LEARNING FROM OUR CULTURAL PARTNERS.
The Ways of life in North and South America, in Pacific Islands, and in Australia have already been forced, to a large degree, into straightjackets fashioned to European specifications. Many of the people affected by these imposed arrangements cannot breath freely.
Given the extent to which so much of life has already been forcefully transformed to comply with these ill-fitting European specifications, it would be an additional and unnecessary tragedy, in my opinion, to attempt to force New Guinea life into the models provided the modern nation state.
What is required in the next chapter of life on Earth is for European peoples to creatively fashion new practices which, taking into account the wisdom kept alive in other Ways of Being, are aimed to ensure the well-being of the whole of life.
Learning to relate with people from PNG on terms which value and respect their Ways is part of that next healing chapter.
Leadership for this is unlikely to come from governments which are central to the modern nation state, nor from conceptual craftspeople who work from European/Western grand master cultural narratives. For those who seek to hold onto the false images of life from the past, the next stage of transformation may be painful – until they too learn to relax and go with a creative flow which belongs to us all.
Leadership, in such a situation, can only come from groups of people themselves, as part of a wider peoples movement. Moving as part of a collective, taking care with maintaining our exchange relationships to ensure the well-being of our exchange partners.
We can all be part of such a peoples movement. What is required is not some special ability which some have and some do not. We need to activate the under-developed part of our full Being.
Rather than worshiping false idols cast in terms of individual genius – lifes message flow through us when we can open ourselves to them, not by virtue of our biological parents’ genes.
These are insights which can be found in such places as “Tangu Traditions” for those who care to look. See also the search for the moral European – and compare that notion with the enclaves of Australian businessmen confined to enclosed and securely guarded spaces in Port Moresby.
Conceptual craftspeople will be required to fashion new forms of representation., new scripts, new songs and new dances. This should be a period of great creatively and renewal for all those who can align with the real mainstream flow of life. It should extend the original sense of ‘discovery’ of this part of the world into new cosmologies which take us all well beyond the 18th century notions of naturalism and geography.
Many intertwining paths, part of a complementary-opposite yin and yang creation.
CRITIQUE OF MODERN NATION STATE (AS PRESENTLY CONSTITUTED).
I do need to say that, in regard to the specifics of life in PNG and the Solomon Islands, and the workings of the ECP and RAMSI, these are complex matters the specifics and details of which I know very little. The extent that there is good in these programs is a matter for the people on whose lives they directly impact. They may well find that there is, on balance, more positives than negatives. It is certainly not for me to say.
My views are merely as an outsider who, for reasons which are probably not logical given the everyday remoteness of my present way of life from many others, has a concern for the well-being of indigenous people in this part of the world – and who considers that the model provided by the European modern nation-state (as presently constituted) is flawed when it is applied to life in this non-European side of the planet.
I also believe that the contribution of First Peoples in Australia and the Pacific to new forms of representation is something which has not only been delayed for far too long (over two centuries in the case of Australia) but such contributions are crucially important for restoring balance to the rest of life locally, regionally and globally.
It is my hope that there are peaceful, non-violent and creative methods by which we will be able to move from ‘modern’ forms of representation (which exclude so much of real value in life) to ‘post modern’ and bi-culturally balanced forms of representation which, drawing on indigenous wisdom, factor these values back in.
Underlying my position is a belief that the modern nation-state (as presently constituted) is inappropriate for life anywhere. What we need to restore to life everywhere is a condition of Being which, in comparison to notion of ‘the individual’, is based on complementary opposition of the kind which provides a check on the excesses and abuses which are made possible by cults of individualism and a corresponding false locus of creativity and responsibility.
An understanding of life based on what I call “Eastern” considerations stands in contrast to modern “Western” models. In the latter, there is a marked tendency towards characterising life as made up of ‘blocked’ forms of energy. “Individuals” and “citizens” are the fractals of ‘higher’ level arrangements such as the modern nation-state. Both are imagined as having some kind of bounded and free-standing existence – and, further, that this condition is treated as a kind of ‘natural fact’ rather than the result of a peculiar cultural construction.
In my view ‘individuals’ and ‘citizens’ are part of a specific means of interpreting experience – a language which has been formed over the course of a specific series of struggles over thousands of years (since the neolithic) and which, more recently, has resulted in a cultural unconscious in Western Europe (which has been forcefully ‘exported’ to other places around the world).
Additionally, the use of spatial metaphors of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ which dominate the means of interpreting experience are a means of mystifying experience. Vertical metaphors, when applied to interpersonal relationships, need to be replaced by ‘horizontal’ metaphors.
