It’s not just the animal cruelty, the latest example of which was a dog seemingly dragged to its death by a car.
It’s not just what looks like a sudden surge of mafia-style hit jobs, with well-known criminals bearing colourful monikers who are being killed off one by one.
It’s not just stories of parental negligence, with children being sent to school dirty, their heads full of lice, dressed in shabby, torn uniforms with no packed lunch or money for school outings.
It’s also what seems to be an escalating culture of domestic violence, as more and more women speak out about being beaten, terrorized and raped in their own homes.
It’s also the shocking number of child sexual abuse cases, whose details as revealed in court, are too horrific and unspeakable to contemplate.
It’s also being listed as ‘top of the list’ when it comes to adolescent drug abuse and binge drinking.
Let’s not even get started on the compulsive gambling, the number of people resorting to usury to pay off debts they cannot afford, the rampant tax evasion, the corruption and kickbacks within government departments and the greedy, unscrupulous landlords who take one look at unsuspecting ex-pats and start rubbing their hands with unabashed glee.
Money has become our god and (cha ching!) everyone wants to cash in.
Each of these issues could take up an article on their own – but the reason I have lumped them all together is that it is clear that there is a common thread running through all of them. On this island, which is the size of a town, we are seeing alarming signs of a society which has lost the ability to feel compassion or empathy for anyone. Like anywhere else, there has always been an underworld, of course, and the seedier parts of Malta were well known and studiously avoided by those who did not want to be in contact with “that type of thing”. But look at the reports in the news and it is very obvious that the friendly neighbour you thought was a fine, upstanding citizen could very well be involved in all sorts of shady dealings.
There is a growing sense of detachment, isolation and the kind of “it’s got nothing to do with me” attitude one would normally associate with large, anonymous cities. While on the surface we are nosy about each other’s business for the purpose of gossiping and to quench our morbid curiosity, it all comes to a screeching halt if it means we have to get “involved” in any way. We shrug and look away, turning our backs because it’s not our problem.
As we learned from the headmistress who spoke up this week, child abuse and shocking neglect are happening right under our nose. Yet when people were discussing it, some seemed more upset that it was turning into a “witch-hunt” against single mothers who were all being tarred with the same “squandering their social benefits on nail art” brush.
Inevitably, the whole issue became side-tracked and the main focus, which is the welfare of these children, became lost as everyone bickered back and forth. Shouldn’t our main concern be that there are youngsters being raised in homes where the basic needs we all take for granted, are sorely lacking? And let me stress that this is not just happening in lower income families either, but even in middle-class families which seem to “have it all” but where parents are too wrapped up in their own lifestyles and children have become accessories.
What I fail to understand is that I saw more concern, hysteria and anguish for the Mosta cats nailed to a cross, than I saw for the plight of these obviously neglected children.
The point so many seem to be missing is that these very same children, having never experienced the love and normality of a grounded family home, will one day grow up to be adults and adolescents who are completely disconnected from their community. In one way or another, because of their warped childhood, they will cause harm, some to themselves, and some to others.
After all, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to become murderers, wife beaters or child abusers. There is no switch which makes people turn from law-abiding citizens to white collar crime overnight. Something, somewhere along the line, has gone terribly wrong, and the turning point can usually be traced to childhood. Let’s face it, if you have repeatedly seen your parents screwing someone else out of their money (whether another person or the “government”) and bending the law with impunity, what kind of message are you absorbing as a child? That kind of unethical behaviour becomes ‘normal’ whereas people who do things by the book are sneered at as being downright fools.
Even more chilling are the effects of child abuse; I often wonder what hope there is for a sexually abused child, whose psyche has been scarred by all sorts of depravity, to live an emotionally, well-adjusted life. And what will become of the son who has watched his Dad beat his mother black and blue?
Our attitude towards others, from our immediate family to society as a whole, is part of our psychological make-up and this is why these all too frequent news reports ranging from animal cruelty to murder are so disturbing. There seems to be a recurrent theme – too many people are unfeeling, uncaring, self-centred and emotionally detached.
We have ample evidence that there are those who make it a point to inflict pain and suffering, whether on an animal or another human being, because it gives them some kind of perverse pleasure. Whether it is uncontrolled jealous rage towards an ex, or a cold-blooded love of money which becomes more important than human life, they are capable of anything.
Without wanting to sound overly dramatic, it is only a matter of time before we have the perfect breeding ground for a sociopath who kills at random. Yes, it can happen, even in safe, sunny Malta.