Another Act of Terror

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,-
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.

William Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice Act 1 scene 1

On Thursday morning 53 year old Joesph Stacks got into his plane and began to fly. His steps into a single engine Piper-Cherokee aircraft were strides off a rigged playing field of capitalist social relations. Fueled by ressentiment, the Austin, Texas resident flew his craft low over the skyline before piloting his kamikaze vehicle into the Internal Revenue Service building. Plowing into the hulking seven story building just before 10 am, Stacks’ act of terrorism brought instant reminders of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Flames shot from the building, windows exploded, a huge pillar of black smoke rose over the city and terrified workers scrambled to safety. The Pentagon scrambled two F-16 fighter jets from Houston to patrol the skies over the burning building before it became clear that it was the act of a lone pilot.

“It felt like a bomb blew off,” said Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who was sitting at her desk. “The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.”

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,-
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.

William Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice Act 1 scene 1

On Thursday morning 53 year old Joesph Stacks got into his plane and began to fly. His steps into a single engine Piper-Cherokee aircraft were strides off a rigged playing field of capitalist social relations. Fueled by ressentiment, the Austin, Texas resident flew his craft low over the skyline before piloting his kamikaze vehicle into the Internal Revenue Service building. Plowing into the hulking seven story building just before 10 am, Stacks’ act of terrorism brought instant reminders of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Flames shot from the building, windows exploded, a huge pillar of black smoke rose over the city and terrified workers scrambled to safety. The Pentagon scrambled two F-16 fighter jets from Houston to patrol the skies over the burning building before it became clear that it was the act of a lone pilot.

“It felt like a bomb blew off,” said Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who was sitting at her desk. “The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.”



Terrorism is a gesture of advertising: it’s a literary act, a form of representation before all else and Stacks with his feeble attack on the IRS that killed one (besides himself) and critically injured two others, publicized his hatred for an inept political system.
Stacks was kind enough to leave behind a suicide note before his fatal voyage that brings more depth to his act. It is in his words, that would have gone completely ignored if he had not piloted his plane into such a spectacular collision, that we see his banal motivations. Cheated by a governmental system that cost him over $40,000, ten years of his life and sent his retirement plans back to zero, he conveys his life history of miserably common working class failures. After all: “The capitalist creed (is): From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”
During his early years as a college student, still full of hope, Stacks lived next to an elderly widow. Her husband was a steel worker whose pension had been raided by corrupt unions, incompetent management, and of course the government, leaving the woman with only the pittance provided by social security to survive on. At one point he recounts a conversation between himself and the older neighbor in which “…she in her grandmotherly fashion tried to convince me that I would be “healthier” eating cat food (like her) rather than trying to get all my substance from peanut butter and bread.”
Stacks goes on to list his different attempts to solve the problems he has with the government, and the different ideologies through which he passes. Having spent at least 1000 hours and $5000 “mailing any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen,” attempting to mount a campaign against the atrocity of unfair taxation, he realized the futility of his actions. Stacks finally grasped that “when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.” Having little recourse Stacks took up the decision for pointless martyrdom. Knowing that “… there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. “
It is Stacks himself that points out the madness of his actions. Saying that “…the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different.” Stacks perversely had some desire that his actions would some how wake up the “American Zombies” to the injustice of the reigning order. Yet as stated above others have thrown themselves against the Kafkaesque labyrinth of despair that is the governmental bureaucracy with equal effect, which is to say none.
Just days after his death, petty politicians of the left and the right are quick to denounce Stacks, each side pointing to the other for producing a mad man. The play of blame just quickens the process of recuperation, Stacks’ act is caught up into the order of things and quickly forgotten, after all Pamela Anderson’s new scanty outfit was a scandal and the Olympics are being played out. While pointing to the widely known fact that something is terribly amiss with the world today Stacks delusive deed becomes just another blurb in the spectacle of modern society.
What we really see in Stacks is the nihilism of his gesture. Nihilists constantly feel the urge to destroy the system which destroys them. They cannot go on living as they are. Stacks did not recognize the possibility for the transformation of the world, and so he becomes ossified into a role: in this case the “suicide.”
The nihilists’ mistake is that they do not realize that there are other with whom they can work. Consequently, they assume that participation in a collective project of self-realization is impossible.

“Take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”
Joe Stacks
1956-2010

The Story of Crass by George Berger

In the fall of 1999 I was a senior in a rural high school outside of Albany New York. My friend from high school, who had previously graduated the year before, was coming home. He was the other punk in town. I picked him up from the greyhound bus station. His large glue encrusted mohawk barely fit into the car. He put the tape in and that’s when I first heard Crass. The discordant muck was jarring enough for me to classify it as punk and the righteously indignant lyrics fit my understanding of what it meant to be political.

Ten plus years later I don’t listen to Crass much. I prefer the more melodic songs of Morrissey, Bronski Beat, She Wants Revenge, and a slew of others who attained more than a modicum of skill with their instruments. While my musical preferences have changed my interest in who and what Crass were has not. When I saw a copy of “The Story of Crass,” by George Berger at a recent Gilman show I picked up the book.

