The Malta Independent 24 September 2020, Thursday

Why Bernard Grech?

Mark A. Sammut Sunday, 13 September 2020, 10:52 Last update: about 12 days ago

If surveys are anything to go by, Bernard Grech has piqued the interest of the electorate more than the incumbent. Adrian Delia has indeed given a lot to politics and to the country, and I for one am extremely grateful to him. But politics is perhaps like medicine: it’s always a question of results.

The Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce once said that a politician is like a doctor: if they can cure your disease, you give little importance to anything else about them. When you need to save a life, results are more important than anything else.


Bernard Grech promises to be the doctor who can cure both party and country.

Who’s afraid of Joseph Muscat?

Apparently Robert Abela and quite a few members of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The charade has to stop. The country’s health needs to be restored. The Muscat tumour has to be irradiated because it’s slowly killing the country. Less than a month ago, on August 16 to be precise, US television channel CBS broadcast a 60-minute documentary called “Inside the corruption allegations plaguing Malta”: “The smallest nation in the European Union is earning an unsavory[1] reputation, with a series of scandals involving allegations of bribery, cronyism and money laundering.”

The country has to start the cure. Otherwise, it risks suicide.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Last Thursday marked the international commemoration of the struggle against suicide.

Among the suicide-related organisations in Malta there’s the Crisis Resolution Team led by my good friend from University days, psychiatrist Mark Xuereb. Society owes such charities a great deal.

Back in my undergraduate days, my favourite heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, released a song called Judgement of Heaven. Its lyrics came back to my mind last Thursday:

A lonely cry for help reaching out for help to anyone/ A silent prayer to God to help you on your way/ I’ve been depressed so long/ It’s hard to remember when I was happy/ I’ve felt like suicide a dozen times or more/ But that’s the easy way, that’s the selfish way/ The hardest part is to get on with your life/ You question your beliefs,/ your inner thoughts, your whole existence/ And if there is a God then answer if you will/ And tell me of my fate, tell me of my place/ Tell me if I’ll ever rest in peace/ If you could live your life again/ Would you change a thing or leave all the same/ If you had the chance again/ Would you change a thing at all/ When you look back at your past/ Can you say that you are proud of what we’ve done/ Are there times when you believe/ That the right you thought was wrong/ All of my life I have believed/ Judgment of Heaven is waiting for me.”

It’s a positive message: instead of taking your own life, take your life in your hands. It boils down to how you exercise your freedom as an individual – and that you’ll be judged on it from Heaven’s eternal viewpoint.

Before the left-liberals debunk this as religious claptrap, they should remember that the 12-step programme for addiction recovery is the acceptance of a Higher Being.


Upon carefully reading Giovanni Bonello’s Misunderstanding the Constitution (I reviewed the book for this newspaper in March 2019[2]), you’ll find that underlying Judge Bonello’s entire discourse is an attempt to capture the historical moment when the lawyers set out to ethicise their profession.

The struggle for human rights that Giovanni Bonello and others were the protagonists of, was a struggle to dress the bare law in ethics. Human rights ethicise the law, elevating it to a transcendental level based not on religion but on philosophy, on a deep understanding of the social contract as mediation between the freedoms of the individual and the ordering function of the State. (One could argue that this philosophy is a civil religion – but that’s another argument, for some other time.)

That struggle – the ethicisation of the law – is still ongoing, but it has now been normalised. What’s changed is that the legal profession is no longer the main protagonist of the ethicisation struggle.

The domains that have now claimed centre-stage are medicine and urban planning. I won’t be discussing the latter today – even though I believe it’s crystal clear to intelligent readers that the country needs to subjugate the law of the urban-planning jungle to a higher ethical standard.

Ethicising medicine

At the moment, there’s a Bill dealing with equality that the Medical Council and the doctors’ union MAM believe will give rise to serious problems of conscience for doctors on topics such as abortion and euthanasia.

The call for a higher ethical standard is manifest. I’m not referring to medical ethics, which are the deontology of the profession. I’m referring to an ethical standard that embraces all of society and views the medical profession as one of the numerous tools that implement the ethics espoused by society (the other tools are the other professions).

This is where I find the medical profession’s argument slightly incomprehensible. They are reducing the issue of life-and-death decisions to a matter of the doctor’s individual conscience, thereby accepting the notion that such decisions are actually permissible.

While the Medical Council and the doctor’s union are taking a cautious approach, there are others whose approach is sickeningly different. In Malta, abortion is a crime, punished with incarceration. Maltese mainstream politicians keep repeating that the legalisation of abortion isn’t on the cards. And yet, a group of doctors keep promoting the idea of abortion and, what’s worse, certain media outlets keep giving them space. I can’t help wondering whether this is disguised advertising and whether the Police are looking into it.

