In a very perceptive article published in The New York Times entitled ‘The American abyss’, Timothy Synder, Levin professor of history at Yale University, wrote: “It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices.”
Synder discusses the whole concept of truth and lies as generated and fostered by politicians, especially those who are yes-men. He argues that the politicians who let lies flourish because someone in their party says them are betraying their constitutional mission: they are allowing a country to be manipulated. He warns that: “Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth.”
He reminds his readers that lies – or the euphemistic expression “fake truth” – have allowed for dictatorial power-grabbing such as that by Hitler and Stalin, who could, through lying, justify massacres of thousands because they were never really challenged by people from within their own party. Much of what Synder says, especially in the first part of his long article, should make us all reflect and compare it to the aura with which we surround our own politicians and the concessions we allow them to get away with.
Spurred on by an unhealthy two-party reality, political leadership in Malta is surrounded by a cult-culture that is, to say the least, bewildering. Once somebody becomes a leader, it becomes almost sacrilegious, especially for anyone from their party, to voice any public criticism or even criticise them or their leadership within the party itself.
Denouncing their action, however illicit, may not be envisaged even within party ranks; condemnation is seen as tantamount to betrayal.
A healthy democracy needs responsible citizens who can discern honest and valid speech from dishonest, deceitful and illusionary propaganda talk
They and their families become sacred objects; nothing they do can be wrong, even if their abuse, or worse, corruption is staring everyone in the face. As Synder points out, social media do not help in this because they contribute heavily to losing “the distinction between what feels true and what is actually true”. Moreover, quickly adding a simple “like” to a politician’s cunningly-worded declarations is an easy and fast way to stop people from truly reflecting on the underlying meaning or consequences of what is being declared, thereby giving the person the tacit permission to pursue a wrong or deceitful path.
It is also why the independent media are so important: they furnish a diversity of perspectives, which should lead citizens to derive their own conclusions rather than be led by the nose.
The fact of agreeing unquestionably to whatever a politician may say or do is due to a lack of critical awareness that can only be transmitted through education. A healthy democracy needs responsible citizens who can discern honest and valid speech from dishonest, deceitful and illusionary propaganda talk, of which we have had far too much in our history.
Acceding to a political role should go hand in hand with accepting close observation and critical judgement of one’s decisions and actions. Judgement should not be limited simply to casting one’s vote but has to be sustained right through any political legislature, whatever the party in power.
Political education would imply a leap of quality in the way politics are conducted in our country.
It would help avoid the kind of political bias that is currently transmitted from one generation to another, avoid the nepotism and bribery that we witness all too often and would ensure transparency and accountability in the way political affairs are conducted.
This kind of education has to be nurtured from a young age, especially in view of the fact that our two parties have agreed to lower the voting age to 16, without, at the same time, ensuring the kind of education that would be needed to accompany this radical decision. One wonders: are they aspiring to have yet more yes-men?
Repubblika has launched its permanent ‘Active and responsible citizenship’ campaign to fill the need for political education that would create more awareness and vigilance over political doings. We need to break away from the traditional compliant adherence to a party that is also a vestige of our colonial past and ensure that we, and, especially, our younger generations, can think and act independently of any political conformism to any one party.
We need to render the parties answerable to the citizen, rather than continue to generate the subservience of the citizen to the political world. This cannot be achieved in a short space of time but requires constant and consistent effort.
Much in our country needs reform and the only way to achieve this to the benefit of all citizens, and not to that of only a few partisan supporters, is to encourage active and discerning participation in the decision-making that affects us all. We need to start now, for the good of our beloved country.
Vicki Ann Cremona, member and former president, Repubblika
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