Joseph Stack, the man who flew a plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, left a long, a very long, pre-suicide/pre-murder screed identifying those issues that drove him to commit his act. The most obvious thing about the screed is that it is the work of someone with cognitive dysfunction, most likely some form of paranoid schizophrenia. There were no logical thought processes at work here. The other thing obvious about his polemic was that it borrowed anger from every political movement. Here are some highlights, showing that this was a man who could hold a grudge against Mother Theresa, the Good Humor Man, George Washington, Stalin, and Walt Disney simultaneously, along with all his other grudges against one political movement or another:
We are all taught as children that without laws there would be no society, only anarchy. Sadly, starting at early ages we in this country have been brainwashed to believe that, in return for our dedication and service, our government stands for justice for all. We are further brainwashed to believe that there is freedom in this place, and that we should be ready to lay our lives down for the noble principals represented by its founding fathers. Remember? One of these was “no taxation without representation”. I have spent the total years of my adulthood unlearning that crap from only a few years of my childhood. These days anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a “crackpot”, traitor and worse. [There's no ideology here, just anger against taxes, something common to all people in varying degrees depending on the amount of money taken from them or the use to which the government puts the money.]
I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind. Nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say. [Stack is alienated from all politicians, regardless of political stripe.]
Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours? [Stack hates both corporatism and the stimulus, showing his equal opportunity outlook.]
Yet at the same time, the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies, are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple, and this country’s leaders don’t see this as important as bailing out a few of their vile, rich cronies. Yet, the political “representatives” (thieves, liars, and self-serving scumbags is far more accurate) have endless time to sit around for year after year and debate the state of the “terrible health care problem”. It’s clear they see no crisis as long as the dead people don’t get in the way of their corporate profits rolling in. [Stack hates the status quo regarding American medicine, which would put him squarely on the Democratic side of the political system.]
How can any rational individual explain that white elephant conundrum in the middle of our tax system and, indeed, our entire legal system? Here we have a system that is, by far, too complicated for the brightest of the master scholars to understand. Yet, it mercilessly “holds accountable” its victims, claiming that they’re responsible for fully complying with laws not even the experts understand. The law “requires” a signature on the bottom of a tax filing; yet no one can say truthfully that they understand what they are signing; if that’s not “duress” than what is. If this is not the measure of a totalitarian regime, nothing is. [Stack hates our legal system, an ideology that is not associated with either the left or the right.]
In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful “exemptions” that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy. [Stack hates the church, which seems to be a left thing, not a right thing, although he sounds more like a 16th Century theologian than a modern secular American leftist.]
However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country. [Stack believes in class warfare, a notion emanating from the political left.]
The significance of independence, however, came much later during my early years of college; at the age of 18 or 19 when I was living on my own as student in an apartment in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My neighbor was an elderly retired woman (80+ seemed ancient to me at that age) who was the widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on. [Stack believes both management and unions are corrupt, making him, again, an equal opportunity hater.]
And on and on it goes, with Stack railing endlessly about government and the lack of government, about religion, about class warfare, about socialism and capitalism. Indeed, as to the last two, Stack wrapped up his missive with knocks at both economic institutions:
The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.
In simple terms, the guy was a loony-tunes, who was unfettered by any specific political ideology. He was paranoid to the point of murderous and suicidal insanity. There was nothing else there: no strong political ideology or affiliation, no overriding belief system, just garden-variety paranoia.
If you believe my analysis, you will also believe that Robert Wright, of the New York Times, is a bona fide idiot. Wright has looked at the same manifesto and concluded that Stack was a Tea Party terrorist. With hundreds of wordy-words, and turgid explanations, Wright explains his reasoning. After you read Wright’s little anti-conservative polemic, I’ll conclude with my simplified analysis of Wright’s thinking, and you’ll see where the idiot label I apply comes from. First, Wright:
Stack, in contrast, saw himself as part of a cause, as one in a long line of fighters against tyranny. The manifesto he left behind reads, “I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. … I can only hope that the numbers quickly get too big to be whitewashed and ignored” — at which point, God willing, “the American zombies wake up and revolt.” This man was, by prevailing semantic conventions, a terrorist.
Was he a Tea Partier — or at least a Tea Party sympathizer? Conservatives who say no point to leftish themes in his manifesto. And it’s true that — in a line much-quoted by these conservatives — he seems to wish that the government would do something about health care. Then again, who doesn’t?
There are clearer left-wing strands in Stack’s writing — he identified with blacks and the downtrodden, he said the rich oppress the poor — but I’m not sure how relevant that is, because I’m not sure how purely conservative the Tea Party movement is anyway.
Yes, it mobilized against a liberal health care bill and the stimulus package, but it also opposes corporate bailouts. Sure, Tea Partiers hate taxes, but that alone doesn’t distinguish them from many Americans. On social issues the Tea Partiers include some libertarians along with a larger number of family-values conservatives.
