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bindependentIn Defense of Joe Stack
from member: bindependent           
Feb 20, 2010
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Which do you consider more delusional: flying a plane into a government building in retaliation of government abuse or believing that the government exists to protect your individual rights?

If you answered the former, you're certainly not alone. However, though you might not have thought twice before responding to what appeared to be a silly question, perhaps it's worth considering the moral premises that led to your belief.

Background

de-lu-sion (noun)
(1)

a : the act of deluding : the state of being deluded
b : an abnormal mental state characterized by the occurrence of psychotic delusions

(2)

a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated
b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self

(c) 1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved


On February 18, 2010 at about 10:00 AM, 53-year old father, husband, software engineer, and pilot Joe Stack flew his Piper Cherokee PA-28 airplane into an IRS building in Austin, TX. According to his 6-page suicide note that, only hours later, the FBI censored by forcing the hosting vendor to remove, the basic reason for his action was that the government had destroyed his life. Overly dramatic you think? Although I encourage you to closely read the particular reasoning he used, it isn't my intent to judge or to analyze his thoughts. My intent is to explore and compare the morality of the two proposed delusions.
A useful exercise would be to compare the "hate-filled diatribe" and "rant" of Thomas Jefferson with the "hate-filled diatribe" and "rant" of Joe Stack.


Once upon a time, journalism was about unbiased research, checking facts, commitment to truth, and a deep suspicion of government. (Why do you think freedom of the press was considered important to the Founding Fathers, so much so that they put it into the First Amendment of the Constitution?) The mainstream media-government cheerleaders, who haven't done any of the research into the deep legal issues about which Joe Stack committed suicide, as expected and in an attempt to prove delusion, immediately came out strong to express their disapproval with Joe's actions. They painted his actions as crazy. Time magazine called Joe's suicide note "rambling." ABC called Joe's note a "lengthy, hate-filled diatribe," misinterpreting Joe's anger as stemming from "years spent working and paying taxes, but not reaping the benefits of what he considered to be a functional government." CBS called it "a twisted suicide note / bomber's manifesto... in which he ranted against the IRS." The Washington Post makes a cheap attempt to associate Joe's "rant" and the "extreme elements of the Tea Party movement."

The Logic of Moral Relativism

Based on personal experience but understanding the logical problem with making overly broad generalizations, I think that most people I know claim to be moral relativists. A moral relativist is someone who believes values are solely chosen based on personal preferences. In this sense, all values are arbitrary as the morality of a situation depends on how you choose to look at it, how your "culture" considers it, your own experiences, how it impacts "society," and the like. People who claim to be moral relativists make statements such as "there's no such thing as black-or-white," "the world is made of gray," "how can you be so sure you're right," "who decides what's right or wrong," "who are you to judge," "I'm not judgmental," and the like. To keep their logic consistent, those who consider themselves moral relativists (if they consider it at all) either refuse to judge a situation in terms of morality or have a confirmation bias focused on facts within a narrow context. For example, one moral relativist said to me that he wasn't sure if war was right or wrong. Another claimed to me that Joe Stack hurt and killed individuals who did nothing specific to him - they were just people doing their jobs. Ergo, what Joe Stack did was wrong. Fair enough.

Interestingly, for relativists who do judge the morality of a narrow situation, their logic requires them to refuse acknowledgement that they are still dealing in absolutes. For example, to claim that Joe Stack's actions were immoral because he killed individuals who did nothing specific to him are indirectly stating a moral absolute that it is wrong to kill someone who has not specifically harmed you. How does the relativist deal with the obvious absolute? Very simply - he refuses to see it. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? In other words, as long as you are able to deny perception of something, it might as well never have occurred or been a factor. And, as it is only specific factors within a particular context that matter, non-existent factors are, by definition, not factors at all. Refuse to perceive it and it doesn't exist. Kind of a clean, neat trick, don't you think?

So, for those who think "the world is gray," it would make sense that Joe Stack was a deluded, bad person, as he destroyed property and life with his actions without reason. Why is their morality right compared to the converse? Look no further than the context. Easy.

