Are the suburbs the worst place in the world? Very possibly as they seem to be incubators for the worst people I have ever witnessed.
As I witness the Rob Ford theatre of the absurd playing out before us, I am keenly aware of the power of the sprawl of subdivisions that occupy between my current Hamilton outpost and urban Toronto. This area is very possibly is worthy of the greatest contempt and scrutiny we can muster for it’s deleterious effects, both physically and morally, on the rest of the Canadian landscape. By extension this phenomenon may very well be the harbinger of doom globally, undergirded (word usage inspired by Hume; see next paragraph) by the collective suburban consciousness’ inability to meaningfully self-reflect upon itself and the consequences of its own actions. I truly believe that left unchecked our entire continent will be someday be entirely and evenly blanketed by subdivision houses and shopping malls. Even more disturbingly, many if not most of our population would not see this a horrifying possible future.
Why am I harshing on the suburbs? The Star’s Christopher Hume has summed up the characteristics that offend me in his article here. In particular, this paragraph describes accurately the motivations of the class of people who hold our future in their hands: “Like Ford, they see little value in the city, prefer Tim Hortons and choose to drive everywhere. Their interest in civic issues goes no further than how much they pay in taxes, noisy neighbours and the state of the roads they depend on to get around. Like him, they want subways not because they will use them, but because they will replace the streetcars that would otherwise slow them down.”
I can already hear the protests and howls. I have read it in replies to his article from indignant suburbanites. I know there are “good people” in the suburbs. Maybe I am just a city snob out of touch with the reality of our society but the truth is I grew up in suburbs. To say I and others are unqualified or in an illegitimate position to meaningfully critique suburban culture is like saying someone who just finished twelve years of the public school system is not informed about how the public school system works. Conversely, I can say with confidence that those who grew up and remain in the suburbs are ill-suited to judge the merits of the urban core or, equally as distant, undeveloped natural environment. These people’s entire world is the suburbs and that perspective of reality is not to be underestimated – it’s powerful and palatable and always reinforced by a sense of being under siege by those who don’t have their lifestyles (read: from people who are envious of their material goods, because what else exists in this world?). The Fords understand this and deftly manipulate this insecurity to their political advantage.
It is an interesting characteristic of people who live in the GTA, that I and others have noticed when moving here, that most of these people have never traveled anywhere. They don’t actually know anything about the rest of the world. They may of taken an all-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic or maybe have engaged in cross-border shopping but that’s it. This produces the effect of resisting change in attitudes or approaches to problems because they are willfully ignorant of how other communities of the world may of dealt with similar issues. This also, curiously, produces a somewhat counter-intuitive approach that the world and it’s resources are limitless – so what harm is one more subdivision going to cause? Why is one more car a problem? This isn’t Europe – we have more than enough space to spare. It occurs to me that these people share much with young earth creationists. They may intuitively believe that the earth was created 5,000 years ago and on the eighth day Jesus drove out of the ocean in a SUV and decreed it is a divine right that everyone should have a parking spot.
I am writing this post as a way of making sense of how this person could be elected, supported and then defended. Some revelations have occurred to me during this time, such as when the Fords and their apologists are addressing the media they are not actually talking to their critics – they are bypassing the rest of us and feeding their army of suburban supporters with talking points and cliches to fall back on. That’s why their dialogue appears so childishly naive and ridiculous to everyone else i.e. “stopping the gravy train”, “war on the car” and “I’ll just drink at home from now on”. As they saying goes, never argue with an idiot because they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. The Fords depend on this as the more you patiently try to explain the flaws in their arguments, the more you are losing the war of attrition with their army of hollow men.
