Joe Stack and the Incomprehension of Liberty

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Other people have alreadysurmised the essentials of these tragic deaths quite well. I am assuming that the reader doesn’t need a recap of what transpired on February 18. And make no mistake about it: These are tragic deaths, using the original meaning of “tragic.” A tragedy concerns the downfall of a once great individual. “Hamlet” is a tragedy because it chiefly concerns the downfall of the protagonist, and secondarily the downfall of the innermost royal court, due to their own mistakes. Joe Stack’s death and the murders he committed are an immense tragedy.
Here is but one of many re-printings of Stack’s final written words. It is obvious that Stack spent a long time in the thought process leading up to his suicide mission, but unfortunately, it was the wrong process. Yes indeed, the government is deceitful, greedy, inept, uncaring, and thoroughly unsalvageable. It is also true that we have been lied to by sycophantic media and the government’s schools. I am living proof that increasing awareness of these facts can eventually lead to greater understanding of freedom. However, I am unconvinced that government malfeasance and corruption alone would lead a man to kill himself and deliberately target other humans. To commit such a violent act as a last resort speaks of what I believe lies at the heart of the problem.
I do not believe that government is the root of all evil. This does not mean that I think government is anything less than evil. I definitely agree that any government predicated on coercion, to any extent, is bound to eventually hurt someone innocent in some way, and that such a system can only become increasingly corrupted. But systems of government are not the cause of this cancer; they are the tumors that send the patient to the doctor. Any cancerous growth begins with the body’s inability to destroy cancer cells. This is the mystery that scientists who study the disease are continually trying to solve. They know what I know: The disease starts someplace hidden much deeper, before any tumor can yet form. Government is the physical manifestation of a much deeper evil. That evil riddled Stack’s body with cancer, and he briefly became a government of one.
Like so many others out there, he was merely using a scapegoat instead of looking at the source of his problems. Granted, Stack’s scapegoat, unlike anti-Semites or other bigots, is indeed guilty of the things he outlined in his fairly well-written suicide note. But then I think of someone principled like Will Norman Grigg, who continually points out the more threatening nature of law enforcement personnel, articles that often have me cringing so much that I don’t spend much time reading them.  I marvel at the difference between Stack’s chosen way out and Grigg’s well-reasoned, calm, level-headed approach to liberty.
Here is a man who understands what Stack was only beginning to learn. For Grigg, the lesson is already digested and can now be put into process. The end result is that Grigg can see these government workers as men and women. Stack saw only enemies to be taken down in a last-ditch effort at getting his voice heard.  In the end, all Stack accomplished was the destruction of his wife’s and his step-daughter’s personal property, the ending of his own life before he had experienced it in its fullness, and the taking of two more innocent souls.
That’s right. Those two IRS employees were innocent, at least, in as far as most ordinary people are. Yes, they are part of a massive bureaucracy that steals money to survive and thrive. Guess what? So are my parents. As former government school teachers, my parents are living off of pensions provided by everyone else in the state at the point of a gun. I don’t want some frustrated, persecuted homeschooler crashing his car into my parents’ home to make his point. Even John Taylor Gatto wouldn’t approve. Those two employees had bills. They had families. They had thoughts and feelings. They had boring office jobs. So does pretty much everyone else. One of them may have had a cold that day. One of them may very well have been questioning what he was doing working for a corrupt organization like the IRS.
Will Grigg understands that these are ordinary people, like most people walking around on land masses all over this planet, mistaken in their ideas about right and wrong when it comes to the use of governmental force. Joe Stack, in his efforts at communicating a deep-seated angst, dehumanized the enemy in order to justify an abhorrently violent solution. Unlike Grigg, he was unprepared and ill-educated concerning freedom. But why? If government is not the root of evil, then what is?
So many people think like Stack instead of Grigg, and that is unfortunate. They look at an unfair tax code and an unresponsive government that allegedly represents them. They look at the voting booth as a possible solution, without considering what the premise of all of it is. If they did get closer to the premise, many of them would find out, perhaps to their horror, that they are far more violent than they thought they were.
