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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

How Fit is Rob Ford?

Ostracize.  Contain.  Punish.  These are Rob Ford's solutions to gang-related crime.  The underlying principle is that some people are bad seeds and need to be removed from society to prevent harm to everyone else.  It's not an a-typical social conservative position to have.  It goes along with the idea that government is oppressive to the individual and that taxation disincents people from working and innovating; if they got to keep more of their money, they'd work harder to get even more money.  Greater prosperity will result in greater demand, more jobs, and more prosperity for everyone.

So - on the one hand, we need to remove bad apples so as not to spoil the bushel.  On the other, we shouldn't regulate behaviour, because that impedes good behaviour through resentment, etc.  Some people would say that taking away social services and regulation (minimum wage, education requirements, etc) but punishing people for crimes that are fostered by socio-economic conditions is ridiculous; you're punishing people, essentially, for their lot in life.  It's not fair.  It makes more sense to be proactive, to educate, accommodate, etc and avoid crime in the first place.  Reactive behaviour comes too late.

It all depends on what kind of society you're trying to build.  There actually is a case to be made for the Rob Ford model of society - it's called "survival of the fittest."  It's basic evolution - the strong will rise to the top no matter what and the weak or unruly will be eliminated (or locked away/run out of town).  By culling the weak/unprosperous, only the successful will be left.  It's not trickle-down economics; it's cut-the-bottom-off economics.

There's a problem, though - consciously or not, social conservatives are applying biological evolutionary rules to society.  Society is a different animal entirely, with different rules.  See, if society were designed for the "fittest" to survive, it would actually the ones who kill, steal and cheat that would get ahead.  They're the toughest; they're willing to do whatever it takes to win.  Think about it - do back-stabbing and dog-eat-dog competition result in the smartest, most social, most innovative people climbing corporate or social ladders?  From a different angle, does wealth make one immune to the impact of a riot, or an epidemic? 

Despite what laissez-faire free-marketers would have us believe, we actually have had a Rob Fordesque society in history - just look at medieval Europe, or before that, Rome for two examples.  People aggregated where there was opportunity, but when they're solely out for themselves, they aren't looking after the interests of their neighbour; waste goes into the street, work gets done to the lowest price and the least amount of work, etc.  Disease, fires, looting, etc were significant social problems.  The challenges of many people living in close quarters actually fostered the climate of centralized coordination and regulation that is government.  The "free market" model isn't what we're moving towards - it's what society is moving away from.

The only way for a truly free market society to thrive is if people live at a distance from each other - each to their own plots, free to make and enforce their own decisions without being impacted by the actions of their neighbours.  A feudal society, in short, with everyone lord of their own castle.  That's the position of the Ontario Landower Association folk.  There's a problem with that model, too - when people are left to their own devices, independently, they actually don't need to innovate as much or share their innovations; after all, new ideas aren't going to be picked up until someone proves them, and where's the profit in the proving process?  The reason that innovation has continued to pick up speed is due at least as much to social density as it is to any other factor.

Innovation is a social phenomena.  Literally; the part of our brain that motivates pro-social behaviour is the same one that allows for innovation and executive function (the ability to proactively plan).  The part of our brain that is the seat of emotions (biological drives that motivate us to react, like locking people up after a crime is already committed) stores memory, but doesn't foster connection-making or active solution-creating.

Social conservatives don't trust hope, because hope implies change.  They're thinking with their reactive brains, primarily; there's no way to quantify hope and really, there's no evidence in the world that can convince them you can reform a criminal through education and restorative justice.  By the same token, progressives get frustrated with the "with us or against us" mentality of the socons; why can't they see where progress can take us?

Evolution isn't a ladder - neither the reactive nor proactive brain are better than the other.  Both have their uses, context-determined.  It just so happens that in an increasingly dense social context, the ability to plan is a really useful tool to have.

Ford says the best social program is a job - but you can't get a job unless you can prove you're able to do the work.  How do you get the training, the experience, the dare I say it, social skills?  Through social programs.  The more educated a society is, the more equitable resource access is, the more prosperity there is for everyone and less violence.

It's not that Rob Ford's model is wrong; it's just that he hasn't followed it through to conclusion.

1 comment:

  1. A friend of mine rightfully called me out for the title of the article. To clarify, it is a crass way of getting you to read further, but you'll note there's no mention of Rob Ford's weight in the article. I don't blame him for his girth, nor do I think it's something to be joked about. Obesity is a serious health concern; interestingly enough, it's tied to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

    I think Ford's approach to life is hard-wired, but fundamentally unhealthy. I think he's probably not having much fun in his role, but he's driven to politics out of frustration and resentment. He can change, though, as we all can - neuroplasticity and cognitive behvarioual therapy prove this.

    Like any change, though, it can't be forced upon us - we have to consciously make the choice to live differently and be willing to endure the pain that comes with it. People like Ford have a harder time than most - they have additional stresses from masses of people, but not additional empathetic support. It's lonely at the top.

    But then, I'm not a "kick the bums out" kind of guy - I actually believe in moving forward together.