What does John McCain have in common with cancer patients?
Former presidential candidate John McCain is famous for using the word “fight” in every speech, peppering his rhetoric with it. He says over and over using the word perhaps thirty-five times in a single speech, “I’ll fight for your rights,” or “I’m a fighter,” or “in the coming fight (election), we need to stand strong for America.”
He has a compulsion about this word.
Since serving as a politician is often a slow, deliberative process of attending boring meetings and shuffling papers in an office, speaking to constituents and wearing a freshly pressed and dry-cleaned suit and tie, it’s curious why he uses, or misuses, the word “fight.” A word that means a breakdown in human relations and restraint, often done in a grunting and sweaty animalistic manner, accompanied by vile language and shrieks, in which you and an opponent try to do each other physical harm.
In fairness to McCain, other politicians use or misuse the word “fight.” For some reason, they like to view themselves as fighters, despite the fact none of them could survive one round with a thirteen-year-old Golden Gloves boxer.
Cancer patients also like to use the word “fight.” I’m going to “fight” this disease they say. Why? Another favorite with macho men is “I’m going to go down fighting.”
Cancer is not something you fight. It’s not a drunk you take out into an alley and beat senseless. It’s a mutant cell dividing and reproducing. The doctor throws things at it (medicine) in an attempt to slow or stop it. Whether it does or not is up to the helpless whim of fate, if you believe in that.
You don’t beat up cancer. You don’t decide. It decides whether it will slow or stop.
Then why use “fight?”
Because it’s a psychological crutch.
If you say the truth, I’m a helpless blob of skin at the mercy of a disease that’s killing me and a doctor I can’t afford, and there’s a good chance I’m going to die and there’s nothing much I can do about it except suffer, wait and see.
If you admit that, that’s bad.
Fight means you have some kind of fictional control, a way to get back, a way to respond. Sometimes they don’t use the word “fight” and say instead, I’m going to “lick” this, meaning the same thing.
McCain and his ilk use or misuse the word for similar reasons. If you call yourself a “fighter,” you’re tough, decisive, bold, a leader. That is how you like to view yourself. You’re not going to get up in front of an audience of voters and tell them the truth. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I still can’t believe I was elected. I barely have an understanding of the problems we face, and my knees are shaking because I’m scared shitless, and all I can do is try and act like I know what I’m doing.”
He’s not going to say that.
Instead he will say something like, “I was born a fighter.”
A fetus with boxing gloves on?
Misuse of the word fight isn’t a Freudian slip. It’s an open Freudian declaration, a tremolo Tarzan call. It proves Darwin was wrong and we haven’t evolved since the cave days when we also couldn’t admit the ugly truth. That’s why wars will continue to happen. For all our pretensions to civilization, it is still who carries the biggest imagined club who is in the right.
A cave man cowers frightened in his cave while a giant man-eating sloth breathes hungrily outside. A more truthful response might be, “do you see a giant man-eating sloth? I don’t see a giant man-eating sloth.”
Instead the caveman grunts, “I’m a fighter.”
He knows he’s not going to fight the sloth. He’s going to wait until it eats him or goes away.