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  • Jordan O'Connor

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Recently I saw an article about a mother who approached Doug Ford regarding the proposed funding model for autistic children in the province of Ontario. The exchange went as follows:

Here’s how Breugrem described her encounter with Ford to Durham Radio News:

“I said do you see my son over there? I said he’s the one that you’re impacting,’ Breugem said she told Ford. ‘By you taking away his therapy he’s not going to be able to communicate and he said ‘Oh so let me get this right you’re one of the ones getting therapy right now. You’re one of the 25%, what about those other parents?’”

Date accessed: 190214

It is heartbreaking when any child is not provided the opportunity to have a good life. Life throws enough curveballs, so any that we can correct is, in my mind, something we should do. But Ford’s question (“You’re one of the 25%, what about those other parents?) was more of an answer than a question. Let’s look at this a little it.

What I want to talk about is the effect that quantitative thinking has in qualitative situations. The mother is asking Ford if he understand the qualitative effect this policy will have; if he understands that this policy will negatively impact her son’s quality of life. However, Ford doesn’t address her question (about her son’s quality of life) instead he pivots to a quantitative, or numbers-based, approach. Her son, quite obviously, is not a number; he is her son! Whereas, for Ford, he is a number, or so it would seem from his numbers-based answer. That he said, and was clarifying “so let me get this right you’re one of the ones getting therapy right now. You’re one of the 25%, what about those other parents?”So her son is one of the 25% that is currently receiving funding. And, as she pointed out, under funding he son will hurt him. But, as Ford pointed out, there are 75% of other parents who are not receiving funding. This seemed to imply that we need to underfund all of the kids to be fair, as opposed to saying we should responsibly fund all of the kids to be fair, but we will get to that later.

So his answer was not qualitative, rather it was numbers based, or quantitative. And when Ford responded and asked (Although it might have been rhetorical) “Let me get this right…” he was comprehending the situation based on the numbers—25% vs. 75%. Judging by his statement, it seems that for Ford there was a kind of self-evident truth. Let’s try and bring this in to focus a little. I will make-up a simple example.

Let’s say there are 4 autistic children in one community. And let’s say that in this is small community, that everyone knows each other, so everyone is aware of each other’s needs and struggles and so on. Now it comes time to help the 4 autistic children:

Option 1) fund 25% of the children with autism, which means 1 in 4 children are funded.

Option 2) spread the 25% out amongst the 4 children equally which underfunds all of the children.

In option 1 we are not meeting the needs of 3 out of 4 children and in option 2 we are underfunding all of 4 children.

(I will argue for a 3rdoption: to properly fund all 4 children later but for now we have option 1 and 2.)

Both scenarios are devastating, they both lack the qualitative understanding (the quality of life understanding; empathy, compassion, etc.,) and neither address the fundamental needs of the children. The question is: how do we get from not funding 3 out of 4 to under-funding all 4 as an answer?

Ford seems to imply that his question (the seemingly rhetorical “self-evident” one I mentioned) is an answer, if so: what is that answer?

This is a “limited resources” argument, which goes as follows: there is only X amount in the pot so we divide it up evenly. This sounds fair, it sounds reasonable, and it is easy to understand. You and I get a pizza and we split it 50/50, perfect! But what if you got married and invited 100 people and had enough food, chairs, parking spaces, etc., for 25… is that cool? The key to your success is to get the people who came to your wedding to think of this is not your problem (the people hosting the wedding) but instead it is their problem (the people invited to the wedding.) If you succeed you have saved yourself a lot of money. Now the people you can bring their own food, take a cab, bring chairs to sit on, and tables to eat at, they can bring their dishes and then bring them home, and they vacuum and clean before they leave. But wait, why come in the first place, just skype in—perfect—save even more money, no rental hall rental fee. Problem solved and you have the freedom to pick the kind of food you want, the kind of table you want to sit at, or dishes you want to eat off of etc., it’s all your choice!

What we are talking about here is a lighthearted analogue to something serious: austerity measures, efficiencies, and cutting “big government.” In other words we are talking about an ideology in its own right. Given this, for Ford, the question of “what about the other parents?” is an, I think, valid and important question, what about them, what will they do? The problem arises when he bases his answer in a neo-conservative ideology, one that framed in the ideology of “choice” one build on the ideology of cutting public structures and institutions all under the auspices of “cutting the fat” of “choice” of “efficiencies” and so on.

The very idea of choice is, following the neo-con philosophy, sufficient enough reason itself, however, this is circular thinking. Put another way, Ford is right regardless of external information so he repeats his idea, and his idea is the reason. His reasoning is predicated upon an ideology of “cuts” and “choice” because we wants, due to an ideological motive or ambition, to eliminate “big government.” Big government is the villain and you, average citizen, are the victim. Rise up! And the answer is predetermined: choice!

“Big government”, “Choice” etc., are slogans born from an ideology; the neo-con perspective, that individual choice is embraced over collective rights. There is an exception, however; corporations.

