The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Ganging up on others

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 1 August 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

The incident on Gozo in which one or more locals threw an African into the sea (while being cheered on by a largish crowd) raises many questions. (I won't discuss this specific incident in particular; I will look at incidents involving Africans in general.)

First question, what is the natural order of things: equality or inequality? In other words, in a "state of nature", where the State is either weak or non-existent, do people behave on the assumption that all humans are equal or that all humans are unequal? Do the principles of the Enlightenment - Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood - reflect the natural order of things or are they an ideology, an imposition of human reason(ing) on nature? If nature means inequality, should the State exercise panopticon-like vigilance to ensure equality, or should people be left free to behave spontaneously? Why should the State strive to avoid that African immigrants be thrown into the sea or subjected to such humiliating and possibly life-threatening abuse?


Second, is implied racial inequality (this is the only reason I can think of that explains why locals should enjoy throwing Africans into the sea) a transposition of other inequalities, deeply ingrained in the collective psyche? What are these inequalities? Are we aware of them? Should they be tackled? Have the Maltese themselves been subjected to racist abuse in the past, which they then internalised? Is the idea of racial inequality related to economic inequality?

Third, are there really cultural differences? All said and done, would these differences boil down to the fact that the First World has developed the State and the Third World still lives in pre-State societies? If indeed this is the answer, does the inexistence or primitive form of the State in the countries migrants hail from justify throwing them into the sea? Does our humanity depend on the State or does it transcend the State?

Fourth, is the First World doing enough to help Africa develop, so that Africans don't need to emigrate but can stay and help their homelands flourish? For instance, is technology being adapted so that First World machinery and equipment sold or donated to Third World countries function as intended in tropical climates?

Pope John Paul II had wisely argued that people have the right not to emigrate and the concomitant right to find fulfilment and material well-being at home. Not for nothing he's known as "John Paul the Great".


The Cabinet ganged up

The Cabinet and other people ganged up on Daphne Caruana Galizia. This is, to my mind, the best summary possible of the findings of the Public Inquiry that investigated the possible role of the State in Ms Caruana Galizia's assassination. The Cabinet (and a few others) were responsible for the rising of the level of the sea of impunity into which DCG was thrown and drowned; and they were cheered on, to boot.

The problem now becomes who's going to do something about it, and what.

Prime Minister Robert Abela? Can he? I think his argument (that his is a new administration) is very weak indeed. He was the Legal Advisor to the same Prime Minister on whose watch DCG was assassinated.

Who then? Who has the moral authority to lead the country out of the morass?

And what is the honourable way out?

I think it's obvious.

Will Robert Abela do the honourable thing?


Intellectual History of Malta

Developed countries are characterised not only by developed, well-honed economies, but also by developed, well-honed political systems. Such systems don't appear spontaneously out of nothing; they are the outcome of spadework done by intellectuals.

Though small, Malta has produced intellectuals and public thinkers: Dun Mikiel Xerri (18th century), Mikiel Anton Vassalli (18th-19th centuries), Nicola Zammit (19th century), Manwel Dimech (20th century), Edward Debono (20th-21st century), Peter Serracino Inglott (20th-21st centuries) are but a few of the many names that could come to mind.

How come nobody has written an Intellectual History of Malta? Not a history of Maltese philosophy, but a history of Maltese ideas...

The intellect is the only shield that protects the individual from groups ganging up on him/her.


The Case of Peter Gatt

Another case that seems to fit in this category is the case of Peter Gatt. I must admit I'm finding it quite difficult to understand the logic behind it.

Peter Gatt is a highly-qualified geologist who's been openly critical of the fact that Malta lacks geological data and that the Maltese construction industry doesn't always factor in geological considerations.

I think Dr Gatt has been giving a service to the public for which he received no remuneration or other compensation. He does get paid, however, for teaching at a public institution. Of late, he seems to have landed in hot water - being subjected to disciplinary action, no less! - for disagreements of an academic nature.

It seems that Dr Gatt drew the attention of his college's administration to the need to amend his subject's syllabus. It seems he's of the opinion that the syllabus shouldn't use American but European units of measurement. If this is indeed the case, then one expects Dr Gatt's college - that has been publicly criticising him - to explain why insisting that the syllabus of a European educational institution use European instead of American standards should lead to disciplinary action.


DNA extraction from remains

The Courts' recent decision to allow the extraction of DNA samples from the remains of a deceased businessman highlights the need seriously to rethink the idea of introducing cremation in this country.

