Paraphrasing Stack, Quoting Gandhi

In the best of all possible worlds our higher selves would exist in perfect synchronization with our highest ideals. But in the real world there is no one who can pass the litmus test of: People whose ideas fall into perfect moral alignment with their actions.

Consider that our Constitution was written by men who espoused freedom for all, yet many of them owned human beings who were kidnapped from their homes and forced to work as slaves.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was known to have plagiarized large parts of another man’s work in the creation of his thesis. And, like many prominent men, he had a series of illicit relationships outside of his marriage.

Gandhi, in discussing methods of resistance against the British, suggested that rather than accept oppression and tyranny that people would be better off standing fast and fighting by force of arms.

Yet we are able to look past these base facts to see the higher truths these people espoused.

Every one who is human does something that has the potential to directly nullify a morally upright stance they take. If we are human, we are flawed. Those flaws in no way minimize the higher truths that move through us. If we are to live honestly, we can condemn the wrongness of an action without detracting from the rightness of an ideal.

That is precisely why our Constitution was such a brilliant creation. It is a document of higher truths, never falling to the level of merely human; rife with frailties and flaws. It cannot seek to rule or oppress those adhering to the tenets contained within it. It is made up of ideas separated from the base qualities of a flawed humanity. I suspect that separation is exactly what the framers intended.

The larger point of my discussion of ideas and ideals versus base human action leads me to the tragedy of Joe Stack. Joe Stack, by all accounts, was well-off enough that he owned his own plane, a large house and his own independent business.

Joe Stack was not poverty stricken. Unlike the truly destitute, he seemingly had choices. So we may never be able to say, with any degree of certainty, what led him to his final decision. All we are able to say with any certainty is he was angry and in that anger made a series of irrevocable, horribly damaging choices.

In considering his last words, I am in no way suggesting Joe Stack was a Jefferson, nor a Washington nor Gandhi, nor King. I am suggesting, instead, that the themes he touched on in his statement have an urgency and validity that should be considered outside the final misguided actions he chose to undertake.

Most psychologists will tell you that fear typically leads to one of two reactions: withdrawal or acting out. Joe Stack acted out. He channeled his fear into anger and he channeled his anger outward, ostensibly against a government agency. But in reality he acted against the very people he claimed to sympathize with: middle class and lower class workers. And that is where his ideals and his actions diverged and lost moral coherence.

What was Joe Stack afraid of? He was afraid of the same things many, many Americans fear in these uncertain times: We fear losing everything we have spent our lives working for. We fear that our country has lost its moral center. We are afraid that the people we have entrusted our lives and livelihoods to, namely our government, does not have our best interest in mind.

Ultimately, we are afraid of discovering the game has always been rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. And it is a game we fear we could have never won; no matter how hard we worked, no matter how upright and earnest our efforts.

Paraphrasing Joe Stack:

-The middle class are having the fruits of their labors stolen from them. The upper classes are benefiting directly from this theft.

-There is a deep disconnect between what we are indoctrinated to believe about the values America is said to stand for and the sad reality of the actions America takes in the name of those values.

-Our government has made promises to the most vulnerable in our society, yet the system continues to leave many of them helpless, even as it helps those who do not need it.

-Our tax system has become Draconian in its complexity. This complexity serves the rich and connected. It has never served the weak and helpless.

– As long as we continue to accept what is happening, it will keep happening.

Interestingly, this last sentiment echoes Gandhi’s assertion that the people’s acceptance of tyranny allows it to continue.

Like Gandhi, I think violence is the less effective choice for dealing with oppressors and tyrants. Gandhi felt the morally upright way and the one requiring the greatest courage was to resist solely by nonviolent means.

Gandhi said it best with this statement: “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”

Change requires deep desire, it requires sacrifice. It does not require violence. Therein lay Joe Stack’s fatal flaw.

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