THE only profession for which I hold even the basic tertiary qualification is history.
A cynic might say that history is not even a profession, merely a distracting hobby through which deluded practitioners attempt to make sense of the past in the forlorn hope of understanding the present.
The idea that history offers any guidance as to what might happen in future is hotly contested, even amongst historians.
I belong to that group which believes it can offer useful guidance about the probable future, at least in some circumstances.
Predicting the future is a highly fraught business at the best of times because so many futures are possible at any given moment.
Basically no-one can, or ever will, fully understand how the complex interplay of social, economic, political, geographic, ecological and personal factors in human societies is going to influence events.
For this reason, the wise historian or futurist refrains from doing more than identifying general trends and offering cautious suggestions about how things might develop. Very rarely is it blindingly obvious how events are going to play out.
The idea that history can be studied and understood using scientific methods, which then allow accurate predictions to be made about the future, is regarded by most historians as a ludicrous proposition.
I was therefore more than faintly surprised to discover that an intrepid bunch of academics have banded together to create a new, multidisciplinary approach to history called Cliodynamics.
Cliodynamics treats history as science. Its practitioners develop theories that explain such dynamic processes as the rise and fall of empires, population booms and busts, and the spread and disappearance of religions.
These theories are translated into mathematical models whose predictions are tested against data. Building and analysing massive databases of historical and archaeological information is one of the most important goals of cliodynamics.
While I remain to be convinced about the utility of cliodynamics, the basic concept is not quite as mad as it sounds.
In essence, its practitioners amass and trawl through historical data looking for recurring events and patterns. This is only possible now because we are in the era of ‘big data’ in which stupendous amounts of information can be accumulated, organised and interrogated using enormously powerful super computers.
So, given that the concept is at least plausible, what have our intrepid band of cliodynamicists discovered about history so far? In short, nothing encouraging.
They have identified two basic cycles that appear to repeat throughout history, although both can apparently be mitigated or avoided entirely if the right circumstances exist.
First, they claim that there are approximately 50 year cycles of violence and social upheaval that typically occur when social and economic inequality in a given human society reaches a point where it becomes intolerable to those who are the losers.
This cycle can be avoided or its impact greatly diminished if those in power recognise the emerging problem early enough and take the necessary remedial action. What constitutes the necessary remedial action is, of course, a judgement call.
Second, and much more ominously, there appears to be what the cliodynamicists have described as a 100 year secular cycle caused by what they call "elite over production".
This occurs when the competition for political and economic power between the socio-economic elites that always emerges in any society reaches the point when the pursuit of power becomes an end in itself, not a means to an end.
This also is the point where the political elites lose any genuine connection with the people on whose behalf they are supposed to govern.
They become incapable of understanding the aspirations, needs and living reality of those who are governed and equally incapable of formulating and articulating a political platform that resonates with them.
My sense is that, across much of the world, we have either reached such a point in history or, at the very least, are rapidly approaching it.
Thus, in Britain, we have seen how the government, business and intellectual elites hopelessly misread the popular antipathy towards the European Union. Basically, the socio-economic losers from the globalisation and neo-liberalism that dominates EU thinking and policies have lashed out through the ballot box.
One result has been serious division and disruption within both major political parties in the UK. The British Labour Party, in particular, is now crippled by infighting and led by a person who is widely loathed by most of its MPs, who believe he is leading them to electoral oblivion.
Similarly, in Germany, chancellor Angela Merkel and her party seriously damaged themselves by adopting an open borders policy towards asylum seekers that has both alienated and angered large swathes of the German population.
Now they are desperately trying to recover the confidence of the population by, for example, banning the wearing of burquas and announcing the impending end to the open borders policy. Whether such action is too little, too late, remains to be seen. Alternative for Germany, with its unashamedly nationalist and anti-immigration policy stance, is waiting in the wings.
Meanwhile, in the USA, the leadership of both political parties (not to mention the media) hopelessly misunderstood just how serious a threat Donald Trump and his angry, racist-tinged populism constituted until it was far too late to arrest his rise to power.
Now they find themselves reduced to near political impotence just when they have to deal with the most self centred, belligerent, vengeful and impulsive president in US history.
In Australia, we have a prime minister whose supposed principles and beliefs have been utterly subordinated to the pursuit and acquisition of political office. Now he is there, he seems to have no real idea as to what he wants to do beyond be there.
Certainly, if he has an idea, he has yet to effectively articulate it. The opposition leadership is not much better.
As our politicians squabble over the spoils of office, the country blunders on towards a highly uncertain future unencumbered by any sort of political road map about where it is actually going.
Strangely, it is the authoritarians like Vladimir Putin in Russia and the Chinese Communist Party leadership who currently seem to best understand the needs, aspirations and fears of their fellow citizens.
This makes sense in so far as their hold on power is absolutely contingent upon offering stability, certainty and steadily rising prosperity to those they govern.
Given the turbulent histories of their respective countries, they know all too well that their power can be snatched away at gun point if they fail to meet these expectations.
In a PNG context, it is pretty easy to argue that the political and business elites have largely ceased to care about what happens to the governed. All too often, their principle objective seems to be to obtain personal advantage.
The endemic corruption and incompetence we see today is, partly at least, a reflection of the realisation by many Papua New Guineans that the golden rule of the neo-liberal economic game is "every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost".
Meanwhile, most Papua New Guineans continue to live in poverty, pursuing a less functional version of the subsistence lifestyle of their ancestors.
It is a pity that cliodynamics is too underdeveloped to offer more than general insights into how and why we humans tend to insist upon repeating the mistakes of the past.
Our collective ability to not learn history's lessons remains a source of astonishment to me. So does our seemingly wilful refusal to face up to the facts until circumstances force us to.
As a consequence, we sentence ourselves to periodic bouts of major upheaval and distress that, in principle at least, seem mostly avoidable.
If cliodynamics can truly demonstrate a way to predict and minimise these bouts of disorder, then we will all be better off. In the meantime, it is business as usual for those who purport to govern in our collective interests.