Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, October 02, 2017

The soulless state - Michael Briguglio

Image result for desert of the real
Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia is suggesting that Malta has a ‘soulless State’.  Judging by reactions in the social media, there have been different positive and negative interpretations to this imagery. I, for one, propose to apply it to Malta’s turbo commercialisation of society.
Before I delve further on my interpretation, I invite readers to consult three related ideas proposed by influential social theorists.
The first is sociologist Max Weber. Early in the 20th century he lamented that humankind’s soul was being parcelled out by a dehumanising and bureaucratic way of life in an increasingly rational society.
Transposed to our times, some authors note that we are moving towards an ‘anything goes’ society of procedure: one devoid of character, one that relativises everything and that avoids discussing ‘good’ and ‘bad’. As long as you fill in a form, you are eligible. And as long as science permits it, it must be good. Are we sure?
In the 1970s, philosopher Erich Fromm warned of the dangers of ‘having’ over ‘being’. He related the former to the attempted domination of nature, the promise of unlimited abundance and unlimited fulfilment.
The cost of this is the loss of our inner selves. Quantity over quality.
Closer to our times, sociologist Jean Baudrillard theorised how we are trapped in a society that resembles a theme park, where we are seduced by symbols irrespective of how ‘true’ or ‘false’ they are. A sort of junk-food society – only that everything becomes junk. This results in a ‘desert of the real’, far beyond creative self-expression, authenticity and character.
Despite their differences, such social theorists make us aware of the contradictions revolving around an individual’s freedom in society. Where should lines be drawn? Is it fair to encourage one’s freedom at the expense of the freedom of others? Should everything be commercialised in the name of freedom? Can we create ourselves beyond consumption? What is good or bad? What is value?
Today’s Malta is led by a Labour government that feeds upon the commercialisation narrative. It promises unlimited freedom but gives little consideration to the other side of the coin. It is soulless in the sense that it fails to sense deep impacts and holistic aspects with regard to its policymaking.
Hence, the government is pushing for proposals related to the commercialisation of the body, the common good, and different services. The freedom being proposed is ultimately a freedom for capital. Freedom for the moneyed and ruin for the rest.
Once Parliament and civil society start discussing matters such as surrogacy and prostitution, I augur that ethical concerns are not sidelined from the debate. To the contrary, I hope that a government that considers itself to be ‘feminist’ recognises that liberalised prostitution can actually encourage more trafficking and the exploitation of women. That surrogacy is not merely a procedure, but also a complex matter with deep ethical dimensions.
As things stand, Labour does not seem to mind about the negative impacts of certain decisions so long as voters and other supporters are seduced into support. Never mind that the passports industry is pushing up rent prices, or that the free-for-all development policies are robbing our children of open spaces. Never mind that lack of enforcement encourages precariousness, and that short-termist economic policies can lead us to an unsustainable bubble.
The current Labour government is also resorting to attract support through the least common denominator. It may be cheaper to buy votes through patronage and ignorance rather than to equip people to free themselves from dependence on politicians.
This is not real freedom. This is making people beggars to ministers’ incumbency. Give your supporters cake as long as they close their eyes to the abuse of power.
In my reading, therefore, the soulless State is driven towards commercialisation and patronage, disinterested in longer-term impacts, and impatient to discuss the good and the bad.  Against such short-term seduction, it is imperative to equip people to engage in deliberation and reflexivity.
Malta needs a bigger society and a smaller government. Society with a soul.

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