The author of the piece wished to remain anonymous. There are some references to me in the text. Needless to say, but perhaps better to say so anyway, the fact the post is published on this blog does not mean I share the views of the guest author.
Everyone gets programmed as they grow up and mature. The programming process goes on without them realizing it. It comes from many sources: parents, peers, teachers, textbooks, television, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, church, government, etc. All that impinges on a person tends to impress ideas, viewpoints, outlooks, fantasies, desires, expectations, impressions, etc. into the malleable and impressionable mind. And he becomes a slave to his mind thus programmed. It determines how he responds to situations and life. The only way a person frees himself of this programming effect, the only way he de-programs himself, is by thinking, questioning, and examining. As he thinks, questions, and examines he sorts out truth from falsehood, good from bad, fantasy from reality. This is a process that goes on all his life. As he thinks, questions and seeks out truth he develops his own opinions, philosophies, and prejudices. And when this happens these opinions, philosophies and prejudices tend to screen and filter all the many external ideas, viewpoints and outlooks that impinge on his mind from day to day. He is receptive to some ideas and unreceptive to others and the ones he is unreceptive to just bounce off without making an impression. Thus, his mind becomes less malleable and impressionable (a mind that knows the truth does not bother itself much over error — it just disregards it). The programming of the mind does not go on freely and without interference. Conscience, reason and currently held philosophies and outlooks all play a part in the final result. However, some of the most subtle programming comes in the form of things that are just implicitly assumed by people and society. It is a programming that “sneaks through” without being examined by the mind and conscience.
When politicians come out and say words that play down incidents; an ex-minister is called to resign from the EU over massive corruption allegations, massive asset sales are suspiciously rushed through or a couple of ex-ministers caught with a cool two million between them in hidden bank accounts. One of them even has the cheek to keep penning weekly articles lecturing us on local politics.
Or that with hind sight one should not have opened a company in a jurisdiction that specialises in covering up illegal finances, a journalist or a blogger if you will, a wife and mother of three is murdered blown up by a very powerful explosion, an opposition leader that dodges money laundering accusations, that all prime ministers say that there is a separation of powers when all know none exist one needs to stop and truly understand what is going on here.
These are not an ill thought passing comments or a mistaken off-the-cuff reaction to some quip. These are statements prepared that were, are and will keep being repeated. In other words, statements that were strategically prepared by a public relations (PR) team that have gone into all possible future scenarios and the possible negative public or positive reactions these scenarios may generate for the subject that needs the statement.
Much like an alcoholic the first step is to admit there is a problem before trying a cure. A recent immigrant to the island or a temporary visitor would see a surreal situation unless they come from a country with a very similar background. Cultures that have experienced frequent political disillusionment would be just as cynical and it is that cynicism among other factors that any PR team would recognise. That cynicism would give the benefit of the doubt for anything either way of course. For a cynical reaction it does not matter whether it’s a lie or truth and it is not just benefit of the doubt.
It is simply a surface reflection with an eventual “noted and let’s move on” attitude. True, that much of the truly democratic world is having to battle an unprecedented increase in cynicism, but how well prepared is our society to deal with it compared with the rest? This is truly a very worrying situation and we need to understand why a PR team feels so secure that these mind-blowing, surreal statements would have a positive reaction and succeed.
Faced with such damning negative evidence irrespective of how circumstantial, any normal PR team should have thrown in the towel. But not in Malta. This PR team sat down and decided that it was possible and were confident it would not only all go away but that they can turn the tables on dissent and opposing voices.
How is that even possible?
And here is indeed a dilemma unless one starts to see that there actually exists a common fine thread that gives critics and perpetrators a common logic. Understanding these common traits one can perhaps start to see why critics eventually can become supporters. Beneath all this is a layer that we seem to ignore. It is cultural and it is a programming of the mind that first needs to be recognised if it is to be addressed.
Unfortunately, and very predictably there is enormous resistance against accepting there is common ground between the two camps. Worse still, few see that these two camps tend to reverse roles and positions every 15 years or so. Public memory does not stretch so far and the state of mismanagement under each term as well as the nature of activity changes making each administration look different. But never the less status quo tends to prevail. Bar external forces, conserving the here and now takes precedence over fixing what does not appear broken, still manages to turn yet we know is not working as well as it should be.
This can be witnessed from the rate of commercial activity when compared to the size of public debt and deficit. Make no mistake. Once the loose and unsustainable passport money this current administration is funding its mismanagement deficit figures will increase. Yet the previous administrations were never much better financially either. Deficit numbers and debt levels speak for themselves. Each half sees themselves as different from the other half. However, they are more alike than they want to admit and indeed that is exactly the sort of bi-polar coexistence that reinforces certain cultural programming.
When a specific cultural attitude is identified and considered to be negative it is blamed on to the other section of society hence allowing for that negative factor to live and fester without ever being addressed. This sort of programming of the mind did not happen overnight. We are being incredibly naïve to think so. We can list them over centuries, but we do not even need to go too far because ours is in fact a very immature and young democracy. (See Rajt Malta Tinbidel – Herbert Ganado).
- A colonial ruler that built a very successful empire through very strong soft power. A soft power that paid handsomely supporters but rather than resort to brute force tended to simply marginalise opponents with however a few slip ups such as the 7 June events. But most important this colonial government realised that by giving the church the same sense of pomp and importance as local government it could very easily control the rest of the population. This was happening even when said colonial government blatantly reneged on promises and very frequently did not honour agreements.
- A church that delivered a social service making up for enormous deficiencies due to lack of public finances. A church that on the other hand required absolute and blind faith. Even the slightest deviation from its strict direction was met with severe psychological abuse and punishment leading to exclusion.
