The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

Mercenary Today

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 3 November 2019, 10:50 Last update: about 8 months ago

If politics – politics in a democracy – were simple, humans would be re-admitted as tenants in the Garden of Eden. Instead, ever since that mythical eviction, things have always been extraordinarily complex.

If democracy had still been a primitive political process, we would gather in assemblies and vote on important matters by show of hands. But democracy has become a complex affair, with all adult members of society voting, not on all matters, but to choose those who will then vote on all matters on their behalf.


But even this setup, though complex, would be simple. Democracy is more complex still. Remember that human nature is what it is. Remember that one man and one woman constantly under God's watchful eye could not find the strength to resist eating the "forbidden fruit"... just imagine how a group of men and women can resist eating many "forbidden fruits". And since human nature is what it is, there is the need for a watchful eye to keep constant watch on the men and women elected to vote on all matters on behalf of their electors. The need is to make sure that they don't eat the forbidden fruit.

This God-like watchful eye belongs to the Press. Without the Press, our representatives would eat as many forbidden fruits as they please.

Obviously, if the representatives want to eat the forbidden fruit and not pay for it, all they have to do is to enlist the support of the Press. By commandeering journalists, the representatives reduce the Free Press to a Mercenary Press.

I believe it is still fresh in everybody's mind that certain members of the Press receive or used to receive phone calls at 1 a.m. from the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff (the same Chief of Staff who opened the secret Panama company purportedly to carry on recycling business in the Gulf States while carrying the Prime Minister's attaché case in and out of Castille). It is clear to me that the cozy relationship between the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff and Saviour Balzan –– so cozy that one of the them called the other at 1 o'clock in the morning –– can only mean that the Press is not Free, that instead it is a Mercenary.

That by itself should have been enough. But we were given more evidence of this: the attack last September on former Labour Minister and Deputy Leader, lawyer Joe Brincat.

I will not repeat the rubbish published by Mr Balzan's yellow-press paper on Dr Brincat. I will only say that it is disgusting that Dr Brincat, as you will recall, took a public authority to task for what he believed to be an abuse and a few days later he had to take Saviour Balzan to court because Mr Balzan published rubbish on him. This case shows two things. One, that, as is publicly known, Mr Balzan is a mercenary, and we all know of whom. Two, that we are living in a culture in which doing the right thing –– as Dr Brincat seems to have done –– attracts punishment from the Press (or parts of it) rather than encouragement.

The Press –– that should serve as the watchful eye to prevent the people's representatives and political appointees from helping themselves –– actually punishes somebody who blew the whistle on somebody else who seems to have helped themselves. This is the ultimate perversion.

Now, Mr Balzan has attacked a journalist from another paper, Ivan Camilleri. It is well known that Mr Camilleri is striving to uncover as much rot as he can. He writes forcefully and fearlessly, possibly also because he wants to make a point. Be that as it may, he's making a sterling effort in defending democracy, by exposing the abuses of a Government that believes that it can take everything over because of a strong showing at the polls, oblivious to the fact that winning at the polls does not mean you own the country.

(If I may be forgiven for using a metaphor borrowed from law, Joseph Muscat's biggest shortcoming is to equate a power-of-attorney with a title of ownership. He thinks that a prokura means you have acquired the thing. A prokura, a power-of-attorney, means that you administer something on behalf of its lawful owner –– as a politician he is administering the country on behalf of the people and has to give account to them, but the country is not his to do with it as he pleases.)

The pattern seems clear. You criticise or expose Dr Muscat and his entourage, you get attacked by Saviour Balzan.

I do not think Mr Balzan does it for fun.

Anyway, Ivan Camilleri is considering whether to take Mr Balzan to court. If Mr Camilleri does decide to sue Mr Balzan, then he can summon me as witness, and I will state under oath that after reading the articles on Mr Camilleri, I, as an average reader, got the impression that Mr Camilleri stole high-priced items from a supermarket.

If this story about Mr Camilleri is made up, then the bodies that represent journalism should really consider sanctioning Mr Balzan. For Mr Balzan not only attacks "laypeople" (like Joe Brincat), but also what the French call confrères, that is to say others in his same profession. This is the foulest thing anybody could do.

As I said, I do not think Mr Balzan does it for fun.

Indeed, he takes it so seriously it would seem he has sued Mr Camilleri.

Curiouser and curiouser!”


The Common Good

Among the many things I learnt from a great, but underrated mind, Giuseppe Mifsud Bonnici, was the importance of "the common good". He used to make an intelligent distinction between il-ġid komuni and it-tajjeb komuni.

