I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’RE AWARE of the term “false dichotomy” - the logical fallacy where proponents claim the idea they favour is so important that any other possibilities are trivial or outrageous or mere sideshows.
The falsity being that, when faced with a challenge, many more options than one may be relevant, workable or significant.
Let me give you two recent examples of false dichotomies from recent PNG Attitude comments.
“There are more important things that affect a nation’s reputation than removal of carvings. Political stability, economic progress, corruption in high places, health indicators and poverty are the main issues at the moment” – Frank K Daosak
“Papua New Guinea has become the laughing stock of the world not because of some destruction of ancestral heirlooms but we are embarrassed that we are one of the most corrupt nations in the world, and the top corrupt nation in the Pacific” – Robert Puyu
Let me be clear about this. No one, including me, who has expressed disgust at the trashing of part of Papua New Guinea’s national heritage has expressed the view that there are not many other problems facing the country; problems which need to be addressed as matters of great importance.
What the false dichotomists suggest is that, because corruption is very important, destroying significant carvings is hardly worth worrying about. Or of little concern.
Well, as Michael Dom and Phil Fitzpatrick have argued with some force, such people forget the power of symbolism. To many outsiders, like the thousands of non-Papua New Guineans who read this blog, a people who trash their own inheritance can also be seen to be symbolically (and tangibly) trashing their own culture, traditions and history.
And when this vandalism occurs on the pretext of ridding an institution of “evil spirits”, a weird world of superstition, mysticism and bizarre beliefs and values is seen to bubble to the surface.
It is a little irritating to me that those PNG commenters who argue that corruption is the issue, and that the parliamentary carvings are immaterial by comparison, have not expressed a word of regret over the cultural vandalism carried out under the instructions of Speaker Theo Zurenuoc.
These Papua New Guineans who think corruption is such a big issue that nothing else is important need to know that outsiders find it amazing that they care so little about an atrocity to their Parliament - itself a prominent, perhaps the most important, symbol of the nation, its people and its aspirations.
Of course it’s not the built, or carved, environment of Parliament that’s the problem – it’s the politicians within who provide its current lack of character and debilitated moral condition.
I am also weary of the insinuation that those of us who find the destruction of the carvings reprehensible don’t know or care about the other challenges facing PNG.
The most cursory glance at the articles and comments that PNG Attitude has published day after day, year upon year, demonstrates where the hearts and minds of most readers are.
Better friends of Papua New Guinea in all of its complexities and dimensions you will find nowhere.
My real surprise about the destruction of the carvings is in the realisation that many Papua New Guineans either think this deed will somehow address the cancer of corruption or that it’s an act not worth worrying about or both.
In other words, many people, judged by their own words and arguments, appear to be either totally misguided or dismissive of the Speaker's actions. They seem not to care.
If you support the thinking that underpinned the trashing of these carvings, I am afraid you are part of Papua New Guinea’s problem.
That’s what worries many of us on the outside looking in.
And on that rather sour note on this Christmas Eve 2013, may I nonetheless offer the compliments of the Season to you and to all our valued readers and contributors wherever you are in the world.