The Malta Independent 17 May 2022, Tuesday

The unbearable lightness

Mark A. Sammut Sassi Sunday, 16 January 2022, 09:39 Last update: about 5 months ago

Is democracy inherently chaotic? Or is it just the pandemic?

Let’s try to answer by analysing a pressing problem: climate change.

A year ago almost to the day – on January 19, 2021 – the World Economic Forum was arguing that “climate change will be sudden and cataclysmic” and that “we need to act fast”.

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Last August, Professor Simone Borg expressly forecast that “Malta will become a desert within two generations”. Two generations. That’s practically tomorrow.

Robert Abela’s government has still to come up with something tangible to show his government’s taking this threat seriously. His government’s contributing € 200,000 – two hundred thousand euros… not even the price of a mid-sized apartment! – to some fund, and plans to make public transport universally free. Apart from this, the lack of vision is frightening.

On the other hand, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech understands the implications, but his is an uphill struggle. Mostly because the narrative the Opposition’s proposing to the electorate has many themes all at the same time, and the electorate doesn’t have the time and other resources to study disparate detailed proposals. Differently put, the Opposition is offering an elaborate symphony; the general electorate (as opposed to special interest groups) needs a pop song with an immediately recognisable tune that keeps getting repeated over and over.  

The truth is, however, that Bernard Grech is spot on when it comes to climate change. This is what he said a few months ago:

“We must be a lot more ambitious. The fact that the government failed to make the environment a priority over the past 9 years reduces trust in what the government is now proposing on climate change... You [the Government] treat the environment as an afterthought. We need action on two pillars – prevention and mitigation.

“We need advantageous rates for those who invest in solar panels, for electric vehicle owners to pay the lowest rates. We want to give people the opportunity to buy second hand electric cars by incentivising them to do so, and not just incentivise the purchase of new electric vehicles. We need 20,000 charging stations across the country. That is how many we need at minimum for 200,000 electric vehicles.

“An increase of one or two degrees in summer will see thousands of trees die. If we don't want Malta to become a desert, then we need to, from now, start preparing for this possibility. Climate change would result in rising sea levels, and a number of localities would be impacted. The country cannot wait for such a catastrophe without preparing for it.”

The question is: if Dr Grech’s talking sense on global warming, why aren’t the polls showing a public that’s warming up to the PN?

I guess there’s too much chaos, too many distractions. Experts are saying that within two generations this country will become a desert, the Leader of the Opposition’s taking it on board, but the people turn their head.

Now, I think experts are usually either too optimistic or too pessimistic. In the sense that no expert manages to transcend their own personal biases. And I cannot exclude this in Professor Borg’s case – but I don’t have enough knowledge to know whether she’s being optimistic or pessimistic.

Whichever’s the case, if she’s being optimistic, then “two generations” could in reality actually mean less, let’s say 20 years. If she’s being pessimistic, then what are we talking about here... forty years? But this is completely irrelevant. Whether Malta becomes a desert in 20 or 40 years, it makes not an iota of difference! The point’s that, twenty to forty years from now din l-art ħelwa will become din l-art mejta.

Our islands will simply die.

This is what the experts are forecasting. Whether they are optimistic or pessimistic on the timeline doesn’t change the facts. These islands will d-i-e.

Die.

Kaput.

Finito.

Game over.

Regnum aeternum.

R.I.P.

No more.

Why isn’t the message getting through? Why’s everyone as placid as a filfola lizard on a wall?

Are people thinking it’s a prank? Is there some new conspiracy theory? Are the idiots who infest social media with their baboon-language inanities insinuating that Bernard Grech’s making such statements to score political points?

À propos of the baboons. I recently did the same mistake twice. I want to cower in a corner and cover myself in shame. For I actually accepted to interact on social media with people emitting baboon-like noises. Not once, but twice.

Baboon-people have actually written comments on my Facebook page claiming that George Abela resigned from President of Malta when he was presented with the same-sex marriage Bill and that there’s no law regulating abortion in this country.

These were two hard-hitting reminders of the special poignancy in the late Umberto Eco’s observation that “social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community... but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”

When I replied, “Did George Abela resign from President?”, the baboon involved didn’t get the irony, concluding I was seriously ignorant. It felt like I was banging my head against a wall.

