Should we boycott Christmas, too?

All this, at a time when there appears to be no viable Opposition, either. So if certain extremists (and I do not use that word lightly) get their way, we would be left with: no government; no Opposition; no L-Istrina; no Christmas, no New Year’s Eve… no frigging nothing, but chaos and instability as far as the eye can see… with no light at the end of the tunnel, either

One of the saddest long-term effects of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder is that the victim has since been polarised into two mutually incompatible human beings.

She is now either the ‘witch of Bidnija’; or the infallible ‘one-woman Wiki-leaks’ who could literally do no wrong… with nothing in between.
But that simply isn’t true, and we all know it. In a very short time, we seem to have forgotten that there was all along a third Daphne Caruana Galizia, midway between those two extremes.

There was also the Daphne who wrote scathingly about government’s immigration policy, for instance… even more so when the PN was in power. The same Daphne also commented apolitically about all sorts of other social and political issues; and on those occasions, she tended to call a spade a spade (where others, myself included, might have called it ‘a sharp-edged implement used for digging holes’).

I’m sure I’m not the only one who occasionally pauses to wonder what this other Daphne Caruana Galizia might have written about this or that issue, were she still alive today.

One recent example – and perhaps a silly one, given the gravity of everything that’s happened recently (but then again, perhaps not) – concerns animal welfare.

A short while back, the relevant ministry announced a one-time grant of 150 euro for anyone willing to adopt a cat or dog from an animal shelter. There was, quite rightly, an outcry: animal welfare organisations quickly pointed out the potential for abuse (in which case, the adopted animal would be the victim)… and pretty much everybody else saw it as a means for government to simply avoid having to contribute directly to the animal shelters itself.

But nobody made the argument Daphne Caruana Galizia had made dozens of times throughout her career: i.e., that if Maltese governments (both parties) traditionally hide behind all sorts of random acts of charity, it is only to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the sectors concerned.

Over the years, Daphne consistently argued that Malta shouldn’t have to depend on the voluntary sector at all to provide for its animal welfare needs. It is part of government’s job to build and run its own animal shelters, instead of relying exclusively on such organisations as the SPCA, Noah’s Ark, Association for Abandoned Animals, etc.

And she was right: Malta, as a whole, does use ‘charity’ as a sort of magical invisibility cloak, to cover up for all the naked greed beneath.
But I don’t recall Daphne Caruana Galizia ever arguing that the SPCA, Noah’s Ark, AAA, and all the rest should be ‘disbanded’ or ‘boycotted’ for that reason. Unlike many of her most ardent admirers today, she was capable of distinguishing between government’s culpability in abusing a charity system… and the charity system itself.

This is precisely part of what angered her whenever she wrote about this, and similar issues. Charity organisations fill the void left by government’s abdication of its responsibilities. And because charity itself exists for a reason (apart, of course, from massaging the egos of the people doing all the ‘giving’)… those voluntary organisations cater for societal needs that are very real.

So, if government doesn’t do its job properly, someone else will invariably be compelled to intervene. This, in turn, forces ordinary citizens to have to finance, out of their own pocket, what government should really be financing out of their already-paid taxes.

Daphne used to repeatedly call governments out over this double whammy: holding them to their own responsibilities, while not denying that the cause for all this charity did indeed exist.

It wasn’t just animals, either. She often made the same point about L-Istrina: you know, our annual orgy of hypocritical generosity (just in time for Christmas, too)… where everyone digs deep into their pockets, to make good for an equality imbalance that is mostly caused by those handing out the fattest cheques to the Community Chest Fund: to be presented, with much fanfare, during live telethons for maximum publicity…

It was one of those occasions – more frequent than you probably think – where Daphne’s views coincided with my own to a ‘T’. The Community Chest Fund serves the same purpose as all those animal welfare associations: to camouflage the government’s unwillingness to finance Malta’s expensive welfare state itself.

L-Istrina in particular also provides a much-needed pretext for us to collectively atone for our disregard for human suffering at all other times of the year. And how do we do it? Naturally, by giving ourselves a good hearty pat on the back for being so very generous and philanthropic… thus, in turn, feeding our home-grown mythology, of Malta as a nation founded on the values of ‘hospitality’ and ‘Christian altruism’.

I can just imagine how this annual cornucopia of self-flattery must have irked and bristled Daphne Caruana Galizia, as she blogged about it from time to time. But again, I recall no blogpost calling for L-Istrina to just be dismantled altogether, from one day to the next.  

