We are the hoi polloi – Dr. Andrew Azzopardi

8 minute read.

A azzopardiIn these last years trying to understand the Maltese society has become even more complex because distinctions are increasingly blurred. Nonetheless, it is evident that we are witnessing an exponential growth in the middle-class and with it consumerism.

Another class in society that is growing is the ‘underclass’, a social group we seem to forget about and discard from our public discourse even though occasionally we come up with some isolated incentive, that if truth be told will not really fix the situation of this segment of the population.  Such isolated initiatives might alienate or may perhaps get the incandescent in the party’s supporters, but that’s about it.  This class is made up of the poor or working poor or those who struggle with rent and writhe to make ends meet.  These are the people who see the wealth coxswaining away from them.

On the other hand, the smudge of who sits in the working class is compounded by a Labour Party in Government. This Party has side-lined its working class ideals and identity and preferred going into the uncharted territories of the construction magnates and the business community and in the process clipping off a massive chunk of voter support from under the PN’s nose.

But what is agonizing is that our society is being dragged into a neo-liberal mind-set where most if not all now has a pecuniary value. This neoliberal f*ck you Jack, I’m alright attitude is creeping up fast on us. This outlook of self-interest will make it even more difficult for people who are caught in this circle of poverty and social exclusion to get away and for the people who are netted in the lower rungs of society to enjoy the privileges.

The distinction of one class from another is not only based on economic capital or type of job or background but also on life chances, quality of life and standard of living and access to the community. Terrible as this may sound, the social class ‘one’ comes from will add or decreases ‘ones’ opportunities – it’s as easy as that. In simple words, it depends where you are socially situated.

To add to this, patronage remains a notably important factor in our society. There is this acuity that you get by because people pledge their souls to the politicians. Just take a quick glimpse at the recent Euro Barometer poll which indicates that 63% of the locals believe that it is the political connections that take you forward on in life! This country also needs to get away from this namedropper syndrome that some are compressed in. The financial and social capital of the individual compound all of this.

This is where it becomes rather disturbing in my opinion.

Now much as this might sound Masonic the truth is that we have a society, probably like most other countries in the World, that survives on two levels; the common mortals, who try to make a decent living, are genuinely concerned about their family and take care of the people around them and on the other hand those who pull the strings when the strain requires some backing away. This circle of command, without a clear name hover above us – let’s refer to them as ‘the cloud’. These are the people perched in our society, unseen and unobserved. Whatever Government there is they have a major influence in how we live our lives. This ‘cloud’ would include people coming from the business community, the clergy, bankers, members of the Judiciary, people from the legal sector, the political class, directors of newspapers, executives of the main entities of the Government amongst other. They are the people who will determine the major decisions in our lives. The benefits ‘the cloud’ will reap will be translated into dosh and clout, which brings more dosh and more clout. They steer us, the hoi polloi, from one place to another without even noticing and if we do, we applaud because our critical thinking is so shrouded and skeletal. Sometimes these people are bigger than the State, stronger than the Government, sturdier than Institutions that govern this Country.

So this leaves us with the supremacists and those who struggle with their Achilles’ heel.

How are we going to resolve this hubbub?

Well, firstly, we need to get away from the notion that social policy is an ‘after-thought’. We speak on fiscal regimes, on the economy, on GDP, on low unemployment rates and yet we seem to be postponing the ABCs. Social policy is a perfect and matching mechanism that could help us resolve concerns and give credence to this Country. Very often I start wondering whether we are really and truly adding to the problems with the way our social policy is being designed. We need a social policy that is more at the centre of the Government’s operations. We need to be careful of economism and the demagogue politicians that are sprouting like mushrooms.

Secondly, our level of critical thinking is in a ‘critical’ state! Unless we cultivate this quality in our citizens we will behave like the Naghag ta’ Bennu and follow the leaders in the community like they were the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The national argumentation is weak – you only need to watch our TV debates to realise the weak critical thinking.

Thirdly, we also need a strong independent media, solid institutions, good legislation, high calibre politicians and above all a commitment towards ethical and moral behaviour.

This is a country that is quickly losing its soul and its principles. Unless we reinvent ourselves, bring morality and ethics back into our communities and in our decision making we will slip into a vortex of no return, if not, this brings me to believe that we are just another cog in the wheel to simply advance the interests of capitalism and all the rest doesn’t’t matter.

Article appeared on The Malta Independent on Wednesday 9th May. 

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