Realism in Middle Space
We are hurtling towards the second decade of the first century of the third millennium. I was about to write that we are hurtling ‘headlong‘ towards the second decade of the 21st century but on second thought I decided otherwise. To hurtle headlong means to move forward with the head foremost, with head leading, head first. I couldn’t write that.
We are certainly hurtling at great speed towards the second decade of what only 10 years ago we hailed as the new century, but are we doing so with the head leading? My feeling is that we are hurtling spread-eagled in space, spinning wildly, disoriented, sometimes moving forward, sometimes sideways, sometimes backwards and, more often than not, with our posterior leading the way.
Some will say that this state of affairs is a universal one, in the sense that it is an apt description for the whole of mankind, at least in our time. That may as well be but I am, here, specifically concerned with our own society, with the roughly 412,000 individuals that inhabit these islands today, especially those among them that identify themselves as Maltese, including those that study or work abroad and yoyo back and forwards to and from these dusty rocks.
Unfortunately there is no space here to discuss the very relevant question of what it is that causes an otherwise very disparate collection of individuals to respond to the interpellation ‘Maltese!’ Some may do so proudly and some begrudgingly, some will stand up to be counted, others will make themselves as invisible as possible, but pay attention they all will. In the last instance, this almost reflex response is a common characteristic that none of them can sincerely deny.
Now, it is a common place that we Maltese are highly polarised politically. On both sides of the political divide there is a core of electors for whom their own party can do no harm and the party of the others can do no good, a priori. There is however a tendency for these two cores to shrink and for the space between them to broaden. Nothing dramatic. The rate of shrinkage is almost imperceptible and the space formed very modest but it is a space nevertheless, and it is making a difference. This space is occupied by persons who will not content themselves with a set menu but will ask to order à la carte.
This middle space is home to persons hailing from a variety of social, cultural and political backgrounds. What the inhabitants of Middle Space have in common is a decreasing tolerance of intolerance. Although this set of electors is the least compromising as regards the quality of politics of either party and of standards of governance of whoever is governing, it is also the most likely to be ready to make compromises with others whose worldview is different from theirs. So long as the “other” concerned is also intolerant of intolerance, of gutter politics and shoddy governance.
This willingness to come to a compromise with persons of different views is, if I read the situation correctly, also based on the realisation that diversity in today’s world is a fact as well as a value to be cherished. The ‘other‘ need not be an enemy to be vilified at all costs. The ‘other‘ can be a partner in the search for the best possible solution – I emphasise “possible” as opposed to ideal – to the complex problems facing our society.
The distinction between possible and ideal solutions to our problems is critical for an understanding of the inhabitants of Middle Space. We are not talking about the last of the great romantics who dream of a third party that will sweep a jaded electorate off its feet and charm it into voting for whatever ideal solution they prescribe. We are not talking about arthritic apocalyptic horse-riders of the Absolute emerging from the fog of war trailing pennants inscribed with the old warning that what is worthwhile is not possible and that what is possible is not worthwhile.
Middle Space, on the contrary, is inhabited by the first of the great realists. They have no illusions about what can be done but they know that what can be done must be done and done well. The Nationalists among them have lost hope in this government although some of them are looking forward to a radical renewal of the Nationalist Party, the sort of genuine reconstruction that could have started in 1996 but never took place.
Many of them remember hailing the PN’s return to power in 1998, after less than two years in opposition, as a blessing. Today they are more inclined to interpret it as a curse in disguise. A renewal, from the roots up (hence radical), will need time. Not less than one term in opposition, possibly more. Why in opposition? Because a party in power cannot realistically reconstruct itself radically.
In power, especially if you have been there for almost a quarter of a century with hardly a break, you can at best go for a cosmetic job. The result can be pathetic. An indicator of how botched the cosmetic job has turned out to be, is given by the insistence with which the concerned party attempts to convince itself that others are even uglier. Or at least not less ugly than itself.
This article appeared in Dr Vella’s regular column in The Times of Malta on Monday, July 5, 2010 and may be accessed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100705/opinion/realism-in-middle-space