The Naked Untruth

July 8, 2011

I’m not going to lie to you, folks. It’s really and truly getting damn near impossible to come up with new and exciting ways to have this discussion. Concerns over kicking a dead horse, jumping the shark and all that. The trouble is, it just needs to keep being said. Over and over again in the hopes that finally somebody clicks and gets a big, bright idea. The proverbial lightbulb. A sudden gush of much needed and long awaited wisdom.

It always starts with the same question.

What is it with fucking right wingers and their refusal to deal with the truth? I’m not necessarily talking about outright lies although that plays an integral part of their everyday discourse. It’s the half truths and distortions of facts and figures that really do the trick. Dissembling, prevarication, misdirection and misleading statements. Their reliance on what Stephen Colbert dubbed ‘truthiness’. If it looks like the truth and quacks like the truth etc., etc.

Witness the Twitter exchange for the last couple days over the plan to remove bike lanes on Jarvis Street. On one side are those against the move. The other comes from Mayor Ford’s side of the fence offered up by Mark Towhey, the mayor’s director of policy and strategic planning.

From Towhey’s twitter feed (@towhey):

  • Actually, wrong. Staff report shows travel times are up by 1/3, ie 130% on average #justthefacts
  • Wrong, actually. Report says 2-3 mins is average over 8 hour survey period. Peak delay is much, much higher #justthefacts
  • But your argument was about environmental impact, not social activism. Even the lefties say you’re, in a word: wrong #sosad
  • Pembina Institute says Ford plan reduces more GHG and takes more cars off road compared to Transit City #topoli
  • When did TEA stop being about the environment and start being an NDP front group? Was it always?
  •  #justthefacts 94% of Jarvis commuters use cars not bikes. Commute times for cars have increased; 33% Gridlock costs T.O. $billions each year

It’s hard to know where to start. There are so many distortions, cherry picking of facts and misuse of statistics at work here that it reads like a lesson plan on How to Win an Unwinnable Argument. Mr. Towhey obviously isn’t interested in having a debate but, instead, wants to print off bumper sticker slogans.

The Pembina Institute report he makes reference to does indeed suggest that the mayor’s transit ‘plan’ would take more cars off the road and reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than Transit City. That is, once the Sheppard subway is built. You know, the mystical, magical subway that the mayor believes will appear if he claps hard enough. Otherwise, the plan such as it is now is simply Transit City with more of the Eglinton LRT buried underground minus the Sheppard and Finch LRTs which, according to the Pembina Institute will take fewer cars off the road and won’t reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than Transit City (not to mention serve less riders.)

Towhey also attempts to conflate the very real problem of congestion in the GTA with the bike lines on Jarvis. He does this by taking reports that traffic times along Jarvis Street during peak rush times have risen by 1 or 2 minutes since the bike lanes were installed and blowing them up to eye-popping but meaningless numbers. 33%! 130%!! The power of Big Numbers and False Analogies. Congestion is costing us money. Jarvis bike lanes are causing congestion. Therefore, bike lanes equal money lost.

He does all this with such condescending assuredness (“Wrong, actually.” “Actually, wrong.”), utilizing dismissive Twitter hashtags like #justthefacts, #wrongwayonJarvis and #neverwasaplan that any reasonable person would conclude that he couldn’t possibly be bullshitting. Only someone absolutely certain would state things so emphatically. But remember what the master of modern propaganda told us. It would never come into their heads [the people] to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

For the Twitter uninitiated, you might be thinking that serious debate cannot occur in 140 characters. That’s true, but imagine Twitter as a delivery system for abstracts. Here’s a thought. Here’s a link. Let’s have a discussion.

Note how in none of Towhey’s tweets does he link to any of the data he’s citing. It’s all about flooding the social media with empty talking points that supporters can run with. Unlike someone like, say, Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto. He tweets and links to reports and articles that explore issues fully, thereby making a deeper discussion possible. Read through just a couple of his takes on the Jarvis bike lane issues (here and here) and then let the debate begin.

But that’s the nub of the matter. Right wingers don’t won’t a serious debate. Why? My instinct tells me that, again citing Stephen Colbert, ‘reality has a liberal bias’. They can’t win on facts and figures. Their politics are based purely on ideology not reason or logic. So they must do what they do best. Fudge facts. Disfigure figures. Misstate. Misrepresent. Dissemble. Prevaricate.

So we charge into next weeks’ city council debate on the fate of the Jarvis Street bikelanes. An item that arose in stealth near the end of the last Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting when another lackey of the mayor’s, Councillor John Parker, sandbagged his colleague, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam whose ward the bike lanes are in, with the removal motion after the deputations about the wider bike plan had finished. No debate. No discussion. No transparency.

Mayor Ford said on the campaign trail last year, “It would be a waste of money to remove it if it’s already there, that is unless there was a huge public outcry in the area.” So, where’s the ‘huge public outcry’? Funny you should ask. Just this week the mayor stated that 70% of the phone calls he’s received have been in favour of removing the bike lanes. But as HiMY SYeD tweeted today, when he called to register his pro-bike lane view a staffer for the mayor informed him they weren’t keeping track of who called or their position on the matter. Where’s the mayor’s information coming from then?

Bringing us back full circle here. How do fight a phantom? If the old saying is true that ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’ (and that was pre-internet), how do we rein it back in? Do we start hitting back below the belt, fight fire with fire, and heap on layers and layers of bullshit? It seems counter-productive and, more disheartening, takes us further and further from the truth.

After all, that is what we’re trying to achieve, isn’t it. Arriving at the truth. At least, that’s what I was raised to believe.

reasonably submitted by Cityslikr