By another name…

Banal.

If there is a current personification of that particular concept, I’d argue that it could well be the putative ‘mayor’ of my fair town.

The origin of the word lies in the system of feudalism- and pertains to those things associated with the ‘common people’- specifically the services they were compelled to carry out under the direction of an overlord from the ‘superior’ classes.  Its original meaning stems from the Latin word bannum– meaning ‘command’ or ‘proclamation’ and the later Middle French derivation, ban– and the associated connection with being pressed into compulsory feudal servitude.

In contemporary usage it is defined (according to Wiktionary) as ‘common in a boring way, to the point of being predictable containing nothing new or fresh.’   It is synonymous with hackneyed, vapid and trite.

I admit that this is frequently how I dismiss that Ford guy- as vapid, tedious and tiresome in his cliched attempts to win the support of the ‘common’ people.  He maintains that’s who he’s looking out for- the ‘little guy’, the ‘regular folk’, the ‘Joe Six-Pack’, if you will (and if the evocation of that term and its associations with that woman who tried to be VPOTUS don’t make you shiver in remembered horror).

Despite his own privileged upbringing and the fact that his CV doesn’t seem to contain much that suggests any actual and/or realized individual accomplishments.

He continues to exclaim his defence of those who fall outside the ‘urban elite’ that is, according to Ford and his cronies, determined to destroy this City.  He does so in such a predictable and repetitive fashion that, I admit, I have become somewhat dismissive of the guy- and of his chances of actually being re-elected to head up our Municipal government.

This week the head of Toronto Community Housing- hand-picked by Ford to ascend to the role- stepped down from the position following a scathing report delivered by the City Ombudsman.  Ford continues to support Gene Jones- and the job he has done since his appointment two years ago- claiming, instead, that it is the ombudsman who should be removed since she had the audacity to misuse her role by engaging in a ‘witch hunt’ while playing politics.

Business as usual with this guy.  That was my first, admittedly-jaded, thought.  Then this morning I read an editorial that made me reflect a little more deeply on the situation.

In the Toronto Star, Royson James argued that Ford is more than ‘an innocuous, pseudo-celebrity whose outrageous behaviour will live in infamy.’  James asserts that he is dangerous.  The article set some bigtime alarm bells a’ringing.

Some of us hereabouts have become complacent in our belief that there is no way that this guy will be re-elected.  Last night, while out celebrating my baby sister’s birthday, the dinner conversation turned to the sitch in our Municipal politics.

Although there was some dissent as to how the current realities might be changed for the better, consensus suggested that we do have one thing for which we should be grateful in the debacle that has been the last four years since his election.

Before October 2010, most of us were sort of oblivious to Municipal politics- giving them short shrift in the spectrum of importance in the overall political scheme of things.  We tend to pay attention to what is happening on the Provincial, Federal and Global political stages, but the City level was viewed as something that ticks along without much engagement or concern.

And then came Ford.

His tenure has opened our eyes to the truism that the bad crap in the upper sectors of the political heap has its origins in the foundational level.

A friend posted something on her fb timeline the other day about taking real, concrete action to ensure that he is not re-elected.  The conversational strand filled with comments from others who are similarly committed- including their personal plans of attack for involvement at the Municipal level that will forestall the continuance of the division and regression that the City has seen these past four years.

I know-  it seems as if I’m, yet again, completely straying from my best laid plans to discuss the Devil Dude and the externalization of evil.

But.

Banality and evil are closely linked.

Hannah Arendt was a political theorist (she rejected the label ‘philosopher’) who wrote pivotal works about the nature of power and politics.  In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she questioned the nature of evil, ascribing it to thoughtlessness and mindless acceptance of ‘general opinion’ without anything resembling critical evaluation of the consequences of action/inaction.

The Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

“Arendt’s book introduced the expression and concept “the banality of evil”.  Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely stupid person who relied on cliche rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann’s actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional.  She never denied that Eichmann was an anti-semite, nor that he was fully responsible for his actions, but argued that these characteristics were secondary to his stupidity.”

Before anyone leaps to suggest that I am equating Ford with the perpetrators of the greatest crime against humanity in recent history, let me state unequivocally that this is not my intention.  To do so would demonstrate an extremity of rhetoric that is both irresponsible and approaching the level that Ford and his puppet-masters regularly employ as a means to encourage divisiveness as he attempts to maintain his personal power.