Cremation denies the possibility to collect DNA samples; why deny people the possibility to determine paternity after the alleged father dies?

That some people want to be cremated after their demise is neither here nor there. A desire doesn't translate into a right.

I can desire whatever I fancy, but it's completely unreasonable to argue that because I desire something then I am entitled to it. My whims and my rights are not equivalent, because my whims and desires don't take into consideration the whims and desires of others, whereas my rights necessarily take into consideration the rights of others and therefore my duty to respect third-party rights while availing myself of my own.

But the dominant ideology we live in - the ideology of permanent adolescence - is based on our desires instead of a rights/obligations understanding of human society. The liberal dominant ideology we live in is one of atomised individuals who are meant and expected only to serve the market society, without any real, meaningful connections with others. Wombs can be rented; sperm can be bought - who cares about anything beyond materialism?

There's an alternative worldview, though: communitarianism (or "conservatism", if you prefer), in which your identity as an individual doesn't depend on your desires but on your relationship with other people.

Beware though: if you say these things aloud, they'll call you "extremist" or even worse. The liberal ideology wants you to be a self-contained individual whose only aim in life is to produce and consume. Anything else is a waste of resources.

It's a necessary logical extrapolation of this worldview that if you're too young or too old to produce and consume, your own mother (and possibly father), a doctor, and a couple of nurses can gang up on you and terminate you if you're an unplanned or undesired foetus, or your family, aided and abetted by medical staff, can do the same if you're a senile or useless octogenarian...


From Canada with hate

There's a Maltese maron, who lives in Canada apparently, who says he's CJohn Zammit.

Now, wait, what do they call them? "Marans"? "Morans"? Anyway, let's not digress.

This meron, and others (like a certain Soldatova), gang up on pro-lifers, like yours truly, and harass us like there's no tomorrow.

On his Facebook page, this muron said that The Times of Malta blocked him from their website. As they say on the American continent, "Good for them!" There's a limit to freedom of expression, and one's desire to communicate freely doesn't encroach on the right of others not to be abused.

Then again, it's good that people realise that there are quite a few mirons who support the pro-choice position.

"Merons"? "Myrons"? What's the word I'm looking for?


My Personal Video Library (18)

Let's compare two Westerns: High Plains Drifter (1973, starring Clint Eastwood) and Quigley Down Under (1990, starring Tom Selleck).

High Plains Drifter, Eastwood's second effort as director, is a weird, oneiric movie. If taken literally, its story is silly. A stranger, played by Eastwood, drifts into a lakeside settlement and by the end of the movie turns the budding town into a veritable hell. We learn that the townsfolk are collectively guilty of having lynched the local law-enforcement officer who had discovered that the source of their wealth (a mine) was located on government property. They had hired three gunslingers who whipped the marshal to death as the conniving townsfolk looked on. At the end of the movie, when Eastwood's character has killed the three gunslingers and quite a few townsfolk, it's suggested that he's a revenging angel or even the marshal's ghost. Taken literally, the story's silly; on a different level, it serves to satisfy an ingrained psychological need for just desserts and revenge.

It's plausible that Eastwood chose a nonsensical story to underline that he was primarily showcasing his mastery at the art of directing, which he learnt from Sergio Leone and Don Siegel. The movie could be understood as an erudite exercise in style. Quigley Down Under, on the other hand, is the opposite: the plot's promising but the direction sloppy. Director Simon Wincer approached the movie like he would later approach Crocodile Dundee: the style's undulates between light-heartedness and gravity with the end result being a movie that lacks real focus.

Quigley is a movie about an American sharp-shooter/gunslinger who's deceitfully engaged by a land-owning Australian to hunt down Aborigines. The racism of British imperialism is one of the movie's obvious (and quite serious) themes. The scenes in which the aborigines are shot like game and thrown off a cliff by a gang of whip-handling whites are poignant.

Despite the seriousness of the themes - white racism against "savages", racism as an ideological pillar of imperialism, gangs killing/lynching defenceless victims - and despite a story full of philosophical potential, Quigley Down Under fails to deliver. The music is painfully inadequate, the tone of the storytelling keeps shifting from one register to another, and the director fails to capitalise on the scenic and poetic potential of the Australian landscape. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, say, would have made an epic out of a story with such philosophical, romantic, and poetic potential.

As often happens, the form is as important as the content. If not more.

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