Helleresque City Council
July 20, 2011
The word kafkaesque gets thrown around a lot, often by people who have never read a single word written by Franz Kafka. (You should read many of his words; they are quite excellent, particularly when assembled into sentences and paragraphs.) I’ve seen it used to describe some of the recent events at Toronto City Hall, but it doesn’t quite fit.
1. of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or resembling the literary work of Franz Kafka: the Kafkaesque terror of the endless interrogations.
2. marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies.
Aside from a few convoluted voting motions, there’s little that is menacingly complex about Toronto City Council. Quite the contrary, most of council’s recent decisions have been transparently stupid, casually hidden behind a veil of distorted logic.
(My own kafkaesque bias is that I favour Kafka’s short stories over his novels; to some, Kafka is The Trial, while to me it’s The Metamorphosis and A Hunger Artist.)
Which brings us, quite naturally, to Joseph Heller and Catch-22. Catch-22 is a novel about American pilots in the Second World War and the demented bureaucracy in which they find themselves. There are many examples of the title phrase in the book, but the best one goes along these lines:
- Crazy people should not be flying bombing missions.
- If you are crazy, you don’t have to fly.
- To get out of flying because you’re crazy, you merely have to say you don’t want to fly any more.
- Realizing there’s an excellent chance you’ll die on a bombing mission and taking steps to get out of it are the actions of an at least partially sane person.
- By saying you’re crazy, you’ve proven you’re sane, so you have to fly.
It’s much better in the book. In fact, it’s so much better that catch-22 has become a common part of the English language, understood by even those who have never heard of the book.
Mayor Rob Ford had the City of Toronto prepare a survey to identify priorities for the next budget. He encouraged his supporters to attend meetings and fill out an online survey that would identify what he should cut. That’s kind of what democracy is all about, right? Asking people what they think and then acting on it?
Public Works & Infractructure Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong disagreed. When the results of the survey (PDF – p. 7) came out, most residents indicated that they would rather see taxes raised than services cut. The people had spoken.
But according to Minnan-Wong, the wrong people had spoken.
It’s not statistically valid. Those people self-selected, they decided to fill that form out. There are certain individuals that go to those websites, there are certain people who go to those meetings, and we’ve all seen them at those same meetings. They’re going to skew it.
All of that is true. There’s no meaningful way to keep track of who said what, where participants lived, what their level of income is, or anything else. But that observation raises a rather embarrassing question: Why bother? What’s the point of all this consultation if the data isn’t meaningful?
Minnan-Wong continued to dismiss the relevancy of people who appear at city council hearings when discussing potential cuts: “Many are spenders, not savers. They want the city to spend more and don’t have a concern for trying to reduce the cost and size of government.” On the subject of the Jarvis bike lanes, he said “”Consultation” in this case, a delay tactic. Everyone knew the issues,” though he later said “when all voices have been heard, it is time to make decision.”
(It is unclear, at this moment, which voices he hears, and whether those voices exist outside his head.)
- Rob Ford and his friends want to know what you think.
- If you tell Rob Ford and his friends what you think by participating in the political process in any way, you reveal yourself to be a radical socialist.
- Rob Ford and his friends do not care what you think.
(I’m not sure which literary style the outright fabrication of facts falls under. This will require further analysis.)