The Malta Independent 4 August 2021, Wednesday

Waste of time

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 18 July 2021, 10:39 Last update: about 17 days ago

Driving along the roads of this sun-scorched island, where the heat shrivels brain tissue mostly, I often think of the young lawyer Thomas Macaulay who appeared before the Commons in 1833 to argue what today would cause great outrage, but back then echoed the prevailing dominant ideology.

British colonisers, he said, had “to give good governance to a people to whom [they] cannot give a free government”. He then left for India, where he eventually drafted the Indian Penal Code.

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Macaulay’s implied argument was that had the natives been more civilised, they’d be given a free government which then they could use to give themselves good governance; since they weren’t civilised, they couldn’t be given a free government, and good governance became the coloniser’s responsibility.

When I see people driving recklessly under the merciless sun, overtaking abruptly without deigning to use indicators, Macaulay’s words take life before my eyes.

There could be two reasons why rarely is a police(wo)man in sight: the Corps is understaffed or law enforcement costs the ruling party votes. In either case, there’s no good governance. Driving on Malta is akin to playing a videogame designed for monkey-like teenagers battling with untamed hormones.

The lack of conscientiousness and enforcement on the roads is obviously connected to other aspects of life in this country – which foreigners take note of, leading to grey-listing, and so on. It’s impossible for human beings to be simian in certain aspects and conscientious in others.

DZM’s Epiphany

Desmond Zammit Marmarà wasted a lot of time to reach his epiphany. Still, better late than never. The former Labour councillor and think-tank IDEAT executive secretary admitted this Friday that Joseph Muscat took Labourites (and Malta) for a helluva ride; he’s now urging Labour to drop Muscat’s toxic legacy.

Everybody needs his time to think. DZM made his mind up now. I (and some others) saw through Muscat’s nefariousness five years ago not now, when, on the eve of a general election, it’s convenient to distance oneself from the former, disgraced leader.

The Mintoff Biography

Was Fr Mark Montebello entitled to publish all those salacious details (true or otherwise) concerning Mintoff’s life in his quest to give us a full picture of the historical figure? Or are the Mintoff siblings right to argue that Fr Montebello overstepped the limits?

There’s a litmus test here, and since Fr Montebello decided to publish without first obtaining the family’s consent, the burden of proof lies with him.

If Fr Montebello can establish a causal link between Mintoff’s alleged philandering and his politics/policies, then he’s justified to include all his carnal exploits. Otherwise, it’s just gossip and sordidness. Almost all men at the pinnacle of the hierarchy pyramid are alpha males. So reminding us that Mintoff – a textbook exemplar of alpha male – behaved like all alpha males, is a waste of time.

Italy v. England

The passions roused in Malta by the football match between Italy and England tap into the national unconscious and, to borrow a phrase from Freud, the unfinished business of (national) childhood. The pre-war debates – cut short by World War II – bequeathed many unresolved issues.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maltese found themselves (1) subjugated to a culturally-alien world power (Britain), (2) neighbours to a culturally-close, newly-unified Kingdom (Italy), and (3) having witnessed the Ionian Islands cession to the newly-formed Kingdom of Greece in 1864. The Ionian Islands had been a British protectorate since 1815 and they shared their Governor with Malta.

Having been a Venetian possession for centuries, the Ionian Islands had a veneer of Italianate culture, like Malta. But being Greek, the islanders aimed to unite with the newly-formed Kingdom of Greece (enosis). The sentiment surely resonated with those Maltese who looked at the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy (irredentism).

The clash between British imperial interests and the aspirations of elements of the Maltese bourgeoisie left an indelible mark on the Maltese collective unconscious. Some of our intellectuals were trying to unravel these unresolved issues, but along came pied-piper Muscat and lured the nation’s children to follow his neoliberal roadmap.

So we haven’t solved our national neuroses but have instead embraced the liberal-libertine lifestyle.

JPO and divorce

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando has once again raised an important point: how “sacred” is a referendum? His point is that in the divorce referendum, people voted on a detailed question and the vote was an expression of sovereign will which should be respected. Fine, perhaps he wasn’t that articulate, but that’s what he meant. And it’s a valid point.

There are two comments to be made.

One, referendum questions should be generic not detailed.

Two, JPO’s observation warns us to the pitfalls of any proposed referendum on abortion. It would start as a mild proposal following a “mature debate”, only then to follow the same path as divorce: an initially restrained policy would be liberalised.

Human nature isn’t that difficult to divine.