Daphne would, no doubt, have reasoned that even a festival of hypocrisy remains preferable to no charity at all: especially when the main beneficiaries are traditionally Malta’s most vulnerable categories… the destitute, the dispossessed, the terminally ill, those with special needs, and so on.

Which brings us to those who now argue that – given the ‘national mood’ (in other words, their own mood: which they very generously project onto everyone and his adopted dog) – L-Istrina should now be either ‘cancelled’ or ‘boycotted’, in view of the current political climate.

Like Confucius’ saying about the man who made a mistake in an elevator… this is wrong on so many levels.

One of those levels is that it’s just plain old nihilistic, at the end of the day. Some people seem hell-bent on stamping out L-Istrina, warts and all, to replace it with… nothing whatsoever.

Makes you wonder why they’re content only with L-Istrina, come to think of it. Why not cancel Christmas, too? Or New Year’s Eve...?
I’m not in much of a mood for the Festive Season myself, to tell you the truth. My natural inclination, right now, is not exactly to put on a fake white beard (not to mention around 50 kilos), and hang around street corners yelling ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ at any old random passing stranger.

And I could certainly do without Christmas Carols blaring out from every shopping centre speaker-system, 24/7 (I mean, honestly: don’t they know there’s a political crisis going on?)

But then again, I’m no longer that little five-year-old kid who used to write obsequious letters to Father Christmas each year, asking for preferential freebies on the basis of a blatant lie (i.e., that I’d been “a good little boy all year round”. I mean, honestly: then we all scratch our heads and wonder where our ‘culture of corruption’ comes from…)

Truth be told, these days I find myself much more aligned with Ebeneezer Scrooge. To me, the ‘season to be jolly’ really is nothing but a load of humbug.

But Christmas is not meant for disillusioned old fogeys like me…. well, let’s not be too hasty. Perhaps part of it is: for Christmas is also a time for families to get together; and besides, the word ‘spirit’ has more than one meaning, you know…

Bottom line, however, is that Christmas should not depend on my, your or anyone else’s ‘mood’. Like charity, it serves a much-needed purpose; and whatever my feelings about the current political situation, I can still perceive and appreciate that fact (though I may look forward to it more or less as much as all the turkeys do.)

But it’s not just L-Istrina that faces the possibility of being wiped out, in this great national drive for self-flagellation. When Miriam Dalli announced she would not be contesting the Labour leadership race, I saw arguments to the effect that the Labour Party should cancel even that: as though Joseph Muscat should step down instantly – if not just commit ritual hara-kiri, and get it over with – to be replaced with… nobody at all.

All this, at a time when there appears to be no viable Opposition, either. So if certain extremists (and I do not use that word lightly) get their way, we would be left with: no government; no Opposition; no L-Istrina; no Christmas, no New Year’s Eve… no frigging nothing, but chaos and instability as far as the eye can see… with no light at the end of the tunnel, either.

But perhaps the most nihilistic aspect of it all is that these arguments come at a time when those protesting against Muscat’s government have clearly won. The murder investigation has vindicated all their previous arguments that Daphne was murdered specifically on account of government corruption. And while Muscat has (unwisely, it must be said) postponed his inevitable departure by over one month… he nonetheless will inevitably depart; and in ignominy, too.

He is now the Prime Minister whose hand no one wants to shake; a pariah on both the national and international stage. But still, the humiliation is not complete. We have to cancel L-Istrina, too… so that Malta’s poorest and neediest also get to needlessly bear the brunt of Muscat’s irresponsibility as prime minister… you know, just to rub it all in that much more.

Having said all this: it would indeed be preferable if Joseph Muscat were to likewise acknowledge the sheer extent of his defeat – or, if nothing else, the damage his delay is causing to the country as a whole – and bow out in one fell swoop (instead of only in bits and bobs).

But there is a limit to how much the rest of the country should be willing to scuttle itself, to achieve that one goal. And besides: if the argument is that ‘Malta is in a state of abnormality’ – which it undeniably is – well, I’ll be damned if I can see how ‘normality’ can ever be restored, by just annihilating everything that doesn’t instantly conform to the narrative that… erm… ‘Malta is a state of abnormality’…

Sort of defeats the whole purpose right there, doesn’t it? Ah, but that all depends on what ‘the whole purpose’ really is, at the end of the day…

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