And when you move to foreign policy, things don’t get more coherent. Though some Tea Partiers are hawks, many follow Ron Paul’s lead, combining a left-wing critique of military engagement with a right-wing aversion to the United Nations and other multilateral entanglements.
In the end, the core unifying theme of the Tea Partiers is populist rage, and this is the core theme in Stack’s ramblings, whether the rage is directed at corporate titans (“plunderers”), the government (“totalitarian”) or individual politicians (“liars”).
I don’t doubt that Tea Partiers are on balance on the right, and if their movement ever crystallizes into a political party that will be its location. But until the requisite winnowing happens, a person with Stack’s fuzzy ideology wouldn’t feel terribly alone at a big Tea Party.
I emphasize that I’m talking about his ideology, not his penchant for flying planes into buildings. Still, some of the ingredients of that penchant — a conspiratorial bent, a deep and personal sense of oppression, an attendant resentful rage — can be found in the movement, if mainly on its fringes. There are some excitable Tea Partiers out there.
You could, on the one hand, follow this logic to the conclusion that Joseph Stack was the first Tea Party terrorist.
Stack tries to pull back from his biased conclusion by saying, “Hey, let’s avoid the word terrorist altogether (since, unspoken, we at the New York Times already do that when it comes to Muslim killers who come pre-equipped with a neatly packaged anti-American ideology),” but that doesn’t undo his conclusion. Instead, it’s just a silly verbal game aimed at disavowing his clearly stated conclusion.
And now, after all of Wright’s verbal dancing and prancing, let me present my simple distillation of Wright’s endless verbiage:
Tea Partiers are angry.
Stack was angry.
Therefore Stack was a Tea Partier.
In other words, Wright engaged in a classic false syllogism:
People often make mistakes when reasoning syllogistically.
For instance, from the premises some A are B, some B are C, people tend to come to a definitive conclusion that therefore some A are C. However, this does not follow according to the rules of classical logic. For instance, while some cats (A) are black (B), and some black things (B) are televisions (C), it does not follow from the parameters that some cats (A) are televisions (C). This is because first, the mood of the syllogism invoked is illicit (III), and second, the supposition of the middle term is variable between that of the middle term in the major premise, and that of the middle term in the minor premise (not all “some” cats are by necessity of logic the same “some black things”).
Determining the validity of a syllogism involves determining the distribution of each term in each statement, meaning whether all members of that term are accounted for.
In simple syllogistic patterns, the fallacies of invalid patterns are:
- Undistributed middle – Neither of the premises accounts for all members of the middle term, which consequently fails to link the major and minor term.
- Illicit treatment of the major term – The conclusion implicates all members of the major term (P — meaning the proposition is negative); however, the major premise does not account for them all (i e P is either an affirmative predicate or a particular subject there).
- Illicit treatment of the minor term – Same as above, but for the minor term (S — meaning the proposition is universal) and minor premise (where S is either a particular subject or an affirmative predicate).
- Exclusive premises – Both premises are negative, meaning no link is established between the major and minor terms.
- Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise – If either premise is negative, the conclusion must also be.
- Existential fallacy – This is a more controversial one. If both premises are universal, i.e. “All” or “No” statements, one school of thought says they do not imply the existence of any members of the terms. In this case, the conclusion cannot be existential; i.e. beginning with “Some”. Another school of thought says that affirmative statements (universal or particular) do imply the subject’s existence, but negatives do not. A third school of thought says that the any type of proposition may or may not involve the subject’s existence, and although this may condition the conclusion it does not affect the form of the syllogism.
Apparently the eight years of shrieking Bush Derangement Syndrome that preceded the Tea Party movement did nothing to create an “angry movement” in America. In Wright’s imaginary land, Stack’s travails, which Stack himself saw as stretching back decades, were unaffected by any anger other than the righteous (and non-violent) indignation of the tea partiers. I also don’t see any record of Wright opining about the Left wing rage that motivated Amy Bishop, a fanatic Obama follower (left wing) who, angered that she was denied her rightful tenure (a very Left wing notion), went postal and killed three black colleagues. Apparently she was merely crazy, and not the logical result of of eight years of violently hostile Bush Derangement Syndrome.
I am reminded again why, even though I, as an informed person, should know what the other side is saying, I avoid the New York Times. Being constantly confronted with stupidity just raises my blood pressure. My husband keeps urging me to listen to NPR’s Fresh Air, in which Terry Gross has a good laugh with David Weigel about CPAC and how stupid conservatives are. (They don’t respect saintly Woodrow Wilson! How ignorant can they be?) I just don’t have the stomach to listen to ignorance, nor the time to write the inevitable long post explaining just what a dreadful, totalitarian-leaning president Wilson was, nor to point out that, as always, NPR focuses on the fringe and not the center when it reports on the right. Somehow NPR never gets around to reporting on its own fringe (Maxine Waters, anybody?), but that omission leaves both NPR and its listeners unperturbed.