Canadians who may be thinking of casting Toronto Mayor Rob Ford out of office and out of the sight of a perplexed but very amused world–think twice before you do anything rash! For Mayor Ford has made such multiplicitous contributions to Western civilization already, as Saturday Night Live demonstrated last night. He is doubtless poised to make further and even more felicitous public utterances. Do you dare to muzzle him now?
Allow me to assemble a bit of supporting evidence. As Freud told us, the twin pillars of civilized life are lieben und arbeiten, to love and to work. Who better to exemplify these Freudian verities than Rob Ford qua Mayor Ford? Were he unemployed, he might well descend into unbalanced and uncouth behavior. As David Hume wrote in his mid-eighteenth century Essays, “men…kept in perpetual occupation enjoy as their reward the occupation itself, as well as those pleasures which are the fruit of their labour. The mind acquires new vigour; enlarges its powers and faculties; and…satisfies its natural appetites” (hat tip to Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life, p. 94). Who could possibly accuse Mayor Ford of failing to satisfy his “natural appetites”?
Speaking of which, and giving Canadian bilingualism its just due, what better guide to love than the maxims of Francois, duc de la Rochefoucauld: “il est difficile de definer l’amour….in the body it is only a hidden and delicate desire to possess what one loves after many mysteries.” The delicacy of Rob Ford can hardly be overstated, although la Rochefoucauld did also caution that “everybody complains of his memory, and nobody complains of his judgment.”
As Mayor Ford announced Wednesday, “I ask for forgiveness, I’ve apologized and I want to move on.” This seemingly straightforward utterance in reality raises a series of profound linguistic, epistemological, anthropological, and even ontological questions. Epistemological/linguistic: the Mayor’s remark includes an expression of intention as well as a command, and as such, as Elizabeth Anscombe observed in her 1957 classic on agency, action, mind, and language, Intention, it thus involves prediction. The mayor’s injudicious comments on Thursday, which are regrettably far too vulgar for me to repeat, unfortunately vitiated the predictive content he expressed the day before. As he himself noted in the midst of Thursday’s hurly-burly, “I effed up.”
Or, to borrow (and perhaps abuse) categories employed by the great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his A Secular Age, Mayor Ford is a living exemplar of a pre-modern “porous” self, vulnerable and healable, living in a world still full of enchantment. The Toronto city council appears to be full of modern, disenchanted, bounded, “buffered” selves, in Taylor’s terms. Tant pis for them.
Finally, the ontological issue. French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote poignantly that “what is man in nature? A nothing compared to the infinite, a whole compared to the nothing, a middle point between all and nothing, infinitely removed from an understanding of the extremes; and the end of things and their principles are unattainably hidden from him in impenetrable secrecy.” Canadians, do you not see that Rob Ford may be the one who can finally overcome our “disproportion” and heal the dualisms that bedevil us? Do not go down the road Pascal feared: “because they failed to contemplate these infinites, men have rashly undertaken to probe into nature as if there were some proportion between themselves and her.” O Canada, Mayor Ford is a man who is most definitely not “infinitely removed from an understanding of the extremes.” Do not probe into him too deeply. He said all he has left in his closet is one coathanger. Beware of prescribing the imprescriptible, I tell you.
What? You doubt that he has actually asked for forgiveness yet? You are probably right, and yet you elected him. Before you beat the dog, find who its master is by looking in the mirror. And thus heed the Albanian proverb, a pig won’t spare even the most beautiful fruit (Ford being the fruit, don’t deny it–hat tip to David Crystal’s collection, As They Say In Zanzibar). Moreover crab apples make good jelly too. And never bolt your door with a boiled carrot. Do not blame your own cabbage. And if the hippo blocks the ford, no one can cross. He (the Ford) may, as Ben Franklin knew, have been too free with Sir John Strawberry, scalded his head pan, and eaten a toad and a half for breakfast. So what?