Amy Bishop and Joseph Stack: Death, Tenure and Taxes

Amy Bishop and Joseph Stack: Death, Tenure and TaxesLook at us, goddammit, the two of us slingshotted from the back side of the moon, greedily cartwheeling toward everything we are owed. Every day we are collecting on what’s coming to us, each day we’re being paid back for what is owed, what we deserve, with interest, with some extra motherfucking consideration – we are owed, goddammit – and so we are expecting everything, everything.” From A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Dave and Toph Eggers, young men headed west, firm in their conviction that, after the ridiculously proximate, graphically painful deaths of both their parents, the universe owes them smooth sailing at the least and delirious happiness at the most. The Eggers family – what was left of it – were hardly the first to head west to cash in on the American coupon; one could argue that they had a good case. When you’ve lost a third of your family in a matter of months, it seems that the stars should cough up some kindness.

Others, it seems, feel equally entitled, even if they haven’t accumulated the karma-cash to cover their assumptions. Like the Eggerses, Dr. Amy Bishop lost a family member in grisly fashion; problem is, she shot him herself. Dr. Bishop firmly believed that she was owed promotions, tenure, and, apparently, the last booster seat in a Massachusetts IHOP. When none of the above were offered, she resorted to violence, or the threat of it, again and again, until she was arrested on February 12th for shooting six fellow faculty members at the University of Alabama, three of whom died. Maybe Bishop, who looks disturbingly like a grownup Gashlycrumb Tiny, used up her good luck when she got off scot-free after blowing a hole in her brother in 1986; still, her words and actions all point toward a person who felt that she was due great things, if the rest of us assholes would just get out of her way.

For Andrew Joseph Stack III, it wasn’t so much what he was owed, as what he felt he shouldn’t owe – about $15K to the federal government, after he and his wife failed to make the case that they should be exempt for religious reasons. Apparently, Stack found this debt so crushing that it drove him to set his own house on fire and then fly his plane into a local IRS office, killing Vernon Hunter, 67, and injuring 2 others. It is safe to assume that Stack had hoped to rack up more collateral damage; his wife and daughter were safely in a hotel when he torched their home, but the IRS building was full of people. Coincidentally, $15K is also the lowest price for which one can obtain a Piper Cherokee airplane like Stack’s, according to Aircraft Shopper Online. Why did Stack choose to use his plane as a weapon instead of simply selling it, paying his debt, and moving on with his life? According to his manifesto, “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” Amy Bishop apparently agreed.

If violence is the only answer, what’s the only question? “Why can’t I have everything I want?” “Why do I have to obey the law like everyone else?” It’s too easy to write Bishop and Stack off as insane. Tea Partiers have already claimed Stack as their own, while others have labeled Bishop a “left-wing extremist.” In this case, however, to focus on politics is to miss the point. Bishop and Stack weren’t skinhead separatists; they were upper-middle-class Americans who apparently felt that the world owed them way more than a living. When the world didn’t deliver, they acted according to a logic that wasn’t, something along the lines of “an eye for a life,” or “a gun in the hand is worth three votes for tenure.” The extent of their selfishness is unreal.

Hey Amy and Joseph! Guess what: you weren’t owed. Not one damn thing. But a whole lot of people paid anyway. Hope you suffer miserably during your stays on the back side of the moon.

Beth Boyle Machlan was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and now lives in Carroll Gardens with her daughters, 8 and 10, and some guy. Her writing about architecture and fiction has appeared in academic jour more


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