A programmer named Joseph Andrew Stack crashed his Piper plane today into an office building in Austin, Texas. Prior to that he reportedly set his house on fire and posted a suicide statement on his own website. His website has been taken down, but the letter can still be read on NPR and Huffington Post websites.
This is very sad. From the headline (Austin Plane Crash Pilot’s Apparent Suicide Note), I expected the ramblings of a crazy person, one I would not – most likely – relate to. Instead, what I read reflects the experience of a generation of tech workers. This was one member of the former American middle class who found himself squeezed out while the management of so many companies was giving itself multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses. This fortunately was not my story, but I recognize exactly the IRS ruling he references because I knew people who complained bitterly about it at the time. Every sitting congressperson should read that letter and consider the desperation driving this man to do what he did. Joseph Stack may not have been the strongest person among us, but his experience reflects the middle class’s feeling that they have been cheated out of everything they thought they were promised for their hard work. This is surely something for all of us to think about.
That was pretty much what I posted on the NPR website immediately after reading the letter. Upon later consideration, it is especially sad that this man retaliated against a random (albeit local) IRS office. The people working there are just everyday grunts, like the rest of us. However much they may have implemented this man’s torture, they did not cause it. The problem lies with the unholy alliance between American politics and capitalism. Our system is broken, guys. Our system drove this person to madness. Politicians and fat cats benefited from that specific legislation that unfavorably impacted “independent consultants” and they have much to answer for. They were nowhere near where this poor man crashed his airplane in frustration.
As emotional as we become in this country, few of us would crash an airplane to register our frustration. I can’t help but remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK Jr. and the attempted assassinations of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. This is no way to solve a problem. Death and destruction can never make things better. They can only register our discontent. Ultimately, don’t you think we can elect officials and vote for Boards of Directors who will perform their functions with honesty and integrity? I personally vote against every single company employee who is currently or aspires to be on their company’s Board of Directors. I urge you to do the same.
My point in that last paragraph, in case it is misunderstood, is that those who manage companies are paid to manage them, not to plunder and control the distribution of profits to their own advantage. Peter Drucker in his last book pointed out that the natural lifespan of a corporation is usually about 25 years…. that being the length of time the original founder builds and runs the company. After that, the going concern is taken over by “managers” who put their own interests ahead of the corporation’s future. I saw it up close at DEC, Prime, and Wang. You’ve seen it, too. Unless new legislation is passed, corporations which are controlled by their plundering CEOs will be able to blatantly pay for political ads favoring those politicians who vote as they are told. This is not a good road for us to travel as a country.
MSNBC’s Today Show carried a detailed article posted Friday, February 19, 2010 with links to related material. I haven’t changed my mind about the underlying cause of this tragedy. The French Revolution, after all, was the result of a thwarted middle class. This sort of action is a serious message.