I am a pretty nerdy guy. This much is evident for regular readers of this blog. One of my favourite things to nerd-out on is history. Recently I have been reading about republicanism and the French Revolution. The French Revolution is definitely one of the more interesting chapters of human political history, in my opinion. One of the things that makes it interesting is the contrasts between it and the American Revolution which occurred short years before. One factor that existed in the French context that never materialized in the American was the importance of public opinion, commonly referred to as the mob.
Mob justice or the calls from the public for blood is as old as human society itself. I do not understand the anthropological/sociological reason why, but maliciousness and cruelty emerges from people when you put them in a group, disguise their individuality and confront them with controversy. Watching the fallout from Mayor Rob Ford’s revelations about drugs and alcohol to the world, literally, was paired against the discordant gleeful chirps, snarky comments and catcalls from the public galleries of radio, Facebook, Twitter and wherever else.
Anyone who reads what I have written about Rob Ford knows that I am no fan of the mayor of Canada’s largest city. I would never have voted for the man, nor have I supported him in office very often, but I take no pleasure in the public disgrace he now finds himself. I am embarrassed by Rob Ford as a person from the Greater Toronto Area. I think he makes my region, province and country look bad and that we deserve a substantially better caliber of mayor at city hall. I believe he should resign, but I cannot side with those that seem to take such heart in the man’s downfall, nor cheer while it happens.
When the news broke that Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau were being suspended from the Senate without pay I was in first in favour of the action. However, as time passed I realized they were being pushed out to cover up the abuses that they and their party masters had participated in. The revelation by Senator Duffy definitely reinforced this perspective. However, when the Conservative government in the Senate made this motion I saw a live poll on CBC that suggested that over 60% of viewers wanted to see them turfed out.
For those who transgress against us we want to see them suffer. Bring them to the public guillotine where there bright lights and cameras hum and let’s see a little humiliation and suffering to satiate our anger. As I suggested this isn’t a recent phenomenon. Bev Oda’s, former Conservative MP for Durham, $16 orange juice pales in comparison to millions misspent by Treasury Board Secretary Tony Clement (CPC – Parry Sound-Muskoka) in his own riding that was earmarked for border improvements. But the abstract is less likely to rile up a mob than the concrete.
Everyone I mentioned I believe should have resigned and then be quietly allowed to exit public life (or sit as an MP, depending on their error). It’s the public reaction and the call for blood that I find difficult to stomach. Mike Duffy has a documented heart condition and it is understandable why he hid behind it once the storm began. It is ironic that with the massive number of professional and citizen journalists, media outlets, Twitter and bloggers that our discourse seems only able to focus on one story at a time. Why is that? I suppose an answer might be found back in that mob in the streets of Paris; despite the many peering eyes there can only be one speaker and the mob answers with the din of a single voice.
What do these public witch hunts (which has uncovered witches) communicate about public life? What member of the business, academic, intellectual elite would look at the events of the past week and embrace the chaos and thrust themselves into it? The optics are terrible. Ford and his supporters believe the man never had a chance and he was hounded by the media, destined to fail. Can anyone expect a fair trial in the court of public opinion? Once a story breaks opinions solidified and politicians forced to deal with the consequences, even if they are ultimately vindicated.
French Revolutionaries soon learned that the mob hungers for blood and that there is no true end. I wonder now if we are struck in a mob fueled by scandal and we eagerly ferret out the next controversy until someone gives. It seems an unhealthy way to run a democracy or a government regardless of the mob’s satisfaction.