The hunt for the brainless idiots

A survey by the Faculty of Social Wellbeing is published. It shows that half the respondents think politicians are corrupt. Predictably, the flood of commentary worries about the half who disagree or aren’t sure.

I think they’re worrying about the wrong half.

The survey question was: Are politicians corrupt? As far as corruption perceptions surveys go, that’s an unusual way of putting the question. Transparency International asks about government corruption. The World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index asks about specific institutions (police, judiciary, etc.).

Asking “are politicians corrupt” is asking about all politicians. It blurs the range of culprits. It could be asking whether all politicians are corrupt by nature, or if Maltese politics is systemically corrupt, or if all parties of government — both the ruling lot and the opposition — are corrupt.

Had I been asked, I’d belong with the 35% who were neutral. I don’t think politicians are corrupt; I just think some definitely are. Projecting corruption on everyone lets the criminally corrupt off the hook. They can say they’re no worse than the rest.

If no distinction between levels of corruption is made, then you end up being told that only those with no trace of corruption in their record have a moral right to denounce rank corruption.

I look at that 50% who agreed that politicians are corrupt and wonder: does that mean that they are resigned to the Labour government’s filth because they have no faith in the alternative?

If voters are fatalist, it helps explain why Labour is heading towards a landslide victory. The fatalists are not justifying the corruption; the survey showed 76% think the fight against corruption is important. They just don’t think it will make much difference.

That’s a major error of judgement. But it’s not idiocy. Politicians are one of the most distrusted groups around the democratic world. And if the corrupt have an iron grip on State institutions — so that the corrupt are not arrested and public broadcasting doesn’t objectively cover revelations of corruption — then distinctions disappear because there’s an army of people working hard to blur them.

Designating such voters as ‘brainless idiots’ is the major sport of our time. The latest to join the fray is the Labour intellectual, Desmond Zammit Marmará. In an op-ed in The Times of Malta, he’s decried the corruption under Joseph Muscat and, for the first time, described the mass of Labour voters as brainless idiots for not recognising the need for the Party to explicitly distance itself from Muscat.

For his pains, Zammit Marmará has himself been called an idiot in the comments that followed — since he stores his hope in a landslide victory that will make Robert Abela electorally strong enough “to initiate the reforms needed” and refresh the Cabinet.

Calling someone a brainless idiot is easy. It also brushes off any personal responsibility to argue and persuade. There’s no point arguing with idiots.

But if you absolve yourself of the need to engage with the voters that need persuasion, then you, too, are contributing to the status quo.

In fact, Zammit Marmará’s article shows that the real problem isn’t idiocy. He speaks of some disillusioned Labour intellectuals who are afraid of those in power. Fear needs to be assuaged, not mocked.

He has himself conquered fear and is trying to set an example. But his own conclusion is that the best chance of cleaning up corruption is by giving Labour a landslide victory; since that will make Abela strong enough to clear out the rot.

That’s not idiocy. It’s unjustified hope — that a prime minister who’s permitting corrupt practices now will somehow be able to take action against corruption later.

It’s naivety — in thinking a landslide political victory will give stability, when the source of instability will be the economy, given the public debt, greylisting, labour market problems and the international clampdown on tax avoidance.

It’s also deep distrust in the Opposition as an alternative. Some of it is due to selective blindness. But who would call the Opposition impressive in its own right?

Zammit Marmará is expressing a belief that is shared by many Labourites disillusioned and angered by the current corruption. It’s a belief Abela has been encouraging with his slogan that the alternative to Labour is Labour.

The disillusioned will, in their majority, vote Labour again and Abela will get a new mandate. When the naivety and false hopes are revealed, it will be no democratic solution to crow that they were idiots.

It would just be giving Malta’s corrupt ruling class an opportunity to pretend they really are the only ones who can empathise — because someone who jeers at you cannot empathise and can only be a permanent enemy, never an ally. The hunt for the brainless idiots makes idiots of all of us.


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2 years ago

Who would have thought a country much smaller than Malta is going to have such a huge influence on the general election?

carmel ellul
carmel ellul
2 years ago

The study could might be about the question;
“Are the Maltese Corrupt?” Or better still ” Are you Corrupt” being asked to each resident in Malta.

Simon Oosterman
Simon Oosterman
2 years ago

Our only chance for change is to get a third party in parliament. The only way to get a third party in parliament under the present rules and circumstances is if all unhappy voters, PL, PN, and Swing, give their first vote to ADPD and the rest to the preferred one of the other two. In no way will their vote be wasted nor will it benefit the other party.
Give it a chance!

Maria C. Xuereb Maria
Maria C. Xuereb Maria
2 years ago

A horse is taken to water but can t make him drink!

Albert Mamo
Albert Mamo
2 years ago

It’s an unfortunate fact, that the stupidly in the Labour ranks is well-known,They don’t care about the country, but their incompetent government, that sprinkles a few handouts, while their being robbed billions.

Hopefully, the not so stupid will wake up and drop this corrupt government for some honest parties, and all the others are honest.

J. Bianchi
J. Bianchi
2 years ago
Reply to  Albert Mamo

When the majority used to vote PN, they were not called stupid. Once the number of floaters increased, all of a sudden they became stupid cos they voted the PL.

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