The Malta Independent 26 June 2019, Wednesday

Is Muscat invincible?

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 26 May 2019, 10:49 Last update: about 1 month ago

Whatever the outcome of these elections, we have to ask ourselves whether Joseph Muscat is invincible and, if yes, whether his invincibility is real or a myth, while keeping mind that in politics, appearances are at times even more important than reality.

Many people, mostly those who are in business, are increasingly concerned with the perception that Dr Muscat is invincible. They realise that if this perception continues growing, it will give rise to the sort of government that business abhors – one that is so sure of itself and its eternal popularity that it starts encroaching on the freedoms business needs to survive and thrive.

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Needless to say, nobody is invincible. Shrewd politicians intuit that they are instruments of history, that they are not completely in control but ride the wave of social and economic currents and undercurrents. The successful politician can read the mood and the signs of the times, and knows how to manipulate the sails of his/her party boat so that the wind of history pushes it through the water of politics. But once that wind stops blowing, their boat stops as well.

Joseph Muscat does not only sail his boat according to the way the wind blows. (As a matter of fact, he is not the only one who has mastered this technique. Others did it before him, and many others will do after him as well.) What Joseph Muscat has, that others might not have, is a party past.

When he started militating in the Labour Party in 1992, Dr Muscat was not the only youngster who accepted Alfred Sant’s invitation to help the Party. But he was the only one who approached the Party as if it were a family, as if it were his family.

For many Labourites, Joseph became the star of the Labourite Family, and thus the star of each Labourite family. (No wonder he founded the now-defunct news portal called Malta Star – he aimed to become Malta’s Star.)

He worked assiduously to become a ‘member’ of each Labourite family. At a time when only Labourites listened to Super One – and Labourites listened only to Super One, Joseph was there, talking to them in their kitchens, sitting rooms, and cars as if he were their favourite nephew or grandson who, despite their working-class background, went to university and was learning stuff.

Joseph spoke to them in a familiar, loving, and matter-of-fact tone of voice, entering their homes... and their hearts. Nobody else succeeded in this, even though Super One Radio pullulated with political preachers. Joseph was not a preacher: he was a member of each Labourite family.

This strategy found its culmination in 2008 – 16 whole years after it had begun – when, as freshly-elected Leader of the Labour Party, he made a request to all Labourites. He introduced them to his wife and told them, in his endearing village accent marked by diphthongs (ħobbuwha instead of ħobbuha): “This is my wife Michelle: love her (ħobbuwha) because she loves you!” It was the graduate son of the working-class family who brings home his sweetheart and, introducing her, asks them to accept her because she has accepted them. The dynamics of this psychological game are impressive.

At the time, the satirist Joe Demicoli had compared Joseph Muscat to the Messiah and, in part, he was right. But Mr Demicoli’s satire had completely overlooked this homely aspect of Dr Muscat’s ascension to power.

By acquiring this symbolic membership in all Labourite families (the building blocks of the One Labourite Family), Joseph Muscat acquired immunity from criticism. This explains why, despite the glaringly obvious malfeasance of two of his closest collaborators and his equally glaringly obvious unconditional defence of them, criticism has left him virtually unscathed.

Just imagine a member of your family being accused of committing a serious crime. Unless you are the victim, you will passively accept it. The reason: all the love you have invested in that relative. Dr Muscat is benefitting from the love that Labourites have invested in him over long years.

“Love her” also meant: “love her as you love me”. “Because she loves you” also meant: “because I love you”. In this campaign, he cashed in on that love again: “Be with me again.”

The language might sound messianic and, in part, it is. But mostly it is the love one has for one’s relatives. Family – the very unit which, ironically, Dr Muscat’s policies are destabilising – is what makes Dr Muscat’s political fortune.

 

Greener pastures

But the shrewd politician also understands that the wind of history will one day subside and he tries to leave before that day dawns.

It is only logical that Dr Muscat should be planning his exit from politics by looking for pastures where the grass is greener. But to get to there, he needs to demonstrate that he is not a retrograde. In comes the abortion charade we have been witnessing for some time now.

While insisting that the Labour Government has no intention of legalising abortion, certain “useful idiots” known to be close to certain centres of power, have been pumping up the volume on abortion, feeling sufficiently emboldened to ask for its legalisation. Naturally, all pro-life elements in the country have stood up to resist the onslaught on one of the fundamental values of Maltese society.

During discussions on his transition to greener pastures, Dr Muscat will undoubtedly tell his friends: “You see, there were even the usual useful idiots clamouring for abortion. But it could not be done. For many reasons.”

Only time will tell if Dr Muscat’s friends see or don’t see through his stratagems.

The fact, however, remains that much of the Maltese political game is being played to further personal interests, rather than the common good.

 

Ideology

Pro-abortion readers who leave comments on newspaper websites and, indeed, even pro-abortion campaigners, merely regurgitate ideology, premasticated thoughts spewed out over and over again until they start representing a (constructed) reality.

