ADELAIDE - As an historian I am engaged in an endless struggle to try to understand why the world got to be the way it is and then to venture some tentative opinions as to what this might mean for the future.
History lends its students a more or less infinite capacity for the wisdom of hindsight but is not necessarily a great guide to the future.
In fact, the evidence is that those who predict the future in anything like definitive terms are almost always wrong. If historians were professional punters, I would expect almost all of them to be permanently skint.
Economists do not like to be compared to historians. They regard their discipline as a science because they use lots of mathematical equations and graphs, together with many complex words to explain their prognostications.
As a discipline, economics is right up there with history: pretty good at explaining the past and almost invariably wrong about the future.
For example, so far as I can determine, no mainstream economist has ever successfully predicted a massive economic catastrophe like the Great Depression or the Global Financial Crisis.
In every case they are, along with everyone else, completely and utterly blindsided by a proverbial Black Swan event.
Black Swan events are those that seem to appear out of nowhere to utterly confound virtually everyone at the time. They also are invariably misunderstood after the event as well.
The only profession with an even worse record than historians and economists is, of course, politicians.
As a class, they seem inherently incapable of joining the proverbial dots and drawing the right conclusions. They spend almost their whole time reacting to events, not anticipating them.
When they do anticipate events, they are almost invariably wrong anyway. This may be because they rely upon the advice of historians and economists, so perhaps we should cut them some slack.
Claims by politicians that they “manage” the economy are risible. They might as well say that they manage history.
In fact, regimes that tried to manage history have existed and still exist. They always fail eventually.
Paradoxically, their attempts to manage history actually change its course in ways they do not anticipate. The population eventually wake up to what is happening and to the official state lies, evasions and distortions.
Regime collapse duly follows, often with much bloodshed and mayhem. A new mob takes over. They sometimes are just as bad or worse.
So, I would submit, trying to understand just what the hell is going on in our world is difficult at all times and downright impossible when, as they often do, things get awfully messy.
Right now, things are probably as messy as I can recall in my lifetime.
We have the ‘calm, stable genius’ of Donald J Trump, with his infallible guiding hand steering the American ship of state into a bold new future. What could possibly go wrong?
We have President (for life) Xi Jinping busily extending the influence and power of the re-emergent Chinese Empire throughout South East Asia and even into the hitherto untouched reaches of the Pacific, including PNG. What could possibly go wrong?
Far to the north, the new tsar of Russia, Vladimir Putin, presides over a militarily powerful but economically decrepit state with a profoundly xenophobic and paranoid world outlook. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, the European Union is struggling with resurgent nationalism, the very dodgy economic situation of many of its member states and the efforts of the UK to find a way to actually leave the whole shambolic mess before it implodes under the weight of its inherent flaws and contradictions. What could possibly go wrong?
Here in Australia, the self styled forces of progress have received a nasty shock at the hands of an uninspired, untrusting, heavily indebted and distinctly grumpy electorate, who prefer the rule of a dysfunctional bunch of neo-cons led by a happy clapper Christian and fanatical rugby supporter with a penchant for wearing stupid caps.
What could possibly go wrong?
This leads me at last to Papua New Gunea, which is playing its part in the general uproar, dysfunction and disunity that appears to bedevil us all at the moment.
Informed observers of PNG politics have, as usual, markedly divergent views about what is going on. Some believe the James Marape and colleagues will usher in an era during which PNG will boldly march into the sunlit uplands of economic and social renewal and become the wealthiest black Christian nation on earth.
Others believe that the new PM and colleagues will prove to be the usual suspects, spouting the same old platitudes and lies.
The wisest observers realise that they haven’t actually got a clue because, like everyone really, they have no idea what is going on right now let alone what might happen in the future.
The historic truth is that virtually no-one really knows what the hell is going on at any given time.
When you are in the middle of the maelstrom of history, the best you get is a few glimpses of what might be happening before the tide sweeps you on into the future.
So, my advice as an elderly amateur historian is that a wise citizen controls what he or she can, hopes for the best but plans for the worst and then rides the maelstrom with courage, fortitude and hope.
It is all we really have in the end.