Thursday 15 November 2018

When you resort to name-calling, you’ve already lost the argument

This article first appeared on Malta Today

It has not been a good couple of weeks for political discourse.

In fact, the term ‘discourse’ is a misnomer, for what we have going at the moment are people who should know better resorting to calling their political adversaries all sorts of names.

I have given up trying to keep tabs on who said what to whom and when and in what context, because ultimately, it would be a pretty futile exercise, reminiscent of a schoolyard squabble: ‘Miss, he started it – no, SHE started it”, which gets us absolutely nowhere. The bottom line is that I think we are fast approaching the time when everyone in public office (or aspiring to be) who cannot control their emotions needs to have their social media account forcibly taken away from their itchy fingers. It’s getting pretty tiring to see all these outrageous comments being posted, only for the inevitable public outlash to ensue and then pressure placed on the culprit until he/she half-heartedly mutters an apology.

Someone like V18 Artistic Director Mario Azzopardi, for example, who wrote “stupid bitch” in reference to what turned out to be a meme and a fake quote attributed to activist Tina Urso, in which she supposedly wrote how much she ‘hates the Labour party, the PM’s family and anything Maltese’, needs to have his knuckles doubly rapped. First, for the insult itself and secondly for not bothering to even check whether Ms Urso actually wrote those words (which she didn’t).

And let us say there was the possibility that Ms Urso had in fact written something like that, surely someone in a position such as the one Mr Azzopardi holds should learn the fine art of just scrolling past things he does not agree with and just letting it go? This compulsion to give our two cents’ on every single post and comment which raises our hackles has become a national epidemic. Like all of you reading this, I comes across at least ten things on a daily basis on my newsfeed which make me let out a string of swear-words under my breath, but after I have vented to myself or to like-minded friends for a short while, I then just keep moving along. Or else, I just get offline and step away from it all to what seems like the much saner, calmer world outside of cyber space. It seems, however that some people’s buttons are amazingly easy to push, and immediate, spontaneous knee-jerk reactions are the order of the day. Either that or they simply live for all the drama.

The nasty, defamatory ‘village escort’ remark directed at Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, however, is in another category altogether because it originated from the Partit Demokratiku Facebook page, which means that, at the time of writing, we are not sure who actually wrote it. Despite the apology they issued, the faceless nature of the remark is unfair on everyone involved in the party, because they have all been equally smeared by association. So, will the smart alec who thought it was OK to call an MP a ‘village escort’ be man or woman enough to at least step forward and face the music? Because it so very easy to be brave and daring when one is anonymous huh?

There is another aspect to all this – if the PD or whoever wrote the remark is not in agreement with Ms Farrugia Portelli over the IVF issue, is this really the best way to debate against someone’s views? Once you resort to personal insults, you have already lost the argument. To make things even more complicated, the dig of ‘village escort’ was apparently not intended to be towards Ms Farrugia Portelli at all, but towards another Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar. The anonymous hand behind the FB page clearly uploaded the wrong photo. The jibe against Ms Cutajar has to do with the fact that she once used an online dating site which, the last time I checked, is hardly the same thing as an escort. And why is there all this hostility against female politicians and women in general anyway? Coming from a party which was marketing itself as a third alternative option to the two major parties is not only disappointing, but goes to further underline that PD is not offering anything that is very different to the current political landscape after all.

The unacceptable comments made lately have also made me realise, not for the first time, how difficult it is for people to bow their heads in shame and resign (or made to resign) here, when compared to other countries where they are immediately thrown out on their ear. First, I think it’s because they feel no sense of shame or embarrassment in the first place. And secondly, at the rate which gaffes are made and stupidly outrageous things are uttered, if everyone had to resign, there would probably be no one left.

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