For example, it is very interesting to watch the rats scurry from the sinking ship of Mayor Rob Ford’s regime. But why now? Why not six months ago? Why not a year ago? Because it only took a massive police investigation, international media covereage and undeniable candid video footage for any of those in the Ford camp to admit that anything may be amiss. Does this stubbornness and tunnel vision sound like an ideal state of politics and good governance to you? This smacks of fanaticism, of a kind of shallow consumer fundamentalist whose very nature precludes meaningful debate or compromise. In short, Ford Nation is a tribe of bullies and the man they elected is a perfect representative of their values and motivations. Those only now quitting his team or proclaiming their sincere concern for his well being are deserving of our greatest scorn.
Unbelievably to the reasonable person, there are those still defending Ford on the basis of his “good fiscal management”. Ok, seriously, what the fuck kind of reason is that for supporting a lying, crack smoking elected official? This is another pitfall of arguing with idiots because what is “good fiscal management” is actually a very fuzzy set of priorities based on your philosophical (or lack thereof) outlook on life. I’ve heard these people on the radio, and they claim that his private life and public life ought to be kept separated. Ok… so this sentiment does not apply to celebrities? Or how about to priests? Or to the person who manages your child’s daycare? How about to the surgeon who is about to operate on your parent? Or to the teller at your bank? Or the airplane mechanic? Are these areas of responsibility more grave than that the Mayor of Toronto?
What is really going on with this rationale is something I heard about a little while ago that makes sense to me – the absence of morals when making decisions in a marketplace environment. Do people sell and buy stocks based on ethical decisions? No. For example, you might of mutual funds but you don’t know exactly with what companies because you don’t care – this is a matter of money! Most people still buy clothes from sweat shops in third worlds because of the savings. Most of us will eat chickens that are raised in cruel conditions because of the convenience and savings within our marketplace. This same effortless self-entitlement is now applied to our politicians and is the basis for the appeal of modern day conservatism in general.
So, it’s ok for the Mayor to be a crack-smoker and liar – as long as he is saving us money. Putting aside the very valid arguments that he is not actually saving money, and that conservative governments in general are the worst possible approach to the economy, let’s assume it is ok for Rob Ford to be the way he is because of his fiscal management. Is it ok if he does cocaine too? How about crystal meth? How about acid? How about opium? What does it matter if he does all of them? What if he enjoys watching dog fights? What about porn? What about snuff films? Why does that matter anymore? If a certain style of fiscal management is desirable, then can we replace him with a robot? Why not? Why does it matter anymore if someone is human, or has certain values?
This line of logic pretty much lays bare that those who support someone like Ford have only self-interest as a guide to society. They have no understanding of history or much of a care for the future beyond their own life. They don’t care if the world is burning beyond the horizon because their world, their real world, is inside whatever routines they have carved out inside the noise and stink of your average suburb that you can find anywhere. And Ford nation gets to drive around it for $60 a year cheaper than if they elected another Mayor.
I have categorized my observations of the worst, most destructive inhabitants of the suburbs into four thematic categories I call…
The four horsemen of the suburban apocalypse
1) The taxpayer:
What a great tool for dividing our communities into quarrelling factions! If you pay more income tax than me, or own property and thus pay property taxes then you should have more influence in a democracy. When a politician refers to a serving taxpayers, they are creating a class based society and removing morals and values from the conceptual equation of who to vote for. Don’t worry about doing the right thing – just worry about your entitled position in this pyramid scheme.
Society is all business right? Of course, this rhetoric is complete bullshit. We all pay taxes in one form or another. I remember former Toronto Mayor David Miller warning about the dangers of segregating society in such a way and he urged people to think of “citizens” as opposed to “taxpayers”.
I am a citizen and I have a responsibility to the world around me. A “taxpayer” is someone who sees the world as having a responsibility to them.
2) The Stooge:
Remember “Dave from Toronto“? This is typical of our society and happens all the time. More than you think, probably. I’ve seen this at a community meeting I attended to plead for the preservation of a heritage building. We were essentially shouted down by employees of the elected official we were pleading to.
