Organized Discontent

February 15, 2012

Despite what I think to be the George Hamilton like tone I carefully nurtured with a secret combination of cooking oil, mesquite rub and deet during my weeklong absence, there seems to be rumours a-swirling about the “real” reasons I went awol during what The Grid’s Edward Keenan called “The most significant week at City Hall in a generation” (probably just to taunt me). Dudes. Check out the tan lines. I went somewhere sunny and warm because it was February here. I thought February was going to provide some downtime at City Hall. No one circulated the Special Once In A Lifetime Special Council Meeting memo in my direction. It was merely bad timing.

So no, I am not a Team Ford double-agent — working from the inside to try and discredit the opposition with my ludicrous and often times illogical rantings about the mayor — who simply couldn’t stand to be around during his darkest hours to date. I’dve given my eye teeth to be here but, Expedia being Expedia, the whole she-bang was non-refundable. And no, it was not a clandestine rendezvous with a certain councillor from Etobicoke whose seat in the council chambers also went unoccupied last Wednesday. I admire the lady. She’s got, what do you call it, the moxy. It’s just, we come from such different backgrounds. We’d never get past that whole urban-suburban chasm.

Also, there was no slipping away for some discreet elective surgery. While I acknowledge a certain none-to-subtle ageism within the ranks of those covering City Hall (witness the cutesie, self-satisfied back-slapping of the young in yesterday’s tweets between the aforementioned Edward Keenan and writer David Hains), I stand proudly by my 28 years of age and wouldn’t think of furtively seeking some desperate attempt to look even younger than I already do. Why no, sir. I am not an unpaid intern at an unnamed publication. But I am flattered you thought I might be. How old do you think I am?

The fact of the matter is, last week was the first of a semi-annual, enforced Magazine Catch-Up Retreat week. Get out of town, get out of your work head and get reading those damn magazines that are littering the place up. Either that or cut back. What?! And do without my McCall’s?! I’m sorry, what? It’s been called Rosie since 2001?! I thought that was my gardening magazine. And it hasn’t been published in 10 years!?!

You see what I’m saying here?

Thus, I found myself cracking into the first of the 2011 issues of a couple subscriptions at the same time I was already receiving March 2012 issues. I knew Lewis Lapham had stepped away from his Notebook in Harper’s but was unaware that Thomas Frank had become the permanent resident in that space with his Easy Chair. I’m not yet sure how I feel about that. Lapham wasn’t so overtly political. It rarely felt like you were reading a screed. It was patrician subtle. Frank is as partisan as they come right now. I don’t want that from my Harper’s. I can read my own stuff if that’s what I was looking for.

That said, I’m hardly appalled reading Frank’s stuff and did come across an interesting tidbit in his January 2011 entry, The Fatal Middle. He quoted Howard Phillips, one-time director of The Conservative Caucus, saying way back during the early Reagan era that the job, the role, the genius of the right wing was its ability “to organize discontent.” Hello? What was that again? To organize discontent.

Some thirty years on and nothing much has changed. Perhaps it took a little longer up here in our cosy little corner north of the 49th because true, visceral discontent first needed to be stirred up amongst the hoi polloi before it could be organized into a viable voting bloc. A recession or two. Draining of the manufacturing sector. The general gestation period needed for the seeds of subversive disinformation to come to flower.

But, good goddamn, has our right wing learned how to organize discontent. We now believe ourselves to be over-taxed to the max with all our money being spent on greedy, self-interested politicians, unions and the undeserving poor. The rest of us are all the struggling middle class unless, of course, you don’t share our particular discontent. Then, you are a downtown, champagne-sipping, latte lapping elitist/socialist, two steps left of Joe Stalin who reads, well, Harper’s or The Walrus (up to April 2011 issue currently) or that Toronto Star rag.

Discontent. Resentment. Division.

In three words, Rob Ford’s victorious campaign and modus operandi since becoming mayor. This city does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. (Discontent). The War on the Car. (Resentment). Those in the suburbs pay for everything and get nothing in return. (Division with a little factual incorrectness thrown in for good measure).

It’s the Holy Right Wing Trinity and fits in perfectly with their views on government as a destructive force that needs to be reigned in and shrivelled down to size except for its law and order, enforcement side. The beauty of it too is that it is self-fulfilling because the more ineffectual you make government, the more discontent, resentment and division you breed. Almost like a political perpetual motion machine.

The remarkably depressing thing about this is that it’s neither new nor particularly covert. This has been a staple in North America since at least Richard Nixon and his Silent Majority. That’s 44 years ago, folks. And somehow we haven’t found a way to counteract it. When conservatives stumble and fall out of favour, it’s usually to do with their own missteps not some brilliant and uplifting piece of political theatre by their opponents.

Look at what’s happening here in Toronto. The mayor is not really being out-manoeuvred or out-played. He’s simply fucking up, left and centre, his setbacks washing out any steps forward. The very notable victory he can claim with the CUPE 416 settlement has been lost in the noise of his illogical transit plans. It’s not a question of contesting but containing him and all the damage his ideology wants to inflict on the proper governance of this city.