There have been many challenges to Arendt’s perspective (again, from the Wikipedia)…

“This concept has been frequently misunderstood. In his 2010 history of the Second World War, ‘Moral Combat’, British historian Michael Burleigh calls the expression a “cliche” and gives many documented examples of gratuitous acts of cruelty by those involved in the Holocaust, including Eichmann.  Arendt certainly did not disagree about the fact of gratuitous cruelty, but “banality of evil” is unrelated to this question. Similarly, the first attempted rebuttal of Arendt’s thesis relied on a misreading of this phrase, claiming Arendt meant that there was nothing exceptional about the Holocaust.”

Arendt’s main thesis is applicable in this case- and is an important observation that requires further examination.   As concerned voices advocating change develop and continue dialogues that attempt to change this propensity to set ourselves in constant opposition to ‘the other’ as a means of moving through the world, we have to define our terms and acknowledge that which we are fighting.

The predilection for polarization is the ultimate target focus of my discussions of evil and its externalization.  Contrived division and the vilification of ‘ the enemy’ serves no other purpose than to continue to support those who benefit from the perpetuation of a status quo that serves the few rather than the many.

Ford likes his power and position.  He- and those who receive direct pay-off from his ‘patronage’- would love to maintain that power and position.

It’s up to us to make sure that he doesn’t get to do so.

This afternoon, while doing some chores, I had the tv on in the background.  Black Sheep, starring the late Chris Farley, was on.  I’ve never really been one for the Farley flicks- although I certainly enjoyed some of his sketches during his SNL tenure- but I have noticed, along with the rest of the Western world, the disturbing similarities between a number of his characters and the mayor-in-question.

In one scene, while stoned out of his tree, Farley’s character ends up onstage- in his brother’s time slot- during a ‘Rock the Vote’ performance.  He shouted slogans- pithy lines drawn from the speeches of great leaders that came before him- much to the delight and encouragement of the crowd.  That the sayings were misquoted or offered outside of their original context didn’t matter much to the audience.

Ford, too, is a sloganeer.  He is routinely provided with forums in which he continues shouting his taglines- loudly- to those who might listen.  It’s what Ford does.  It’s pretty much the only thing he does.

The comparison is amusing.  I admit that I’ve laughed at the various memes and montages that highlight the similarities.  Many of them are clever and silly in a funny-’cause-it’s true sort of way.

And then I remember that this guy is in charge of running my City.  And he wants to keep running it into the ground to promote his own agenda and ego.

It’s only funny until it isn’t.

Banality is dangerous.

And Rob Ford is its most recent poster-child.

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8 comments on “By another name…

  1. Well said, Cole. It starts at the roots. And if we neglect those we do so at our peril. From the most basic unit of government, that I see as family, the seeds are sown. Whatever is created there permeates into society. Local government is the golden opportunity for real voices to be heard that are drawn from real people. When we abrogate responsibility to the Fords of this world we have reason to fear greater consequences. Identifying those who may be trusted to honestly represent remains a problem when soundbites are used to cultivate favour among those who think of no more than immediate expediency. If the corrupt are elected to local office and find their way to greater heights of power their capacity for evil is almost outwith control. It has to start small, I feel, to be manageable. Your FB friend is right to leave nothing to chance.

    • colemining says:

      Absolutely, Anne-Marie. It begins at the family level, certainly. But I was very surprised to hear my friends echoing the sentiment that local politics didn’t seem to matter much- at least not before they started paying closer attention when that guy got hold of the reins.

      Refusing to constantly examine our beliefs/affiliations leads to complacency that allows banality-based evil to flourish- insidiously.

      Ford is a stupid man who is driven by desire for attention and power rather than ideology. Unfortunately, that impetus is something that too many people share. I’m not suggesting that wrongs are never committed in the name of ideology (that is one of my biggest beefs with organized religion, after all), but suggesting that he his driven by anything other than his own commonplace wants is giving him far more credit than is warranted.

      Those who cause us harm are very often pedestrian and vapid- and they can be harder to spot than those who lead with electrifying visions based in certitude of religious belief or political philosophy.

      Thanks for the visit. Loved ‘Zeus’, BTW! xo

  2. bethbyrnes says:

    I have read Arendt’s book and it was quite disturbing. I also just finished reading “Bloodlands”. What one takes away is the utter commonality of cruelty and indifference to suffering that people can evince, as individuals and shockingly as groups. I just finished watching a documentary of the fall of the Third Reich, yesterday, coincidentally (or not!).

    As for Ford: bane and banish come to mind as well. We would be showing surprising national character if we could banish these banes of our collective existence once and for all in the 21st century.

    Provocative post.

    • colemining says:

      Beth- yes. I can’t wait until we are able to banish this bane, once and for all. There is work to do before October, though, if we are to ensure that he is relegated to his rightful place as last year’s news.

