent protest by rational men.

Such reasoning is the essence of madness.

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