Saturday 04 April 2020

Why does disagreeing with someone have to led to rage?

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Whether the topic is an innocuous one, like who should have won X factor Malta or the more volatile topics of domestic violence and being pro-choice, there is a running theme in some quarters: an inability to disagree without becoming irrationally enraged. 

The fury spilling out on social media is often at such a high-pitched level I sometimes wonder if the person behind the keyboard is going to have a coronary.  Why do people have to get so angry about everything?  Can’t they see something they don’t agree with (and, believe me, there is a lot one cannot agree with) and simply keep scrolling, which is the online equivalent of walking away?

It often seems to me that people trawl through FB and news portals actively looking for something to piss them off.  But it’s not enough for them to simply become angry; it is that they go out of their way to post a screenshot of the comment or a photo of the person they don’t agree with, calling them all sorts of names and wishing for all sorts of evil, malicious things to happen to them.  Posting a photo, of course, is an unspoken invitation for others to join in with their own insults and for a cannonball of vitriol to be unleashed from some quarters.  I have often wondered whether this hate was always there, and was merely waiting around for a public domain like FB to be exposed. 

The contradiction of resorting to hate speech seems to go over some people’s heads on highly sensitive issues such as abortion.  Whether or not to have an abortion is such a personal matter and decision that I prefer to steer clear of it; debating it rationally seems almost impossible because many people on both sides of the spectrum just boil over and see red. However, what I cannot understand is why some of those who are actively campaigning against the introduction of abortion Malta (which they are perfectly entitled to do) feel the need to deliberately seek out those who are in favour of it in order to personally attack them for their views.  You will never change the mind of someone who is pro-choice by hurling abuse at them and calling them murderers with blood-stained hands who hate babies. And similarly, you will never change the mind of someone who is vehemently against abortion by calling them ignorant, uneducated, a bitch and so many other names which I have seen thrown around.  

I have also never seen the point of drawing attention to hate speech by sharing it (ostensibly to denounce it) no matter what the topic is. From politics to reproductive rights, what are we gaining from this, other than to make more people even more angry, while those who want a quiet life just shirk away? As I pointed out when I last wrote about domestic violence, antagonism and hostility are not getting us anywhere. Whether it is men vs women, pro-choice vs anti-abortion, those who support Delia vs those who want him out at all costs (although they have no clue who to replace him with), the inability to disagree without blowing a fuse is what we need to address.  There are those, of course, who troll the Internet with the express purpose of provoking a reaction by posting inflammatory comments, guaranteed to trigger an outburst, but surely by now we should be able to recognise these trolls and just not react? Or do we feel compelled to post a comment like a predictable Pavlovian response, because otherwise we will burst with the effort of trying to keep it all to ourselves?

Maybe we need to remember there was actually a time when we didn’t have Facebook, and people ranted and raved to their friends and close ones about topics which got their goat. It’s still perfectly possible to do that you know, letting off steam within a small, closed circle rather than 200 of your closest “friends” who, for all you know, do not necessarily agree with you about everything.  And bear in mind that on groups and pages numbering tens of thousands you might as well have posted your comment on a roadside billboard or blared it out through a megaphone in the middle of a crowded square.  

The corrosive nature of corruption 

For some people, this week’s news that the majority of police officers within the traffic division were fraudulently claiming overtime was no big deal. U iva, some said, fiddling with overtime is nothing compared to what those who are really corrupt have got away with.

But that’s not the point is it?  The point is that police officers are there to uphold the law, not break it. The point is that this amounts to stealing from your employer, and in this case they were stealing from us,  the taxpayers, who pay their salaries. The point is that if you are willing to risk your whole career and pension for a few Euros, that speaks volumes about your moral character – so whether the amount was 100 or 1000 Euro is irrelevant. Someone who steals a bit, will eventually steal a lot once they know they are getting away with it.  In fact, the amounts stolen run into the thousands as this has been happening for a number of years, so apart from being arrested, I trust they will be made to pay the money back. 

At the time of writing, the number of those involved in the police racket amounts to 41 officers who have been arrested, with 25 suspended and seven who stepped down. High-ranking officers were Involved in the scheme which was brazenly being run through a bank account.   It has been a major blow to an institution which has already suffered a lot of bad PR for other reasons, and these revelations have simply reinforced the general impression that the dire lack of enforcement on our streets was due to some form of corruption. 

As reported by Malta Today, “The police also clarified that its reference to the generic term “overtime” specifically refers to the abuse of extra duty payments, which are paid when police officers render services to third parties while they are off work. The corruption in the police traffic branch was exposed by a whistleblower, who has claimed officers collected “protection money” from major construction firms and transport companies to turn a blind eye on traffic contraventions and other violations.”

This then, is the corrosive nature of corruption, in plain sight for all of us to see. If everyone is doing it, especially the top dogs, then who is to say the “little guy” should not get a piece of the pie? What this police racket has also exposed is the dangerous level of tolerance which occurs when pervasive, nation-wide corruption is met by a nonchalant “u iva” shrug of the shoulders.  It is for this precise reason that there have to be high ethical standards and people of impeccable moral character at the very top, because without that we have nothing.  You can say that I am being impossibly idealistic, but if we at least try to aim for that standard we might have a chance of getting 3/4 of the way there, but if our expectations of morality in public officers is non-existent, and we lower the bar too low then there might as well not even be a bar.

Finally, I think as a nation we should thank this whistleblower who was brave enough to expose this racket, as well as the internal investigators who took action. We should be glad this has happened, because the alternative would have been for this corrupt scheme to have continued unabated while ordinary citizens fume at the lack of enforcement. 

We must also not forget the percentage of police officers who are not corrupt, who carry out their duties properly and who are a credit to their uniform.  They should be treated with respect and thanked,  for it is not easy to remain morally upright when all around you there are people who are on the take.  

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