ADELAIDE - Of recent times, as many PNG Attitude readers will have observed, I have become increasingly sceptical about the utility of representative democracy.
Somehow, it seems to be broken. It has and continues to produce results that are, frankly, bewildering. Donald Trump's election is an obvious case in point and the re-election of Peter O'Neill is another.
This has caused me such a degree of despondency that my daughter has taken to calling me a "sad panda" (whatever that is) while my wife, ever to the point, thinks I am being a royal pain in the arse for stressing over things I cannot hope to fix.
However, I am pleased to report that my sombre mood is beginning to lift. The reason for this is a realisation that democratic politics across the globe may not actually be broken but just becoming surreal.
There are, I think, some historical precedents for this.
So, for example, on 28 June 1914, a Serbian nationalist terrorist succeeded in assassinating the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
While this was manifestly the act of a terrorist, the government of Austro-Hungary convinced itself that it was a Serbian government inspired plot. It promptly issued Serbia with an ultimatum containing a ludicrously long list of demands that no sensible government could possibly agree to.
The aim was to create a pretext for a short little regional war to "solve" the problems with the pesky Serbian nationalists once and for all.
From this point, a cascade of disaster ensued. The Tsar of Russia, Nicholas the Second, a man of exceptionally poor judgement, felt obliged to declare that his country would support his Serbian cousins. Upon hearing this, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, whose arrogance and self regard was only exceeded by his ignorance, felt obliged to offer his support to the Austro-Hungarians.
The French promptly invoked their mutual defence treaty with the Russians, while the appalled British did their best to warn off all the potential combatants, suggesting that a war was a really bad plan and that a quiet chat over a cup of tea might be the best way to sort it out.
As many readers will know, the ensuing war was neither little nor short. Hideous political miscalculation was then exceeded by military misadventure on a scale unsurpassed in human history (at least, until the next world war).
This was a war the origins of which lay in a profound inability to understand the logical consequences of a series of major misjudgements. Literally every person involved in the decision making processes was either ill informed or hopelessly over estimated their own level of insight and ability or wildly under estimated the risks involved or, mostly, was all of the preceding.
The main upside of their amazing stupidity was that most of imperial Europe was simply swept away, with virtually all of the main protagonists consigned to the dustbin of history. The great European global hegemony that had persisted since around 1600 began its precipitous collapse.
The downside was the 20 million or so killed, along with the almost incalculable damage done to millions of others.
In a somewhat similar way, a generation of politicians in the 1930's were simply unable to even conceive of the idea that someone else would be willing to go to war once again. They retreated into complete denial even as the architects of the coming war busily went about creating the necessary apparatus to carry out their obvious intentions.
Perversely and paradoxically, the very few politicians willing to point to the obvious were condemned as "war mongers".
If we fast forward to today, we have a US president who is evidently unable to draw a moral distinction between a bunch of white supremacists, anti-Semites and racist nut cases violently defending the statue of a man who fought to preserve the institution of slavery, and a group of generally well behaved people who thought that this was the disgusting, reprehensible and indefensible act that it actually was.
To those who have criticised him for his glaring misjudgement and moral failure, Trump has asserted that they do not understand American history. This is a simply astounding accusation coming from a man whose grasp of reality, let alone history, is now a matter of open conjecture.
Closer to home, we have an Australian government whose foreign minister saw fit to congratulate Papua New Guinea on its "successful" election.
When I read this remarkable statement, I immediately wondered if the same comments would be made in any state election here where a dozen or so people were killed, a candidate or two were arrested for criminal conduct and numerous electoral irregularities were detected that materially influenced the outcome in a number of seats being contested. A royal commission would be more likely in that case.
It seems to me that far too many of our politicians, like their forebears in the lead up to both world wars of the last century, have become largely if not entirely detached from reality. They now live in a self-deluded world where nothing could possibly go wrong with their various "cunning plans" or, if it did, the mere act of denial would be a sufficient explanation and response.
Recently, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Inc, Spacex and several other leading edge technology companies suggested we are all living inside a computer generated "reality" rather like that depicted in the Matrix series of movies.
No one took his comments seriously but I think that he may be right. Worse still, it seems that the structure of this computer generated reality may now be being influenced by a bunch of surrealist programmers having a bit a fun at our collective expense. To my mind at least, this offers a plausible explanation for the bizarre behaviour we now see on vivid display amongst our respective politicians.
Thinking in this way has had an upside for me. If, in fact, we are all merely avatars in an elaborately plotted computer game, then why should we be worried about all this? We can safely assume that the programmers must know what they are doing and how the game ends for each of us. No need, therefore, for me to be a sad panda.
The only grounds for concern would arise if, in fact, Elon Musk is wrong. Then we must face the possibility that in electing the people we have, we are actually responsible, albeit indirectly, for the madness now being inflicted upon us.