MOST of us, whether we are in a remote village in Papua New Guinea or in the sprawling mess that is Australian suburbia, live in two worlds.
One of our worlds is the reality that Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. That world, despite what we say and claim, still persists in our suburban enclaves and in our isolated villages.
The other world that we live in is the unreality that is our own creation. We constantly hover between these two worlds. Sometimes people can’t tell the difference.
We create artificialities to remove ourselves as far as possible from the realities of life and our origins. Paradoxically, many of these devices simply mirror our difficulties.
By making this remove we render our hard and difficult life into something more malleable, comfortable and acceptable. Our unrealities are like a drug; they make our short lives more bearable and meaningful.
In our technologically advanced modern societies the unreal world is mostly represented by the secular inventions that neatly fall under the phenomenon that we call entertainment; television, films, sport, literature and material consumption are some aspects of it.
In our technologically primitive societies the unreal world is represented by the supernatural in the form of myths, legends, sorcery and religion.
However, in both cases, our unreal worlds are manipulated. The few manipulate the unrealities of the many, mainly for reasons of power and greed.
Unreality has always been a major business and great power and considerable fortune are gotten by peddling it. It is also a major preoccupation in most societies. The only people unaffected are those who elect to be hermits.
The forces of unreality, whether in the villages or the towns, are innovative. Those few who manipulate us are constantly searching for new ways to maintain and exploit their power. They are virtually unstoppable and will not tolerate anything that gets in their way.
In Papua New Guinea one of the major challenges has been to handle the transition from a primitive unreality to a modern unreality. How do you move from exploiting a society through superstition and sorcery to exploiting them through consumerism and entertainment? How do you create false needs when no such need existed before?
You can brainwash people through superstition or you can brainwash people through technologically created needs, but it is very difficult to do both at the same time and still retain some sort of control.
Such a transition is a very messy business and requires a lot of lateral thinking; the manipulators have to be very smart and, most importantly, ruthless; wars and social upheaval are a handy tools in this respect.
That large parts of Papua New Guinea are still in this transitory phase is self- evident. That the manipulators are making a hard job of it is also equally evident.
In other words they are vulnerable. If someone wanted to put a spoke in the works now might be a good time to try.
But, then again, another great philosopher, Edmund Burke, this time an Irishman, said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing”.
While Papua New Guinea is not bereft of good men and women it is strangely difficult to get them to do anything. While that goes on the manipulators of unreality, be they sorcerers or celebrities, will continue on their merry way.