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.

Contrary (to popular belief)

Yes. Another reblog. As I eagerly follow along with Cosmos- and reflect on the opposition to science and rational discovery and discourse that seems to be EVERYWHERE lately (politics, religion, anti-vaccers… to name but a bare few examples), it pains me to note that the equation of ‘evil’ and ‘science’ that we have inherited through the dispensation of our mythological traditions YET persists and is rearing its ugly head in extreme ways lately.

As I think on the origins of the personification(s) of evil that we have created- and the fact that too many among us still employ ‘the devil’ as a means of laying blame without assuming any communal/social culpability- I’m feeling a little ‘contrary’ today. It can be exhausting- standing in constant opposition to the views of the vocal power-players and/or just-plain-ignorant (who seem to be granted an INORDINATE amount of media exposure) and in defence of advancement rather than the obscene need to hold on to obsolete metaphorical constructs. But this necessity is something in which I believe. Strongly.

So, call me contrary. I’m okay with that. And I’m okay with reiterating and reinforcing my belief that we need to take a hard look at how we are being manipulated by our myths- and those who are using/misusing them.

colemining

Ever have one of those days?

It seems as though EVERYone I encountered today has been all about the argument.  (Interestingly this phenomenon of contrariness is confined to the real world.  The interworld has been a kinder, gentler place today- LOVING my interworld peeps extra-specially hard today).

If I say ‘up’ it is, in all actuality, ‘down’- or so I’ve been told.  Black?  Nope.  Gotta be white.  Happy becomes miserable.  The good is really the bad.

So let’s go with that last one shall we?  If I’m to be contrary, let’s go all out.

In my continuing defence of all things Devil-ish, let’s flip that dichotomy on its head and view that contrary-ist of all contrary creatures from a slightly different mythological perspective.

If you’ve seen television shows set in NYC or holiday photos on Instagram, chances are you’re familiar with this sculpture that graces Rockefeller Centre:

Paul Manship’s gilded…

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Escape goats

I sincerely hope that I will have the time to communicate new thoughts on the whole concept of the externalization of evil soon- this weekend perhaps?- but I have been otherwise occupied of late (with incredibly positive stuff), so I’m re-posting this discussion of the concept of the scape goat in the interim. It is very much connected with the problem- that I keep emphasizing- regarding the projection of our human tendency to lay the culpability for our actions on something outside of ourselves, and therefore another manifestation of our conceptualization of the ‘devil’. Just in case you missed it the first time ’round….

colemining

Given my great love of myth and symbol as expressions of what it means to be human, it should hardly come as a surprise that I love language in general and the origins of words and phrases in particular.  We take words for granted- use and misuse them without too much thought about where they came from and, sometimes, what they really mean.  So many words and phrases that are part of our (relatively) common parlance have origins in the language of myth.

One such term has been hovering on the edge of my consciousness a lot lately- not because it is all that out of the ordinary, but because I heard it spectacularly misused in conversation not long ago- although, to be perfectly fair, both words have the same root and have been used interchangeable historically.  Still, the speaker calling herself an ‘escape goat’ very much summoned images of a…

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Pots and Kettles

‘Kay- I’m more than a little swamped at the mo’- between the thank you cards and starting the new job and all. But I’ve been looking back over some of my earlier (earliest) posts (dating from before I realized that all posts should have a musical interlude or two) that had to do with this whole conceptualization/personification of evil as an external force.

This one was one of the things that had me hitting the books anew- searching for origins of this propensity we have to blame all the bad stuff on ‘something’ outside of ourselves. So, since time is at something of a premium for me right now, here’s a bit of a revisit of the subject of the tension between the idea of a ‘god of goodness’ and the way in which the character(s) is/are actually described in the stories.

People are as good- or as bad- as we grow them to be.  We need to be addressing that rather than looking for outside sources to blame.

colemining

“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see…

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‘Every single one of us’

Apologies for the hiatus.  It was both unintended and longer-lasting than I’d have liked.  I’ve had a number of things of a personal/familial nature going on at the mo’ which have taken priority, but I felt the need to take a little time to get some thoughts out there into my favourite part of the ether- my little corner of the WordPress.

