Indians and Maltese filth

▪️ Indians and Maltese filth ▪️ Digging ourselves out of the polycrisis ▪️ In debt ▪️ Dodecahedron

I am writing this because Justin Schembri, the PN’s education spokesman, is still in his position whereas he should have resigned immediately when he was found out to have said that Malta is full of “filth, shabbiness, and Indians”.  NGOs called Schembri’s remarks “dehumanising, discriminatory, racist, and an explicit threat”.   

Not only was the MP wrong in writing repugnant comments on Facebook, but he showed no remorse when some hours later he reiterated that he stood by them and insisted that he would “keep talking because I am not afraid to tell the truth”.  If the truth includes the claim that “the government has turned Malta into a dump”, that is a political comment and he had every right to make it.  But to equate a dump with Indians is an abomination.

By failing to sack Mr Schembri, the Leader of the Opposition Dr Bernard Grech became complicit in his spokesman’s racism.  Will the NGO Repubblika now demand Dr Grech’s resignation as well given that it believes that “those who embrace racism do not have a legitimate political role in a democracy”? 

Neil Falzon, director of human rights NGO Aditus Foundation, publicly addressed Mr Schembri and told him that “your racist populism is not only repugnant but also detrimental to the fabric of our society. Kindly exit the stage and spare us your toxic presence.”  Falzon was right to declare that bigotry, discriminatory, and divisive politics have no place in our society and in our parliament. Indeed.

In 2019, Schembri, then a PN councillor, praised Italian far-right leader Matteo Salvini’s hard line against immigration, writing that “maybe many brand Salvini ‘racist’, but he is probably a sensible person because he wants to stop this trafficking and at the same time not let his country be an accomplice in this wave of organised crime”.

Now, though I dislike Salvini intensely, there was something on which he was right, that is the human trafficking aspect.  There is no doubt that it exists, as much as there is no doubt that Malta is guilty of exploiting thousands of foreign workers by paying them low wages, letting them live in inhumane conditions, and allowing them to be stripped of their rights   ̶   all justified by the abhorrent remark that “they’re worse off in their own home countries”.

Digging ourselves out of the polycrisis

A recent paper from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research talks about what is now being described as a ‘polycrisis’  ̶   the ecological catastrophe, war in Ukraine, soaring living costs, widening inequalities, and social polarisation.   It is no wonder  that millions of people all over the world, not least in Malta, are feeling anxious, insecure, powerless, and distrustful of their governments.  

Too many of our democratic leaders have treated the economy as an all-powerful god, demanding human sacrifice, with per capita GDP its totem. They have put growth before human or planetary wellbeing.  Yet, these depend not just on the GDP but on the sustainable use of natural resources and a healthy, well-educated, cared-for population whose basic needs are met. 

Successive surveys in Malta have shown that the main concerns of voters are stagnant  ̶   if not falling   ̶   living standards, rising costs, and a growing sense of powerlessness. The Government is facing a challenge to offer a vision that can tackle all of these issues effectively.  Fortunately for the Government, the Opposition is in an even worse spot. But this failure is a gift to extreme, anti-establishment, populist groups that are increasingly threatening to mop up voters frustrated with the status quo.

Image: FT montage – Getty Images/Bloomberg/Reuters

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about the introduction of Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a way of ensuring that vulnerable groups are not left shouldering a disproportionate burden.  Unfortunately, though there have been some timid experiments, few governments have taken the plunge.

Now, we have a new concept   ̶  that of universal basic services (UBS)   ̶  where the aim is to meet everyone’s needs within certain boundaries. Those needs include: a home to live in, nourishing food, education, people to care for us when we cannot look after ourselves, healthcare, clean air, water and energy, transport, digital access, and quality employment.

Of course, not all needs would be supplied by governments.  We would still buy some of life’s essentials on our own.  The thing is, though, that none of us (not even the rich) can meet all their needs without collective provision. Primarily, this means public services backed by investment of public funds and regulation in the public interest. This means that UBS is not a minimal safety net only for the ‘left behind’, but involves a set of collective measures that enable needs to be met universally and sufficiently.

The commitment to collective action is an antidote to the cult of individualism which currently dominates politics.  This has failed to reduce significantly poverty and inequality or to mitigate the negative social consequences of the evolving economic scene. It is time to reclaim the collective ideal as the only way to escape the ‘polycrisis’.  Accordingly, access to life’s essentials should be a right   ̶   not a privilege or concession.  

