As the islands face yet another monumental crisis, Maltese politicians continue to redouble their efforts at performativity – the idea that language functions as a form of social action. Of course it does, but language itself is not enough. Language has the power to affect change, but it cannot do so without human agency and political will.
2013 is marketed as the start of a new era – and in many ways it was. A tiny archipelago that is neither here nor there had reached stagnation. Politicians were complacent, not particularly fussed about matters like equality and whatnot. So when a new face appeared, the environment was just right for an overhaul.
Of course, the new face was not new at all – rather it had undergone a careful makeover. Some of us realised this (chief among them, Daphne Caruana Galizia), but we might as well have been shouting into the wind.
There is no need to recount the events since that fateful date. By now, the story is familiar. To those who were looking, the signs were there from the start. Yet, it took the brutal slaughter of a journalist to whip (some of) the population into action.
To the outsider, it must seem quite extraordinary that an administration focused on things like equal marriage and touting itself as the “most feminist government in history” should also be the administration on whose watch a journalist was murdered. To those of us on the ground, however, it is not.
The truth is, after a long spell where mediocrity was carefully nurtured, the ground was fertile for manipulation on an unprecedented scale. All the arriviste needed to do was light a match – and the rest of the population quite happily set fire to itself with the utmost dedication.
Along the way we have had some milestones. On paper you would think that we are a progressive nation. In reality, the LGBTQI community, among others, was cynically exploited. There was never any intention to create a fairer and more equal society. The focus was always on the rich being able to get richer, to hoard as much as they could, no matter the cost.
Along the way there were many casualties that intersected divides – but such is the power of social engineering that instead of uniting against the creators of all this, people turn on each other. And thus we have anger at migrants (while some people get rich by ‘housing’ them on boats), an abysmal record when it comes to women’s rights, an environment that has been nearly completely converted into concrete – while the powers that be were busy with their performance, they stole our ability to breathe.
Perhaps the population has been transformed into zombies, some days it certainly feels that way. The more they impinge on our fundamental liberties, the more the crowd rises into a frenzy and thanks its overlords. Because that’s what happens when you nurture mediocrity rather than actively push for an educated populace.
It makes it easy to guzzle every last shred of their will, and not only will they co-operate, they will thank you for it and constantly repeat the mantra that we have never had it so good. Even as we lose our democracy, even as the vast majority of us cannot afford a roof over our heads, the crowd continues to sing the same tune. By now, it has become embedded into their consciousness.
But the crowd is fickle – yes it is the same crowd that chose Barabbas, but it could easily pick another if it really wanted to. Of course therein lies the tragedy, that we seem to drift from one Barabbas to the other.
The rot runs deep. It did not suddenly manifest in 2013, neither will it be easy to exterminate. Unless we have the will to really effect change, this grotesque performance will keep playing on a loop and the only thing that will change is the nominal frontman.