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|Written by Roberto Maximus|
|Wednesday, 31 October 2007 19:00|
"Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad…"
As inhabitants of a northern climate, Canadians tend to notice the fall. As the leaves turn and the air chills, you can’t help but notice the dying season, and perhaps wax a bit philosophical about it. And, while lingering over the traditional fall comfort foods, perhaps extrapolate from the natural world to the complexities of human nature and society. Here, we can see people, movements and ideas that have had their time in the summer sun, and have fallen or are falling. Some may recover, some are already lost.
Consider Conrad Black, once the most powerful newspaper publisher in Canada, founder of The National Post, respected author of bullet-stopping historical tomes, Lord Black of Crossharbour and now a convicted felon. Britney Spears, pop-music superstar lands with a thud at the MTV Video Music Awards, prompting Entertainment Weekly to ask if she was “down for the count” in a cover story, while blogs traded nasty barbs on how “flabby’ she looked (a somewhat surreal comment on body image, much of it repeated by geeks who would, in real life, cheerfully sell body parts to ever be near a girl with a body both that shape and state of undress).
Stéphane Dion is fighting the undertow declaring him a cosmic loser who cannot stop the Stephen Harper minority-government juggernaut, while other prospective Liberal leaders sit back, hone their knives, and wait for the opportunity to stab him in the back. John Tory learned too late that you mix religion and politics at your own peril. And, the muscular neoconservatism that led the U.S. into Iraq is largely discredited with the American public, if not with some of its own practitioners, who have shifted their gunsights to Iran and the hope that the next war will prove they were right all along.
For a non-inclusive list, biased towards the political, that’s a pretty diverse group. So, what can we generalize out from this?
Firstly, to fall you must have scaled some heights. If the list above includes a large number of persons on the right end of the political spectrum (Black, Tory, neoconservatism), this is because this has been an ascendant political philosophy in the last several years (probably no ideology has had as rude a reality check and fall as Marxism-Leninism in the latter part of the 20th Century – a case where a leftist ideology fell hard). Britney has been a pop culture icon and best-selling artist. John Tory established a career as a successful businessman and Dion as a respected university professor, politician and Cabinet Minister.
Secondly, the fall of certain people has been accompanied by lashings of Schadenfreude (pleasure at somebody else’s misfortune). The quote from Euripides doesn’t note it, but people seem to enjoy watching others go mad, and then having the Gods lower the hammer on them. Makes us feel good about ourselves when the famous are shown to have feet of clay - Conrad Black and Britney, add in Tom “Couch Jumper” Cruise. With ideologies there’s also Schadenfreude, but the stakes tend to be higher, and the pleasure you take is either tempered by sorrow, or curdles into self-righteousness. Correctly predicting that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be a miasmal disaster doesn’t make it any less heartrending, and gloating about being right does nothing for anyone.
Thirdly, fall is followed by winter, but then spring. Not all falls are permanent. Harry Truman probably couldn’t have been elected as a dogcatcher after firing Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War – now it’s seen as the highlight of his Presidency and a signal moment for re-establishing the principle of civilian control over the military in a democracy. Tory is a new leader and may return, Dion has not actually been tested by an election. Britney is one hit song away from getting as many stories about her comeback as her downfall. Not everybody who falls is down for the count. Heck, even Conrad Black is appealing his conviction and in theory could remove the words “convicted felon” from his biography.
And perhaps that’s a good thing. As leaves drop in the fall we should take a moment to look at our lives – which one of us hasn’t fallen from grace at some time, or held foolish views. The chance that sometimes we can come back from such a fall should be comforting. That the famous or infamous sometimes get a second chance, or that their fall from grace turns out to be an incident in a full life, means that we all can come back too.
And when we’re done being noble, we can still feel pretty good about Conrad Black going to jail!