- An education system that stresses more on memorisation than critical thinking formed by centuries of very strict religious and colonial control. See also: Knowledge, curricula, and teaching methods: the case of India Padma M. Sarangapani.
- An island nation forged under a perceived constant Muslim threat split by a linguistic divide. One half that speaks an Arabic dialect predominantly used by the rural class. The other Latin and Italian the language used by professionals and by extension the elite within urban centres. This social and linguistic divide is never far from us up to the last century when English replaced Italian. The tal-pepe in the “north” speak English or something similar that sounds like English, and the rest an Arabic dialect known as Maltese.
Following Geert Hofstede one identifies these elements as those that contribute towards a cultural programming of the mind. There are many more at various levels but according to his work there are five dimensions of culture:
- Collectivism vs. individualism
- Femininity vs. masculinity
- Uncertainty avoidance
- Long- vs. short-term orientation
To be brief, these points will be addressed as one. Independence happened with a relative bang. There was no transition period. Nothing was prepared. “Be careful what you wish for” Herbert Ganado quotes those that were involved in negotiations. Borg Olivier forged ahead. There were too many strategic interests on both sides. To this day we still have two “independence” celebrations of sorts separately owned apparently by each one of the two main parties. Perhaps it is best to say “used” by the two main parties.
Malta still sports the George Cross a British relic on her flag. It commemorates not the uprising against the French; the only time Maltese organised an effective military offensive against a foreign power with a very large degree of success. While truly an honourable event nonetheless the George Cross commemorates collective resistance against a foreign power on behalf of another foreign power.
The Maltese do not appear to cherish their own personal achievements. No other country has such a symbol on what is meant to represent them as a people. Events that united the people across all demographics appear to lack importance within collective memory. Indeed, Maltese people in general appear to have forgotten completely national historic events when people power prevailed over a much more powerful enemy.
How many know that the great siege of 1429 was bigger than the great siege of 1565? How many know that in that much bigger siege Maltese without any foreign help defended successfully the islands? While in Valletta there is a massive memorial for non-Maltese Knights of St John that died fighting in the 1565 siege nothing of the sort exists for the 1565 event and the 1429 is practically erased from collective memory.
How many know that in the last raid on Malta by the Ottoman empire the first defensive counter attack led by the Knights almost ended up in failure and it was an organised all Maltese that repelled and defeated the invaders?
These are not events being cited here to foment nationalism but major events that in any other western civilisation would have been regularly remembered and cited in schools. Not to define some sort of superior race but to remind people no matter what social class they come from that when push came to shove, they did get together, died together and had each other’s’ back. That together without the aid of any other superior power that may be these people have managed to organise and be effective. These stories shorten power-distance, stress collectivism over individualism, long- vs. short-term orientation i.e. pay a high price now for future generations to benefit, reduce the worry on uncertainty avoidance.
One can presume that for a foreign colonial government, lack of unity and national pride are essential ingredients to control a population that greatly outnumbers local enforcement. Moreover, that local enforcement including the civil service should and must show loyalty towards a foreign government and not the local government.
Once that foreign government was removed relatively abruptly in a process that arguably barely took 10 years, local enforcement suddenly had to depend fully on local government. Patronage and rewarding loyalty by a grateful foreign colonial government was swapped with a grateful local power. It was too easy to resist, and the church became anxious on retaining as much control as possible fearing becoming irrelevant. That large power distance for both Church and State needed to be maintained. What should have been a national moral guide perhaps looked after its organisation’s interests over and above those of the national interest. Well, clearly any religious institution respects the government of the land but profess its devotion and loyalty to a much higher divine power that rules over the state itself. In any case by condemning one side of the political divide as bad and the other side as not bad certainly did not help for national unity.
Worst of all it backfired so bad that the church essentially for decades kept itself completely cut off from politics or perhaps even worse preferred to influence political direction with an invisible hand.
For all the effort put in by so called third parties and opinion writers to cut through this cultural fog we do not appear to make much headway. Legends are deeply entrenched, and opinions sit divided well apart from each other. One with our background can certainly recognise the following narrative very easily.
Manuel Delia is a nationalist. There is proof too; he even contested on the PN electoral ticket how can it be that now he has changed? And this Repubblika; there is that lawyer who hates all laburisti.
Dr Konrad Mizzi the laburist from the Paola, Fgura, Tarxien area is worst case a victim, best case a little naughty but he helps people and did a lot of good for the area. According to his boss Dr Joe Muscat, Dr Mizzi gets the job done. They are both holders of a doctorate, very well educated but from the rural and redneck areas. It could after all be all jealousy.
Annoyance at anyone from a marginalised socio-economic group could move ahead and do good for the people. Or is that good for their own personal electability? The difference between the two is hard to define in Malta. After all is it not more important to see that the economy does well, and we can afford to buy things?
Is that not what PN under Eddie Fenech Adami said back then that we could buy better chocolate and toothpaste? How do I know Manuel Delia, Repubblika, MaltaToday are not in it just for the sake of winning the next election? Anyone who succeeds to get themselves and their party elected must be what the people wanted and needed. The number of votes count. And why not since it was Dr Eddie Fenech Adami and Mr Mintoff themselves that agreed even one vote above 50% gives a party the right to rule.
Not just that, but a single vote above 50% gives the party leader the right to replace a former colonial governor holding practically absolute power answerable to no one, not even a government that sits in some distance foreign land.
If this divide is not bridged, if the people do not start to look at themselves with a sense of not just individual pride but also a collective pride and dignity across these various divides, voters are vulnerable to unscrupulous politicians, political PR strategists and political marketing experts.
There is hope and signs of change. The power distance is arguably shrinking and so is masculinity. There is also an increased number of more mixed Europeans moving here setting up families who will see arguments from a very different perspective and question long established norms.
One can only hope that before the Maltese voting public matures the economic fallout would not be too devastating.