Dr.Dawg

Mad as Hell

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Ubu Maire1.jpg

This is a pretty sharp article by Ken Dryden in the Globe & Mail this week. Sharp enough, in fact, to draw a little blood.

Why do folks still support the execrable Ubu Maire of Toronto, Rob Ford, in droves? He has 39% support, after all the awful that has transpired. By no coincidence, I suspect, that’s just about the number that gave Stephen Harper his majority.

“Yokels with pitchforks,” I have called this bunch, more than once. I’m not sure I’m ready for a mea culpa, but Dryden did make me reflect on the usefulness of such descriptions in a public venue.

These are people who are mad, at least in the colloquial sense:

Mad at their jobs, mad at the money they don’t make. Mad at others for getting the chances they don’t. Mad at seemingly getting the short end of every stick. Mad at the mess around them: crime, litter, traffic. In stores, on phones, mad at being treated as if they don’t matter. Mad that others get away with everything they don’t, mad at not being able to stop them. Mad that life isn’t what they thought it would be. Even those who have done well - mad that others’ stick is longer.

Conservatives, who surely make up the bulk of Ford Nation, would normally be telling irritable folks like this to suck it up, stop complaining, get out there and make something of themselves and the immediate world around them. Being mad all the time is no way to live—and besides, that’s what lefties are like, always whining about inequality, the environment, the wretched of the earth: always expecting the government to sweep everyone up in their protective embrace.

But that last bit is the red line of separation. As Dryden points out, Ford Nation, like Ford himself, expects nothing from government, loathes government, sees government as the problem, not the solution. And lacking any strategic sense (but seriously, who among us has that?) they seek only to undermine it. Svelte George Smitherman or a bull in a china shop? No contest. Watch those dishes fly!

For Ford Nation, destructive politics has become just another form of entertainment. Who wins in roller derby but the grottiest, dirtiest skater? What use is roller derby, you ask? Come on. It’s fun. Boom! Smash! Crunch!

Mayor Ford is a living representation of the Id, as I’ve said before, but saying it gets us nowhere, as Dryden astutely notes.

So I found Dryden’s article startling and eminently re-readable. But that doesn’t mean that I wholly agree with it. His know-everythings/know-nothings binary has immediate appeal, but those categories are vague and lack an etiology. He won’t deal with the most important element of the social incoherence he is describing: class.

He hints at it, certainly:

Each year, the gap between the know-everythings and the know-nothings widens - income, education, opportunity. And each year, the know-nothings have a choice. They can play the know-everythings at their game - information, compromise, opportunity - and lose. Or they can play their own game - outrage, disruption - and sometimes win, or not lose by keeping the know-everythings from winning.

But he never comes right out with it. He should have.

As poverty deepens, as capital becomes more and more concentrated (with increasing amounts of it stored unproductively offshore), as austerity is preached in the midst of more wealth than the world has ever seen, as younger working people are squeezed and more and more students are emerging from universities and colleges with a crippling debt load and limited job opportunities, people are increasingly frustrated and angry.

The 1% and their corporate media pundits try to soothe us, but things really work better for them when they mislead us. Anger and frustration don’t necessarily propel us forward. People who want the pain to stop are too easily persuaded to turn their wrath upon immigrants, upon “elites” that are nothing of the kind, upon environmentalists and artists and people on social assistance. The SUN chain is more persuasive than a thousand mainstream pundits. Its writers scapegoat, target, offer slogans and mantras and quack nostrums, battening on the malaise. They have easy solutions to complex problems. Rip. Tear. Lock and load.

Dryden is not the first to yoke the Occupy movement and the US Teapartyers, but the point bears repeating: inchoate social anger is not the property of the Right or the Left. It arises from inequality, the hallmark of capitalism, but can be too easily diverted, as in the case of the Tea Party or Ford Nation, into an unproductive ressentiment. Ford Nation reads the SUN. Anger feeds on anger.

At least the targets of the Occupy movement were the right ones: big banks and investment firms, and the government that sheltered them and bailed them out with billions of taxpayer dollars while everyone else suffered. But in city after city, the cops simply beat the protesters into submission. Even the slightest threat to power and privilege in our “democracies” results in the creation of zones of exception where law is suspended. Occupy had not yet turned its novel organizing techniques into effective mass action before it was casually smashed.

Dryden doesn’t offer us a way out of this waking nightmare. He simply says that the know-nothing/know-everything division is deeply embedded, and he leaves it there. In fairness, I have no practical solutions of my own at this point, so I’m reduced to similar hand-wringing and silence. How can we begin to sit down and talk with the folks who infect the columns and comment threads of the SUN with their screeching hatred? The anger may derive from the same place as our own, but its expression is so radically different from ours that communication—in either direction—seems an impossible task.

Perhaps we should be looking for a common language, and a place to have a few beers and chill out. I’m just not sure, at this point, what I would say to them.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on December 20, 2013 9:42 PM.

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