Lies, half truths, deceit and hypocrisy are so embedded in our society that people have become immune to them, accept them and often believe that subterfuge is a way of life. Some, indeed, revel in fake news, willingly spreading fictitious slander in jest. Others use fabricated tales of deception for more malevolent objectives, knowing too well that the pseudo facts will filter down into our social fabric. Whatever the reasons, the real fact is that we are living in an era of “alternative facts”, to quote the paradoxical claim by U.S. Counselor to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway.
The problem with becoming numb to the culture of lies and subterfuge is the proliferation of numbness. Numbness is infectious and malignant. Its cancerous roots dig deep into the threads of society and spread exponentially. The step from the acceptance of lies to the acceptance of blatant corruption and murder is very small indeed.
We witnessed the litany of lies showered upon the British voters during the Brexit referendum in June 2016. Unscrupulous manipulators had slapped the £350 million NHS fact/lie on the side of a big red bus. They had also warned that Turkey was about to join the EU, triggering an invasion of Turkish citizens to the United Kingdom. The lies were taken as facts, and when the facts were eventually discredited, apathy set in. There was no turmoil; no unrest. The anger and indignation trickled down to conversational platitudes. Life went on, lies were accepted and impunity was sanctioned.
Then came the brutal assassination of Labour MP and Remain capaigner, Jo Cox. The culture of hate, lies and impunity led to that attack. The right wing killer repeatedly shouted “Britain First” as he shot and stabbed the MP, just a week before the European Union referendum. What followed was the same script, but this time we were dealing with a heinous assassination. There was the sound and fury, a flurry regret, and then numbness. Brexit still rages on, but the memory of Jo Cox has fallen into the cauldron of apathy.
The addiction to a culture of deceit is a conspiracy of silence. When Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated outside her family home in Bidnija, Malta on 16 October 2017, the ensuing narrative was similar; noise, fuss, and then the silence of indifference.
The preamble to her death was a fierce denunciation of corruption and malfeasance in government. She had exposed the vast rooted network of corruption on the island by publishing the Panama Papers in 2016. This was not a beginning, but the culmination of an offensive against corruption that had been going on for several years. Daphne was relentless and braved a sea of constant threats and attacks from criminal thugs. She was incessantly harassed and inundated by threatening phone calls and letters. Her pet dogs were brutally killed and arsonists attempted to burn her house down while she and her family slept inside. All this was common knowledge, but accepted as ‘part of life’.
Paradoxically, considering the general apathy towards her predicament, her blog, Running Commentary, attracted over 400,000 views. Malta was, and still is, experiencing an economic boom and that economic stability was water from the river Lethe, water that quenched the thirst for wealth. It was easy to become numb to mendacity when the alternative was an inconvenient truth; a truth that could disrupt a state of economic well-being. Corruption was rife, but it was a way of life, a good life.
After the publication of the damning Panama Papers in 2016, nothing happened. The publication exposed Maltese malfeasance at the highest levels, with names and proof. Daphne’s son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist in his own right, referred to the lack of a backlash:
“After publication of the Panama Papers, I expected prosecutions and resignations, but nothing happened. Instead they went on the offensive against my mother, me and other journalists. There was a heightened atmosphere of impunity.”
(Harriet Sherwood “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son: ‘They killed my mother but they won’t stop me’. ” The Guardian)
Numbness is malignant. This is the culture of subterfuge.
• Alex liberto is the senior literary editor for the Gordian Magazine.