The easy appeal to voter discontent, resentment and division means right wing politicians have a leg up when it comes to campaigning. It’s the only thing really that keeps them in the game at all. If conservatives were judged on what they do once elected, they’d never get near the levers of power again. They couldn’t even present a perception of competency. Our system and beliefs in it suffer because of that.

We have to learn to confront them before they get the keys to office instead of always having to clean up their mess on the way out. That means appealing to people’s better nature not their worst, instilling hope rather than despair and anger. It’s a tall order, for sure, especially since the public well has been so poisoned by ugly rhetoric and anti-social policies. But the alternative is continued degradation of our public institutions and way of life.

imploringly submitted by Cityslikr


Word Of The Day

February 21, 2010

Some words are elusive. Regardless of how many times you encounter them and look their definition up in a dictionary, the meaning slips your grasp. Retention is temporary; gone as soon as you try summoning them again.

Solipsism.

A philosophical theory that the self is the only thing that can be known or verified. A view that the self is the only reality. From the latin, solus, alone and ipse, self. One who practices solipsism is said to be a solipsist. If one tends toward solipsism, one can be labeled solipsistic.

I can read the word over and over in an attempt to commit it to memory yet invariably the definition fails to stick. It’s not as if I have a beef with the word and am subconsciously trying to keep it at bay in order not to deal with it. Like say, subcutaneous. A perfectly good word that gives me the creeps. It’s too medical-y, clinical. Brings to mind a corpse or something that is said during an autopsy. Subcutaneous reminds me of my own mortality. Subcutaneous freaks me out a little. It gets under my skin. So I don’t go out of my way to remember what it means.

Part of the problem with the word solipsism is that from a philosophical perspective a debate rages as to whether there exists a rigorous enough definition of the word for it to have any concrete meaning. If philosophers can’t agree on a definition, how can I be expected to keep on top of it? On the other hand, to a true solipsist wouldn’t the ultimate meaning of the word be theirs and theirs alone? How many solipsists does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, because who else is there to do it?

What am I talking about and why does it matter, you’re probably asking at this point. So what if there’s a word you don’t remember? There are plenty others to choose from, hundreds maybe even thousands. If only philosophers understand the word solipsism, what use is it in the real world anyway?

True enough and not to toot my own horn here and insinuate that I am the bookish type immersed in highfalutin texts but I do come across the word fairly regularly. Why just the other day I saw it used 3 times by Lewis Lapham in a Harper’s editorial from last May. (You may ask why I was reading a Harper’s magazine from last year just the other day. As a magazine subscriber, I always keep a distance of a year or so from the most current issue in order to see if what’s being written has been proven to be bullshit. If so, I then stop reading anything further that the writer has written.)

To hear Lewis Lapham use solipsism is to get the sense that it is a derogatory word. Being solipsistic in Lewis Lapham’s view is a bad thing. Militant anti-smokers represent the height of solipsism to a long time smoker like Lewis Lapham because they only see the world through their eyes, opinions and sensibilities.

The word itself drips derision. Solipsistic. Sloppy. Slurry. A staggering, incomprehensible drunk. You.. stupid, fucking solipsist, you. Onomatopoeic almost.

Yet I think the word might’ve come from a more positive place. In a pre-Socratic world of oracles, seers and divination through animal entrails, to believe that only your existence was real because everything else around you was ultimately suspect due to your perception of it through fallible human senses was to reject given orthodoxy. You were questioning societal hierarchy, authority and even the gods. It paved the way to René Descartes and his ‘I Think Therefore I Am’; one of the cornerstones of modern philosophy and scientific methodology. Solipsism once did battle with the darkness of superstition.

That modern science has proven one aspect of solipsistic theory correct – our 5 senses are undoubtedly fallible – is only a minor irony of the word’s usage today. As Lou Reed sang (channeling Benjamin Franklin), don`t believe half of what you see/And none of what you hear. Trusting our instincts, ‘gut’ or screaming front page headlines may be the surest way to get things wrong. But to believe nothing is real aside from our own existence is, well, a little shortsighted and self-absorbed. It displays an inhuman lack of empathy.

The major irony of solipsism’s fate is that its ranks have been filled with those who believe in all sorts of extraordinary things outside of their own being. The inerrant word of an all-seeing, all knowing, ineffable God. Adam Smith’s perfectly tuned invisible hand of the free market and its corresponding faith in a laissez-faire, trickle down, government bad, business good economic system. (See? We got to politics eventually.) Those with an unshakeable conviction that Avatar is the greatest movie ever.

Solipsism is now the exclusive realm of the worst kind of solipsists and the only good news about it is that I may finally have a firm grasp of what the word really means.

In our next installment of Word of the Day: epistemological.

pretentiously submitted by Urban Sophisticat