In the fall of 1999 I was a senior in a rural high school outside of Albany New York. My friend from high school, who had previously graduated the year before, was coming home. He was the other punk in town. I picked him up from the greyhound bus station. His large glue encrusted mohawk barely fit into the car. He put the tape in and that’s when I first heard Crass. The discordant muck was jarring enough for me to classify it as punk and the righteously indignant lyrics fit my understanding of what it meant to be political.

Ten plus years later I don’t listen to Crass much. I prefer the more melodic songs of Morrissey, Bronski Beat, She Wants Revenge, and a slew of others who attained more than a modicum of skill with their instruments. While my musical preferences have changed my interest in who and what Crass were has not. When I saw a copy of “The Story of Crass,” by George Berger at a recent Gilman show I picked up the book.

The book is composed of interviews with the members (sans one) of the band and include the voices of Gee Vaucher, Joy De Vivre, and Eve Libertine. The predominant voice of the previous media about the band mainly centers on member Penny Rimbaud, no doubt due to his proclivity for writing (Shibboleth, The Last of the Hippies and The Diamond Signature). Hearing from the others of the band fills out the picture of Crass, although Rimbaud’s voice is still prominent with the author often referring to Rimbaud’s “The Last of the Hippies.”

The beginnings of Crass start with, gasp, art school. Gee Vaucher, a working class girl, met the middle class Penny Rimbaud at a local art school they both attended. Later Rimbaud would move into the Dial House located in the rural landscape of England. Rimbaud points to the importance of the Dial House when he says:

“The place was, and is key and central to Crass. I don’t think Crass would have had the physical environment in which to be created, it wouldn’t have had the background on which it based its creation.But not only that, the very fact that it was a very secure environment which had minimal upkeep and costs, which had sufficient room for a large number of people to live for bugger-all made it central. It was, and remains, a central facility. (p. 165)”

Rimbaud and Vaucher would go on to join the Fluxus inspired artistic theatre group Exit. In recalling Exit Gee Vaucher said “We were part of the Fluxus movement. And before that we were affectedby the Situationists. We were affected by street theatre – by the idea of taking something out of the four walls and off the canvas. (p.33)”

The backbone of a art gave the band a helping hand in the design department. Their infamous logo was made and soon became stenciled everywhere. Along with their iconic logo was the artistic collages of Vaucher. Each album was put together not only with a pre-fixed price record but a long booklet which included the ranting of Rimabaud and the poster art of Vaucher. As if that was not enough the band also began to dress in all black, defining an aesthetic that would separate them from the rest of the punks. This separation was taken further when they were deemed by the punks, and the critics, as living up to the ideals to which they spoke. The Dial House was communal, their diet vegetarian and their shows were often put on as benefits for various far left causes. The members of the band subsumed their individual desires for a collective existence as Crass, for better or for worse.

The band’s coherent aesthetic still contained problems. Talking later of “Yes Sir I will…” Steve Ignorant says “I hate that fucking record – that and Ten Notes on a Summer’s Day are just two piles of garbage. The fun had gone, but I didn’t know how to say it. Because we were Crass, and because Crass lived together, it didn’t ever stop. So your personal life was part of Crass, and Crass was part of your personal life – it’s all intertwined. So the way that you were was Crass and the way lived was…, you could never switch off. Even if I went to the pub or a gig, I was always careful not to get drunk in front of people cos it might backfire, I might get seen. So, yeah, it was quite a restriction and it stopped being fun. (p 244)”

While it was the style of Crass that made them popular it was the very same style (that pervaded their everyday life) that led them to breaking up, and becoming stagnant as a group and amongst themselves. Penny Rimbaud states how Crass’ opposition to the status quo, to their static position as an alternative authority caused , can become inadvertently crystallized.

“When creativity is in opposition to destruction, inevitably destruction prevails. To a very small degree, that was one things we initially didn’t realise. The moment creativity falls into the trap of being in opposition, it’s becoming defined – the whole purpose of creativity is that it’s channeling and describing undefined areas – its bringing form from formlessness. The moment the form is defined (by auhtorities, by the state, by the schools, by parents, by the church) then we’re no longer in a creative situation.”

The above quote smacks strongly of the idea of ressentiment, a Nietzschean term that depicts a sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration. In Crass’ case their ressentiment was directed at the State and Capital, against society as a whole. With ressentiment there is a sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” which generates a rejecting/justifying value system or morality. Here we can see Crass’ embrace of vegetarianism, pacificism, and anarchism. This set of morality attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability, it allows one to have a righteous anger against the enemy, a forever feeling of victim-hood.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the way it highlighted the art background and hippy values of Crass was ultimately very disappointing for me personally. I hate hippies, and its sad that one of the greatest punk bands were hippies. Working class member Steve Ignorant saves the day, (a little bit, even if he wasn’t a hippy he sure did hang out with a bunch) when he said in reply to being called hippies; “That used to drive me up the right up the fucking wall! I hated that. … the hippy thing used to drive me mad because I never was a hippy and never will be. (p. 163)”

Phew at least one of them wasn’t a fucking hippy.