This morning I was once again inspired by the thoughts of Beth Byrnes, and the issues that she discussed in her erudite and thoughtful post almost led me to write something as a follow-up to some of the things I had to say in the comments section.

But I had already started working  on something- the latest in my ongoing examination of the ill-advised tendency we have to define evil as something external and non-human (or sourced in humans that are somehow labelled as other than we are)- and was loathe to divide my attention.

Then I realized that we are really talking about the same thing anyway.

The vilification of that-which-is-not-me.  Those we consciously decide to label and demonize.

I’ve been thinking about this guy a lot lately.

Boo!

To be honest, he’s never really far from my thoughts (seriously- check out the categories and tags over there to the right >>>>> he’s all over the place), but lately he seems to be popping up every which way I turn.

This has been a most interesting week.  I was Freshly Pressed (!)- that little thing I wrote about chaos/order– and as a result a whole lot of new folks have come by to visit.  Thank you new folks!  Welcome!  I passed 10000 views- which, while I didn’t set goals regarding viewership when I started sharing things on WordPress a little under a year ago, is pretty freakin’ cool.

I also hit 666 followers shortly after the Fresh Pressing occurred.  Even more lovely people- and a number of bots, I’m sure- have joined the ranks since then, but I was really inordinately excited to see who follower 666 might have been.  Unfortunately I missed the notification, so remain unable to identify colemining’s own personal antichrist.

Pure silliness.

That number is just so resonant with me- given all the apocalyptic literature I’ve spent much of my life hanging around- I can’t help but claim a pretty strong fascination with that number of that there ‘beast.’

When I first moved back to Toronto and commuted to Ottawa once a week to teach classes (crazy as that was), every time I passed the 666 kilometre marker (in either direction), I identified it out loud (‘the mile marker of the antichrist’- even though it properly measures kilometres not miles).  It was a way of marking the time and telling myself that I was almost at my destination or on my way back home, depending on which direction I was travelling.

I like the mythology surrounding the devil.  I like the apocalyptic literature that inspired the concept of the antichrist.  I also like the myths of all the other worldviews/religions/cultures that attempt to reconcile good gods and the presence of evil in the material world.  These are some of the richest and most interesting stories we’ve managed to come up with from the deepest mines of our creativity.  The motifs and the characters recur throughout our histories- literary and otherwise- because they are so interesting and complex.

I can honestly say that I love the devil/satan/Lucifer.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in the/a devil, but his various iterations are among the most colourful, enduring and often-endearing literary characters out there.

Where would Western culture be without him?

Seriously.  Think about it.

No Divine ComedyParadise LostFaust/Doctor FaustusThe Exorcist would never have (repeatedly) scared the CRAP out of me.  That opening line- Please allow me to introduce myself… I can’t imagine a world in which I’d never sung along to the brilliance of that song.  The list goes on…

He is us.  In all his (and sometimes, her) manifestations.  This is the thing.  THE thing.  All the versions of the devil that we have are representative of potential inside of us.  Us.  HumansNot some supernatural excuse for evil as a means of reconciling another supernatural being who is supposed to be GOOD.  And omniscient.  And omnipotent.

I find your theodicies unconvincing.

To say the least.

So I’m going to start a periodic conversation about our pal- call him (the) Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, call him what you will (just don’t call him late for dinner).  I’m so very sick of this vilification of the other as we continue to externalize evil and abrogate our own- collective or individual- responsibility for the wrongs that are done and perpetuated against one another.  So very sick of it.

And since I am a cheerleader (Head cheerleader, it sometimes seems) for the need to examine the origins of our recurring motifs, the reasons why we think the way we do, and how we come up with the metaphors we come up with to shift the blame away from ourselves rather than face the internal propensity toward darkness we must continually and actively choose to turn from as we seek to live together peacefully on this ol’ globe of ours, there’ll be a whole lot of hanging with the devil ’round these parts in the next while.

I’ll be extending him ‘a little sympathy’.  Tastefully, of course.

Hope you’ll join me.  Let’s discuss.

‘Here come the world
With the look in its eye
Future uncertain but certainly slight
Look at the faces
Listen to the bells
It’s hard to believe we need a place called hell…

Every single one of us.’