The Dentist in His Labyrinth or

No Power and No Glory or

The Dentist’s Priest’s Tale

The impression one gets upon reading JPO’s With All Due Respect is that few people have ever shown him respect, least of all Salvu Balzan (the media non-mogul behind Choppy Books, JPO’s publisher that’s going to cash in on this book). I mean, had he been a friend, Mr Balzan would have advised JPO against publishing his book – it’s more of a scrapbook than a pondered memoir.

JPO’s book opens his musings on his relationship with his mother; it then meanders into chapters each devoted to different people who have interacted with JPO.

The only poignant passage I found was when the author speaks of his children: my eyes welled up with tears out of empathy. And, no, I’m not being ironic; that chapter was really touching. But the rest of the book carries a big opportunity cost for the reader: it consumes your time while adding next to nothing to your understanding of contemporary history. One simply hopes that, at least, JPO experienced some sort of personal catharsis through it. Otherwise, it’s just one long rant in which JPO writes about “me” “me” “me”.

As I said, the book gives the impression JPO hasn’t got a friend in the whole world. The one striking exception is the Reverend Daniel Cardona, who up to a couple of weeks ago was archpriest at Ħaż-Żebbuġ. Fr Cardona asked JPO a question which – in all fairness – was friendly in content but mismanaged in form. The priest asked the dentist whether he was aware that in the eyes of the Catholic Church the problem was that he settled down with a separated woman after separating from his first wife.

Objectively speaking, the priest wasn’t only doing his job but was also being friendly – from the priest’s point of view, he was helping the dentist save his soul. The problem is with the form: why did Fr Cardona invoke Church authority when addressing rebellious JPO? Why not refer to the general principles found in the Commandments? Could it really be that that little question, seemingly as innocuous as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, caused the hurricane of the divorce referendum?

A true friend would have advised against publishing this “memoir” also because it gives the further impression that JPO, even if he’s really endowed with an IQ of 150 (as he claims early on in the book), lacks any intellectual preparation or even inclination. The fact that he summarily dismisses certain Catholic teachings as “stupid” attests to this. JPO seems oblivious to the fact that many of those teachings can be considered proto-psychology. Usually, the older one grows, the more one detects their wisdom. Not so in JPO’s case.

JPO’s book is a lament, at a man’s lost opportunities, at what he could have given to his country. But it also raises a number of questions which induced Ray Bugeja to recommend to the reader, in the blurb, seriously to consider taking the book with a pinch of salt. For instance, JPO claims that Daphne Caruana Galizia confided in him that Richard Cachia Caruana was behind the attacks on him. JPO doesn’t even try to question DCG’s motives behind such a revelation. As I said, his IQ might really be above-average, but he lacks intellectual inclinations. The book is poor in character analysis; those who interacted with the author are simplistically depicted as villains, and the author as their victim. It seems like JPO’s waiting for somebody else to analyse people and situations for him.

All in all, it’s just a waste of time.

My Personal Video Library ()

Some claim that philosophy’s a waste of time. And yet, the entertainment industry pullulates with philosophy.

Before discussing two “movies” that deal with “being human”, let me remind you of Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s So You Think You’re Human? A Brief History of Humankind (2004), in which he asks whether human values, human rights, and human dignity will be extended to great apes and artificial-intelligence-endowed robots. My reaction: hominids (used in a new, broader sense to include androids) give us the opportunity to understand ourselves, which is one of philosophy’s foremost functions.

In the first Planet of the Apes movie (1968), the protagonist (an astronaut, played by Charlton Heston) lands on a planet inhabited by apes which hunt humans, who are mute. Their hatred toward humans aside, the apes behave ethically. In the movie’s closing scene, we realise we’re in the future, on a post-nuclear-Armageddon Earth. Shocked upon discovering the remains of the Statue of Liberty, Heston’s character screams, “You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” In a clever reversal of the idiom “to ape one’s betters”, the movie argues that humans are irrational and self-destructive. On the Planets of the Apes, one “humans” one’s betters.

The Russian series Better Than Us (Luchshe, chem lyudi, literally Better Than Humans, 2018) tackles the argument from the other angle: humanoid robots. In this clever series – centred round capitalist cupidity and corporate crime – adult humans behave like teenagers awash with hormones. The protagonist, for instance, first aims to reconcile with his estranged wife and children, then meets a hottie and forgets all about them, even consenting to their emigration to Australia. Only android Arisa – the made-in-China prototype manufactured to satisfy the demand for wives in a society devastated by the one-child policy (and sex-selective abortions) – behaves responsibly and conscientiously.

By comparing humans to ideals (incarnated as apes and androids), human behaviour is gauged on the ethical scale. Surely not a waste of time.

 

(À propos of androids. Do you remember Sophia, the “female” robot who starred in a 2018 Maltese-passport show, and wants to destroy humans? In 2018, then-Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri had raised the possibility of issuing passports to robots.)


 

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