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.”