OVER 500 HUNDRED YEARS
Prior to the westward expansion of European ‘discovery’ of the “New World” there had been a period on invasion in the Middle East. Concessions gained from the Pope applied in both cases.
The presence today of Western European ways (via the United States of America) in the Middle East forcefully imposing historically peculiar notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ is another chapter amongst the many over the last five hundred years in the New World, and even longer in the Middle East itself.
The arrangements which promote the complex of views which are involved in European modern nation-states benefit certain types of people and certain collectivities. Just as certainly, and this is evident in the fate of Remus at the hands of his brother in the founding legend of Rome, arrangements of this type place other parts of life – parts which have a perfectly valid right to exist on this planet – at a systematic disadvantage.
These parts of life require recognition of their fundamental right to exist – and recognition of their right to exist without interference from the other part.
THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLES-WITH-COUNTRIES
It is not a question of whether or not Western notions of human rights bestow legitimacy on the protection of those parts presently disadvantaged by Western means of representation. The true question is of the adequacy of those Western notions as judged from standards which derive from the Ways of First Peoples – and other affected peoples – themselves.
For example, for Australia’s First Peoples any legislation which does not take – as its fundamental basis – the unity between people-and-country cannot be accepted as being well-formed. The application of Western notions of human rights to First Peoples which are could equally be applied to the protection of landless working people is not acceptable.
This is particularly important in PNG and West Papua where Western style human rights NGO’s increasingly operate. The non-indigenous people who work in these NGO’s are often people without living country, and their own notions of order and adequacy reflect this major difference between them and their ‘client’ group.
Until they learn that the fundamental unit is that between a complementary opposite collectivity embedded within the context of living country – until they repair the damage done to their own Being – they are in danger of becoming yet another agency for the destruction of the Ways they purport to be protecting.
Studies of the changes in thinking which were required for one part of life to gain the upper hand to produce the neolithic transformation demonstrate that the myth-narratives show a marked upsurge in fratricide. (see, eg, Levi-Strauss in his Huxley Memorial lecture).
The history of life on earth since the advent of the neolithic is marked up a seemingly unending series of mass homicides in which brothers kill brothers. Despite pretensions of ‘civilisation’ to the contrary, there are no signs of this letting up. With an unblinkered view of life, we well might ask what kind of planet are we living on?
In the absence of the hell as imagined by those who worship a single god, life on this planet may well approximate the next closest thing.
It is my belief, however, that all those who invoke the last ten thousand or so years as proof of war being part of the human condition – and therefore inevitable – fail to understand the complete history of life on earth.
There was a far longer period in human life which implemented the hard-won lessons of life. Using the categories of modern anthropologists (which fail to do justice to the condition of Being to which their terminology applies) this is the Palaeolithic period.
The foundations provided during the mature stages of the ‘Palaeolithic’ period have survived, in many different guises, into the present. The newer fashions of the ‘neolithic’ are a superficial garment by comparison.
The replication of ‘memes’ by the war-machines is endless. It is up to those who are ‘outsiders’ to provide a corrective these war based means of interpreting experience.
Critiques which remain locked within the dominant Western ways of thinking make use of the cultural apparatus of Ways of life which are themselves war based. The cultural apparatus is self-justifying. It does not provide direct access to reality. It does provide a biased view which puts a war-justifying spin on everything it produces as forms of representation.
Everything coming out of Western Europe which enjoys an official stamp of approval and acceptance as well-formed is part of a system of metaphysics which seeks to deny its own cultural relativity. The imperial systems of attitude require a state of mind which universalises and ‘naturalises’ culturally specific formulations.
This process, which seeks to refashion life in other places to comply with imported specifications, cuts people off from messages from their actual contextual surroundings.
Hegemony, in the sense employed by the Italian Marxist Gramsci, is a word which can be invoked. That is, where the means of interpreting experience are imposed by means which serve one part of society at the expense of other parts. Hegemony is, by its character, the epitome of ‘one-sidedness’ in comparison to the sharing of power and interpretations of experience which are required by ‘two-sided’ systems marked by complementary opposition.
A relevant example, to what extent can a strategy which describes itself as “strengthening our neighbour” equally be interpreted as one which, if implemented, result in weakening our neighbour by trying to impose unworkable Western ideas of the modern nation-state upon the lives of PNG people in order to protect existing Anglo-Australian privileges in Australia?
On page 15 of “Strengthening Our Neighbour: Australia and the future of Papau New Guinea’ there is a clear statement from the present Australian government on the concern that PNG could be used as a base from which other countries could attack and/or pose a threat to Australian interests. Undoubtedly such views are invoked within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Cabinet room discussions, which result in foreign policies purporting to be in the interests of PNG people but which are really grounded in a kind of cut-price forward defence thinking with ‘aid’ spending rationalised as being supplementary to the defence budget.