Maltese Quirks (4)

Proofreaders are called qarrejja tal-provi in Maltese. Qarrejja irritates me. It’s true that Maltese is based on calque, but it’s calque with intelligence. When our ancestors borrowed Sicilian expressions containing a reference to mountains, they replaced “mountains” with “bastions”, for obvious geophysical reasons.

Reader in English doesn’t only mean qarrej. It also means one who inspects. The meter reader doesn’t peruse your electricity meter; s/he inspects it. That’s what proofreaders do: they inspect (and correct, if need be). In his dictionary, Dun Karm defines “proofreading” as korrezzjoni not qari tal-provi.

Of my many misadventures with proofreaders I’ll mention only the most recent. In my last article, I referred to Salvu Balzan’s public persona as “Malta toady” – self-evident wordplay on his rag’s name. The proofreaders changed it to “Malta Today’s”, and hurt my feelings! It wasn’t a typo; I really meant “toady”, for a toady is a sycophant, and I think Salvu Balzan’s public persona has been a sycophant for Joseph Muscat and Keith Schembri.

And I can prove it. On September 7, Malta toady Salvu Balzan owned up and wrote on his blog, dishonestly titled For the Greater Good: “I revisited many of the stories I have written; the opinions I penned; the arguments I put forward. I spent long nights defending people like Muscat and Keith Schembri”.

Indeed! Long nights constructing a toady persona that served no greater good at all!

(Though it’s written sycophant, it’s pronounced differently from psycho-whatever.)

My Personal Video Library (2) – Part 1

House – a medical drama centred round the fictional Dr Gregory House MD – was a TV series (2004-2012) intended primarily for the United States market. The dominant American worldview’s religious – Protestant religious, that is, which is different from Catholic religious. The series’ philosophical subtext was probably intended to mock mostly Protestant Christians or at least to engage (albeit mockingly) with their worldview.

On many accounts, House was a silly series, replete with details that defy rationality and depend entirely on the viewer’s readiness to suspend disbelief. For instance, if indeed Dr House is the best diagnostician in the 300-million-strong country, why do patients and their families consistently fail to treat him with the respect he deserves? Why do they resent his obnoxious behaviour instead of accepting it as the idiosyncratic behaviour of a genius? There are so many other instances in which the show that revolved around the intuition that obsession for background detail is key to curing patients, couldn’t care less about the background details of its own plot.

Small pause: one could ask, Why waste precious column inches on popular culture? The simple answer is that that’s the only culture that matters. As Hans Keller, the musicologist and psychoanalyst, famously quipped when he interviewed Pink Floyd in 1967, “They have an audience. And people who have an audience ought to be heard.” And in 2008, House was the most popular TV series… in the world. It was still popular years after its cancellation – when in 2017 the series was re-issued as a DVD set, The Guardian dedicated an entire page to it. It is still popular today, and I suspect that many doctors and medical students admire the “antihero savant” archetype it proposes.

House is overtly (but, arguably, partly) inspired by Sherlock Holmes. “House” is a pun on “Holmes”; House’s friend Dr Wilson recalls Dr Watson; House lives at 221B Baker Street; House’s gifted an Arthur Conan Doyle second edition one Christmas… All this raises the question: if Holmes’ nemesis is Professor James Moriarty, who is House’s?

I suspect that House’s nemesis is none other than God Himself. The entire series seems to me one endless struggle between House (who probably thinks he’s God) and God. It’s a treatise on the First Commandment.

Does that mean House is the Devil? I’m tempted to answer in the affirmative, also because of House’s limp. It reminds me of the 1707 French novel Le Diable boiteux [The Lame Devil], the hero of which is flown by a demon to the rooftop of every house to see what’s going on inside and to analyse and mock human behaviour. Asmodeus is the novel’s demon; according to the Book of Tobit, Asmodeus prevents the consummation of marriages. So there isn’t just the devil with a limp analogy, there’s also this second analogy: in House’s libertine, promiscuous world, where “everybody lies” (not only by not saying the truth but also by lying in bed with everybody else), no marriage/pairing gets consummated on the emotional level.

On the surface, House is a defence of materialism – people are but matter. And nothing else matters – it’s a cynical materialism. But on a deeper level, despite its anti-transcendental subtext, House is a desperate search for a higher ethic, for a deeper meaning. It’s a discussion on the shackles of loneliness and atomisation that living in a big city bind the individual with. And it’s also a non-stop, exhausting (but certainly not exhaustive) debate on the relationship between the doctor’s power of life and death and his/her conscience.

(To be continued)

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