A government cannot be created unless there is at least one person who has a strong enough desire to control the outcome of what others say or do. Furthermore, that one person must be smart enough to sell his idea to others, which will most likely mean (if bribes don’t work) preying upon their fears: blacks, commies, feminists, fascists, capitalists, immigrants, religious fundamentalists, gays, Democrats, Republicans, etc. The sell is the merely beginning of cynicism; the desire is the beginning of evil.
If you want to strike at the root of evil, you cannot focus on government, which is the tumor that you can see. Chances are, when you remove a cancerous growth, there are others you have missed. We may very well be living on a land mass with more Joe Stacks than we care to think about. Perhaps, in their unyielding desire to be rid of the current bureaucratic regime, they may violently overthrow it. If they ever achieve what they want, the cancer will still be thriving in a broken body, and who knows what will take the place of this “constitutional republic”? I shudder to think.
Joe Stack was a violent man who desired power over others. What put the violence into him? I have a hard time believing it began with the government unfairly singling out people of his chosen profession; I think rather that was simply the culmination. I am increasingly persuaded by Alice Miller’s arguments concerning the roots of violence. I suspect that Stack’s desire for such a grisly finish had been building up for years, and that the seeds were planted before he ever dreamed of going to any tax seminar.
My own experience in dealing with government has been no more gratifying than his. Not too long ago, I made the mistake of going to traffic court thoroughly unprepared. I don’t mean without having done any research on the Internet, or without the necessary paperwork; I did quite a lot of that. But I left that courtroom filled with hateful thoughts that, I have to admit, had a violent bent to them. I did not leave with those thoughts in mind because I used Argument B instead of A, or because I forgot to bring Section 2d found on page 95. I was unprepared because, like Joe Stack and unlike Will Grigg, I had not yet rooted out the evil. A man who knows how to love and how to be free does not despair as I or Stack obviously did. Quite obviously, though I know more about freedom than Stack, I have more to learn. Unlike Stack, and the two souls he took with him, I still have the opportunity to learn, to prepare myself for future confrontations with the uglier side of humanity, the uglier side of us all.
Joe Stack had no business taking his own life. He most assuredly had less business taking anyone else’s. I don’t care if those two IRS employees were as darkly cynical as the people sitting atop this bureaucracy catering to our fears. I don’t care if they were as offensive and deceitful as the traffic judge I stood before. Their lives were not his to take. Therefore, the truer parts of his final narrative will pale in comparison to the tragedy he unleashed. It was understandable to some extent, but it still begs any kind of excuse.
Those of us concerned with Liberty will have to weather the false notion that we are all in league with a “nutcase.” Those accusations will ring out for some time. They are false (and Stack wasn’t a “nutcase”), but the deeper truth of the evil that still exists in so many of us must not be ignored. The angrier “tea-partiers” must learn to recognize it before it is too late.
If I ever find myself in traffic court again, I must come prepared to deal with the lies that will usher forth from the judge. He is corrupt, yes. But he is a man. I am not there to convert him, or even to win. I am there, if I ever go again, because it is the right thing to do, and because I must make the effort on behalf of greater truths, on behalf of freedom and individuality. If I cannot do it, I must be honest with myself and step aside. I must wait until I am stronger. Someone should have reached Joe Stack with a similar message before he acted so rashly.
I now believe that love and freedom cannot exist without at least two other distinct and indivisible conditions: peace and truth. It may very well be that love, freedom, and peace cannot exist without a foundation of truth. Or perhaps these four principles cannot thrive without a dose of courage. My mind is not yet made up on the exact conditions that are required. One thing I do know: There is little about what Joe Stack thought and did that had anything whatsoever to do with any one of these principles. Wherever he is now, he is probably paying a price for what he did. That is the tragedy. May it be his, and his alone. To listen to the valid complaints of such an individual is a worthy endeavor, but no one should ever follow his example.

