The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

The institutionalisation of disrespect

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 6 June 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 13 days ago

The problem is dominance. It's also the dynamic that keeps the human world going. We're all in an insane race to dominate and avoid being dominated or accepting to be dominated.

Dominance means that one individual feels and behaves as if s/he were superior to (some of) the others. It's probably due to genetic reasons, and is ingrained in the human being, at least according to evolutionary psychologists.


If this understanding corresponds to the truth, its the duty of the State to mediate between individuals, to apply checks and balances on the dominance hierarchy to avoid the law of the jungle, in which constant fighting for dominance dominates and the stronger defeats or subdues the weaker.

The question one has to ask is whether it is fine for the weaker to be subdued by the stronger. Is that indeed the natural order of things?

Given that we are rational beings, and we are endowed with a powerful feeling of justice that burns within us, I think that the raw dynamics of dominance have to be refined.

And it's the duty of the State to do this. Not by encouraging the strong to become stronger, but by protecting the weak. The strong need no protection but limits to their strength, to allow all (weak and strong) to live.

I don't think that the current administration embraces this philosophy. It seems to me that the philosophy of this government is to allow everybody to do as they please, and this necessarily leads to a situation where the stronger constantly overwhelms the weaker.

The lack of support for the weak is not only felt because the strong are virtually allowed carte blanche. The weak are also being sidelined as a climate of intimidation permeates the country. I keep hearing of stories of people being arrested for "money laundering" and others, including professionals, being directly or indirectly bullied into submission by threats of investigations and suchlike treatment.

In a phrase: it's the institutionalisation of disrespect.



This is a North American English word, and I usually write in British English. But I think I'll have to make an exception here as this word – "valorization" – captures the very essence of what I want to convey.

"Valorization" means "conferring value upon something". I think it's an important concept.

Let's apply it to practical situations. Consider the views from your rooftop or balcony – they have inherent value. You might be lucky and enjoy historical places (for instance, Mdina if you live in the countryside) or sea views (if you live not far from the coast). The view adds value to your property, even though it is difficult to valorize it. Certain properties have valorized the view in a professional manner – others, and these constitute the vast majority, have not, because people aren't aware of how to valorize the views that their properties enjoy.

Despite the value of views, people are constantly being dispossessed of them. Being unaware of how to valorize the view that was taken away from them, people struggle with the sense of loss and injustice they can't articulate.

They wake up one day and find that the view they had hitherto enjoyed on one side of their roof has been obliterated as a high-rise block of flats replaced their neighbour's two-storey house. Where once there was a view, there's now a wall.

If somebody were to tell me there's no psychological impact of such a dispossession, I'd tell them to get lost. Of course, there's a psychological impact. It's a violent impact and it's multiplying like a pandemic, as more and more high-rise buildings are not only altering the skyline and the views from the street but also the quality of life of property owners who are subdued by the dominance of neighbouring high-rise buildings.

The laissez-faire fundamentalist could argue that if the impacted neighbour wants, s/he too can build more storeys. As soon as the fundamentalist says this, two things happen.

One, the fundamentalist confirms Slavoj ?i?ek's observation. The Slovene philosopher argues that society has now evolved in such a way that it embraces the imperative that "If you can, you must". So, if you can build more storeys (the law allows you to), then you must build more storeys!

This theoretical confirmation leads to the practical situation: Two, the neighbour who is minding his own business finds him/herself under a lot of pressure to adapt to the evolving situation. Either accept the dispossession of the view, or decide to join the race and compete, building new (unnecessary?) storeys to regain what has been taken from you. Or else, sell and go live elsewhere – selling your property to somebody who will obviously demolish to build more and more flats.

It's forcefully clear that unbridled laissez-faire is not sustainable.

Nobody is discovering America here. We know that it's like that. But there seems to be no will to manage rationally the situation, because, apparently, we are cruising on the seas of modernity.

Until, that is, we hit the unavoidable iceberg and we sink.

"Another prophet of disaster" the laissez-faire fundamentalists will say.

I think it's just a matter of time. But then, when the charm of these islands will have been squandered away, it won't be possible to go back.


Self-sufficiency in case of crises

In this madness that has come over us, we have ditched common sense to embrace short-sightedness. Forgetting law and order, we are adoring the golden calf.