Integrating Knowledge

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his magnum opus that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

What was the context? The Declaration of Independence listed the context in terms of grievances (what the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC News, and CBS News define as "extremist," "rants," and "hate-filled diatribe" for not "reaping the benefits of... functional government"). Grievances against the government included: not following the law, passing laws that are "formidable to tyrants only," "fatiguing [people] into compliance," invading the rights of people, obstructing justice (especially through the establishment of "Judiciary Powers"), creating "Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance," keeping "Standing Armies," holding "mock Trial[s]," "imposing Taxes... without... Consent," "waging War against us," "destroy[ing] the lives of our people," "transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny," and ignoring "Petition[s] for Redress in the most humble terms." That was the context. A useful exercise would be to compare the "hate-filled diatribe" and "rant" of Thomas Jefferson with the "hate-filled diatribe" and "rant" of Joe Stack. Notice any similarities in context?

Clearly, the more knowledge you integrate into context, the harder it becomes to maintain opinions based on relative terms. For example, if you could prove that laws operate to brutalize individuals (e.g., the Nuremberg Laws), would you better understand why it is proper to use brutality in defense of yourself? In other words, if assuming for a moment that the IRS did use brutality against Joe Stack, isn't it more likely you would better understand Joe Stack's decision to brutalize the IRS? (Of course the relativist could argue that theft of property and abuse of civil rights is not brutality.) Some people believe that two wrongs don't make a right. Well, if two wrongs don't make a right, then you would conclude that Joe Stack was not right. However, this begs the question: why is an individual limited to how he can protect himself, while the government/IRS is not? The other question that must be asked is: what other logical choice did Joe Stack have to protect his rights but physical violence? (He indicates in his suicide note that he wrote letters to countless government officials and went through the judicial process, all to no avail.)

Based on his suicide note, Joe Stack likely didn't voluntarily give the government or "society" the authorization to infringe on his rights. Yet it's interesting to note how many in "society" are angry that Joe Stack infringed on their "collective rights" (e.g., destruction of a "public" building and the lives of "public" employees). Relativists quickly retort that the person who died (other than Joe himself) wasn't the "public" - he was an individual. How logical and correct that is. But then who is the public? Was Joe Stack part of the public/society? If so, and if his rights were infringed upon, where was the outrage then? Selective perception does away with this logic problem quite nicely: the IRS agent killed was an individual who had rights, and Joe thus committed a crime against society. But, no matter what wrong Joe incurred, he did not have individual rights and anything that was done to him by the IRS was not a crime against society. Did you understand that logic? Neither did I. Yet that's one of the conundrums relativists attempt to ignore.

From a moral perspective, what is the purpose of law? If the purpose of law is to protect rights, and Joe Stack's rights were not protected and, in fact, were actually destroyed by the very same people who were required to protect them, does this context matter? Legal positivism holds that there isn't any necessary connection between morality and law. Based on this perspective, though it might be unfortunate that Joe Stack's rights were violated, that doesn't give him the right to do what he did. And, of course, they would be correct. Law doesn't give rights. Law attempts to prevent people from infringing on your rights. Ah, but isn't that a moral absolute: if x occurs, you are not allowed to do y? Yes. But who decided that moral absolute? Society. But Joe Stack was part of society, wasn't he? Uh...

Understanding the Inconsistencies

Confused yet by the moral relativist logic? Let's try something simpler. The Nazis are always a reliable example for discussing morality, as clearly what the Nazis did was wrong. The relativist is on solid ground when he claims that the US government was morally correct to defend/protect the victims from Nazi atrocities. However, there are ample examples of people who have been victims of US aggression, both within and without the US. From "tax honesty" victims like Irwin Schiff, Larken Rose, Ed and Elaine Brown, Sherry Peel Jackson, Bob Schulz, to torture victims like Binyam Mohamed, Mohammed al Qahtani, and Omar Deghayes. In fact, Aaron Russo (producer of American classics such as The Rose featuring Bette Midler and Trading Places with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy) produced an excellent documentary called America: From Freedom to Fascism on the horrors from which Joe Stack suffered and ultimately died trying to fight.