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B.R. Merrick's picture
Columns on STR: 35

B.R. Merrick writes for "Strike The Root" and "A Voice for Men," is  proud to be a classical music reviewer at and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.


Bill Ross's picture

Joe Stack made the same mistake "terrorists" and other non-strategic thinkers make: Failing to strike at the root of the problem or, mistaking pawns for the enemies of freedom. There will never be a shortage of pawns and, even though the system has as much care or allegiance for their pawns as for the rest of us (ie; absolutely none, apart from animal husbandry of prey), the system uses attacks on their pawns as a major part or their rationalizations (terror arguments) regarding why they need more power in their protection racket. Joe Stack made matters worse. The war for freedom can only be won by occupying the moral high ground.

The truth is, we are all coerced by environmental control 101 to behave in a harmful, irrational manner and we ALL, including pawns of the system HATE it. Darwin warned us:

Survival EQUALS adaptation to environment (the system) EQUALS ability to choose correctly EQUALS freedom:

THINK about it:

golefevre's picture

It is great to have another essay from B.R. I think he's onto something here when he speaks about truth as a condition needed in the pursuit of freedom. Stack most certainly concluded with an untenable position when he initiated the violence. To sort of paraphrase Stefan Molyneux, the moral justifications for taking such actions become more and more convoluted the further we move away from truth. I think that the main truth that Stack willfully ignored was that the initiation of force is never morally justified. In my view, "winning" freedom will mean that one day we can persuade enough individuals not only to hear the counter argument against government, but also to hold to intellectual and moral honesty by knowing the simple truth that the initiation of force is immoral. If we can be honest in looking for the truth, I think the "diffusion and confusion" that tzo wrote about (here on STR, 4/04) is greatly diminished.

kborer's picture

That Joe became a government of one hits close to the mark. To say that government is not the root of evil, but the individuals who compose it, is a mistake. Considering government to be a separate entity to those individuals of whom it consists is a collectivist notion. Only actions can be evil and only individuals act. This does not change the fact that government is the locus of evil action.

B.R. Merrick's picture

Actually, "evil" is relative to what the individual thinks. When I say that government is "evil," I am merely stating my opinion. I see government as the physical embodiment, the officialization, if you will, of what I consider "evil," which is the desire to possess The Ring of Power, or to control what other individuals do. If you get rid of this government, the virus that creates it still exists within too many individuals walking around on this land mass.

Paul's picture

The author spends a little too much time condemning Stack and exonerating IRS employees for my taste.

Every one of us makes choices in life, good choices and bad choices. Unfortunately, the consequences for those choices are often not immediate, and sometimes don't happen at all. Bad choices are not always punished, good choices are not always rewarded.

The choice to become an IRS employee is an evil one. Most who make this choice evade the consequences. The two who were killed by Stack did not. Oh, well. That does not make them just ordinary folks. They were still evil. They suffered a rather improbable consequence, but it was directly tied to what they did for a living (victimizing others), and the choice they made to do that.

And Stack is not to be compared with Grigg either. When Grigg is as persecuted as Stack was, when the CPS actually takes his kids, we will see how he reacts (I suspect, with violence, which is the correct response). Oh, and paying a traffic fine in no way compares with what Stack put up with.

I agree with Merrick that, "Government is the physical manifestation of a much deeper evil." We are all guilty of it in some way or another. But our ability to see and understand that evil, and rid ourselves of it, depends in part on our seeing that choices have consequences. Most people need to see that bad choices can be punished; and seeing that, they have plenty of incentive not to make bad choices. Joe Stack performed a service for liberty; he did not harm it.

People who put up with anything the system dishes out to them, are no friends of liberty, either. There has to be a line in the sand. Joe Stack had one, and his was crossed. That's all.

B.R. Merrick's picture

"People who put up with anything the system dishes out to them, are no friends of liberty, either. There has to be a line in the sand. Joe Stack had one, and his was crossed. That's all."

Thank heavens that in the process of ramming his plane into that building that there were not other victims of the IRS's theft sitting in those offices with the two people who were killed, trying to defend their property in a less violent fashion.

John T. Kennedy's picture

"That’s right. Those two IRS employees were innocent, at least, in as far as most ordinary people are. Yes, they are part of a massive bureaucracy that steals money to survive and thrive. Guess what? So are my parents. As former government school teachers, my parents are living off of pensions provided by everyone else in the state at the point of a gun."

The difference: Teaching is an honorable and valuable profession that has simply been captured by the state, as so many things have. Tax collecting is a moral crime in principle.