ONE of the big things the industrial revolution and the development of capitalism changed was how wealth was created and distributed and how people related to each other.
These changes are important to understanding the difference between western expatriates and most of the people in Papua New Guinea.
In their home countries, expatriates live in a society divided by class: upper, middle and working class. Sometimes countries like Australia and America claim to be classless but when subjected to close analysis you will see class determined by wealth.
Membership of a particular class is now defined primarily by wealth and grandness of lifestyle, not by birth.
When expatriates see a person in a village with a small house, few possessions and who is unable to read and write, they can unconsciously regard that person as lower class and inferior.
In expatriate society, people aspire to wealth because this defines their level of success and informs their self-worth.
Class produces a society which is hierarchical. Hierarchy is reflected in all aspects of expatriate life. Companies, like society itself, are ordered in hierarchies: the bosses at the top; the clerks in the middle; and ordinary workers, like labourers, at the bottom.
The existence of a hierarchy in society makes its members very competitive, which can make people act as individuals rather than a group. Relatively few people will ever make it to the top.
This can mean that the wealthy upper class are regarded as ‘winners’ while the poorer working class are seen as ‘losers’.
Belonging to an individualistic society means people need to be independent. They need to look after themselves and their immediate family. They cannot afford to have a lot of relatives who need support hanging around and dipping into their wealth.
Expatriate westerners tend to live in nuclear families and limit the number of children they have. A typical family consists of a man, his wife and two or three children.
For an expatriate, one of the reasons for spending a lifetime accumulating wealth is to live in comfort in old age. Unlike in Papua New Guinea, old people do not expect their children to look after them when they become frail and unable to work.
Selling and consuming material goodsis a major preoccupation in expatriate society. Even in poorer areas, people’s houses have goods they have bought and no longer use. This buying and selling is a major driving factor in western economies and is encouraged by governments. Everywhere you go in western countries you will see messages and advertisements exhorting you to buy, buy and keep buying.
To suggest that people share their possessions would be viewed with dismay. An expatriate might lend his neighbour a shovel but he would never lend him his television set.
Expatriates are also wary about sharing their time and make a distinction between working time and leisure time. Time is valuable and expatriates are conscious about managing time and making the best use of it.
For an expatriate, a job adds meaning to existence and is part of their personal identity.
Because the acquisition of wealth and accumulation of status bearing goods is a driving force in capitalist society, there is intense competition for the best jobs which pay the highest wages.
Expatriates coming to Papua New Guinea are usually well-educated and tend to deal with issues rationally. Even though some are Christians, they do not generally believe in things like miracles or divine intervention.
They are highly sceptical about sorcery and magic. They believe that everything that happens has a logical cause which can be explained in scientific terms.
Just like everything else in capitalist society, land is regarded as a commodity which can be bought and sold.
The differences in the way Papua New Guineans and expatriates regard land, and the way that they deal with it, can create a lot of problems. While an expatriate can vaguely appreciate a Papua New Guinean’s view of land, they see it as a drawback rather than a strength.
Societies in Australia are very large compared to those in Papua New Guinea. Many cities have populations numbering several millions. Because their society is ordered in a hierarchical way and because individualism is highly prized, it is necessary to have strong laws which are rigidly enforced to maintain order and to ensure that society operates efficiently.
Planning is a big feature in expatriate life and plans will be adhered to.
Unlike Papua New Guineans who take pride in the formalities of meetings and negotiations, expatriates tend to adopt a more reserved approach. In their highly competitive society, outward display of emotion is seen as a weakness rather than a strength.