NOT THE NEW GUINEAN WAY
Nation building exercises and the sense of identity which they seek to fashion are attempts to change the lives of other peoples in order for them to comply with arrangements which took thousands of years to form in Western Europe.
New Guinea was separated from Australia some time in the past – perhaps as recently as ten thousand years ago. Life there has certainly undergone a neolithic transformation with gardening and village life. There is also linguistic evidence of influences from migrations of the type which reach from Asia and into the Pacific Islands.
The ‘internal’ struggles of the kind which result in modern nation-states do not appear to marked life in New Guinea. Nor those which are found with state arrangements in former times and other parts of the world, including the middle East, Asia and pre-Columbian America.
I do not know enough about the arrangements which existed in the “pre-Cookian” Pacific (or whatever legendary European explorer plays that role) to form any view, except to note that there was clearly a high developed arrangement of some kind which was vastly different from the way Europeans today tend to imagine life on a Pacific island. The true character of Polynesian life was probably better understood by educated Europeans in Cook’s day than ours.
But in regard to New Guinea, the extent of different language groups points to a fierce determination to ensure that all peoples will not become part of an undifferentiating and totalising single entity. Rather, the New Guinea ways of life appear to be better characterised by the attempts to resist the distortions of life which are necessary for concentrations of power of the kind associated with states.
There is some evidence – although I have not made a study of it – of the existence of some features which point to what may be a residual of Ways which are now associated with Australia’s First Peoples. For example, the role of the Moon as an eternal Man in Dani cosmology (and I need to check this against solid ethnography) in Western Papua is a telling marker vis-à-vis those neolithic societies which accepted the view that the Moon is to be associated with women on the basis of a relationship between lesser cycles. The Moon – eternal Man link is characteristic of Australian cosmologies (with, interestingly, a small number of exceptions).
The gender of the Sun and Moon is a great way to enter into the different cosmologies of other peoples and helpful in trying to gain a better degree of understanding of where their lives – as a condition of Being and not merely as Western fantasies about biology – are located. Life is always cosmic – and never more so than in New Guinea.
There is far more to life than that which is “allowed” under the norms of life which comprise the modern nation state in alliance with capitalism. Secular notions of life , which we are encouraged to accept as “normal”, are of life well and truly dulled and dumbed down. A conceptual lobotomy passes itself off as ‘culture’ – when its true purpose is to control and manipulate.
We can learn more about the missing parts of life from many sources (not least our own dreams).Exceptional thinkers and writers abound in both Western and Eastern intellectual traditions. But the best of their work does not compare with the actual lived practices of First Peoples, where praxis has polished thought and practice in ways which transcend those applied by modern anthropologists as criteria for distinguishing between peoples on the basis of mere stone tools.
My first attempt at a Master Degree in Anthropology was under my mentor Jan Pouwer, who had been a Dutch government anthropologist in what was then Dutch New Guinea. I was attempting to gain entry into the conceptual world of New Guinean people through an exercise of the imagination – the study of the myth-narrative provided by Ken Burridge in “Tangu Traditions”.
Such exercises are of limited value since they are a very poor substitute for the exchanges of understanding and perspective’s which result from actual balanced exchanges between living people. This is what has been missing from life in both New Guinea and Australia and has resulted in forms of representation which are only informed from one side of the relationship.
However, in the absence of genuine and balanced exchange relationships between peoples at the official level, there is a small role for conceptual craftspeople working in other ways through the exercise of a constrained creative imagination (working within constraints which respect the life positions of others) which can provide some useful , if always tentative and hypothetical, insights.
There is a host of lessons to be learnt. There are very clear patterns by which superstructural features of local peoples are a function of their relationships with neighbouring peoples (take note Australia). This is also found in the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples. The patterns of exchange provide clear examples of the need to ensure that exchange of objects is not rooted in crass notions of biological necessity (eg food, material items necessary for working) but rather are the result of meeting existential ‘needs’ of a much higher order.
Sago and clay pottery provide a good example amongst Tangu speaking peoples of the relationships which are built up not as a result of economic considerations conceived in terms of the capacity of local resources to meet local needs but of the contribution to stability which results when local people forego making their own clay pots in order to ensure that their neighbours can obtain sago to see them through a gap in their local food production timetable – and can do so in ways which do not lessen their high level definition of life (that is, does not reduce their level of Being to a lower level) nor require them to raid and destabilise their neighbours due to a lack of food.
Sharing is a wonderful strategy for stability. Modern life, with its emphasis on exclusive ownership, is the inverse of sharing. Western notions of exclusive ownership are a form of socially sanctioned and privileged ‘right’ to disown the claims of others to scarce resources. The European style modern nation-state is closely associated with the emergence of an enormous bubble into the whole of life in the name of exclusive ownership.
