The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

A cynical government

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 13 October 2019, 09:58 Last update: about 2 months ago

“Immature cynicism”, a phrase used by Jordan Peterson, can be used to classify most of the reactions left under my piece of last week, which discussed abortion. Particularly those that try to ascribe religious thinking to my anti-abortion position. If I were an atheist (which I am not), I would still think the same. Because the anti-abortion position can be adhered to even on non-religious grounds.

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Human life is the most precious “asset” in the world and as such is inalienable. The truth of this ontological statement being self-evident, it needs no further articulation. Elective abortion destroys this self-evident truth, and reduces the existence of a human being to the object of the will of another human being. This is of great prejudice to the individual.

By placing the offspring’s life at the mercy of the mother’s will, elective abortion pollutes communal life, as it legitimises the idea that one human being’s life can actually depend on another human being’s will. This pollution is of great prejudice to society, as the ideology that life has no intrinsic, inalienable value overflows into other sectors of communal life, despite what Catherine-wheel-like pundits and ideologues keeping repeating.

Elective abortion undermines logical thinking, by introducing the absurd idea that only from a certain moment onward does biological life become political life and thus starts deserving the State’s protection. The fact that different States allow abortions at different stages of pregnancy demonstrates that there can be no agreement on the moment when biological life becomes political life, because this transformation defies measurement ­– it is not physical, it is metaphysical. This transformation is thus presented, by the pro-choice ideology, as a sort of magical event. Or else, an act of State arbitrariness. Both are irrational, dangerous, and obscurantist.

So much for those who think that anti-abortion stances are exclusively religious stances and for the others – shallow and misguided disciples of Rorty and even Kant – who think that one is enlightened if one is pro-choice. Actually, being pro-choice is obscurantist, as it invokes either magical thinking or State arbitrariness.

There was a comment last week, however, which was not “immaturely cynical”, but historically ignorant. It was about Roman history: “The Roman civilisation was quite successful and persisted for centuries while people strove to become and treasured to be Roman citizens.” What is the Roman civilisation that persisted for centuries the reader referred to? There was no Roman civilisation which persisted for centuries! “Roman civilisation” was a constantly-evolving phenomenon. The Roman civilisation the reader is thinking of is a figment of his imagination, of his ideology. Roman civilisation was not a monolith. Roman law – the basis of Roman civilisation – underwent tremendous transformations by absorbing elements of Jewish law through Christianity and Hellenic elements prior to the ascendency of Christianity. Later on, Western “Roman” Law evolved separately from Byzantine Roman Law, absorbing many notions from Germanic laws. And, on the eve of the Barbaric Invasions, Roman citizenship had become worthless, because everybody had become a Roman.

Where does this reader’s notion of Roman civilisation end? With the Fall of the Western Roman Empire? With Charlemagne’s death? With the Renaissance of the 12th century? With the Fall of Constantinople?

Lastly, the nec plus ultra of inane arguments is that abortion is fine because it is accepted in many parts of the world. But so was slavery in the past! My hero is and will remain till my last breath William Wilberforce. I read a few books on slavery which convinced me of its inherent evil; but my convictions were galvanised when two years ago I visited Goré Island in Senegal, the Old World’s western-most land, the port of departure of thousands upon thousands of slaves toward New World plantations. What I saw, and more importantly, felt there, further strengthened my admiration for Wilberforce, a man who had the moral fortitude to fight against a practice (enslaving people and trading them) that was considered acceptable (and even beneficial) in his times. So no amount of browbeating can make me back one inch from my position, and I urge all pro-life supporters not to be disheartened by the arrogance of those who, by espousing the dominant ideology of the day, think they know better. They know nothing. Which is why the debate is difficult. How can you debate those who turn up wearing the T-shirt of a Premier Ideology League team?

 

Cynically Socialist

The obligatory replying to reactions eats up precious column space which should instead be used to comment on official statistics according to which eighty thousand people in Malta are risking poverty at a time when the party in government cynically claims to be Socialist. Socialism (some elements of which are shared by the Christian Democrats) means that you do politics to take care of the weak and the vulnerable. How is this government doing that when the number of people risking poverty has grown by 10% in 10 years? That’s no joke.

A few are making a killing; as many as 80,000 are at the risk of poverty! This is not socialism! This is shameless neo-liberalism, disgusting laissez-faire that allows one and all to do their thing undisturbed as then some magical, hidden hand will take care of everybody.

This is completely wrong. I hope no genius rushes to the keyboard to leave a comment beneath the online version of this article, arguing that Roman civilisation had slaves and poor people, that it was a great civilisation and we should emulate it!

Not only are there 80,000 people in Malta in dire straits, but more than 25% of the over-65s face the same predicament. Traditionally, the older generations were the darlings of Socialism!

This self-deluded Best Administration in Europe keeps looking the other way when some fifteen thousand people are experiencing “severe material deprivation”! These are the real challenges facing the country.

