The annual August stay in Malta usually helps reset my twisted and negative perception of the island and its future. I often feel cursed with the negative vibe surrounding news from the country, and I used to find that a short break somehow assuaged the stressful mindset with a shot of, “It’s not that bad”.
Not this time. It all begins with a sense of hopelessness that the system has won. The sense that there is no way that – should the people even realise the extreme nature of their predicament – there would be a redeeming reactionary movement that lifts the nation.
It is that realisation that all hopes of that reactionary movement resided in leftover pockets not yet conquered by amoral familism. Those pockets are few and far between.
Instead, we have a society that has gradually been eaten away by the corrupt illusion of success. Fraus omnia corrumpit, the Romans taught us, which is only a fancy way of saying fraud corrupts everything.
In this society where we have forged the image of our most astute political elites, there is no concept of common good and future-proofing for the coming generations. Instead, there is a race to the bottom where we witness a society cannibalising itself.
A story told by wise men in primitive societies says that the wise society plants trees that will be used by future generations even though they will not enjoy the shade of the tree themselves. Take that image and reverse it.
Think of a society that has accepted to plunder all its resources, to obtain short-term gains by any means possible and to ignore the gradual, steady degradation of the quality of life.
There was a feeling in the air this August. Walking the streets and meeting people felt different.
There was a time when a simple nod to a fellow citizen in a public space meant a silent acknowledgement that we were on the same side. That we were in this together. This race of life. It meant that you automatically knew that if one of you needed help, the other would step in because we raced on the same team.
This time, I felt stronger than ever, that feeling that it is a free-for-all nowadays. Do what you can to get on with your life despite your neighbours. This is no longer a society concerned about bettering the common good. It is a society that has prized egoism and shortcuts over everything else.
Which brings me to the politics. It might seem banal to speak of political philosophy. It is simple to remind the why and how politics and politicians exist. It might seem ridiculous to harp on about the utopian society run by wise leaders entrusted with the governance of a nation.
That is how desperate the times are. Our politics, our politicians, are tainted with the all-pervading corruption. They have managed to make citizens direct participants in the fraud.
The benefits fraud scandal must be seen as a caricature of the many other scandals that taint our public sphere.
This scandal stands out because it is too simple to be wiped away. It is too obvious and impossible to deny.
Its existence should have provoked an enormous sense of shame in our society because we have allowed this to happen. Because we have known this happens and has been happening for a long time. Because many actors, even the most unsuspecting, are complicit in this plague expanding in every sphere of public life.
I do not detect such a sense of shame. I do not perceive such a self-awareness that would be almost a ray of hope that things are about to change.
What I do sense is the acceptance of “cosi fan tutti”. With a tiny sliver of reluctance, we seem prepared to accept that things are just how they are.
We accept that we live among frauds and will all be sucked in sooner or later. At that point, the corruption will be complete.