Not only are we suffocating the country with more concrete and soulless buildings, but we are also dismantling our ability to be self-sufficient in times of crisis.

I am referring in particular to agriculture and husbandry. The latter in particular seems to be approaching extinction. It seems that it is no longer a viable industry. Pig-breeding and poultry farming seem to be dying out. And the government is unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

In other words, if unforeseen and unforeseeable circumstances occur that make importation of meat temporarily impossible, we might find ourselves without food.

But farming is not glamorous. It's a sector of the economy that's boring and outdated, primitive and not fashionable. They slaughter animals and all that. For the dominant ideology of our times, which is extraordinarily detached from nature, farming and husbandry are almost an embarrassment, a reminder that we are part of nature not part of an economy.

We live in times which view Man (understood as human not as the male of the species) as homo oeconomicus, which means, yes, a rational being who can take decisions logically and as dictated by self-interest but also, and possibly more importantly, as a small cogwheel in the big machinery of the economy. In this latter perspective, the individual's value is only as a resource, to produce and consume. Everything else, anything else that might even smell of spirituality (in the widest sense of the word), is cynically derided as foolish, uncouth, and out-of-tune with the times.

And so, you have to produce and consume, preferably technological stuff. Anything that has got to do with nature soils your hands and makes you look "primitive". Even meat will soon be produced in petri dishes, completely detached from nature. The spiritual dimension of being part of nature is now outdated, hopelessly romantic, and leads to no financial gain.

So, if a crisis comes along in a few years' time, we will probably have nobody to produce food for us locally. What will we do then? Chop concrete pillars down to roast and eat them?


Workers spied?

Minister Ian Borg is probably tolerated by his boss because he delivers. Truth is, however, he only gives the impression he delivers. For instance, it seems that the works meant to accommodate the new Gozo transport services were done in too much of a hurry. Yes, they were ready in four weeks, but with very little forethought. It seems that Mġarr harbour is too small to have all the ships and vessels berthing at the same time. So there have been delays, with ships having to wait outside the harbour.

Who pays for the delays? You and I.

In the meantime, it also seems that Gozo Channel is engaging in amazon-like monitoring practices. I hope it isn't true that management is using CCTV cameras to check whether workers are going to the toilet and how long they stay there.


My Personal Video Library (14)

Franco Zeffirilli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) is a movie about Saint Francis of Assisi, the saint who denuded himself of his family's riches and ambitions to reach the top of the financial dominance hierarchy, to embrace the rags of spirituality and love for nature, and created a brotherhood of like-minded men. The striking relevance of this great man from the past to our present is too obvious to require much elaboration.

I want to refer to one scene from this movie which I particularly like. Otto of Brunswick is on his way to Rome to be crowned Emperor by the Pope, when one of Francis' brothers tries to block his march to tell him: "Throw your scepter in the mud, Otto of Brunswick! Fling your jewels in the river so, at last, you see the pebbles! Let the birds nest in your crown! What good is your miserable life when you, ah, steal from the poor, slaughter the innocent, and hoard vast sums of gold, while your fellow countrymen are starving to death!"

But, of course, Zeffirelli was a poet, and we don't take poets seriously as they're a bit wacky. The race, on the other hand, is not.


Maltese Quirks (14)

"Għawdex" in Maltese, "Gozo" in Italian and English. But there's a problem. The letter "z" in Italian isn't the same like "z" in English, though for the Maltese this difference doesn't exist. Just listen to the average pronunciation of "zoo", which, to compound matters, is written as "zu" in Maltese. Maltese has two "z": the "ż" is like the English "z" and the "z" is more or less like the Italian "z" (I say more or less, as "z" in Italian could be either "ts" or "ds"). So the Maltese say "zu" in Maltese, and pronounce the "zu" sound when saying "zoo" in English.

In this zoological garden of sounds they then pronounce "Gozo" in English as they pronounce "Spinola", adding diphthongs to the Italian sound. And they're blissfully unaware of this. Because they follow the dominant model of yesterday, when the Englishmen who ruled the island pronounced local place-names their way. As if their way was the right way. With no respect for the "natives".

  • don't miss