At a time where normal and new normal seem to have become interchangeable terms, we find ourselves yearning for ‘normality’ in a new way. COVID has forced us to pause, I wonder whether we have had the will to evaluate our old normal and be courageous enough to critically analyse and rethink a better one.
Malta’s political forum suffers from deep seated wounds which desperately need healing. Our modes of relating, and the social framework we function from, have normalised and left these wounds to fester.
A cynical or fatalist attitude will impede us from demanding change. It sucks up the energy of wishing for a better situation and leaves us victims of our past. A sense of victimhood (conscious or unconscious) allows little space for growth and halts a forward-looking attitude. We can hope and actualise a better normal.
Our old normal
The general tendency is to see ourselves as collectives, and the ingrained structures of violence that they breed. Our sense of identity hinges on the collective. The stronger my group, the stronger my identity and my social placing. Consequently, whoever leads the group becomes, in Durkhaimian terms, the totem which represents the ‘us’ to be worshipped and protected at all costs from the attacks of the “them.”
A complex (and ingrained) characteristic not limited solely to party politics, it extends to our social and personal narratives festa partiti, football, geographical provenance, school, social strata. Within the Maltese context four violent social structural sins come into play vigorously.
An us-them factionalism assumes that in everything we do there is always another, an ‘enemy’ one has to fight. Our social behaviour in general leads to a belief in a zero-sum game whereby a win-win situation is never on the cards; mors tua vita mea and consequently vita tua mors mea.
Within the political scenario this leads to patronage. But the same dynamic is also evident in village festas and in the way we express our devotions – I scratch your back (even if you are a saint) and you scratch mine. With heavenly saints it is about celestial favours; with earthly ones it is about pajċiri in return for political support. But it goes beyond that as well – allegiance to a collective becomes the key to open up the pearly gates of ministerial ‘graces’.
Mixed in all this, one cannot ignore that an amoralist belief (whether familistic or individualistic) is also prevalent in Malta. The term, proposed by Edward Bansfield in 1958, in his studies on Chiaromonte, in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata, fits our case as well. His 17 conclusions reveal obvious parallels where presumed “duties” to kin weaken a civic conscience and social bonds.
A new normal
These systemic dynamics are so ingrained that merely trying to eradicate the current duopoly may end up creating other collectives and propagating the same problem under another name. One needs to propose and educate in new patterns of relationality and politics – a truly new normal.
Our nation requires:
a respectful openness towards the dignity of the person and not closed social boundaries that make the other an enemy;
a greater sense of communion and subsidiarity, which put the person seeking to participate in community-building, at the centre of the efforts of the state—not the individual as self-sufficient and autonomous;
a search for the common good, which is foundational for true peace—not an egoistic self-serving attitude, which seeks one’s own or the group’s interests;
a greater and more genuinely universal solidarity, seeing the other as neighbour—not as stranger, different and not to be trusted.
Such may become antidotes for our violent structures; new structures that give hope.
Our people need to embark on a process which rethinks the present structures of violence—death-oriented, because insular, narrow-minded, conflict-inducing, acquisitive, offering little to aspire to; and hope for structures of blessing, which are life-oriented, because open, creative, harmonious, generous, and always generative.