Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Ottawa Sun, An Op-Ed Rooted in Totalitarian Ignorance

A Column in the Ottawa Sun followed by my response:

A lobbyist by any other name ... by Anthony Furey anthony.furey@sunmedia.ca, Ottawa Sun, 12 January 2011.

Lobbyists are retarded. Well, not quite. But the history of their linguistics is parallel to that of the retarded.
It used to be that someone with a mental or physical disability was regularly called retarded. That’s because that’s what they are, it’s a word in the dictionary and it has a definition.
But at one point it changed. We labelled the retarded ‘handicapped’. That lasted for a while and now we label the handicapped ‘challenged’ and ‘disabled’. Soon there will be a new label and we’ll all follow along in the name of political correctness.
Lobbyists are similar. They were once openly known as lobbyists but then, because their profession was tainted, they changed it to ‘government relations’. Sounds sleeker, but we could still smell the dirt. So now they’re known as practitioners of ‘advocacy’. What do you do? Oh, I’m in advocacy. What the hell does that mean?
I feel pity for the retarded. Human beings, particularly children, can be cruel without cause. We’ve all seen retarded people be made fun of for how they look and act. It’s unfair and unjustified — they already have enough crap to handle. But I guess some people are so insecure they need to make fun of others to feel better about their own failings.
That said, I’ve always thought it dumb that some people wanted to extract the word retarded from our discourse. If a kid wants to make fun of a disabled guy then he’s going to do it. The problem is not the word we use to describe the retarded, the problem is just that if someone is different from the masses they’re going to be made fun of once in a while.
But do I have pity for lobbyists? Ha. Absolutely not.
This is essentially the trajectory of a lobbyist’s career: Some dude hangs around the political scene long enough to get to know people, to be one of those tools who is always handing out cards even though he doesn’t have a job. He then runs for office. He either loses or is a backbencher for a while but eventually fizzles away. Out of office he realizes he actually has no skills. So he charges corporations outlandish fees for the simple fact that he can ring up cabinet ministers on their cell.
Obviously there are exceptions to the rule — like people who use their influence to get attention for charities or the oppressed. But the exception is not the rule.
So cigarette companies don’t like how much their product is taxed? Yeah, well I don’t like how much lung cancer healthcare costs affect me as a taxpayer. The fact that some guy is getting rich off of advancing the cigarette company’s cause scores zero on the pity scale. The fact that he wants to reduce the stigma to his industry by changing the words means he’s a walking joke and should take his money and run before someone resets his jaw.
If you’re a lobbyist and you’re pissed at me, take up your beef with Rahim Jaffer. Take up your beef with Jason Reitman for making Thank You For Smoking. Take up your beef with the man in the mirror.
And if you’re paranoid that your job title sounds dirty it’s probably because you’ve done something to make it dirty. Nobody told you to accept money to encourage the government to bend their regulations for the gain of someone’s overseas stock portfolio.
I’m willing to call a retarded guy impaired or disabled if it makes his daily life easier, but I’m not willing to assuage the guilt of a lobbyist.

MY RESPONSE:

Anthony Furey is right - language has changed. But I thought that journalists were still supposed to have some background information or experience of their written subject. Recently, the Canadian writer and philosopher Jacques Dufresne wrote, "the worst sort of ignorance is the one that comes from not knowing and not wanting to know one's self. This is the ignorance of the self-satisfied, blind and indifferent to the very causes of their ignorance." He calls this totalitarian ignorance - the shouting down of thoughtful discourse and any exchange of ideas that happen to be based in fact. Yes, the word 'retarded' is gone from our vocabulary for very good reasons. People with disabilities have fought for and gained a place in society of real value. In Canada, we are proud to embrace an ethic in inclusion that responds to differences in race, gender, culture, religion, sexual orientation AND ability. We are the first country in the world to give people with disabilities a savings tool, the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Such a plan acknowledges the place of people with disabilities as full contributors to the marketplace. As employers of care staff, they become net contributors to the economy.
I am a parent of an adult child with disabilities and I could describe to Mr. Furey in elaborate detail the myriad of reasons why my son is not an object of pity. In fact, I have done that in my book “The Four Walls of My Freedom”. But I fear that my words will be lost on this ‘journalist’ because I am pretty sure that he does not read anyone else’s writing but his own.
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