New Year wishes. We all fall into the trap of setting them. It’s only natural we desire change not just the passing of time. There is something inevitably whimsical about this time of the year – as much wide-eyed hope as crossing of fingers, depending on how life has treated us in the past twelve months. Our annual wish list is therefore as much about recycling old wishes – in the hope they finally materialise – as taking stock before we kick off again into the great unknown.
Our wish list is emblematic of what we’d like to see more and less of over the next 365 days in Malta:
1. Billboard Spin. Admittedly, we’ve never been billboard fans. Advertising hoarding tends to bring the worst out of those who for some reason or other have an interest in influencing our current and future behaviour. When we moved back to Malta, I remember having a near cardiac-arrest when I drove past a billboard proclaiming ‘Buxom Chick. Always on Top’ (ref. to a poultry packing firm). I’m starting to long for those innocent, consumer marketers of old. At least their spin was as simple, crude and as transparent as their imagery. In 2012, our billboards were hijacked by the court jesters.
2. Polarisation. Wishful thinking, in the year of a general election. We live in the hope that politicians remember their power is dependent on a few thousand people who choose to exist outside entrenched blue / red camps and decide, every five years or so, who can best represent their interests, and those of the nation. Those decisions are based on manifestos, ideology and track records, rather than clientelism and friends-of-friends networks. Underestimate us, and our instant publishing tools, at your peril.
3. Fear. Of retribution. Of being racially discriminated against. Of online and offline surveillance. Of daring to challenge the mainstream or creating something ‘alternative’. We thought that kind of fear had been consigned to the dustbin of history. It hasn’t.
4. Dirt. Certain places seem to be forever shrouded in the dust-cloud of property development. In the age of WasteServ and recycling, it’s difficult to fathom how a disused washing-machine or a bag of rotting offal can end up in what little is left of our open space.
5. Insularity. We need to keep peering beyond the fishbowl. Our education system is not world-class. Our so-called local ‘quality of life’ is starting to rankle. Our fourth estate is still primarily dominated by hegemonic institutions. Nobody owes us a living. If we wish to empower our children to benefit from their EU citizenship, then we need to ensure their intellectual horizons extend beyond what they glean from school, Paceville and Facebook.
1. Laughter. A wish to complement all of the above. Whether it’s the laughter of the innocent or the satirist, there is much to be said for that most cathartic of cures for 21st century blues.
2. Access to open spaces. Forget MEPA and regulation of development. We have to get micro and militant. We need to secure open access to public lands to walkers and cyclists. There is no culture of the ‘public right of way’ in Malta. Judging by the levels of obesity in the country, we could all do with getting on our bike or just walking to get some colour in our cheeks. Being able to do this shouldn’t be a luxury but a public right, exercised without fear of being shot at or finding progress barred by another ‘RTO’ sign, barbed wire, a disused gate with a rusty padlock.
2. Digital literacy. This is not some intellectual call to arms. It’s about taking stock of how we interact with online information and how we need to organise ourselves as life-long co-learners. And help our kids and our captains of industry acquire some much-need critical thinking skills.
3. Early screening for known health scares. If our health-care is truly world-class, then we have to extend compulsory health-screening beyond childhood, rather than assume that everyone is covered by private health insurance. Lives can still be saved if we are obliged to undergo annual medical check ups.
4. Debate. We don’t care whether it happens in the living room, a blog, on Facebook or in the classroom. We need to find ways of encouraging young people to find their voice and engage in the critical skills of speaking and listening. Only that way can the blind faith in social intermediaries and the systems they control be questioned.
5. Culture. It does not have to be elitist any more than it has to be populist. If Valletta is to become a remarkable European Capital of Culture in 2018, the process for cultural regeneration has to start now, away from the pressures of the political and the bounty of the gentrified. A young nation needs resources for the senses as much as it needs technology for the masses.
May you have a good new year. And as always, good health to you and your loved ones.
Photo: courtesy of Leslie Vella whom we thank for his ongoing support. All the best for 2013 Leslie!