Rainbows are genuinely captivating…contrast that to a sky full of dark clouds. The air feels damp, soon enough rain drops begin to fall. Soon the drops become a sheet of rain ruining your outdoor activities. But, as you turn to seek shelter, the sun breaks through the clouds. A feeling of excitement runs through you because you realize that rain plus sun equals a rainbow. As you gaze at the formation of the rainbow in the sky, questions begin to pop into your head. What are rainbows? Indeed, putting aside all myths revolving on their origin, rainbows are nothing but optical illusions. An illusion of this type is characterized by perceived images that differ from objective reality. The information gathered by the eye is processed in the brain to give a perception that does not tally with the source of the stimulus.
Rainbows are prime example of chromatic dispersion. When sunlight meets water in the droplets in the atmosphere, some of the light refracts into the drop, reflects from the drop’s inner surface, and then refracts out of the drop. As with the prism, the first refraction separates the sunlight into its component colours and the second refraction increases the separation. The result is the rainbow, a phenomenon that one can see, but not touch.
One may ask what has all of this to do with local politics? Well, it will suffice to say that all local political parties are ostensibly flaunting their ‘rainbow’ credentials, meaning respect for diversity in all its incarnations as epitomized by the ‘rainbow of colours’ that they proudly vaunt in their construed emblems and well rehearsed argumentation. From this perspective the different colours of a rainbow aquire the signification of the co-existence of different world views, where diversity as in lifestyle, ideas and actions take precedence over a unifying agent. In this, local politics has entered the post-modern age where political parties, well aware of an ever diminishing core of loyalists, try to widen their appeal to divergent segments of the populace.
Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo holds that the post-modern age is focused on the rebuttal of all conceptions related to the creation of a perfect and transparent society that is united under a common ideology or purpose. Contrarily, post-modern societies are far more complex and chaotic than ever before, finding unity an almost impossible venture. Further more, Vattimo believes that the end of colonialism in many parts of the world dashed all hopes of unison – mainly because the newly formed independent countries started to chart their own destiny. Just as there is seemingly no predominant colour in a rainbow, in post modernity there is no common language, but only a “world of dialects”.
From this perspective modern day politics are an attempt to live in this relative chaos, where the colours of the rainbow illustrate not simply a diversity of sort but an acute awareness of finitude and incapacity in the face of chaos. To return to my opening analogy, it is for this reason that modern day politics regard the significance attached to the rainbow as an indispensable tool to wade in the chaos of post-modernity. Just as fish cannot live outside of water, politicians have become convinced that the post-modern condition is an inevitable necessity.
Bearing in mind that modern day politics is enmeshed in the post-modern culture and weakened by the lack of support in any given ideology, at the same time a word of caution needs to be put forward. Rainbows remain optical illusions, whatever the significance attached to them. A colourful rendition of light cannot take the place of light itself. Rainbows do not give off light, they are only a reflection and refraction of light itself. Local politicians need to facilitate a vision that is able to provide guidance in the face of chaos. Quoting from psalm 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
Ultimately what is at stake here is the existence of politics itself, which risks becoming an irrelevant rendition of colours, able only to elicit interest in the same way one is taken by surprise by the visual illusion that a rainbow can provide. Indeed, postmodern Malta, is in need of light not a colourful substitute!