ONE of the important lessons of history is that context is everything.
Basically, you cannot understand why events unfold as they do without understanding the prevailing cultural, sociological, economic and personal circumstances that have impacted upon the major decision makers of the time.
Thus, for many of us, the decision of Queen Mary (1515-58) to burn 283 people at the stake for heresy simply because they had a different view about the nature of God is utterly incomprehensible.
However, for Mary, for whom her Catholic God's presence was entirely real and tangible and whose demands for rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine had the force of law, it was not a big step to punish heresy in such a cruel way.
Even today in places like Saudi Arabia, the understanding of their God's law is enforced with extreme rigidity, up to and including frequent public beheadings.
Often, the people enforcing these laws are apparently sophisticated and urbane, some having received fine educations in places like Oxford or Harvard universities. Yet they perpetrate what most civilised people would regard as atrocities.
The recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is incomprehensible to many people, who struggle to understand how such a deeply flawed character could ascend to the highest office in the great citadel of democracy.
However, it is now fairly clear that Trump has been elected by mostly white Americans who live outside the main cities. It appears that a great schism has emerged in the USA.
Trump's supporters, who some of America's elites have disparagingly referred to as "low information" citizens (i.e., stupid), have expressed, in one gigantic electoral convulsion, their anger and resentment at what they perceive to be the indifference and contempt felt for them by those who control the political process.
It is evident that many white Americans feel their history, culture and traditions have been under attack for years. In their eyes, a once proud history has deconstructed and been reduced to the sum of its many flaws which they perceive as obvious signs of a predatory, immoral and unjust cultural tradition.
At the same time, various ethnic groups have been presented as the victims of white imperialism, expansionism and greed. There have been frequent and angry demands for apologies and financial reparations for the sins of the past.
In some respects, this has been a good thing: the sins of the past need to be debated, understood and acknowledged so we can collectively move on in our efforts to create a better, fairer and more just world.
However, in recent times, it has become an unbalanced debate, with the many real achievements of white Americans, and European civilisation generally, being obliterated in a deluge of criticism.
There comes a point beyond which sustained criticism ceases to have benefits and begins to create resentment and animosity. After all, no-one likes to be incessantly told that they come from a long line of bad people and, so by inference, are bad themselves.
To my mind, Trump's election and the Brexit vote in the UK that preceded it are, amongst other things, a clear sign of socio-cultural blow back as resentment amongst a now angry and alienated white majority has reached boiling point.
These people have tired of being endlessly reminded about their ancestors' failings and of the sense of victimhood felt by people of other ethnicity, gender, religion or background.
So Trump in the USA and the so-called Brexiteers in the UK have been able to tap into a reservoir of anger and resentment amongst the white majority, especially those people who feel economically worse off.
In a somewhat similar way, Vladimir Putin has been able to use the traditional Russian sense of exceptionalism and suspicion of outsiders to entrench himself and his cronies in power.
Also, as it has become manifestly less ideological and more blatantly authoritarian, the Chinese communist government is increasingly drawing upon ancient traditional beliefs, some of which are at least implicitly racist in origin, to justify it's now overt expansionist policies in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
All around the world, nationalist sentiments and ethnic divisions that education, globalisation and the spread of liberal democracy were supposed to have rendered redundant, have begun to re-surface, sometimes in a very ugly form. The sleeping giant of nationalism and ethnic exceptionalism is stirring once more and this does not bode well for the future.
For Papua New Guinea, this means that the world into which it was born in 1975 is rapidly reverting to one much more like that of the mid to late 19th century, when the great imperial powers were locked in a contest for control of the world's peoples and resources.
This was referred to as The Great Game, a both overt and covert struggle for power and influence.
Where once the weapons of choice in this game were gunboats and the pre-emptory annexation of territory, such as when Germany took over New Guinea and then Queensland responded by annexing Papua, now a much more subtle and seductive weapon is used.
Specifically, money is now deployed strategically to secure control of important economic infrastructure and assets as well as to influence or suborn the ruling elites in target countries.
Make no mistake, this weapon, along with media manipulation, propaganda and other weapons of mass deception, is being ruthlessly used across the world as the largest powers struggle for domination within their own self described spheres of influence.
Importantly for PNG, Australia, Indonesia and many other countries, it is clear that the Pacific, long referred to as an American Lake, is now an area contested by China.
As a strategically and economically important Pacific nation, PNG will be caught up in the power plays between China, the USA, their respective allies and other major regional powers.
This means that any and all decisions the PNG government makes about, for example, foreign investment and trade, will not just have economic implications. Every decision will inevitably draw PNG further and further into the renewed outbreak of The Great Game.
During the Vietnam War, the US military invented the concept of collateral damage, a euphemism used to avoid saying directly that innocent men, women and children were being killed as a result of military activities.
PNG, Australia and many other smaller countries will need to be on their guard if we are to avoid becoming collateral damage in the modern version of The Great Game. This will require our governments to act with unusual skill and subtlety in managing relations with our neighbours and trading partners.
With the newly elected leader of the free world, Donald Trump, supported by a large, angry and frustrated segment of the American population, being apparently committed to taking various measures that will be interpreted by some as tantamount to acts of war, the next few years and decades may well be some of the most dangerous in human history.