The introduction of abortion, or the legalisation of cannabis for recreational purposes, or the legalisation of prostitution – presented to us as if they were the real challenges – are only expedients to allow a few people to laugh all the way to the bank (at least to those branches that will survive the cull) by offering services to those who don’t know what to do with their extra cash.

The Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) said in the early 1970s that these are objectives that spoilt brats (“figli di papà”) aspire to achieve. In one of his poems, he criticises the predecessors of today’s neo-liberals. Ask yourselves if The Invincible does not fit the identikit.

You have daddy’s boy faces

You were born with silver spoons in your mouths.

Good pedigrees, do not lie.

You all have the same naughty look.

You are fearful, uncertain, desperate

(great) but you also know how to be

bullies, blackmailers, and brazen:

petty bourgeois characteristics, friends.

 

Pasolini’s critique is as valid today as it was in the 1970s. He understood that these false challenges divert political energy from the important battles, such as the war on poverty, toward selfish objectives which put individual “self-expression” before social solidarity.

As usual, cui bono? Who stands to gain from all this? Certain types of businesses, that grow fat on selling “self-expression” products and services: abortion clinics, Amsterdam-type coffee shops, brothels... the list is endless. When the economy comes before the human being, every aspect of the human experience is scrutinised under the money-making microscope, to be analysed and mapped so that new ways of extracting cash out of people are devised. The economy grows, and grows, and grows, while the individual is deprived of tangible wealth (savings, mostly) and intangible wealth (family ties, self-respect, psychological well-being).

 

Mental Health Day

Which brings me to World Mental Health Day, celebrated on October 10. Though there are some 450 million people world-wide who live with a mental health issue, one rarely talks about such problems because of the social stigma.

Mental health problems are a scourge, on all levels: individual, societal, economic. Whichever way you look at the human person, mental health problems wreak havoc. They ruin the lives of individuals and families, and by extension society, and cost a lot of money for employers and the State.

There are remedies of course. Spending time in nature and with one’s family is beneficial for mental health. Thus the need for environmentalism and family-friendly policies. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Neither environment nor pro-family policies seem to be priorities at the moment.

This year’s World Mental Health Day was dedicated to the prevention of suicide. The definition of suicide includes also self-harm. Apparently, for every suicide that takes place in Malta there are 20 cases of self-harm. When one considers the number of persons impacted by each case of suicide and self-harm, we end up talking about some 4,500 people each year in Malta who suffer the consequences of such mental health issues.

The experts hold that talking about suicide does not increase the rate of suicides. On the contrary, we all have an ethical duty to talk about difficulties that other persons go through, and to reach out.

I have already shared with the readers of this newspaper that I am involved in Fondazzjoni Sokkors fil-Pront, an entity that aims to help people afflicted by suicidal thoughts, who have attempted suicide, their loved ones, and society at large. I recently had a conversation with the founder, psychiatrist Mark Xuereb, on his vision for the foundation.

He pointed out that the Foundation’s motto, “Irridek Tgħix” – “I want you to live” – is not only an invitation, but it’s almost an order. I had to think about the meaning of his words, obviously not to be taken superficially. Perhaps in today’s world, we need somebody to tell us, to impart a command: I want you to live.

For Dr Xuereb, this new Foundation has to strive to achieve a number of objectives. The most obvious one is to help people who have attempted suicide or self-harm practices, and their loved ones. But there are other objectives that impact society. For instance, pushing for a culture of communication, whereby people don’t keep everything pent up inside, but give vent to what is troubling them. The Foundation can help by offering to listen, but also by inspiring people to listen to each other. This goes hand in hand with a culture of respect and accountability. For instance, social media ethics – why nobody should resort to insults on Facebook or other social media, as such insults can have devastating effects on certain individuals leading to terrible consequences. The Foundation not only has to offer expert advice, but also to be involved in interventional research, mostly to foment a culture that reduces suicidal thoughts.

This night, I dreamt that I descended into an underground car park where the security guard gave me an envelope which I opened and found full of photos of my late father. When I woke up, an idea freely associated itself with the memory of the dream. My unconscious had referred to The Odyssey: the car park was the Underworld and the security guard, Hades God of the Dead. Let me quote what Achilles tells Odysseus when they meet in the Underworld:

Let me hear no smooth talk

of death from you, Odysseus, light of councils.

Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand

for some poor country man, or iron rations,

than lord it over all the exhausted dead.

 

In death, Achilles learns a wisdom to which he had been blind in life: nothing matters but life.

 

My Personal Library (70)

Peter Stein’s Roman Law in European History (1999) is an excellent primer. It discusses the evolution of Roman Law (the basis of Roman civilisation) and its influence on Europe. It is a very short book – 137 pages – but contains a lot of pointers if one wants to understand the impact of Roman Law in the ancient world and its continued unifying influence throughout medieval and modern Europe.

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