There are people, within the PN as it is reforming itself, who believe in "the common good" – for instance, one of the driving forces behind the reform, Louis Galea.

The Common Good is an idea(l) that informs practical reasoning within a political community, in its bid to find ways how to serve common interests. Its role in the political thinking about the public and private dimensions of social life is central.

What do I mean by the "public dimension of social life"? "Public life" refers to that situation in which the members of a political community share an effort to achieve certain objectives because they have common interests. On the other hand, "private dimension" refers to the personal projects that each of us seeks to achieve.

As members of the political community, each one of us participates in the community's public life while living our private lives. This necessarily raises a number of questions. For example, about when we are supposed to base our decisions on the common good. Are only legislators and civil servants bound by the common good? What about journalists, CEOs, even consumers? Aren't these bound by the common good?

And then, why should we care about the common good? Would there be something wrong if we all withdrew from "the common interest" to focus only on our own private lives?

These are some of the questions the PN will have to face and offer good answers to in its quest to reform itself. Joseph Muscat –– "The Invincible" of his imagination –– has built his entire political edifice on the foundations of egotism. He addresses each member of the political community not as a member of a community but as an individual voter, as an atom floating in the void. For Dr Muscat, individual interest is more important than the common good. This is what he understands by "liberalism" ­­–– the liberty of the individual to do as s/he pleases.

The case of the villa outside Qala –– whoever its owner may be –– is a case in point. A culture has grasped the country with its talons: the culture of egotism. Everybody is living in this Wonderland bubble believing that they all can do as they please, and that somebody else will pay the price.

The truth is that the price will one day be paid by all of us collectively. It will be private profit at public expense.

But The Invincible will not be around when the day of reckoning dawns. We will, however. And we –– all of us, whether we made hay while this particular sun shone or not –– will all have to pick up the pieces of a shattered environment and of the shelled family unit, and we will all have to pay the price. As a community. As a community we will have to pay the price for the profit made by individuals.

The need for the common good is increasingly daily. But it is surrounded by a fog that disappears slowly. At first, only a few will see it through the fog. At that early stage, the price to be paid by the community will still be low. As time passes, more people will see it. And the more the need for the common good becomes visible, the higher the price will have become.

But political change can take long to materialise. Time is always on the side of those who use politics for private profit.


My Personal Library (73)

Nigel Warburton's A Little History of Philosophy (2011) is just that, "a little history of philosophy". To my mind, the "little" in the title is not to be understood as an adjective, that is to say "A Small History of Philosophy", as the publisher wants us to believe. To my mind, it is "a little" understood as a determiner, a pronoun, in the sense of "A Small Amount of History of Philosophy". Because indeed, it gives the reader not a short history of philosophy but only a small amount of history of philosophy.

This does not mean that the book is not important. It is actually very important, but not for the reasons its publishers think it is. To my mind, its importance lies in the fact that it outlines, quickly and summarily, the selection of philosophical thinking that justifies the current dominant ideology: Neoliberalism, the ideology that informs Joseph Muscat's and other governments in the contemporary world.

The book includes philosophers from the classic canon, like St Augustine, Boethius, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza ... and others from the crazy contemporary canon, like Peter Singer (the Australian philosopher who believes that there are circumstances when you should prefer saving a pig's life to keeping a human foetus alive –– which, if I am seeing things in the proper light, is the philosophy espoused by Saviour Balzan and a couple of weird characters engaged in his Freak Show).

The book seems to me biased, as it leaves out certain names that should appear in any History of Philosophy, be it Full or Concise. This is why I say that the title means "a small amount of" and not a "short/concise/small" history of philosophy.

I might complain about the book's Eurocentric approach: it mentions only philosophers who are either European or of European descent. Is it possible that Asia and the Islamic world produced nothing of worth in philosophy? Confucius and Avicenna, say, mean nothing to the author?

I might complain about the author's decision to leave out European philosophers like J.G. Fichte or Mary Midgley or Carl Schmitt or Giorgio Agamben.

I might complain about other shortcomings.

But I will only complain about the author's choice to leave out Aquinas and the Star of Contemporary Philosophy, Slavoj ?i?ek. This is unforgivable. How can you write a history of philosophy and ignore Aquinas, whether you agree or disagree with his views? And how can you write such a book at the beginning of the 21st century and ignore ?i?ek, the contemporary philosopher whose lectures sell out like rock concerts? It's like writing a book on rock music and ignoring Elvis and Pink Floyd.

I've never rated any book I mention in my articles. But this time, I'm making an exception. I'll give this particular book 2 stars out of 5.

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