Thursday 02 April 2020

People will believe whom they want to believe

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

At the time of writing there is nothing yet which is irrefutable and concrete. I must stress “at the time of writing” (Wednesday afternoon) because new developments are unfolding all the time.

However, what is irrefutable and can easily be proven is that in this whole issue of who owns Egrant, and the allegations of kickbacks, corruption and money-laundering, it all boils down to who, in the public’s eyes, enjoys the most credibility. But there is also another factor which is probably even more important: when it comes to politicians and political parties, people will believe whom they want to believe.

I have deliberately refrained from commenting because, at this point, I still do not know for sure who is really lying or not, unlike a lot of people who seem very convinced and absolutely, utterly, sure that they know exactly what is at the bottom of all this. I marvel at their certainty; it must be great to be in possession of such super powers that they can firmly and publicly state what has been happening behind everyone’s closed doors. Must be some kind of X-ray vision or perhaps even the ability to make one’s self invisible, with a dash of mind reading and telepathy thrown in as well.

Sure there are suspicions galore, as well as an abundance of suppositions and insinuations and a great deal of supposed connecting of the dots and a lot of 2 + 2 = 6. But I’m like the proverbial St Thomas; show me the proof in black and white, I want to see it with my own eyes. And let me pre-empt any mention of the Panama Papers, yes that was true and heads should have rolled, but the clear proof provided in the Panama Papers does not automatically mean that all further allegations need to be taken as fact simply because someone says so. Suspicions alone are not proof. Legally, it has to be something tangible which will stand up in a Court of law. Is that too much to ask?

In the meantime, I find it foolhardy to try and assume anything. Everything and anything is possible in the dirty game of politics, and in life, you cannot swear blindly that anyone is above reproach (except maybe yourself, although sometimes even that is debatable).

But when one looks at online comments, I’m always impressed, in a kind of detached, academic sort of way, at how these news stories are received, digested and absorbed by members of the public in a matter of seconds, who then proceed to post their take on it immediately, without any hesitation whatsoever. It floors me every time, how so many people have this unwavering conviction about everything.

As we all know, the crux of the problem remains that most voters cannot look at politicians and their actions dispassionately. They are too personally invested and if you criticise the party/politician they side with, they take it as a direct attack on THEM by association. I think people are also very touchy because any criticism is seen as an affront to their ability to make a sound judgement. “How could you have been so foolish to have voted for them?” …that kind of thing. But as we saw when Trump and Clinton supporters were hurling insults at one another for being “so stupid”, that kind of approach does not make anyone change their minds and is doomed to fail.

In Malta, especially, the result is that everyone becomes even more entrenched in support of their party, they dig their heels in and their loyalty becomes even more fierce. Backing down and admitting one was wrong ceases to be an option because it all becomes about saving face and not giving the other side the satisfaction of being right and giving them more arsenal in their weaponry against you (tpaxxihomx!). It’s a fascinating psychological phenomenon actually, and one which should be researched as a case study of the Maltese electorate, unless it has been done already.

Simply based on what I’ve read online, I found that following Simon Busuttil’s press conference on Tuesday, the reactions were thus:

1. PN supporters: “He says he has proof, he’s going to the Magistrate, and I believe him. The PN will save us from this crooked lot because they are straight as arrows. Viva Simon.”

2. Labour supporters: “He wants power at all costs, he is trying to destabilize the country and these allegations are his only hope in hell of getting elected. Viva Joseph.”

3. Disgruntled voters: “I may not be completely happy with my party but there is no way I want the others in power. Viva (fill in the blank).”

3. Non-committal voters: “Forget it, I’m not voting for anyone, I don’t know who to believe any more and I trust none of them.”

It is too soon to tell whether this latest set of allegations will be a game changer, although they have definitely upped the ante. Meanwhile, there is always a silver lining: what with so many people busy jumping to conclusions we may actually be on our way to solving the obesity problem.

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