A story about a former Toronto mayor

I’ve recently read a great study by John Filion about a former Toronto mayor.

Newspaper journalists do not necessarily do a great job of it when they write a full-length book. The skills associated with journalism may or may not make for a great book-length text.

John Filion has been a City of Toronto councillor for 15 years as I understand.  He has a background as a newspaper writer – and he has put together a great book-length text that holds the close attention of the reader. Filion has achieved a successful transition from the writing of newspaper articles to the entirely different task of writing a book that commands the attention of a reader.

The book is worth a close read. It’s based on over 100 interviews. The interviewees are well chosen; the writer brings a strong framework to the organizing of the study.

As well, one can say that every piece of writing provides evidence concerning the level of consciousness that a person brings to a given piece of writing. What the councillor who is a former newspaper writer demonstrates by way of a level of consciousness is impressive. He attends closely to evidence. He communicates strongly that the personalities under study cannot be summed up by way of simple or simplistic conclusions.

Linguistic anthropology, anthropology of the brain, and social interactionism

Filion’s psychological explanations – as they relate to family dynamics and bullying, abuse, and addiction – aren’t the final word, I would add, by way of offering my own assessment of things as a reader of the book. A focus on linguistic anthropology and social interactionism would serve as a great adjunct or complement to the varied social-psychological overviews of family dynamics featured in the book.

Crazy Town (2014) is a useful resource regarding a former Toronto mayor. Crazy Town is of particular interest when a person views frames of reference from a largely tactical perspective. The latter study by Robyn Doolittle focuses on the tactical end of things, as viewed by an investigative reporter.

Filion’s book has a sense for nuance, and a sense for a broader framework, within which particular narratives unfold. The book has given rise for me to fresh insights regarding bullying and lying, and the purposes that are served by them.

Filion’s 2015 study has enough evidence-based, corroborated detail so that you can construct, in your mind, the scenarios that he describes. A person can, if they wish, construct the scenarios in terms of what a person may know about linguistic anthropology, the anthropology of the brain, and social interactionism. That’s the form of construction that appeals to me. Each reader will bring her or his own frames of reference to the wide range of engaging scenarios featured in the book.


In Mass Disruption: Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution (2015), John Stackhouse presents an evocative overview of the topics at hand. As with Doolittle, his narrative focuses on a changing media environment. The distinction between rhetoric (as in political branding associated with a range of succinct, populist narratives) and reality (as in factual statements based on evidence-based, investigative reporting) is highlighted in each of the above-noted studies.

The subject matter of the latter study also brings to mind a Dec. 29, 2015 Washing Post article entitled: “A farewell to The Washington Post.”

A post addressing populism among other topics is entitled: Venezuela continues to move deeper into economic disarray: Feb. 9, 2016 New York Times article.

An Aug. 30, 2016 Tyee article is entitled: “Think Trump’s Impossible? I Have Two Words for You: ‘Rob Ford.’”

A Sept. 8, 2016 Toronto Star article is entitled: “The secrets behind Olivia Chow’s mayoral bid: New book provides insider look at how high-profile politician crashed and burned.”

What became of the men photographed with Rob Ford?

A Sept. 30, 2016 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Three years later, what became of the men photographed with Rob Ford?”

The concluding paragraphs read:

On Sept. 23, Justice Campbell concurred with Mr. Gorham. He sentenced Mr. Khattak to time served and three years’ probation. No more jail time. He wouldn’t even have to forfeit $790 in cash that police seized at the time of his shooting.

Outside court, Mr. Khattak’s parents, Pakistani immigrants, looked more exhausted than elated. They refused to speak for the record. The photo had thrust their son from urban anonymity to international headlines. They had put every spare moment and spare dollar toward his defence.

“This whole case and the attention it received at first caused an enormous amount of stress and anxiety for this family,” Mr. Gorham said.

While Mr. Khattak’s case is over, the photo lives on, said Mr. Warsame, the community worker. A stigma remains attached to the Dixon community.

“The photo gave the media and the rest of Toronto an opportunity to write their own violent narrative about the area,” he said. “But many families here paid a steep price too. … The whole community would be in a far better place if Rob Ford had never shown his face around here.”

[End of excerpt]


On the topic of populism, a Feb. 3, 2017 fivethirtyeight.com article is entitled: “14 Versions Of Trump’s Presidency, From #MAGA To Impeachment.”

A recent study by Pankaj Mishra is entitled: Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017).

Richard Rorty

A July 2017 Los Angeles Review of Books article is entitled: “Conversational Philosophy: A Forum on Richard Rorty.”

The introduction reads:

AFTER DONALD J. TRUMP was elected president of the United States, the American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931–2007) returned to the pages of many of the major newspapers of the world as one of the few thinkers who had predicted the election of a “strongman” with Trump’s homophobic and racist features. The relevant passage can be found in the lectures Rorty delivered on the history of leftist thought in 20th-century America at Harvard University in 1997, and published as Achieving Our Country a year later. While reprints of this book were hitting several political philosophy best seller lists, Rorty’s Page-Barbour lectures — titled Philosophy as Poetry — were also released. If in Achieving Our Country, Rorty predicted the election of a right-wing populist, in the latter he stresses how valuable the imagination is for the future of philosophy, which is, in many ways, an imperiled discipline. Although these are not his most important books, they indicate that Rorty was a philosopher ahead of his time, a philosopher for the future.

The goal of this forum is not simply to remember Rorty 10 years after he passed away on the June 8, 2007, but also to continue the conversation which he urged all philosophers to pursue. I have invited Marianne Janack, María Pía Lara, Eduardo Mendieta, and Martin Woessner to cover specific aspects of Rorty’s thought, including feminism, social hope, and post-truth. Their concise contributions underscore the significance of Rorty’s writings for the 21st century. My introduction recalls important moments of the American thinker’s life as well as his outstanding contribution to continental philosophy.

— Santiago Zabala


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