THE TITLE OF A POPULAR BOOK proposes there are ‘fifty shades of grey’ in a presumed continuum between black and white. To add a little colour to the conjecture, let’s consider 50 shades between red and green.
What colours would they be? Well, when you add red to green or green to red you get a shade of brown. Let me amplify.
In a previous life, I ran a departmental corporate services unit that supplied the various areas of a large department with office requisites. After a while, I noticed regularly occurring supply fluctuations in the office stores area.
Writing pads, biros, pencils, erasers and rulers sometimes were in short supply. These shortages always seemed to coincide with the start of each school term.
Now if a ‘misplaced’ government pen or writing pad ended up being taken home, is this a crime? Where do you draw the line? What shade of grey or brown are you prepared to accept as being OK?
At some point, of course, you need to make sure that small things don’t start adding up into larger problems. If you don’t take a stand, how can you exercise some proper control?
If you go along with something that is clearly not right, what do you do when something bigger comes along?
When so-called ‘Western’ culture and thinking arrived in Papua New Guinea, those who arrived and those who were there already tried to find a way of effectively mixing the two perspectives.
Often the first attempts were unsuccessful. Confusion about the origin of material goods and the Christian religion produced what were referred to as ‘cargo cults’.
These ideas grew from an imperfect understanding of where material goods came from and how they were produced. The indigenous people tried to think through the logic but, with limited knowledge, this was not possible.
Can there be an effective mix of Melanesian and so-called ‘Western’ culture which might work well in practice?
An amalgam of silver and mercury takes the relative strengths of both metals and creates a useful product that can be used by dentists to fill a patient’s drilled-out cavities.
Perhaps a cultural amalgam will work only when the strengths of each culture overwhelm the weaknesses of the other.
Each PNG tribal culture – and there are hundreds - evolved over thousands of years to suit local conditions.
When a new problem presented itself, tried and tested methodology was employed to deal with it. As traditional village cultures transformed into the cash economy, the result was sometimes less than desirable. The values and objectives of one culture weren’t always the objectives of the other.
When the idea of running a business was introduced to PNG, many village trade stores were opened with great celebration only to subsequently close when supplies ran out and the unpaid accounts (dinaus) crippled cash flow.
It seemed like the concept and prestige of owning a business was the epitome of desire and that running it profitably came a poor second.
And now an important goal for PNG has started with the very best of intentions but could pose an impending dilemma.
After years of underfunding and lack of resources, the O’Neill government is now giving proper attention to the nation’s education system. Yet this is but an initial step in the ongoing process that is necessary to secure the nation’s future.
Without a vibrant, strong and diversified economy, what happens when the current crop of young people finish their education and look around for employment?
PNG has a statistical ‘youth bulge’ that is beginning to impact. In the near future, many more thousands of educated young people may wonder why they completed many years of education only to be denied that to which they aspired.
Yet often the only options open are either an unpaid, rural existence or joining the ever growing and frustrated cadre of young, urban unemployed who wander the streets of every major town and city looking for something to do and providing a fertile recruiting ground for raskol gangs and criminal activities.
There needs to be some serious planning by the government to cater for this inevitable problem. Claims that the huge liquefied natural gas project will provide ongoing employment for many of these people are difficult to credit.
The objective of improving PNG’s education system should not be just education for its own sake but education tailored for the future employment opportunities that are likely to become available.
A lack of planning will only accelerate the current ‘brain drain’ where those who are fortunate to have gained an education seek employment opportunities wherever in the world they exist.
The essence of another problem for PNG is the strong sense of clan identity where wantok allegiances are promoted be at the expense of the nation. This is a dampener on PNG’s advancement as a nation. If everyone pulls in different directions, how can national progress occur?
In PNG the positive elements of traditional village culture, and there are many, should be maintained provided they don’t clash with national development objectives. If a conflict of interest does occur, however, which culture set should take precedence?
Will there develop a shade of grey or brown or will the culture gap remain unbridged, unable to be successfully reconciled and amalgamated?
It would seem that the answer may well depend on the objectives the national government seeks to pursue.