Then the other baboon came along announcing that “as far as he knew”, abortion wasn’t regulated in this country and that the discussion is still on. What does the baboon care that there’s a law called “Criminal Code” that regulates abortion: you commit abortion, you get to spend time in gaol.

In theory at least, as it seems everybody’s in this country is getting away with anything and everything, unless they’re a priest who engages in silly attention-seeking quoting demonic possession (in his case, the police arraigned him instead of respecting his freedom of expression ).

Or perhaps we’re all possessed by demons. Perhaps demonic possession is the norm, and that’s why we’re not aware of it.

Anyway, something good happened to me a couple of weeks ago when someone who watched my interview on Ragnar’s Il-Podkast told me, “But with you, it’s not always clear whether you’re being serious or ironic!” Whereas in actual fact, I’m serious 80% of the time, it gave me considerable pleasure to find that there are people who do feel that the remaining 20% brims with irony.

That said, this irony thing poses problems. There are only two countries where I found that irony doesn’t beget problems: Italy and Tunisia. Everywhere else, it’s always a gamble – you never know how your interlocutor will take it. Usually, people give you a second look, as they feel something’s not quite right but can’t manage to put their finger on it.

My fondest memory of such moments is with a puffed-up nincompoop who had licked so many boots (and possibly backsides) that he sped up the corporate ladder in no time. He reacted in the way I’m describing when I quoted his fellow countryman Slavoj ?i?ek to him: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don't know. Then there are things we don’t know that we know, all the unconscious beliefs and prejudices that determine how we perceive reality and intervene in it.” He couldn’t figure out whether I (or ?i?ek, for that matter) was being ironic or serious.

However, yes, there are people who think that George Abela resigned from President, that abortion is still unregulated in this country, and that there’s no such thing as irony. And these folks will vote and decide what weight to give to Bernard Grech’s concern on climate change and Robert Abela’s mediocre governing style.

(To be absolutely clear, I’m being dead serious on climate change and what Bernard Grech promises to do about it.)

So, is democracy inherently chaotic? Or is it just the pandemic?

 

Ombudsman

Luckily, in the midst of this chaos and Monty-Pythonesque stupidity, we have the Ombudsman, a beacon of common sense and a safe haven for balanced citizens.

The only snag is that the Government seems intent on clipping the Ombudsman’s wings. Why? For two reasons.

One, because the Ombudsman (like other independent officials, e.g. the people at the NAO, etc) can hold the Government to account.

Two, because the baboon population among us don’t realise that by weakening the Ombudsman, the Government’s weakening us all.

Perhaps Orwell shouldn’t have called it Animal Farm but Zoological Garden.

 

My Personal Video Library (27)

Don’t Look Up is a satirical science fiction movie released late last year, written, produced and directed by Adam McKay and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep. It’s a paean to Schiller’s observation that “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens”.

The story’s about two astronomers who try to warn the world that a huge, planet-killing comet will soon hit the Earth, destroying life and civilisation. Clearly it’s an allegory for climate change and government and media indifference to the climate crisis. 

The film has a few shortcomings, but the message is timely. Also for Malta, where the Government’s indifferent and, sad to say, so are most people. Even though we do have a politician (Bernard Grech) and a political party (the PN) who are positively aware of the impending disaster – but the message somehow isn’t getting through.

Another movie I watched over the Christmas holidays (did I just say “Christmas”? I’m so, so sorry – will Mrs D forgive me?) was Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) based on Milan Kundera’s eponymous 1984 novel.

I’ll ignore Mr Kaufman’s mother-in-law (Nancy Pelosi) as I’m assuming it was a package deal when he married her daughter. But the movie’s good and does justice to a novel that’s about how insignificant our lives really are, despite the great importance we attach to them.

Milan Kundera’s is a sort of “anti-novel”. Novels usually seek the meaning of Being, whereas the main theme of Unbearable Lightness is that Being has no inherent meaning.

It ironically conveys this existential message of meaninglessness after travelling through its characters’ lives on the same vehicle usually used by novels – only that, in the end, the vehicle crashes. Literally.

Two passages I’d like to share with readers:

(1) “The uglification of the world – it’s a planetary process”, says one of the (beautiful, and promiscuous) protagonists.

(2) “Perhaps I’ll come back,” says the male protagonist to the woman he spent the night with and who will later convince him to marry her.

“Why would you come back?” replies she. “It’s so boring here. Nobody reads, nobody discusses. Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes, I know.”

 

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