Two thoughtful and well-written pieces on the subject of our beleaguered Chief Magistrate today: one from my friend Cityslikr and another from Trish Hennessy at the compellingly named Framed in Canada. (The latter’s going on the blogroll on the strength of this one piece. Where have you been, Ms. Hennessy?)
Shockingly, it seems that some of the folks who voted for Rob Ford are, um, having second thoughts. Ms. Hennessy cites one focus-group participant who says it was “the worst and biggest mistake of my life.”
Gratifying as it is to see that some voters are coming to their senses, both posts raise the obvious question: what now? What do we do about this? Like it or not, we’re stuck for the next few years with Rob, and his brother, and wannabes / acolytes / enablers like Mammoliti, Minnan-Wong and the like.
It’s at this point that a recommitment to the notion of civil discourse becomes timely. Admittedly, it’s an ideal I haven’t always managed to live up to; while sanctimonious hectoring may provide momentary emotional release, it’s not going to get us too far. So let’s abandon any notion that Ford voters are a uniform, monolithic mass of belligerent, knuckle-dragging morons, revelling in their own shallow ignorance. It’s a stereotype born of resentment and sore loserdom, and it’s no more helpful or accurate than the corresponding stereotype of the condescending, snooty, latte-sipping, Birkenstock-wearing downtown elitist who lives it up on gravyboats full of tax dollars. Ms. Hennessy’s piece provides some encouraging evidence that many of those who voted for Rob Ford are indeed capable of dealing with complexity, nuance, and tradeoffs.
Unfortunately, however, there’s a disturbing note common to both posts, and that’s in Toronto voters’ capacity for self-delusion. So for all the encouraging signals that people are learning from their mistakes, there’s equally disheartening evidence that they aren’t.
As Cityslikr puts it:
Even now, a year into Rob Ford’s mayoralty, some of those who voted for him are holding on to the notion that we can have all the amenities our city offers without paying the price necessary to maintain them. They seem to think there’s an easy fix that doesn’t involve having to pay more.
And then in Ms. Hennessy’s piece:
Many of the people in our focus groups are still in the phase of wanting to believe that they did the right thing in voting for Rob Ford. When he cancelled the Vehicle Registration Tax, they saw it as a sign that he would make good on his promises. Few associate the cost of that tax cut with the city’s budget woes today. Most believe Rob Ford inherited a deficit, when in reality, David Miller handed over a surplus budget.
So they WANT to believe. They persist in thinking things that are demonstrably false.
There’s another description for this: wilfully clinging to your delusions. In a word: stupidity. Wilful stupidity. There is nothing to be gained by pretending it is anything else. I know it’s not a pleasant message, and I know it’s not going to win many converts, but once again: Stupidity is not a civic virtue. How can we have a rational, adult conversation with people who persist in covering their ears and going “LA LA LA LA LA?” How is civil discourse supposed to happen in an atmosphere like this?
It’s tempting, at times like this, to blame the yellers in the tabloid press and on Fox News North for their spiteful campaign of misinformation. But that’s only effective to a certain point, and beyond that, it’s really not relevant. Their agenda isn’t information, but ideological. While we needn’t delude ourselves in that regard, it doesn’t absolve citizens of their most basic democratic responsibilities: Civic engagement. Critical thinking. Filtering. Separating useful information from bullshit. Sloughing off those responsibilities is a sign of laziness, apathy, and self-absorption. It’s as good as admitting that it’s just easier to be stupid.
I know, I know. Honey and vinegar. I’m sorry, but I really don’t know how to sugarcoat this.
That’s the easy lesson. But both posts raise the more difficult and challenging question: How do we bridge the gap?
In his post, Cityslikr argues, correctly, that Ford voters were duped. That’s the beginning of the analysis, however — not the end. I’m reminded of that scene in Braveheart (and if anyone finds it on YouTube, please please please email me) where Robert the Bruce screams at his father: “You deceived me!”
To which his aging, leprous father responds: “You let yourself be deceived!”
The analogy isn’t all that far-fetched, is it? Truthfully? Isn’t it just slightly possible that a lot of the people who voted for Rob Ford allowed themselves to be duped? Ms. Hennessy does hit upon the enduring resonance of fundamentally stupid and thoughtless memes like the “gravy train.”
So when we discuss bridging the chasm of perspective, we’d do well to remember some fundamental truths: namely, that you can’t get something for nothing. Anyone who says you can is peddling bullshit, but anyone who buys into it is guilty of something even worse. Ed Keenan’s already made the argument more eloquently than I ever will, but this is one of those rare occasions when the answer is actually quite easy, if not especially palatable: Toronto voters need to Grow The Fuck Up.
- @JohnLorinc and @thekeenanwire on the city budget, and dealing with Team Ford | #TOpoli
- @thekeenanwire, road tolls and maturity | #gridlock #TOpoli
- On CBC this morning: @meslin and @metromorning on #citizenship
- Civic evolution, in retrograde: @thekeenanwire tries to help me understand
- While we’re on the subject of civic virtue …