The power of the corporation is affirmed in the free-market system, whereas unions, or government programs (i.e., big government) things like health care, education, are (under the neo-con ideology) moved into the column of individual choice; you should be able to pick your healthcare provider, or decide if you want to pay student fees. These impacts, on an individual level, may seem purposeful and beneficial, however when measured against the backdrop of collective rights may not seems as good. For example, I do not have kids but I still pay taxes, some of which goes to schools. Does it benefit me directly? No, because I do not have kids, but it does benefit me collectively, as a member of a society where others do have kids. But that is collective rights thinking, not individual choice thinking where the narrow focus of one’s rights traps us in the tunnel vision of our own needs dismissing the needs of others. Similarly the new initiatives in Ontario with funding colleges and universities raises questions; perhaps similar to those in our imaginary community.

This is worth quoting at length:

“Independent student organizations, student unions and the student press have a strong history of advocacy and contributing to social change in Canada. These organizations often organize against government policies that are harmful to the members of their organizations, much like labor unions. In the case of students’ unions, in particular, they see themselves as advocacy organizations primarily tasked with fighting to make education accessible, whether that means taking on the university administration or the government itself.

This is a nuisance to a Conservative government. What better way to reduce the strength of public critique and weaken the ability of student advocacy groups to influence government policy in the long term than to cut these organizations off at the knees?

Student organizations play a large role in Canadian society on issues far beyond affordable education. The legalization of abortion in this country can be traced back to student organizing on campuses. Changes to human rights legislation that include queer and transgender people were also rooted in campus organizing. Because of the strength of their collective organizing power, they are an important societal force behind significant rights we enjoy in Canada.”

Date accessed: 190214

The difference here is, groups that support collective rights are in contradiction to groups that support individual rights; unions are on the opposite side from corporations, as such healthcare, if it is to fit into the neo-con model, needs to be privatized, only then can it fit into the ideology of individual choice—in short: healthcare, police and military services, education, postal services, public works projects, etc., all need to be handled within the free-market by corporations. This is the Cooperate Utopia for the new-con. The slogans of cuts/efficiency, choice/freedom, and the narrative of inefficient big government are, relatively speaking, conspicuous acts compared to the larger endgame of Ontario Inc.

Now I have gone beyond the small community I imagined earlier. My fictional community was left struggling to meet the needs of four autistic children. Tragically this is not a solvable problem, at least not in our times. Any solution involves an adherence to the collective rights of all people; the 25% and 75%, the 1 in 4, and 3 in 4, and 4 in 4 – so all of them. Shared rights are collective rights, they are won through the establishment and maintenance of a standard and social good that leaves no-one behind. Whereas, if the standard or social good is defined by individual choice it is, by definition, not a social standard, it is an individual standard; i.e., it’s your right to not pay student fees, or my right to not pay tax for schools when I do not have children. In such instances there is no social structure only individual choice.

In the case of our imaginary community, any support for these four children cannot exceed the ideology of personal choice/needs. Yet, if, as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a childthan it is to Ontario Inc., that we may turn. And what guides the agenda of a company (Ontario Inc.,) other than quarterly profits.

The question is, how can a company make money off these four children. In short how can a company exploit, quantitively, these children? The answer: without a strong ethical frame backed by the government: anyway it can. Which, in defense of corporations is what corporations are built to do. They need to seek out any method of profit, but if they have no boundaries then it is no different than allowing anyone to do anything they want without any regard for the social impact of their actions. This is why a weak, or weakened, government is essential to a certain kind of cooperate success and the neo-con agenda. By breaking unions, and collectively funded programs/institutions, for example, both a new market of opportunity emerges and the broad-based resistance and dissent vanishes. Protecting corporations has become tantamount to our understanding of success in the context of the free-market, and our conception of the free-market is tantamount to our notion of liberty, effectually giving the free-market a cloaking device rendering its negative impact invisible.

So by limiting union rights, like taking away the right to strike, or privatizing public services under the guise of efficiency, we are shifting the frame from “social rights” or “collective rights” to “individual rights” or “Individual choice.”

Now lest step back for a moment. For anyone who has bought bulk, had a Costco membership, gotten a group discount, etc., knows that savings come through collective bargaining, not individual bargaining. If I take a case to court as an individual that is very different than if I have the full force of an organization behind me. But time and again we are told we are better off alone. Why do you think that is?

Returning to the mother who asked Ford “… do you see my son over there? I said he’s the one that you’re impacting.” Ford’s answer implies a belief system that is incompatible with collective rights. Whereas the needs of her son require “big government” and “collective rights” to improve his quality of life. Tragically this child lives in a society where their premier will not meet and cannot understand his needs.

Interestingly, in the end it does come down to individual choice. What kind of society do we choose? Is it a society that funds 25% of autistic children; leaving the remaining 75% to wait and hope for help, is the kind of society that under funds 100% of autistic children; placing those families in, at best, a strained situation, or at worst, absolute crisis? Or do you choose the kind of society that properly addresses the qualitative needs of all, or yield to the quantitative wants of the few because here is the things, numbers, when used like this divide people and insodoing weaken collective power to stop governments and media-outlets from implementing policies of exclusion.

Now retuning to our two options. Pitting people against one another with options 1 and 2 only weakens the social fabric. Option 3, which is properly funding or qualitatively funding, the needs of those in our society says something about how we see and understand one another. It says that we are linked, that we are responsible tow one another. But there is a benefactor to our divisive thinking; however, it is not us.

Ontario is a big family, lots of people, lots of perspectives, lots of needs, and I would like to think we can do better than placing people in a situation that we would never chose for ourselves. In the end, the math is that simple.