Fear is kind of like booze. A little of it may prove harmless or even useful to you at points. Everyone experiences fear, and it is perfectly natural.
However too much of it will likely make you a useful fool to others. Because the more fearful you are of something – death, poverty, pain, humiliation, retribution, responsibility – the greater your propensity to believe just about anyone or anything claiming to offer the cure, or the solution, or the answers; and the greater too, your desperation to counteract that fear.
Which is why there are so many beliefs, attitudes, and ideologies that deliberately play off of that fear. Because to reaffirm and revitalise our fear gives those schools of thought – and their proponents – considerable power over the fearful.
Racism, populism, fascism, religion, sexism, homophobia, all necessarily reject any notion of an “objective reality” in order to preserve the often ludicrous, selfish, and remarkably solipsistic worldview they’ve grown accustomed to.
In Malta, for example, you may notice that if you try to counter a fallacious argument with concrete fact, they will often dismiss it as a mere opinion, or as “partisan”, or will quickly deflect the issue with the most awe-inspiring whataboutery and intellectual dishonesty – as covered so brilliantly by Jurgen Balzan here.
The inanity of this kind of thinking is brilliantly illustrated in Tim Minchin’s beat poem “Storm” in which the titular character opines that “You can’t know anything, knowledge is merely opinion!” to which Minchin must resist the urge to ask Storm “whether knowledge is so loose-weave of a morning when she is deciding to leave her apartment by the front door or the window on her second floor.”
Because at some point, as you fall further and further down the rabbit hole of delusional perspectivism, you’ll come to realise that Objective Reality is eagerly rushing up to meet you. When you both collide, it likely won’t be pretty.
However the most troubling facet to this fear-driven mindset is the inherent sense of victimhood. It convinces its subscribers that they are always the real victims.
Trevor Noah makes the case for example that Trump’s greatest success is that he has weaponised victimhood, convincing men that it is they who are under attack by women who are coming forward about sexual assault.
Similarly, right-wing parties are gaining traction across Europe because they’ve convinced their subscribers that they are under attack by the refugees fleeing war-torn countries and drowning in the Mediterranean.
Likewise the current administration in Malta tells its supporters that flowers on a monument, or criticism in the European Parliament, or the scrutiny of local journalists, or commentary from foreign press, is somehow an attack against which they must all unite.
This sort of medieval nonsense was first really interrogated, it could be said, by the Enlightenment in the wake of a bloody Thirty-Year religious war. Colombus’ discovery of America, and Copernicus’s discovery that Earth was merely an outlier to the sun, helped us realise that both locally and universally we Europeans were not the centre of the universe.
The dissection of age-old myths and legends, of superstition and tribalism, that had shaped our cultures was met with fierce and brutal resistance by the institutions that did not like this challenge to their monopoly.
Yet history has taught us that curiosity is infectious, and no sooner have you tried to snuff one curious person out than several others have popped up. The greater you try to deprive people of knowledge the harder, typically, they fight for it.
If I were to labour (no pun intended) the metaphor I started off with: the first step in addressing alcoholism is recognising you have a problem. No easy task, given that half of what an alcoholic does best is hide down a bottle to avoid reality. It is, at its core, a selfish endeavour.
So they say with alcoholism that you have to hit rock bottom before you have that realisation. Where is that rock bottom for Malta? Was it the stealing of money and land from the people? The lying about it? The dehumanisation and murder of a journalist? The bullying of her family? Was it the capture of the judiciary, the police, the media and every supposedly independent institution?
Perhaps Daphne’s legacy will ultimately be that she provoked one group of people to say “enough is enough, we’re done with the tribalism, the parochialism, the insularity, and the dark ages. We want to expand outward, to grow, to evolve, and we won’t let fear and selfishness get in the way”.
Her murder may prove the catalyst for Malta’s very own Enlightenment.