TUMBY BAY - One of the most significant impacts upon the Australians working in pre-independent Papua New Guinea was exposure to a totally different culture and lifestyle.
This was particularly true of people like kiaps, didimen and teachers working in rural areas.
It is also true that the inherent advantages in that culture and its social organisation were not wholly appreciated.
As workers from a supposedly advanced society it seemed axiomatic that the lives of the local people could be improved by the adoption of modern methods of economic organisation, in short capitalism.
Introducing a relatively benign money-based system in Papua New Guinea seemed like a good thing to do at the time.
In retrospect it was an arrogant assumption but back then capitalism was a much kinder and more equitable system. The savage brutality of neo-liberalism was only just on the horizon.
Today, however, Australia and Papua New Guinea, like many other countries, are trapped in the savage maw of neo-liberalism with no apparent avenue of escape.
That in itself is not unusual. There are also societies in the world trapped in communist and autocratic dictatorships. In some places medieval feudalism still exists. Escaping them is equally problematic.
Many people in supposedly democratic societies are now working harder and longer just to maintain housing and keep food on the table.
The neo-liberal capitalist mindset separates the economy from society, as if it exists apart from people, communities, government and the environment.
Runaway climate change, war, mass migration, widespread poverty and ever-increasing authoritarianism are the inevitable results of an economic system that rewards corporate actors for their absolute commitment to profit, regardless of the broader consequences.
Neo-liberalism has turned the economy into a machine, fuelled by profit and competition. It has created a new class of dictatorship, one where wealth and influence over government are the controlling forces.
Neo-liberal capitalism is not broken, as some commentators claim. It is working all too well, concentrating money in the hands of the few by exploiting the many.
It seems to have been invented by men lacking any sense of empathy or fairness. Their limited imagination only extends to looking to solidify the rules that protect their own wealth or their dreams of obtaining it.
While many victims of neo-liberal capitalism want a new kind of economy where the people and the planet are prioritized over profit, they remain sceptical that such a thing is possible.
However, some people, having observed pre-industrial societies in places like Papua New Guinea know that there are ideologically viable frameworks upon which to base more equitable economic systems.
A popular website suggests “ways to reject capitalism in your personal life”. They include things like making your own clothes, building your own house and sharing your food.
They sound remarkably like the way things traditionally operated in Papua New Guinea. A simpler lifestyle that incorporates care of the community and the environment.
While the idea of seriously considering the adoption of a stone-age philosophical base may seem ludicrous to most people stranger things have happened. The so-called paleo diet has taken off so why not the philosophy that accompanied it?
The physicality of a stone-age lifestyle is obviously not now a viable alternative but the underlying social structures that underpinned it certainly now have a relevance worth considering.
That lifestyle did, after all, survive through 70,000 plus years. Compare that to capitalism’s paltry few hundred years.
The upheaval of the coronavirus crisis and the subsequent exposure of the shortcomings of neo-liberalism to cope or provide solutions might just be the signal needed to begin examining and adapting the sort of philosophies that once informed those traditional societies in places like Papua New Guinea.