“We are all migrants now”. This was stated by distinguished sociologist Anthony Giddens in a recent scholarly interview with Labinot Kunushevci. The interview makes some pertinent statements on the opportunities and risks of our times.
Giddens argues that today’s societies are in flux. The rise of electronic communication has facilitated the global interdependence of societies, with substantive impacts on our personal lives.
Digital communication has empowering and emancipatory aspects, for example in the world of healthcare. But it has also helped produce uncertainty and volatility which perpetuate existing ideological divisions. In this regard, as Giddens puts it, we are suffering from “cosmopolitan overload”, where reactions such as religious fundamentalism and political sectarianism are highly visible. The world which connects civil society and the press through the social media is the same world where terrorists and cyber-criminals make use of such technology.
Such contradictions explain why we are all migrants. Migration is not only a question of physical movement. It also has to do with how we are in touch with diverse cultures and opinions around the world. Whether we are experiencing hardships which force us to migrate, or whether we are skyping or chatting with loved ones in other countries via electronic media, we are all part of a global process of fluidity. Time and space are compressed, and the physical and digital become increasingly immersed in each other.
Giddens observes that paradoxically while we are facing global threats such as climate change and nuclear weapons we are also encountering opportunities that were not in place in the past. This results in a “high opportunity, high risk society in which it is almost impossible in advance to know what the relation between these two factors will turn out to be”.
Thus, in today’s society we must constantly reflect on our self: we must develop a narrative of our lives against a context of a world in flux. We have no choice but to choose in our everyday life, whether we are dealing with relationships, health, employment and so forth. We do not know the script in advance, but we can be equipped to navigate the seas.
In the interview, Giddens emphasises that the global economic order is a key example of high opportunities and high risks. Global companies sometimes have more power than democratic systems of states, and “much of the revenue that lies in tax havens has no productive role”. Does this mean that the democratic emancipatory project is doomed to fail?
Against such a backdrop, Giddens, a strong believer of the European project, emphasises that cooperation between states is vital. Wealth creation should be reconciled with social and environmental needs, and every effort should be made so that the EU guarantees stability within it and beyond. The latter is particularly challenging when one considers the turbulence at the frontiers of the bloc, from Ukraine to Libya.
The interview can be applied to various aspects of Maltese society today. The first question that comes to mind relates to the governance controversy related to Panama Papers. A global example of tax evasion and money laundering has direct links to an EU member state, which in turn has been criticised for not cooperating sufficiently with its European partners. But paradoxically this has created a window of opportunity for civil society, press and political actors to collaborate with European partners. The government can run, but can it hide?
Another aspect of Giddens’s interview which is of particular relevance to Maltese society is the question related to the cosmopolitanisation of society. Malta itself is experiencing increased cultural diversity and increased interaction beyond Malta’s shores. Is there enough investment in cultural understanding, social inclusion, appreciation of difference? Or are we heading towards detached enclaves in the same society?
Is Malta heading towards two worlds of employment, with growing precariousness among low-skilled workers and an untouchable super elite? Are ethical dimensions of new policies being discussed adequately within the public sphere, or is government attempting to ram policies on delicate matters such as prostitution and surrogacy down parliament’s throat with scant debate? Is society being equipped to navigate through the challenges of our times, or are we being made increasingly dependent on ministers’ powers and favours?