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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Capitalism's Fordian Flaw: Ignorance is Not Bliss

Man against man?  Check.
Man against himself?  Check.
Man against nature?  Rob Ford is spoiling for that fight.
Rob Ford is a functionally fixed man with a deep level of delusion.  He sees himself (except in his darkest moments) as the embodiment of the Horatio Alger myth; the fella who fought his way to the top and will fight to stay there against any comers, be they other politicians, the press, his substance abuse or even cancer.
It's a narrative that his family clearly fuels, partially because they want it to be true but, it must be said, partially because they see the benefits of that particular narrative.
The only sort of story people love more than a Fall is come-back.

We love us our fighters.  They don't just come in the pugilistic category; Erin Brockovich is a fighter in the mold of Ellen Ripley, who is a fighter.   Stephen Hawking is revered for his ability to fight against his own failing body to achieve great things; the Dalai Lama fights against the easy course of violence and remains functionally fixed on his agenda of peaceful protest.
This is the capitalist dream; the implication is that anyone, if they have enough grit, can become the President of a company or the country.  It's that trait - tenacity - that matters above all else. 
In fact, it replaces all else.  Anything that detracts from personal grit is bad; anything that surfaces it is good.  Socialism, as such, is bad; it unnaturally holds individuals down in a learned helplessness instead of freeing them to God's gift of individualism.  Better to put a gun in a man's hand that he may fight for himself than a roof over his head and domesticate him. 

This is why even those who detest Rob Ford put him in a special category reserved for those who do not quit.  Whether we like or despise the process or results, people admire tenacity.  He's the Dean Moriarty of Toronto Politics, the holy goof who, now that it's a universally-feared illness he's fighting may very well emerge as something more.
Anyone who has even a shred of social conscience wants Rob Ford to succeed in his battle with cancer.  At some level, it's because we feel that if someone with the personal failings and health challenges of a Rob Ford can win, then maybe we or our loved ones can, too.
Rob Ford's personal faults and excesses have transformed him into a superhuman.
We can only hope that he does, but if he succeeds, it will be in spite, not because, of his personal habits, his family and inner circles enabling or the laissez-fair culture we live in.
Rob Ford has told us many times how he has changed his ways; his proclamations have invariably turned out to be lies told not only to us, it seems, but to himself as well.  Ford clearly has moments of doubt, but largely is able to convince himself that, rational actor that he is, he is always in the driver's seat where his behavior, or health, or political battles are concerned.
He is what we would have him to be - sucks it up, he keeps his dukes up, he stays the course - he is driven.  Clearly, it's worked for him, right?  Despite everything, he's mayor - and that, that title, his wealth, his public persona, that's what matters.  That's what defines success.

Yet Ford is a man in clear disarray; his health suffers, his family suffers, his community suffers.  Even now, he's putting his recovery at risk because he is driven.  His brother is equally driven. 
Campaigning and speaking engagements are good exercise for battling cancer?  Give me a break.
Cancer, like substance abuse or any mental health problem, is not something external that we, as individuals, fight against - it is a part of us that, without external support, will consume us. 
Rob Ford embodies the great leaping logic gap of capitalism; success is not an individual labour.  Health is not an individual enterprise.  We human beings are not rational actors, nor are we islands in a tame sea. 
Rob Ford's cancer is not an invading force.  It's part of the biological system that is Rob Ford.  Rob Ford's addictions are not demons imposed; they are part of him. 
Rob Ford is not a saviour nor a sinner, external to our society - he is one of us.  And we are part of him.
We are as functionally fixed as Rob Ford, yet equally beset by doubt. 
Does the fight make us happy?  Does it sustain us where failed relationships with loved ones does not? 
Does money bring us joy?  Do we enjoy having it more than we get frustrated with those seeking to take it from us?  Do our daily labours, our long commutes make us happy?  Does having the latest fashion or smartphone fill us with a sense of completion?
Does the frame of individual as silo make us feel powerful, or disconnected?
If we are investing so much time and energy in activities that bring us doubt and are fraying both our world and our selves, how rational are we truly?
The only time putting the race before sustainable health makes sense is when we are being chased.  In a civilized, competitive world, the only predators we face are each other and ourselves.  And nature still consumes us all.
Capitalism has no answer to this reality - it's about pushing ahead, not looking around.  Developing context and crafting solutions is what sociology is for.
Something I wish everyone, Rob Ford included, could be conscious of.

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