Ehrenreich’s Prescience on Komen
Timothy Noah
February 3, 2012 | 12:35 pm

The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s once-spotless reputation is getting dirtier by the minute. First it yanked funding for Planned Parenthood. Then itchanged its story about why it pulled the money. (Both versions denied that the reason had anything to do with Planned Parenthood’s support for abortion.) Now we learn that the foundation teamed up with a firearms manufacturer in the marketing of a“Hope Edition” handgun with a “DuraCoat pink slide in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” What better way to raise breast cancer awareness than to pump somebody you hate full of lead?

One writer who’s been on to the Komen Foundation con for years is Barbara Ehrenreich, whose excellent 2009 book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, excoriates the group for creating a “pink-ribbon culture” that promotes “the redemptive powers of the disease” and “transform[s] breast cancer into a rite of passage—not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood.” In The First Year of the Rest of Your Life, a collection of breast cancer testimonials with a foreword by Komen Foundation founder Susan Brinker, one contributor writes, “For me, breast cancer has provided a good kick in the rear to get me started rethinking my life.” This, Ehrenreich observes, is a reaffirmation of Nietzche’s notion that whatever doesn’t kill you “makes you a spunkier, more evolved sort of person,” a construct that Christopher Hitchens, on his deathbed, took strong exception to. “In the brute physical world,” Hitchens wrote, “and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and leave you considerably weaker.” Nietzche himself, Hitchens observed,

seems to have caught an early dose of syphilis, very probably during his first-ever sexual encounter, which gave him crushing migraine headaches and attacks of blindness and metastasized into dementia and paralysis. This, while it did not kill him right away, certainly contributed to his death and cannot possibly, in the meanwhile, be said to have made him stronger. In the course of his mental decline, he became convinced that the most important possible cultural feat would be to prove that the plays of Shakespeare had been written by Bacon. […] Eventually, and in miserable circumstances in the Italian city of Turin, Nietzsche was overwhelmed at the sight of a horse being cruelly beaten in the street. Rushing to throw his arms around the animal’s neck, he suffered some terrible seizure and seems for the rest of his pain-racked and haunted life to have been under the care of his mother and sister. […] The most he could have meant, I now think, is that he made the most of his few intervals from pain and madness to set down his collections of penetrating aphorism and paradox. This may have given him the euphoric impression that he was triumphing, and making use of the Will to Power.

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