The Malta Independent 11 July 2020, Saturday

Another general in his labyrinth

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 11 August 2019, 11:02 Last update: about 12 months ago

It is clear that he is tired: tired, and bitterly disappointed by his defeat abroad. Invincible though he thought he was, the dour reality is that, like everybody else, he is subject to failure. But there are people who do not see it coming, and when it hits them, they feel doubly distraught and shattered.

He is tired and disappointed and should call it a day. There can be no doubt that Chris F., Miriam or even the third candidate who is keeping to the shadows for the moment, would be a better asset for the country at this time.


García Márquez describes his General, the Liberator of his Continent, in his labyrinth. Our own ‘General’, the ‘Liberator’ of our little Islands, might be living the agony of the eve of his labyrinth. He is tired and disappointed, and, even though the people cheer him and prepare metaphorical banquets in his honour, in reality he is beginning to slip away from the centre stage of history. History also seems to be have tired of him, and to be disappointed in him.

Signs abound everywhere now that he is beginning to lose control, his power is waning and the sun that radiates his will to govern is setting behind the distant hills. His ability to take decisions around the clock is quickly fading into a pale shimmer of moonlight.

The true leader overcomes failure by turning it into an opportunity. But then there are others who are elected ‘leaders’ who are nothing but the product of a process described thus by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World: “All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, is the things that really matter.”


The Pursuit of Happiness

Elsewhere, Huxley also opined that “the pursuit of happiness is one of the traditional rights of man; unfortunately, the achievement of happiness may turn out to be incompatible with another of man’s rights – namely, liberty.”

Our Little General, our “Liberator”, promised to usher in a Second Republic. It seems that the project will start now, with the drafting of a new Constitution.

A Constitution is a legal document that sets up the State, it is the political and administrative mechanism that manages our lives. The State is almost a god – it determines whether we live or die, whether we thrive in riches or strive through poverty, the taxes we pay, the benefits we get and so on.

It can be said that the origins of the State are outside the Law, that they are ‘mythical’, almost ‘divine’. The American insistence on “In God We Trust” could be understood in this sense. Then again, whereas in the Middle Ages it was the Pope who crowned the Emperor – meaning that the latter’s power came from God – in modern times we have forgotten from where the State derives its power and it seems that the State derives its power from a so-called basic – or fundamental – law (that is, a law which lies at the base – at the foundations – of the system) which in turn derives its power from ‘the people’.

The American constitutional system is built on the idea that it is “self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. I think these principles guide many, if not all, of the enlightened constitutions of the contemporary world.

And yet Huxley pointed out a possible contradiction: the pursuit of happiness may come at the expense of liberty. One could extrapolate that we could argue the opposite way too: liberty comes at the expense of the pursuit of happiness.

The fundamental question thus becomes: what is ‘happiness’? Is it ‘prosperity, thriving, wellbeing’ or does it go beyond that? Is it the unending search for pleasure?

In his Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud tells us that “what we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things.”

Another Sigmund, but this time his name is written in Polish – Zygmunt Bauman, said this about happiness: “happiness can be defined solely in negative terms, as overcoming, defying, defeating or putting paid to, and all in all denying, the state of unhappiness ... Happiness is the driving force of life pursuits, but like the rest of guiding, lodestar-type utopias, its ‘materiality’, indeed its human/social significance, is entirely entailed in stimulating its searching and the durable – though all too often serendipitous (unanticipated, unintended and unplanned) – effects of that search.”

In other words, the advert-like form of happiness does not exist, according to two of the most important intellectuals of our times. Happiness cannot be bought at the supermarket of politics. Happiness is the moment we solve a problem, the moment we realise we have been treated fairly, the moment we understand that we are being given chances in life like everybody else.

He promised happiness as if he were selling toothpaste. Vote for him and the whiteness of your teeth will shine as never before, the cavities will fill themselves by themselves and the pain in your gum will disappear. This was pure, beautiful marketing, aided by advertising experts, bereft of political principles and ambiguous with regard to political action.

But when you come to reality, you find another story. Let us consider the equality that any modern state should deliver – not just promise – to its citizens. Let’s consider this example. Malta signed and ratified the Twelfth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights in December 2015 and the Protocol came into effect the following April. In this Protocol you will find the principle of non-discrimination applied not just to the rights found in the Convention itself but – and this is extremely important and innovative – to all the rights found in our national law. In other words, Protocol 12 should protect Maltese citizens from discrimination under not only the Convention but all our national laws.

