Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts on Austin IRS craziness.

Bob here, with first impressions of the attack on the IRS offices in Austin, Texas by a dude with a plane, a beef with the government, and a death wish.

Ron Paul, a man who I find to be correct about a great deal many things, believes that the United States must look to its own foreign policy decisions and actions when looking for answers to questions such as "why do the 'terrorists' hate, attack, and kill us?" or "why does so much of the rest of the world have such animosity for the United States?"

The idea, of course, is simple: United States interference, imperialism, and generalized war-making in the Middle East makes the people of that part of the world understandably upset at the United States. The power-hungry (and probably smarter) individuals of the understandably upset region then see a golden opportunity: they can capitalize on the anger and hatred that is being felt and provide a series of simple answers to the obvious problem presented by the United States. Thus, a radical is born.

Cause and effect, no? If the United States was not bothering to interfere in the affairs of the Middle East, angering whole generations in the process, they would have no reason to sacrifice their lives in a vain attempt to throw off the yoke of US asshole-ishness. Simplistic, but intuitive.

I tend to agree with Ron Paul on this, but such a philosophy has its own limitations, some of which have only been made plain to me as a result of today's events in Austin, and others that were more obvious all along.

First, there is an unintended consequence of such thought, which is that it can seem to let the individuals who actually commit heinous acts as terrorism or what have you off the proverbial hook. The kid who was molested when he was seven years-old is likely fucked up for life, and is considerably more likely to victimize someone else down the road because of what was done to him.

Cause and effect, no? But, then again, just because you can point to a cause or a trigger for someone's behavior doesn't grant the original victim clemency for future crimes. We still hold the individual responsible for the actions they take to harm others, regardless of how they've been victimized in the past.

Same goes for the pissed off Middle-Easterners. We can point to a series of terrible actions taken by the United States as potential triggers for a "terrorist's" point of view or even their vicious behavior, but this is not a justification nor an excuse for the individual's actions.

I know this is all somewhat obvious. But for whatever reason, whenever someone wants to point to United States foreign policy as a possible causal reason for global discontent, people start screaming about how "you're just trying to blame America!" or "why do you hate the troops?!" This is either very stupid or very intellectually dishonest. It is foolish to expect intelligence or honesty when it comes to politicians or those who discuss them at length in the media. I'm not that naive, and I doubt you are, either.

It is ultimately the responsibility of those capable of massive influence (such as the United States) to take an honest look at what their influence has in fact wrought. In this case, while the US has indeed been at times a force for immeasurable good in the world, American policy and actions have also very much had a negative impact on individuals, countries, and even entire continents. To entirely blame ourselves for the actions taken by others against our interests is of course ignorant and unjust, but to ignore our role or position in the causal chain of events is very much even worse, and leaves us looking to the rest of the world like a country of blind despots.

So what do we do? It wouldn't be humane, prudent, or even really possible to dismantle all institutions of US foreign influence in an attempt to avoid killing, hurting, or even offending anyone's sensibilities in the future. All we can do is try to change our policies in such a way that prevents the future victimization of individuals and their region. We can accept responsibility for what we've done without accepting the blame for what others have done in response to our mistakes, and it is incredibly important that we do so. All it takes is a little bit of intellectual honesty.

9/11 offered the United States a unique opportunity for self-reflection. In the years that followed, it would have been wise to figure out what we could change about our global positioning and policy to change the way we are perceived by our friends and enemies alike while at the same time seeking out those who attacked us and bringing them to justice. Instead, we went to war, which has had the net result of reinforcing many of the worst things the world already believed.

This has been a helluva circuitous route to get to where I'm going, but here we are, finally.

Joseph Andrew Stack flew his plane into a building that housed just shy of 200 employees of the Internal Revenue Service, seemingly because he believed the IRS to be an institution with which it was impossible to reason. He believed the tax code was immoral, unfair, and overwhelming, and felt that he had exhausted all reasonable and legal options available to fight the system. Thus, a radical was born.

It would be irresponsible and unfair to blame the IRS or the federal government at large for the actions and murderous intent of Joe Stack. But as with the "terrorists," it would be just as ignorant, and dangerous, to assume that the causal chain of events that led to Joe Stack's breakdown, radicalization, and ultimate violent recourse began and ended somewhere in his own mind.

No one is responsible for the actions of Joe Stack beyond the individual (deceased) called Joe Stack. The fact remains, however, that the massive tax code is often seemingly unfair, nearly impossible to fully understand, and backed by the full force and fury of a federal United States government that is increasingly acting in the best interests of its corporate sponsors, and not the people it purports to represent.

What Joe Stack did was wrong, pointless, and inexcusable--and he is entirely responsible for his actions. It's also an invaluable window into the mind of a man who represents a way of thinking that is different only in degree, and not in kind, from the thinking of what I think is a substantial swath of the American public. To write him off as a crazy person is to ignore a much greater problem, or even the possibility of such a problem.


  1. I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

  2. Yeah. I wonder how many crazy people our government has helped nurture. Far scarier is the vast swaths of entitled people the quiet despotism of america is molding.