Simon Busuttil is the embodiment of that aphorism attributed to Enoch Powell that all political lives end in failure. I have always had a personal liking for Simon Busuttil the man, as opposed to Simon Busuttil the politician, ever since he and I used to meet regularly at Dar Ċentrali for a while when he was leader of the Opposition in 2013-14 to discuss the state of politics in Malta and specifically how the Nationalist Party could be helped to recover after its overwhelming defeat in 2013.

I fairly soon concluded that despite his obvious intelligence and well-meant political intentions, he lacked those two vital ingredients for success in politics: inspirational leadership and sound judgment.

Despite knowing that a magisterial inquiry had been established to investigate charges of corruption focussed on the alleged ownership by the Prime Minister’s wife of a secret off-shore company called Egrant, he misguidedly tied PN’s electoral campaign last year to this issue without the evidence to back it up.

The principal conclusions of Magistrate Aaron Bugeja’s comprehensive investigation published in July showed beyond a shadow of doubt that the accusation was unfounded. There was no evidence linking the Prime Minister or his wife to Egrant. There were no grounds to substantiate the accusation of corruption.

But in an extraordinary outburst in Parliament two weeks ago, Busuttil denied the magistrate’s verdict. He said that he still believed that the Prime Minister was the owner of the once-secret offshore company. In his tirade, Busuttil inferred that the publication of the conclusions alone – without the rest of the report – undermined the validity of the inquiry.

As a lawyer, Busuttil knows that the “principal conclusions” of any magisterial (or judge-led) inquiry constitute the findings, a judgment reached by reasoning formed after considering the relevant facts and evidence. The conclusions of the Egrant inquiry are a direct consequence of Magistrate Bugeja’s diligent and expert weighing of the evidence presented.

Instead of seeking truth and justice by accepting without demur the clear-cut findings of this more than a year after he lost the general election by the most devastating margin in Malta’s history, Busuttil is still trying to convince himself that – in the face of all the evidence to the contrary – he was right all along to have believed the allegations.

The magistrate’s painstaking and reasoned inquiry, based on concrete evidence, extensively collected factual data and logical, evidence-based deductive reasoning stands as nought in his eyes. If this is not a prime example of feelings and emotion trumping facts and logic then we have to believe, like Busuttil, that Magistrate Bugeja’s charge sheet of fraud, forgery, perjury, false evidence and attempting to pervert the course of justice was totally made up. It was not.

Maltese politics has been growing steadily more radioactive. Busuttil’s outburst in Parliament illustrated vividly that our public life is experiencing a dark age where hearts rule minds. What has been shocking to me in recent months is watching people whose minds I respect – columnists, academics, educated professionals – resort to the kind of theatrics that you might expect from a child being coerced into early bedtime.

Over the last 12 months, emotion has replaced reason. Facts are now subordinate to feelings. Instant comment is preferred to measured responses

The rants from people I once respected, like the person who now tells his foreign friends he is “ashamed to be Maltese” because Malta has become “the pariah of the EU and the touristic cesspit of the Mediterranean”, are a depressing example of the emotional incontinence that has gripped people who should know better.

Increasingly, over the last 12 months, emotion has replaced reason. Facts are now subordinate to feelings. Instant comment is preferred to measured responses. Instead of digesting unwelcome information, we spit it back in disgust.

A recently published book, Nervous States: How Feelings Took Over the World by William Davis, who teaches political economy and sociology, discusses the phenomenon that many people now esteem emotion and instinct more highly than rational assessment. He writes: “The nervous system [has] become the main organ of political activity. It is as feeling creatures that we become susceptible to contagions of sentiment, and not as intellectuals, critics, scientists or even as citizens.”

Ignorance, as opposed to established knowledge, is now seen as a virtue. Access to Google and Wikipedia fuels delusions that these sources endow citizens with enough knowledge, and indeed wisdom, to offer judgments at least as valid as, and probably more than, those of experts.

The reality of course is that education properly teaches us to reach conclusions through a measured examination of factual data. Since the Enlightenment in the 18th century, intellectual rigour has been acknowledged as a core virtue within Western civilisation.

After less than 300 years in which the exploration of evidence has been recognised as the best guide to human affairs, there is now a movement to renounce this principle. The gains of the Enlightenment are in peril. Only a decade ago, this seemed confined to the Islamic world.

Yet today, the West, including Malta, has acquired its own “mullahs”, peddling political and cultural doctrines that threaten rationality. (As an aside, if you seek a good example of this, Brexit is the epitome of people esteeming emotion and instinct over rational assessment.)     

Busuttil is of course allowed his own opinion. But he is not entitled to create his own facts. We can all choose to believe whatever we like (including that the earth is flat), but if we deny and ignore well-established, scientifically verified evidence, then we are simply believing fake information and allowing emotions to trump facts and logic.

He has ended up believing what he wants to believe, even if it happens not to be true. Facts, evidence and truth exist independently of whether or not people believe them. His disregard for the evidence – the displacement of reason by emotion – has diminished the very value of truth.

When exposed to unpalatable data, Busuttil has reacted by questioning the validity of the inquiry, rather than that of his own thinking. It is a measure of intelligence and education to recognise the limitations of one’s knowledge, while it is often a symptom of ignorance stubbornly to cling to indefensible positions.

Anyone who has been reading the newspapers or spent five minutes online in the last year, can sense that the role of unhinged emotional reasoning in Malta has grown alarmingly.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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