The Malta Independent 19 October 2018, Friday

History and Last Sunday’s Gay Parade

Simon Mercieca Monday, 24 September 2018, 07:51 Last update: about 24 days ago

On Saturday 15th September, a Gay Parade took place in Malta. This is  not the first time that such a parade has taken place, but it is the first time that it has been  organized with the riveting spirit that similar parades are normally organized in  large European cities. Men and women, dressed in what may be termed as ‘queer’ attire, were part and parcel of last Sunday’s parade; one big street party in Valletta. I am using specifically the term queer, for this was the term used in Europe in the past to describe such behaviour.  Now, Maltese society is being told that these same activities should be part of a ‘normalization’ process that will be regularly taking place within our society.

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What has been revealed in this year’s Gay Parade is that Malta is being used as base from where to conduct experiments that can be exported to other countries. While Asia was identified as a possible land for exportation, the organizers did not specifically mention Muslims countries so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities. This idea of exporting the Maltese model was articulated in a separate press conference. At this point, one needs to pause and reflect.

A 100 years ago, social scientists thought of using vast countries for their social experiments. They failed. Russia was considered the land for social experimentation. The liberal Joseph Schumpeter was really overjoyed with this form of approach and observed that it was going to be a huge failure. Meanwhile, Europe is reacting to these experiments with the rise of what is called the Far-right.  

In this situation, one understands why we are having a constant onslaught on the sexual behaviour of the Catholic clergy, as well as attacks on archbishop Scicluna. This goes beyond local politics. This is happening because the Church represents the last moral barrier that can bring about failure to these so-called social experiments. Whether it will succeed or not, only history will tell. What I know is that according to Michel Foucault, sexuality is a social construct and in part, these experiments are proving Foucault right. Nonetheless, I do not wish to focus on Foucault but to concentrate on one of the aspects of last Sunday’s parade.

On social media, a photo of one of the revellers; a man fitted out - or rather virtually undressed - in sadomasochistic attire, went viral. This man, practically naked, was wearing only a leather slip with studs and boots, had dyed hair and rings attached to his nipples. The debate on social media was whether he was fittingly attired to go about our capital city. On a personal level, this image does not bother me, nor does the argument that he was breaking the law should be of any concern. Definitely, one would not have envisaged such a spectacle a few decades ago.  

One needs to remember that a few years ago, a woman wearing a tanga and dancing during a band march in Sliema ended up in court. She was accused of being indecently dressed in public. Dress code in Malta, as in the rest of Europe, has been modelled by Victorian mores during the nineteenth century. What is less known, however, is that the sexual code back then, was not being determined by religion but by science.  

But this image of this barely dressed man brought to mind, E. Carr’s book,What is History? Those who have taken history courses at the University of Malta will remember this book. It formed part of the basic course on the philosophy of history. In Chapter 2, Carr speaks about what he calls ‘society and the individual’ and how historians should interpret social phenomena. He admits that in the West, history helped develop what is known today as the ‘cult of the individual’. In the past, such a cult revolved around politicians. Now, this cult is moving towards a new sphere and this photo is an attestation of this fact. Perhaps, this can be said to be a process of democratization and such an interpretation is correct. But at the same time, the rediscovery of such a cult, with its new forms of hedonism, is not without risk and consequences.  

Carr discussed the consequences of this form of individualism. First of all, he explained its origins which he linked to classical liberalism. Today, classical liberalism is seen as a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Ironically, the parties today that are mostly advocating this sort of ideology are those on the Left of the political spectrum, who sealed alliances with the mammoth industries and banks. In doing so, these parties abandoned their traditional view for the economy, which was government controlled.

John Locke was the father of classical liberalism. He was one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. Locke’s philosophy brought about the rise of the concept of individualism with no respect for society at large. This meant that the individual began to see himself as entirely separate from society. This is what is happening now in Malta. This idea is not only becoming mainstream but is being interpreted as the representation of our modern society. What until some years back was accepted as queer, today is being presented as the norm leading to the formation of a new cult of the individual; an inevitable by-product of an "advancing civilization". At least, this is how Carr presents it in his book. In other words, what until the 1960s and 1970s was presented as something incongruous, today is being seen as something normal. The leaders of our main political parties were all participating in this revelry. With their presence not only were they condoning such behaviour but also affirming that it is part and parcel of our modern way of living.

History is normally written to accommodate mainstream politics. This new code appears to be on the winning side and, therefore, will be having an influence on the way future historians will be viewing history. Historians are a byproduct of the society they live in. Therefore, when one speaks about a normalization strategy, one is implying a process by which one is trying to influence the interpretation of the future but also the past. This explains why there is a strong emphasis - including through money and the support of banks - on these activities. They should not be considered a casual phenomenon, even if, the same banks who think that these should be the norm, do not allow any of their managers or staff to go dressed like that at work! Their dress codes are very conservative. Therefore, I have my doubts how much these proposed strategies can be considered as part of a normalsocial process. In the past, this type of liberalism led to the rise of a new progressive social class associated in Britain with the middle class. I think that those who are proposing these models are of the same mind. Perhaps, it is here where they are making the gravest mistake. In today’s world, this type of liberalism is leading the middle class to become populist.

Perhaps, it is here where Marxism is being found expedient to push forward this new form of ‘normalization’. Carr accepts the Marxist interpretation that no individual is truly free from his social environment. In itself, this contradicts Locke’s theory. Each and every individual has to live within social conventions that society as a whole ends up imposing on the individual. These limitations narrow the capacity for people to take decisions. Therefore, Carr states that in history there are two types of characters. Those who help shape the social forces and those who like to ride on the back of social forces over which they have little or no control. Normally the first type carry history to its greatness. My view is that Malta is being relegated to the second type.

Yet, Carr passes another comment which is most interesting. He argues that when history focuses exclusively on the individual, history would be doing a profound disservice to the past. And I would add that this same strategy is now doing the same disservice to the future.  History shows that working towards a better society cannot be achieved by normalizing individualism but by rediscovering what constitutes the common good. This is why the Populist parties are being successful as they are appearing to be the only ones capable of opposing this new form of indoctrination, which exalts individualism by presenting it as a superior and greater social force.

 

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