I do not want to be misinterpreted.  I am not talking of Communist collectives. The framework still assumes a ‘mixed economy’ where the private sector is still key to wealth production but where certain services are delivered by a range of state and non-state organisations all bound by public-interest obligations.  The main role of the state here is to act as an enabler, using its powers of investment and regulation to ensure equal access and to set and enforce quality standards across the board.

All this will only happen, however, if policy-makers stop digging into the neoliberal hole we have been stuck in for so long, and start putting people and the planet before profit and growth.

In debt

It was interesting to read the latest Economic Outlook from the Central Bank of Malta. One development that caught my attention was the increase in the annual rate of growth in loans to households.  This reached 9.1% in February   ̶  up from 8.5% in the previous month.

Most of the growth was accounted for by consumer credit and other lending, which rose by 11.7% year-on-year.  But mortgage lending was also a factor, with an increase of 8.8%   ̶   half a percentage point higher than the previous month. 

The annual increases in household loans in the first two months of 2024 are still, however, lower than they were in 2022, though there seems to be the beginning of an uptick from the levels of 2023.  Since the increase in household loans was mostly in the consumer credit sector, it would seem that households are still trying to maintain their spending levels through credit.  This is, no doubt, in response to the high inflation during 2023 when households were struggling to balance their usual spending against their fixed incomes.

The Maltese seem to have a penchant for borrowing, having in fact one of the highest loan percentages in the EU.  Another highly significant aspect of their behaviour is their penchant for cash and deposits   ̶   the third highest in the EU.  Why they want to be so liquid is a question mark, though one reason could be that they either are not aware of other investment opportunities or are afraid of dabbling in them.  As a result, their share of assets in the form of equity, funds, insurance and pensions is one of the lowest in the EU.

There is no doubt that this culture needs to change, but neither the Government nor other authorities are doing enough to educate the general public, especially young people, in financial literacy.

Dodecahedron

The editor of this portal is prone to sending me cryptic messages which often leave me baffled.  Recently, he sent me a link to The Guardian, which announced that an amateur archaeological group had unearthed a Roman Dodecahedron at Norton Disney in England.  “Articles of this type remind me of you,” he said.   How do I respond?

For those who have never heard of the mysterious object, the Dodecahedron is one of archaeology’s great enigmas.  Researchers have long been puzzled by it, and its purpose remains unclear.  The hollow, grapefruit-sized object is made of copper alloy. Its flat sides are punctuated by circular cut-outs and studs on each corner.  Nobody knows for certain how the Romans used them.  Some theories are that they functioned as measuring devices, calendars, ornamental scepter toppers, weapons, or tools.

The Norton Disney dodecahedron. Photo: Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group

This particular Dodecahedron was Roman, but the shape itself was not a roman invention.  In fact, it is known that the ancient cultures (Celts, Druids, Egyptians, Knights Templar, etc.) and aboriginal peoples (Mayan, Hopi, etc.) were very much aware of these geometrical signatures and numeric frequencies.  It was the Greeks who popularised them. 

There is no doubt, however, that whoever invented the Dodecahedron was a mathematician. A Dodecahedron has 12 pentagonal faces, 30 edges, 20 vertices with 3 sides meeting at each vertex, and 60 diagonals. In a dodecahedron, the sum of angles at each vertex is 3 times 108-degrees = 324 degrees.  While the regular dodecahedron shares many features with other Platonic solids, one unique property of it is that one can start at a corner of the surface and draw an infinite number of straight lines across the figure that return to the original point without crossing over any other corner.

The Dodecahedron is the fourth platonic solid and was seen by the Greeks as symbolising the universes and providing a framework for the descending subtle energies of spirit.  Earth, air, water, and fire were, according to Platonic philosophy, the four basic elements of which everything in the universe is composed. Plato assigned to each of those, on a rather intuitive basis, a regular solid: the sharp tetrahedron for the fire; the spinning octahedron for the air; the stable cube for the earth; and the rolling icosahedron for the water. Plato thought of the fifth possible regular solid, the dodecahedron, as what “…God used for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven” (Timaeus 55), a geometric solid representing the universe.

This idea was taken up by the famous painter and sculptor Salvador Dali when, in his  extraordinary Sacrament of the Last Supper, he positioned the final meal of Jesus and the Apostles inside a room shaped as a dodecahedron, possibly to signify the cosmic proportions of the event.

Now, as to why all this reminds my editor of me, I remain baffled.  I doubt that he sees my musings as having universal or cosmic proportions.  Nor do I think that he’s proposing to have my brain exhibited in a Dodecahedron for all posterity.  The puzzle remains. 

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