Tuesday 25 June 2019

Admitting something is a bad idea is the hardest job of all

This article first appeared in Malta Today 

Whether the topic is Brexit or Trump, Salvini’s far right-wing stance in Italy or the yellow vests riots in France against Macron’s taxation policies, several countries in the world right now are divided on a wide variety of fronts. 

The common thread in each case is that one side is incapable of fully understanding the other, and yet expects the other to cave in and change their mind. Locally, we have lived with this kind of division which splits the country right down the middle for as long as I can remember, and it will probably continue forever.  Seeing it unfold on an international scale drives the point home even further, that the crux of the matter is the inability to understand a perspective which is diametrically opposed to our own. 

Another main reason for this intransigence is the way the human brain is wired: too many people refuse to admit that they were wrong on any given issue because backing down would mean losing face and that would mean conceding that the other side has ‘won’. Even when presented with solid, hard facts, and difficult to ignore evidence, there is a nugget of resistance in every one of us which finds it next to impossible to actually voice the words:  I was wrong about that.  The reasoning behind this is that even if I try to understand how you reason, and even if I do not change my mind, it means I am still giving away an inch or two of my own firm stand which ultimately gives you more ‘power’.  Being right has come to be more important than family, than friendships, and sometimes even more important than our own principles as people go to great lengths to justify the unacceptable rather than acknowledge that something is completely not done. 

Politicians, of course, thrive on this division, because without it there would be no political parties, no divergent ideologies and no way they could stir people’s passions enough to get them out to vote.  In fact, in the countries where voter turnouts are low, it is where the public has become so disenfranchised that it has lost all hope of finding decent, trustworthy representatives to lead them so they do not even bother going to the polls.  In the UK, where there seems to be no end in sight to resolve the Brexit conundrum, many have just thrown up their hands in despair and have turned to humour instead. 

For example, on Twitter, The Times columnist Hugo Rifkind, came up with this analogy in a 12-part thread, which captured the imagination of a nation which is understandably exasperated by the whole thing: 

He started off with what sounded like an optimistic Tweet: “Here follows a Brexit thread”…and then it continued.

1. The thing is, the best way to understand Theresa May’s predicament is to imagine that 52 per cent of Britain had voted that the government should build a submarine out of cheese.

2. Now, Theresa May was initially against building a submarine out of cheese, obviously. Because it’s a completely insane thing to do.

3. However, in order to become PM, she had to pretend that she thought building a submarine out of cheese was fine and could totally work.

4. “Cheese means cheese,” she told us all, madly.

5. Then she actually built one.

6. It’s shit. Of course, it is. For God’s sake, are you stupid? It’s a submarine built out of cheese.

7. So now, having built a shit cheese submarine, she has to put up with both Labour and Tory Brexiters insisting that a less shit cheese submarine could have been built.

8. They’re all lying, and they know it. So does everybody else. We’ve covered this already, I know, but it’s cheese and it’s a submarine. How good could it possibly be?

9. Only she can’t call them out on this. Because she has spent the past two years also lying, by pretending she really could build a decent submarine out of cheese.

10. So that’s where we are.

11. On balance, I think this analogy works fine, perhaps except for the submarine and cheese parts, which need a little work.

12. Thread ends.

It is a wonderfully mad, typically British type of humour which led to some hilarious cheesy puns and comments, such as “Why is Nigel Fromage not taking part in this?”

It also got me thinking that in the light of a lot of our own frequently mad moments on the Maltese political scene, we could do with much more satire, which seems to have completely disappeared of late.  The above thread for example could easily be transposed to refer to the insanity of building the Gozo-Malta tunnel, which this Government seems hell-bent on going through with, even though it is a hugely expensive, environmentally disastrous endeavour which will mean you will have the fun of being stuck in traffic all the way from L-Imbordin instead of just Cirkewwa.  Likewise, the ‘American University’ idea which caused so much rancour and which seems to be a dead duck.  Why not just pull the plug on the deal and turn the building into something which is culturally uplifting instead (and, no, I do not mean yet another food court or shopping mall).  

Of course, the ability to point to something which is clearly not working (or clearly a crazy idea) is not something everyone is comfortable with and a certain bit of work is involved before they will pronounce themselves either way.  They first have to check who said it (Labour or PN?), the date when it was suggested to see which party was in Government at the time (Labour or PN?), and in some cases, they might even hold back to see what their friends say first so that they can jump in and nod in eager agreement or bay in furious disagreement, accordingly.  

Meanwhile, as I look at that photo of the Azure Window at Dwejra which has been “reimagined” by a Russian designer into a mirrored steel structure, I just pray this is not one of those bizarre, fancy ideas which we will suddenly find has become a fait accomplit while we were not looking. For if Brexit has been compared to a submarine made of cheese, this monstrosity is straight out of the Galactic Empire – only this galaxy would not be far, far away, but right on our doorstep to further spoil the nature we are so determined to tamper with. 

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