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The unbearable numbness of politics

Do we been tell ourselves that politics remains the be-all and end-all of Maltese society?

Do we been tell ourselves that politics remains the be-all and end-all of Maltese society?

Last week I was in Malta for a quick one-week visit that combined work, family, and some rest. The weather was great and the general rhythm of the place was good. While the locals continue to sustain that well-paced rhythm of Maltese normalcy, there were enough tourists to keep the place bustling.

Yet, as this went on, a strange sense of numbness crept on me where somehow I became reluctant to write anything about the place, or follow what was going on, or even meet anyone mildly involved in what I most write about in this blog—that is, politics.

This made me think as to whether there is an increasing rift between the world of media and communication where Maltese politics appears intense and often antagonistic, and the reality “out there” where people do engage with the media but whose life seems less affected by politics in their day to day life.

In my conversation with friends, I did indulge in a degree of arm waiving and political name-dropping — to which my twenty-one year old daughter rightly protested as being a way of sustaining a conversation that leaves behind anyone who is not on the ‘inside’ of one’s own political crowd. However, beyond that, I simply drove around, making sure that we covered almost all of the place, including Gozo, as if I wanted to grasp the whole of Malta in one go.

The feeling I got from this was unexpected. In fact I felt that maybe the echo chamber of the media, be it social media, the newspapers, TV, and all of that stuff, is in effect making issues look much larger than they are, and to that effect fetishizing the world of politics to the extent that they become numb and neutralized.

We Maltese often say this when we visit other countries where politics is of hardly any interest unless one specifically attends political events or hangs around with people who are interested in the field. However we never say so about Malta. Is this because we are in it and we feel compelled to see Malta from a political lens? Or is it because we have been telling ourselves that politics remains the be-all and end-all of Maltese society, and to that extent have we brought this upon us?

So is there a distinction between the general Maltese population, which may or may not be interested in the latest achievement of their Government or where the Leader of Opposition last addressed his faithful? Or is this a magnified ecology that does not pervade across all the population? Is politics, in other words, a matter for the chattering classes only, or is it inherent to the Maltese even when everything appears as numb as I felt during the seven days that I visited?

Back to the numbness, it did feel as if the mood itself was not political inasmuch as it was a sense of leading one’s life and trying to cope with it and perhaps every now and then try to change things. I did ask whether things could be done or thought without the party political sphere. Some would tell you that at the end of the day the parties are there almost as a matter of normalcy themselves — just like the band clubs become the protagonists of village life, culminating in the yearly festa.

Is politics a matter for the chattering classes only, or is it inherent to the Maltese?- John Baldacchino

Yet others would see this more seriously and seem to think that unless we go beyond this situation and the parties begin to understand what really matters to people, then we are going to move even more into the numbness by which we tend to accept the reality of party politics, while at the same time we make the calculations that have to be done, vote tactically, and then keep one’s fingers crossed and hope for the best.

Often I have mentioned a degree of quietism that seems to have overtaken the country. However when I say so, I need to explain that at this stage the quietists are not the voters but the parties themselves in that they seem to be offering very similar programmes and in effect their qualms boil down to two things: governability—i.e. which one of them is most clean or corrupt, depending from where you look at it; and the second is managerial efficiency—i.e. how much and in what sense does one party mean to deliver more and better than the other.

Without diminishing governance and cleanliness and without diminishing the importance of a well-oiled system that delivers, say, a growing economy as we happen to have at the moment, there are other issues, which would be necessary in order for politics to move away from being just a matter of the chattering classes or simply a location for lobbying.

Come to think of it, as I think of numbness, in Malta I did nurture a feeling akin to Milan Kundera’s Tomas in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where faced with a political system that seemed too set in its habits, the man decides to look inwards and find meaning in other forms of living — which in Kundera’s case, it was far more sensual than rational.

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