      As I was writing about Arendt (who I read years ago, but whose ideas keep coming to my mind of late) I also remembered a novel I read years ago in an undergraduate English class on Psychology and Literature. Ursula Hegi’s Stones From the River demonstrates the mob mentality that grows slowly and with little notice in a small German village between WWI and WWII, as the institutionalized/political evil develops around them.

      As I’ve said before (too many times, perhaps), we need to wake up and face our decisions with eyes wide open or accept our complicity in the disasters that are being created in our societal and political systems.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Cole, I submit that Dalton McGuinty was far worse a leader than Ford will ever be, by any rational metric. Further, that he was far more dangerous a leader than Ford will ever be.

    McGuinty was a populist. Because he conformed to the perceived “416” ideal of how a politician should appear and conduct himself, his words and his actions were not critically scrutinized. He doubled our provincial debt, placed lower income families into a lifetime of pseudo “green energy” economic servitude, condoned criminal conduct (Caledonia) in contempt of the Rule of Law, wasted a billion dollars+ so he’d be spared the indignity of losing an election (gas plants) and then had obstructed evidence to this effect, e-health boondoggle, OrngAir, etc.

    In was under McGuinty that (I allege) a government coverup of a CAS’s criminal malfeasance in my family’s case took place.

    Ford is a political-social troglodyte. The many checks-and-balances to his political power that are in place are obviously all over him, and thus functioning effectively. The only thing hurt by his election or re-election is Toronto’s pride. Ford has little, if any, high-level support within Toronto. His ability to cause harm is, at best, mitigated and thus somewhat marginal.

    Where were Ford’s detractors when Ontario needed them to check McGuinty’s grandiose reign to feed the hubris of his ego?

    It’s not that I disagree with your musings on Ford. However, a lifetime of military service has taught me to analyze threats and conduct risk analyses. I cannot reconcile the overt public aversion to Ford with a rational electorate, given that it supported a far more cunning and dangerous leader in McGuinty.

    Perhaps banal is not such a bad thing, after all. Certainly there are worse things.

    • colemining says:

      Thanks, Nav, for your thoughtful response. I agree that Dalty has a lot to answer for- and is representative of some of the worst characteristics associated with career politicians who seek nothing more than their own maintenance of power and who resort to all kinds of dubious expediency to further that base goal.

      While I agree that Ford is certainly a troglodyte (love that word, BTW), I’m afraid that the electorate is willfully unengaged enough that the reactionary and divisive politics that are being played out in Toronto (and elsewhere in the province and country) is leading to enough sensational rhetoric that there is a chance that he will, at least, maintain his voter base and their adherence to his brand of sound bites.

      I’ve seen, first hand, the damage that he and his supporters have caused the city- and the holding pattern in which we have become completely stuck as he grandstands for the camera to increase his infamy.

      I agree that there are worse things than banality- there are certainly forms of overt ‘evil’- in politics and elsewhere in our societal structure- that need constant and immediate attention. I’m just cautioning that dismissing Ford as a buffoon who will never be re-elected negates the point that Arendt made- that the ‘evil’ of banality is too often overlooked in the face of more obvious crimes.

      The point behind this post (I did have one) was two-fold: to continue my ongoing discussion of the concept of ‘evil’ (in all its manifestations) but also to highlight how lack of involvement and awareness at the community level leads to blind eyes being turned as power is misused, allowing for the ‘evil’ to grow unchecked.

      It is my hope that the electorate will rediscover rationality and take the time to look at the larger picture- the one that affects the community as a whole, rather than the specific wants/needs (as those things are perceived and defined) of individual citizens- and the ‘leaders’ they elect.

      Another part of the realization I came to while discussing the current situation over dinner the other night was that we have ALL become too complacent in our assessment of the actions of our elected leaders. I’ve heard a lot of talk about ‘lesser of two evils’ and the like (I wrote a bit about that before) and resignation that there ain’t no such thing as a ‘good’ politician these days. While this may well be the situation, it’s one thing to acknowledge the reality and another to just sit back and accept that this must always be the case.

      I’m spurring myself to action- and will welcome anyone else who would like to join me.

      Thanks again, for the visit, and for offering your insights.

  4. […] focus of the world recently not for our greatness but because of the ignorant, self-aggrandizing buffoon who sat in the mayor’s chair for four years, we are being recognized for all the things […]

  5. […] of that four year stretch of self-imposed in(s)anity that was Ford’s tenure as our mayor, I wrote about evil (using the term with all my usual caveats) and the face of banality that it often […]

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