Ideology is a set of ideas promoted to support the (usually economic) interests of certain groups of people. These ideas are repeated from different angles, in different fashions. Many people either do not have the time or the wherewithal to filter these ideas, which then soak in and build up into a self-image, or a self-perception. This explains the violence with which people defend the ideology to which they adhere, as it becomes a integral part of how they view themselves as individuals and as part of a community. If you disagree with their ideology, they take it as an attack on their psychological integrity and identity, and react with violence.

Many of the ideas making up an ideology are, in reality, a selection of intuitions buttressed into a moral certainty. Consider the case of abortion. There are different intuitions connected with the termination of a pregnancy: that it is morally good to “save” a mother-to-be who feels she is in distress, or that it is morally good to save the life of the unborn child. Ideology will favour one intuition over the other.

At times, the Law Courts confirm an ideological stance, by endowing it with the semblance of impartiality. It is a part of our dominant ideology to think that judges are impartial in matters of morality. In fact, this is not true. Judges will follow their own conscience, or intuition which, again, and in a circular way, is influenced by the dominant ideology.

Now let me make Kenneth Wain (one of our ‘major philosophers’, according to Wikipedia) happy. You might recall that, a couple of years back, Professor Wain attacked me sharply and uncivilly for criticising the PSCD syllabus. Let’s see how he reacts this time as I quote his favourite philosopher, Richard Rorty: “We think that the most philosophy can hope to do is summarise our culturally influenced intuitions about the right thing to do in various situations. The summary is effected by formulating a generalisation from which these intuitions can be deduced... [T]he US Supreme Court’s construction, in recent decades, of a constitutional ‘right to privacy’ [is an example] of this kind of summary. We see the formulation of such summarising generalisations as increasing the predictability, and thus the power and efficiency, of our institutions, thereby heightening the sense of shared moral identity which brings us together in a moral community.”

To make Professor Wain even happier, I will quote another titbit from Rorty. Rorty is quite explicit that ideology is essentially a selection of ideas, and that young people can be converted to it: “it is not very hard to convert [students] to standard liberal views about abortion, gay rights, and the like. You may even get them to stop eating animals. All you have to do is convince them that all the arguments on the other side appeal to ‘morally irrelevant’ considerations. You do this by manipulating their sentiments in such a way that they imagine themselves in the shoes of the despised and the oppressed.

Such students are already so nice that they are eager to define their identity in non-exclusionary terms... Producing generations of nice, tolerant, well-off, secure, other-respecting students of this sort in all parts of the world is just what is needed – indeed all that is needed – to achieve an Enlightenment utopia.”

You can clearly see that Rorty is saying that “standard liberal views” can be manipulated into self-identity for young (and therefore impressionable) people. Among such “standard liberal views” is abortion, and any opposition to abortion is an “appeal to ‘morally irrelevant’ considerations”. All told, the technique Rorty describes, is actually quite simple to execute.

The problem, of course, is the utter rubbish being presented as “standard liberal views”. That a mother-to-be can kill her own unborn child because that unborn child is still not a “person” (however “person” is defined) is utter rubbish: ideological rubbish.

It reminds us of other ideological rubbish from the past, now consigned to the dustbin of history. Ideological rubbish such as the consideration of slaves as three-fifths of a person in antebellum America. This fraction was based on the other ideological rubbish that blacks are inferior to whites.

But here’s an example of ideological rubbish from the past intimately tied to us Maltese. The famed English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) had this to say about us: “It is interesting to pass from Malta to Sicily: from the highest specimen of an inferior race, the Saracenic, to the most degraded class of a superior race, the Europeans”. The utter rubbish of race was the ideology of Coleridge’s times and even a brilliant man like him accepted it. In our times, other ideological rubbish is shoved down our throats.

Let me be clear. While most of the time ideology is rubbish, it is not rubbish all of the time. One must discern.

 

My Personal Library (51)

Written in Middle English, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1387-1400) are a classic, a joy to read, preferably, however, with a modern English parallel (or even interlinear) translation. I love The Nun’s Priest Tale in particular, because in that little tale the cock Chauntecleer gives a two-limbed answer to the perennial question of “woman”. While arguing with the hen Pertelote, one of his seven wives, the cock Chauntecleer tells her – in Latin –  to underline her lack of knowledge – “In principio / mulier est hominis confusio” which he mistranslates (on purpose) as “Womman is mannes joye and al his blis”. The hen Pertelote is obviously ignorant of the real meaning of the Latin phrase, but very happy with the (mis)translation. With this little piece of verbal trickery, the cock Chauntecleer explains to us that “In the beginning, woman is man’s downfall (or ruin)” and at the same time she is “a man’s joy and all his bliss”.

Wise words indeed. Then again, these are a hen and a cock talking, and their conversation must necessarily be understood in the light of the old adage that “It is a sad house where the hen crows louder than the cock”.

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