It’s a normalized practice in Canadian municipal politics to cherry pick the community members you consult with. There is a such a disconnect with politics that the majority of people don’t vote – so only those with an immediate vested interest or beliefs approaching the fanatical are the majority who vote. If I am a politician, I will tailor my campaign to appeal to the 10% of the population who actually vote and not to represent the interest of 100% of my community because they don’t all vote.
I will hire communication professionals to mediate with the media to create a perception that my campaign represents the democratic majority. Thus the rise of the Stooge as the most powerful incarnation of politics today because things in Canada are getting downright tribal – what or why is not important anymore as who.
3) Mall security:
Malls are the cultural centres of the suburbs. They are the mass-produced, big boxed heart and soul of these communities and yet they remain private property. If you are not there to shop then you have no business being there and can be legally barred from the premises.
How do they know if you are not there to shop? If you act different or look different, then you will be singled out. This is true for all of the suburbs – the police, for example, would have no problems stopping someone wearing a top hat and toga and walking backwards on a sidewalk. They are not breaking any laws, but they are acting “suspicious”. You, as a tax-paying property owner residing in the suburbs would have no problems with police stopping and investigating this oddly behaving individual. You would not consider the intagible implications to our individual rights or our democratic freedoms – because you don’t care about the past or future or they way things work elsewhere. What you don’t understand you loathe and Mall security feels the same way you do because Mall security works for you.
By contrast, someone wearing a toga and top hat and walking backwards through a large urban core would tend to be tolerated much more.
4) The friendly mafia:
When I think of mafia, I think of back room deals, winks, nudges and financial transactions within closed systems that ought to be open. I think of an agreement to gang up and punish those who get in the way of conducting business.
Well, this is the way the people typically involved in Canadian municipal politics operate. To me, it is very arrogant and naive to believe some of the revelations of corruption in the City of Montreal and Laval are not present in the GTA or Hamilton. In fact, it is probably much worse precisely because it has not been remarked upon.
I call this “the friendly mafia” because those who sit as trustees and on city councils typically have deep connections business wise to the community. Contracts and policies that lead to contracts tend to happen to the benefit of these public officials and their buddies in the community. For example, a quaint lakeside town not far from Hamilton recently compromised its scenic appeal by allowing a monstrous condominium to be built on the beach front. Though this may have detrimental effects on the local economy, in the short term the council member who owns a duct installation company and subsequently got the contract for this condo building benefitted greatly. He’s a business and community leader. Gosh, a really nice guy and even volunteers with XYZ Charity once a month.
He has also helped unleash the pattern of suburban sprawling development onto his community. Nothing can or will be done because his is part of the local friendly mafia – everyone knows each other and dissenting views bring repercussions unto themselves. This is the marketplace and ethics have no place here. Besides, if he didn’t benefit from it the next guy would of.
Everything I have written here is from a weak position because the greatest weapon in the Ford Nation arsenal is the fact they just don’t care. You can be right, clearly and unequivocally, but it does not matter to these people. That is their source of strength and pride.
We can trace the problems to amalgamation of cities, giving councillors from surrounding suburbs the advantage of numerical supremacy to downtown councilors and thus power over the budget and lives of citizens living in the urban core. I must point out the decision to amalgamate was a budgetary one by a conservative government and this sensibility has led to the depraved and hypercritical stance of Ford Nation supporting a drugged out Mayor who appeals to them because he lives in house like them and drives to work like them. There is nothing redeeming or noble here.
I know I am a better person than most of these people because I can and will admit my faults and hypocrisies. Unfortunately, this kind of honesty is a detriment when engaging Ford suburbanites in a similar way as it must of been to admit you are a sinful person to the Spanish Inquisition.
Economy, jobs and good fiscal management they refer to would be easier for me to accept if it was actually a responsible and sustainable model for prosperity – but sadly it’s not. But that is another post for another time. For now, I suppose my post can be dismissed as an argument against society in general and these values are the way it is so I better stop complaining and get a real job. I better stop considering the past and stop hoping for a better future and get as much as I can right here and right now while I still can. Someone like Ford can make that quest a little easier for me.