She loved him to death
With peace they lived

Creeping normalcy & the need for some bastions of truth

The moral bastionPAULUS RIPA

CREEPING normalcy is a phenomenon described in various aspects of life as a slow change to which people adjust over time whereas, if the same change occurred suddenly, it would raise a hue and cry.

The common adage is the frog which, if placed in a bowl of hot water, jumps out, while if in cold water which is slowly heated, adjusts and fails to notice and eventually boils to death.

Jared Diamond expounded this concept of ‘creeping normalcy’ in his various books but particularly in Collapse whence some societies destroy themselves slowly over time, for example, the Easter Islanders who cut down all their trees.

In its almost 40 years of Independence, Papua New Guinea has seen this phenomenon of creeping normalcy in all walks of life, and it is my fear that our society is drifting down a slow pathway to self destruction. Let me provide you with a few examples.

Corruption in even the slightest form was unthinkable at Independence. Today, at the highest levels of public office, decisions are made that are clearly questionable.

But with no real opposition in parliament, senior bureaucrats feeling threatened, the media controlled and silenced and the majority of the population illiterate and unable to discriminate between truth and propaganda, these decisions go unchallenged.

This journey was not made overnight; there has been slow movement along the way to a position where, so long as you are not caught, corruption is acceptable. We have reached the stage where gullible Christian leaders legitimise daylight robbery by members of the government.

When I was growing up in the village during the 1960s and 70s, to be recognised as a thief was a shameful thing. Today, when I send home money to my relatives as contribution towards a funeral or other such occasion, I routinely expect 10 to 20% of the funds to go missing. There is no longer any shame attached to that.

Leaders such as councillors were once beyond reproach. Today everybody accepts the fact that a substantial amount of public money will end up in their pockets.

As university students in the 1970s and 80s, many of us did not consume alcohol until we were in our twenties. Today it is considered normal for high school students (and even primary school students) to get drunk after every exam and experiment with smoking and drugs.

The goalpost for what is right and what is wrong seems to have become blurred in the minds of most folks. One writer in PNG Attitude recently asked in relation to student violence what went wrong: is it parents who have lost the way of properly bringing up children?

I am not sure how this slide can be contained or reversed. I think there is a need to recognise what might be called “bastions of truth”, or lampposts, for society to consider as moral guides by which people can decide what is right and wrong.

Parents and educational institutions could then pay more attention to the upbringing of their children according to proper principles. Children need reinforcement to develop intrinsic strength of character and so develop into worthy adults rather than bowing to peer pressure.

Such institutions include secular ones but, in PNG where Christianity has a strong following (or so it would appear), the churches are the very institutions to which we should look for guidance.

Discussing this with two of my colleagues (who are fundamentalist Christians), I was surprised to hear them articulate that in such times of moral crisis it is the Catholic Church which stands as the last bastion against moral decay in society; a decay emanating particularly from secular influences (both western capitalistic and liberal left ideologues).

They felt their own churches were too fragmented with so many divided viewpoints as to be useful only as institutions where individuals find their own means of salvation. But in terms of being a bulwark against structural evil in society, the Catholic Church is the one to which all Christians as well as decent people look.

They felt strongly that on one hand society was sliding too quickly into moral decay and on the other there were too many liberal influences (e.g., homosexuality and prostitution) in a population that is not ready to accept them.

Yet we could slide into accepting Islam and its attendant militancy which is seen as a means of cleansing society of these evils.

While not agreeing with them entirely, I do agree that society needs credible institutions as well as individuals who can be role models to shape other people’s lives.

Not long ago, I wrote an article for PNG Attitude on the issue of government funds allocated to the construction of the Mt Hagen Cathedral.  It may have been misconstrued as an attack on the church receiving these funds.

However my real intention was to highlight the fact that the Catholic Church in PNG is one of the few institutions that is a paragon of honesty and accountability and if there are questions as to whether its hands are smeared, who do we trust?

The Church must stand above reproach and continue to provide guidance to its members as well as other members of society who may become confused as to what is right and what is wrong.

In national issues, one could argue that the loss of an effective opposition occurred only recently with the defection of opposition members en masse. However the real process started when MPs did not have a significant ethical bulwark when they were offered “slush funds” disguised as development funds.

What the country needs is a few “bastions of truth” be they the judiciary, other governmental institutions, churches or individuals who will be the lamp posts by which society can be guided.

On a related issue, Sil Bolkin recently pointed out the problem of priests bringing the church to shame by drunkenness and stealing.

What hope is there for the common men if individuals entrusted to uphold moral values fail to do so? I point out to my students time and time again that patients expect doctors to have a certain standard of behaviour.

Families need to be helped to consider how important it is to provide their children with moral guidance early in life and to have a sense of intrinsic worth about themselves in doing what is right and what is wrong.

They should also be helped to develop in that direction by careful nurturing and by supporting institutions such as schools, universities and churches as well as role models.

The most important things in life are not how much you earn or how many accolades you receive but by how you can live and make important decisions in life that are morally the right thing to do.


