By Emil van der Poorten –
For those of you unfamiliar with the manner in which the name of the man who created a very significant spin-off to the industrial revolution in his automobile manufacturing plant is often used, it might, perhaps, be necessary to describe what Henry Ford achieved, warts and all, in the matter of modern industrial production methods. However, in the age of Google and given the space constraints of this column, I don’t have the luxury of being able to delve into that particular piece of the United States’ economic history. One of the things, though, that evolved over the years was also a very negative use of the brand name of the first mass-produced automobile: the word was used as a (very negative) acronym to read Fix Or Repair Daily or Found On the Road Dead, disparaging to say the least.
Recently, the Canadian, then US and now even some of the European media, have begun to provide headline coverage to another man bearing the same name, the Mayor of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, and one that has been stereotyped by the rest of North America as a great place in which to live but not to visit because of its basically law-abiding and, therefore dull, persona. All that has changed with the emergence of the most flamboyant of civic politicians. Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, has succeeded in grabbing the headlines in a manner unprecedented in Canadian politics at any level with his totally irrational behavior. His mea culpa to driving under the influence of alcohol, association with members of the criminal underworld, smoking crack cocaine and other acts that could be considered beyond politically suicidal is without precedent in Canadian politics at any level.
However, what is even more significant is that, not only is the Mayor of Toronto’s behavior without precedent, it has not resulted in a total erosion of his support. Recent polls indicate that there is a hard-core minority of Toronto electors, referred to as the “Ford nation” who continue to support their man (apey miniha in local parlance) unwaveringly! Jeffrey Simpson, a long-standing columnist at what is considered Canada’s “National daily,” the rather staid Globe and Mail, titled a recent column, “Ford Nation stands by its man. No. Matter. What.” While I have never subscribed to Mr. Simpson’s political leanings, I have respected his journalistic skills and basic integrity, so I read what he had to say on the web-edition of the Globe and Mail with interest.
He claims that there is something like a 30% chunk of the North American population that provides unflinching support to those they see as representing their own interests and all available statistical evidence appears to support this contention. These are not large-“C” Conservatives in the traditional sense but those who don’t want “government interference” in what is often anti-social and illegal behavior, terming it, as the late unlamented Margaret Thatcher did, as evidence of the dominance of a “Nanny State” mentality. That 30% – a mathematical minority – can win election for their representatives in situations of low voter turn-outs. While Sri Lanka has not reached the depths of voter apathy that the so-called Western Democracies have, there has been a clear trend in that direction in recent elections. The inherent dangers of that kind of apathy, coupled with the very real threat of violence directed at political dissent of any description will, if it hasn’t already, bring a nation described as a “vibrant democracy” for most of its post-independence history to a pretty sad nadir , assuming that point has not already been reached!
With the massive erosion of the Rule of Law, the impact is felt even more strongly in rural Sri Lanka where the vestiges of law and order that still exist in urban centres are conspicuous by their absence. Exacerbating this state of affairs is the fact that many of the traditional, often informal, organizational structures that existed in the village that provided the much-needed checks and balances in daily life, have crumbled thanks to years of dog-eat-dog capitalism parading as “economic liberalization” and you have a largely-rural nation at a pretty sorry pass! Want a bit more icing on that particular cake? How about the “traditional left,” many with revolutionary pretensions, being a large part of the problem rather than presenting even a theoretical solution to it!
The resemblances of day-to-day life in Sri Lanka to what is considered shockingly aberrant in Toronto are eerie to say the least.
We have politicians who are alcoholics, serial rapists, pedophiles, murderers and the like being showered with praise by those above them and provided with every possible material acknowledgement of their loyalty. All it takes, not only to survive what should be the fall-out of totally uncivilized behavior but to use that very behavior as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, is unwavering loyalty to the-powers-that-be! It’s as simple as that and the lesson is driven home at every level and from every angle, from the impeachment of a Chief Justice to Cabinet-level politicians being seemingly immune to prosecution for stoning members of the judiciary.
In the circumstances, is there any doubt that we are another “Ford Nation” that needs to be Fixed Or Repaired Daily? Perhaps, more important, how long can we afford that particular luxury?