Ideally this would be the place to expand on the ‘success’ of the modern nation state in its alliance with capitalism, and the transforming effects on life of the privileging of norms of ‘exclusive ownership and private property. We would benefit from an examination of the endless attacks on collective solidarity of ‘ordinary’ peoples; the rewrite of community life to produce a nuclear family as a unit of consumption; attacks on the communal ownership of land.
From a different perspective than that provided ready made by modern nation-states, it is possible to say that there are those Ways of life which are in good faith vis-à-vis the rest of life and that there are those which, as a result of transformations which we identify by the crass marker of ‘neolithic’ (new stone age) are in various degrees of bad faith in relation to the rest of life.
In Ways marked by a high degree of good faith with the whole of life, those practices which – in order to satisfy human needs – have an impact on the well-being of other parts of life are counterbalanced by practices which seek to restore that well-being in one way or another. Reducing the Being of other parts of life, for example, to satisfy alimentary requirements is the crassest reduction of the life on another – to kill it and to put a premature end to its experience of creation – in order to eat it. (The practice by adults of simply killing another form of life since it is possible to do so, without any purpose, is foreign to many cultures.)
There exist counterbalancing practices, dismissed as superstitious religion etc, which serve to restore life by healing the wound which has been caused in order for human life to exist. I believe that these Ways incorporate a wisdom which was won the hard way, from experience, over a very long time which we call the Palaeolithic (old stone age).
The simple-minded view of a ‘natural’ progression from ‘animal’ to ‘Palaeolithic’ to ‘neolithic’ to ‘modern’ is part of a ‘neolithic’ self-justifying mythology. We have little true understanding of the conditions of Being we categorise as ‘Palaeolithic’ – and since there are few voices speaking back to tell us how completely wrong we are our ignorance becomes accepted as official dogma. It is possible to ‘interrogate’ what evidence exists to learn lessons about those conditions – and they throw open vast areas for new mythologies of who we are, how we can to be here, and where we are not going.
The Ways of Australia’s First Peoples which modern anthropologists have chosen to characterise as ‘hunter-gatherer’ are better described in terms which acknowledge the values of the people concerned and in which there is no ‘hunting’ since life taken is always done so in a spirit of true sacrifice.
The working hypothesis which I formed in relation to life in New Guinea in light of such considerations (largely derived from thinking about the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples) is that much of the features of their lives (especially in relation to cargo cults) can be accounted for by seeing them as walking a tightrope (or ridge may be more appropriate) between the lure of material objects on the one side and the need to heed the wisdom of maintaining a relationship of good faith with the whole of life on the other.
Given global realities – with so much of life transformed by those who are in relationships of bad faith with the whole of life – there is a slippery slope leading to an abyss on both sides.
In modern (20th century) anthropological studies these tensions were often portrayed by personifications of ‘progressive’ versus ‘traditional’ individuals, and there was a kind of foregone conclusion that the ‘progressive’ person was on the right track while the ‘traditional’ person was blindly clinging to obsolete practices.
In the modern (obsolete) paradigm the progressive would be the kind of person who would be enabled by the post-colonial experiment of putting a modern nation-state in place of colonial administration – an individual able to realise the opportunities afforded by modernity, even – in the exceptional case, a successful entrepreneur of the kind which was valued during the last couple of hundred years in Western life.
However, at the outset of the 21st century, we know that the apparent successes of the associated ways of life which elevate the entrepreneur and the ‘progressive’ are no longer sustainable. Globally we simply cannot afford to promote this model of life as a basis for all.
The modern nation-state represents an anomaly in life. Well balanced arrangements , by contrast, are marked by moieties which are themselves the social dimensions of a cosmology which insists that the product of every operation must be preserved in one form or another. The ‘residue’ is not simply thrown away or discarded as being of no significance.
Each moiety is given an important function to perform to maintain cosmic balance. There is no place for an outright winner.
Western Ways have distorted this human baseline by elevating one side as an absolute winner and by rubbishing the other as being of no real account. The relationship of complementary opposition was replaced by vertical pyramids, with an elite ‘at the top’ and a mass of others providing merely the foundations for the lives of the ‘higher’ classes.
Working classes, middle classes, ruling classes. This ‘vertical’ arrangement, reaching for the skies, was merely another of life’s experiments. It has proved to be unstable – since it excludes from life those parts which are required for stability.
We begin to appreciate the stability provided by ways of life which are marked by complementary opposite moieties. Why destabilise these in order to recruit New Guinea life into yet another pyramid selling scheme?