One of the most fascinating facets of Maltese society is the intellectual dishonesty that dominates daily life and public debate. Disagreements aired in public and private conversations rarely have their roots in ideological differences. Instead it all boils down to political allegiances and personal interest.
The schizophrenic nature of public debate in Malta might leave the odd foreign onlooker perplexed. They surely wonder how people shamelessly change tack according to who is in power, applying an excessively high standard to their political ‘opponents’ while a very low standard is applied to their party.
And no issue or situation is immune to this intellectual dishonesty and incoherence.
Traffic congestion caused by rainstorms? An intellectually honest person would acknowledge that the country’s infrastructure and transport policies are a mess and despite repeated promises and the injection of millions of euros, successive administrations have failed to solve the problem.
Yet, the majority of people either view such criticism as an attack on the party in government, therefore dismissing it as propaganda or view the issue as an opportunity to attack the party in power and turn it into a tool of propaganda that suits their political strategy. Such intellectual dishonesty creates an environment in which it is nigh to impossible to have a nuanced discussion on policies and plans to fix what is clearly broken.
Overdevelopment? An intellectually honest person would acknowledge that given Malta’s size and the importance of land use it would be shear folly to continue building new villas, apartment blocks and petrol stations in ODZ. The construction of huge towers overshadowing residential areas without having policies in place is equally unacceptable for intellectually honest people.
Yet, very few acknowledge that the building frenzy which has gripped the country for the last 40 or so years is destroying what is left of the countryside and our quality of life. And very few realise that the building spree is not a mere coincidence or the collateral damage of progress but a symptom of the Hadean pact between politics and big business.
The media landscape? An intellectually honest person would tell you that the two major political parties exert excessive influence on the media by owning or controlling the vast majority of TV stations and newspapers.
Yet, the majority of people blindly believe whatever is said or written without questioning anyone or anything. In the process the lines between facts and spin and between reality and perception become so blurred that it becomes impossible to hold a free and educated debate about anything.
The economy? An intellectually honest person would acknowledge that while the economy is growing and money is pouring into the country from abroad, very few are truly benefitting from the boom and low income earners, including foreign workers, struggle to make ends meet. Yet, while government does the bidding of employers, unions and citizens seem unconcerned with the future of an increasingly precarious and exploited workforce. Their unwillingness to rock the boat of economic growth is only nurturing greater inequalities.
Corruption? An intellectually honest person would admit that independent institutions such as the police, FIAU, the MFSA and the Attorney General are compromised and not everyone is treated equally by the law. Yet, most voters seem to be content with the status quo and corruption is seen as an opportunity to fulfil their materialistic goals.
Daphne Caruana Galicia’s murder? An intellectually honest person would be sincerely shocked by the murder of a prominent journalist and acknowledge that she was assassinated for her investigative work. Clearly there is little appetite for justice and many continue to frame the murder in the context of the deep political divisions which run in Maltese society and the controversial role she played in political debate, thus implying that Caruana Galizia was responsible for her own death.
Labour and PN? An intellectually honest person would admit that both mainstream parties not only share the same neoliberal ideology but they also share the spoils of political war. Yet, very few are angered by the complete occupation of the State by the two parties and their disdain for people’s wellbeing and the environment.
As long as the total domination of the state by the two mainstream parties goes unchallenged, democracy will remain an illusion and tribalism will reign supreme.