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Barbara Short

Great idea, Paulus. Yes, there have been some great people working in the medical field in PNG over the past years and I'm sure their legacy still remains in the culture of the hospitals where they worked.

Let us hope that the young doctors that you are training will develop a good sense of right and wrong, and an appreciation of the sanctity of life.

Paulus Ripa

Barbara, yes there are a lot of good people in this country. However I think, as Fr Licini mentions, there is a need for coordinated action by a grand coalition of institutions and people of like mind.

The problem is one of leadership and coordination and leadership and this is where the big churches like the Catholic Church may come in.

Already there are interdenominational efforts for instance to address gender inequality and gender balance.

As is rightly pointed out, Christians do not have exclusive attributes of sound moral and ethical values alone; however at the moment in PNG there are very few atheists with those principles and most ordinary people have the idea that atheism is incompatible with them.

My own frustrations result from being an educator of doctors and knowing we can train them academically but wonder whether our efforts to instil a moral and ethical practice is working or not and what are the alternatives.

We seem to be having some success with an effort to get rural health exposure and practice for our students in a partnership with the Churches Medical Council and UPNG.

We started several years ago partnering in a training program for training Rural Clinical Specialists which has been taken up enthusiastically by the churches (unfortunately with no interest so far from government).

Starting from the end of last year we started sending out final year students to be supervised by these trainee specialists in the rural hospitals in Mingende (SImbu), Kompiam (Enga), Raihu (Sandaun) and Veifa (Central).

The experience has been a win win situation for all of us. Apart from the exposure to rural PNG and the great training experience we are hoping that some of the culture of ethics, caring and compassion of church workers rubs off onto the future doctors.

Giorgio Licini

Very nice comments indeed! Personally I would look at a "grand coalition" of the willing to inject moral values at all levels of society.

The Catholic Church represents only one fourth of the PNG population. All churches together make up a higher number. And still there are people who do wonderful things independently of church membership or church sponsored organizations and activities.

Within the "grand coalition" I also believe that every group will help others see their weaknesses and shortcomings, thus further strengthening the common action and purpose.

Churches and other organisation in PNG probably need to further overcome that parochial mentality of doing things on their own and never connect much with the wider network.

Apparently good will is widespread, but coordination and cooperation never sufficient; at time lacking. Or am I too pessimistic?

Mathias Kin

Well written Paulus Ripa.

Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

Paulus Ripa, moral and ethical values in societies in PNG and around the world are now being challenged by all sorts of philosophies and views.

I personally see that the philosophy of "humanism" which has its roots in materialism has really impacted on these moral and ethical values. There are now issues that were and are still considered to be "morally and ethically wrong" that are now being accepted to be "right and wrong" based on humanistic views.

To me the goalpost of what is right and what is wrong has been moved primarily because we have left "God" out of our daily lives and have instead pursued life relying only on our own wits.

There is a breakdown in building a more personal and intimate relationship with God relating to him as our father that is bringing all sorts of doubts and confusion into our mind.

Most men of God seems to only take God by the written word but do not spend time to dwell and search him deeper to understand his views about life and the decision we make.

We talk about building up the institutions, laws and policies but if God is not at the centre of these things, it will not stand the test of time.

 Lindsay F Bond

In his latest item, Paulus Ripa has his sights on ethic and this has potential for discussion to emerge from that which was 'colonial/mission'.

For instance, his view "Corruption in even the slightest form was unthinkable at Independence", invites criticism, yet the idea of creeping normalcy is close to that which I penned yesterday in the word 'indifference'.

So if it helps to bring ethic to a broader humanity, post-mission, post-colonial, and grade above 'early-independence'my comment is:

those who bend to each want of sort
then void their aim from what is ought
and only try to not get caught,
whose stuff is found wrongly gotten
witting wealth wrest in ways rotten
and policing’s yet tails to hotten,
offending found are bound for pound
defamed by their own acts of naught
then too graves, to be forgotten.

Barbara Short

Excellent thoughts, Paulus.

I have been writing on the Sepik Forum for over a year now and time and time again, after heated arguments, someone will come along and write something which is authoritative and truthful, and morally correct, and the discussion will calm down and stop.

There are men and women of integrity in PNG and they have the strength and opportunities to speak out. But with so many people still uneducated there are so many opportunities for so many people to be tricked by lies from the immoral people who get put into positions of authority.

Moral guidance is so important. What are some of the ways it can be improved? I'm happy to hear that the Catholic Church can still be relied on for moral guidance. Hopefully the other churches will get the message that they must spend more time on moral guidance.

I help with Bible Studies for the prisoners and I hear that they are working to help prisoners not re-offend after they are released. I'm also going to try to help get Scouting and Guiding groups set up again as they also play a role.

Corruption has come into PNG's way of life but people know it is wrong. They are very hostile towards the "kaikai" men in the Sepik. They know who they are but they feel powerless to stop them.

There has been little news about the ICAC. Fortunately the corruption which Sam Koim found and has tried to prosecute is slowly being brought to light by the law courts. Slowly they "catch the bad monkeys"!

Let us hope that men and women with a good moral compass will speak out and get elected to the parliament and PNG will overcome this feeling that there is a lack of "moral compass".

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