The Malta Independent 19 September 2020, Saturday

Small place hypocrisy

Alfred Sant MEP Thursday, 6 August 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

In a tiny country, so wrote a friend from abroad (as if by way of consolation for whatever), hypocrisy necessarily becomes an indispensable tool to enable community life. After all, we all follow double sets of rules, perhaps triple sets, by which to regulate our behaviour, according to whether we’re dealing with ourselves, our friends or our competitors.

Within a large society, where people live at a distance from each other, the ways by which different rules are being followed get scrambled. Over a wide number of people, the rules followed by different individuals are smudged. But when people live close together as a few, there will be more than one connecting link between them – relations based on work, shared pasttimes, family, church, political party, you name it. So the inconsistencies by which an individual applies different rules of behaviour between different persons become flagrant.


Easily, this could soon trigger some civil war. To prevent it, society needs the balsam oil of hypocrisy, by which everybody pretends that the state of affairs is quite different from what it really is. That’s why too the culture of scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours flourishes.

I politely thanked my foreign friend for the unsolicited advice he had so kindly offered.    



Much is being said about the rules of ethical behaviour that should apply to politicians, all of whom are being accused as usual with a thousand sins, actual and imagined.  What amazes me is that similar discussions are not held about other branches of the state, like for instance the judiciary.

Or more correctly, when such discussions do arise, they remain at an almost abstract level. However, there was once a senior judge, now dead, who spoke to me in a concrete way about this aspect of things, though not exactly the ethical side of it: glumly he described how in his “days”, judges would not attend any reception, not just to preserve the dignity of their office, but also prudently in order not to give any impression that they could be swayed by somebody or other.

There will be those who will claim that surely, some ethical code already exists for the judiciary. If so, it would be a good idea to hold a public debate about it.



And if rules are to be kept on the agenda, the question regarding whether we really need them cannot be brushed aside. In economic management for instance, during the last thirty to forty years, one of the major debates related to what rules were to be retained and which to remove.

On the topic, decisions swung according to the political fashions of the period. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, there was a powerful call to dismantle regulation as much as possible. It continued to blow that way over the years. Then the financial crash of the years 2008 – 2010 arrived and the pendulum went back towards the establishment of a greater number of rules, especially in Europe.

On top of this too, social and environmental requirements (like for gender equality and not least climate change)  gave a further thrust to the movement towards more and more rules.

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