But don’t start celebrating yet! Despite the signature and ratification four years ago, the Protocol has still not been incorporated into the First Schedule of the European Convention Act. What does this mean? It means that if anyone feels that they have been discriminated against, they cannot go to the Maltese Courts because, to quote a former Chief Justice: “that article is not part of the definition of ‘Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’ for the purposes of” the European Convention Act. “The person would have to have direct recourse to the Court in Strasbourg, with all the expense that that entails,” the former Chief Justice concludes.

The bottom line is this. The Government of Malta has signed and ratified an international Protocol giving you, the citizen, the right to seek a legal remedy if you feel that you have been discriminated under any Maltese law (not just the Convention). You can frame this document and hang it on the wall because, by not including this Protocol in the European Convention Act, the Government has denied you the legal mechanism to avail yourself of the protection the Protocol gives you.

This is a clear example of how he works. He advertises big and delivers either little or nothing. The advertising is more important than the delivery. Fireworks (colour, din and sulphur-smell) are his forte, not proper ways to deal with life’s problems.

People are expecting a fresh start with this new Constitution, possibly less government and more governance. I’m sceptical but hope to be proven wrong. Then again, I’m not holding my breath.


Malta Żmattata

The American University of Malta – which, in a way perversely similar to the Holy Roman Empire, is neither American nor a University nor Maltese – wants to extend its premises by building a horrendous extension covering the pristine view of the entrance to Senglea. Only the barbarian Communists managed to do more damage to their historical monuments (I am thinking of the Communist architectural obscenities in Budapest and Vilnius). Under him and his laissez-faire attitude, things could only go from bad to worse.

Malta saret żmattata.  This means “Malta is become unkempt” in English – but I like the sound of it in Maltese. Malta żmattata somehow recalls the Italian word ‘smattare (‘to go mad’).


My Personal Library (61)

Tattooed Millionaire is not a book, but Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album. It is, in a way, autobiographical but Mr Dickinson’s official autobiography is called What Does This Button Do? a No.1 Sunday Times (UK) best-selling autobiography.

Bruce Dickinson is mostly known for his role as vocalist in the most obstinately successful heavy metal band of the industry, Iron Maiden. I met him personally in 2006 at the Gunpost eatery in Valletta, when he was here for an aviation competition (which I think either that year, or the year after, ended badly when a pilot crashed into the sea). When I told Mr Dickinson that I thought he was the best vocalist in the industry, his smile stretched from ear to ear: he’s good and he knows it.

Mr Dickinson, a University of London graduate in History, has enjoyed relentless success in business. Naturally, his singing talent has been his greatest source of income and fame, but he is also talented in proper business. Amongst his numerous ventures, one finds beer-brewing and aviation. He even operates an airline for Djibouti, through a Maltese company. In August 2016, the Maltese media reported that “in an unlikely combination of elements, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson is hoping to leverage Malta’s aviation expertise to support a fledgling airline in the east African nation of Djibouti while helping to foster a relationship between the two countries.” I have no idea how this initiative eventually developed.

Long story short: Bruce Dickinson’s life story is the story of a successful man who never succumbed to the temptations of hubris but has consistently kept his ego under control, despite the uninterrupted chain of business triumphs and victories that have marked his life. Incidentally, I believe that the ‘tattooed millionaire’ of the song refers not to himself but to another musician with whom his then-wife was cheating on him.

To my mind, Bruce Dickinson’s Iron Maiden is one of the best examples of intelligent and successful branding and marketing one could cite. Mr Dickinson – more than any of the other band members – is a brilliant entrepreneur and businessman to be emulated. He has talent, guts, foresight, perseverance and a never-say-die attitude. Or at least: “If you're gonna die, die with your boots on”!


* * * * *

This week, one of the most important pioneers of the Maltese publishing industry passed away. Pawlu Mizzi was, in my opinion, a visionary and an astute businessman – another example of sheer acumen and sharp foresight in matters of branding and marketing.

Despite the smallness of the Maltese market, Mr Mizzi succeeded in creating a product that has survived the vicissitudes of time. He had started his life-long adventure in publishing with my father’s first novel Il-Gaġġa, dedicated to my mother, endowed with an introduction by Oliver Friggieri (his first?) and a powerful cover drawing by Mario Azzopardi. That was in 1971 and Pawlu Mizzi never looked back.

His life story should be included in Maltese business-school management and entrepreneurial studies curricula. His tenacity and vision should be emulated by Maltese businessmen. The message Mr Mizzi expressed in 2006 – the Maltese book ought to be exported – should constantly inspire State policy.




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