But if the US government was morally proper in using aggressive force against Nazi soliders to protect and defend victims, why is it not proper for Joe Stack to use force to protect and defend the likes of Irwin Schiff, Larken Rose, Ed and Elaine Brown, Sherry Peel Jackson, Bob Schultz, Binyam Mohamed, Mohammed al Qahtani, and Omar Deghayes (to name just a few)? Any destruction Joe Stack caused to the US government's "war machine" (I'm including the US government's war on civil liberties in that term) would mean that less US government property and "soldiers" (e.g., IRS agents) exist to destroy civil rights and property rights. Ergo, wasn't Joe Stack's action simply protecting those who were unable to defend themselves against the US government's aggression, just as the US government's actions were to defend people against the Nazis? After all, the Nazis weren't attacking the US government; on the contrary, the US government was actively trying to get into the war. If, in the virtuous name of protecting victims, the US government had the moral authority to attack foreign governments who hadn't harmed Americans, why doesn't Joe Stack have the moral authority to attack the US government who has, in fact, harmed both Americans and non-Americans?

But wait - the Nazis didn't just steal property. They actually exterminated human beings. That is quite different from the circumstances with Joe Stack (remember: limit context). Fair enough. But Joe Stack is also now dead, just as dead as the human beings that the Nazis exterminated. The IRS was able to accomplish an individual extermination without ever pulling a trigger. They motivated Joe to pull the trigger himself just by stealing his property, ignoring his civil rights, and ensuring that he had no chance to get either back. And to think some called the Nazis efficient killers.

It is terrible that Joe Stack felt he had no hope left for ever regaining his rights, much less his property. You might now empathize with him, even if you don't agree with his methods. But where was your empathy when Joe's civil rights were being infringed... when his property was being stolen... when the US government, and specifically the IRS, was destroying his life? Why didn't you have empathy then? Why didn't you stick up for Joe Stack, someone who wasn't able to defend himself against the violence of the IRS? Before February 18, it was only the IRS who used force. Before February 18, Joe Stack had never used violence against anyone. As he said in his suicide note, and as his friends and family indicated, he just wanted to live his life as he saw best and in peace.

I have read comments from people calling Joe Stack's actions selfish. A selfish act is something you do solely for your own advantage. The IRS chose to use force against Joe Stack in order to seize his property. After begging for relief nicely, Joe Stack made the only choice the IRS allowed him: to use force to destroy destruction. The IRS gained much when they stole Joe Stack's property. Yet Joe Stack gained nothing by destroying IRS property or killing an IRS employee. How can you call an action for which you gain nothing "selfish?"

Conclusion

Terrorism is defined as the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. The US government, as a system and as a group of individuals, is guilty of crimes against humanity through the initiation of force. The US government is guilty of destroying the individual rights of so many famous and unknown individuals. Countless individuals have written letters and petitioned for redress. Their voices were like trees falling in an unpopulated forest. The US government has removed the people's ability to fight back. The laws now work to support violence committed by the US government against individuals, while punishing individuals who use violence against the government. This is the expected and intended outcome of the underlying philosophy: moral relativism. Indeed, history repeats itself.

The Declaration of Independence clearly sanctions that individuals have the moral authority to retaliate and destroy governments that abuse the rights of others. No matter how you read his suicide note, that is clearly all Joe Stack was doing - he was retaliating against the government's violent force toward him. When the IRS violated Joe Stack's rights, they placed themselves inside a ring of violence. As any boxer knows, if you go into a ring, be prepared to get hurt. In such a situation, there is no recourse available but force. Violence is the logical result of moral relativism.

Joe Stack was not delusional for wanting freedom, as freedom is not a delusion. Joe Stack killed himself because he wasn't willing to live under the philosophical or legal terms the US government set. Getting to vote on which master restrains you and how heavy the chains that bind you will be is not freedom. Freedom is an absolute. You either have it or you don't.

My sincerest condolences to his family. Rest in peace, Joe Stack. I'm sorry we weren't there to defend you sooner. Your courage and integrity to fight tyranny, and the moral relativistic philosophy that supports it, will be missed.

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