(Real Times Media)—Joseph Andrew Stack’s decision to fly his plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas last week is going to be interpreted along two main camps. There will be those that look at Joe Stack’s life, read his extensive suicide note and see a great deal of themselves in the story that he tells. Hard working, played by the rules they were taught and yet still seem to be thwarted at every turn by a federal government singularly focused on the uber-rich. Then there are those that will look at Joe Stack’s life, read his extensive suicide note and see precisely what is wrong with America in general, self absorbed, lack of values and paint him as the epitome of the whining baby boomer generation. Of course, neither side is entirely wrong, but no one is going to give much credence to the main truth. Joe Stack was just one crazy individual who had the same problems as a lot of people; he just handled them in a spectacularly deadly way. Of course, that story is much less sexy narrative than making Joe Stack a sign of our recessionary times.
While the details are still trickling in, it’s pretty clear what Joe Andrew Stack’s life was about. If you haven’t read his manifesto, or seen segments of it on television I can save you the trouble of reading all 3,000 plus words. Go to any dinner party of upper middle class White baby boomers since 2007 and you’ll pretty much hear his story. Got a college degree, started a business in the 80’s lost it all, got divorced moved to California for the tech boom, got married again, moved to Austin for the tech slow down and now the recession is biting him where the sun don’t shine. The only difference was Stack’s deep hatred for the government and his belief that America had done him wrong, and in many ways he had been let down by the Red, White and Blue.
America thrives on letting upper class White men like Joseph Stack live with an unbearable sense of entitlement, and unrealistic expectations. Stack got to live the fantasy that if he got an education and worked hard that everything was supposed to fall into his lap. Not all White men in America get to live with this attitude, but upper class White men like Joseph Stack often revel in the duality of their privilege and their sense of victimhood. They believe that if you don’t get the hot wife, the house in a cul-de-sac, the promotion you wanted and Jimmy Buffet tickets all the way into your 50’s that you’ve been cheated. The irony of him burning down his half a million dollar house, and then flying his personal plane into the IRS building to protest how he felt marginalized and put upon by the American system is both hilarious and sad.
His anger, while palpable and understandable is born of an arrogance that most minorities and working class whites in this country aren’t allowed to wallow in. Most Blacks, Hispanics and Asians know that working hard and playing by the rules might get you the chance to wait in line with everyone else but you still might not get served. Ask some poor White kids from the rust belt whose post high-school options are the military or trying to find seasonal construction work if they empathize with a man who had a house to burn and plane to crash during a tax tantrum.
Amidst all of this however I think it should be remembered that this man is the exception and not the rule. There is plenty in his manifesto/suicide note that will stoke the flames of the right and the left. He rails against Bush and his cronies in one paragraph then goes after the current administration and their fat cat bail-outs in the next. Nevertheless the ugly truth is that most Americans, while frustrated, do not choose to act out the way that Stack did. Most Americans aren’t quitters; they recognize the corrupt system we live in for what it is. Rather than victimize their own families, nameless government employees and innocent bystanders with a suicidal temper tantrum they trudge on, work hard and take one last look at their in-box for a response from Monster.com before going to bed. Let’s not make Stack a hero, a martyr or a sign of our times. He was really just a spoiled brat who made his mid life crisis every else’s worst nightmare.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)