TUMBY BAY - A philistine is a person of narrow mind, populist morality, materialistic views and lack of interest in art and literature.
The term was coined by the 19th Century British poet, Matthew Arnold, adapting the word from the term ‘philister’ used by German university students to describe people who were unenlightened, uncultured and anti-intellectual.
Contrary to popular belief there is no connection, beyond the odd misplaced rhetorical flourish, to the ancient Philistine’s of the Old Testament and their war against the Israelites.
The politicians of Papua New Guinea can be rightly called philistines.
This is demonstrated by their total lack of interest in literature and writers – and the arts for that matter.
Unless presumably there is some money to be made.
That said, we in Australia cannot be smug.
Our current federal government has proven itself to be just as philistine as the politicians of Papua New Guinea.
Recently we have had the education minister Dan Tehan proposing radical changes to the funding of university courses which will see a more than doubling of the cost of an arts degree.
His deeply flawed reasoning is based on the erroneous belief that people with an arts degree are less employable and less useful than people with science and engineering degrees and will not assist in any economic resurgence following the Covid-19 pandemic.
By adopting such philistine reasoning, Tehan is ignoring the evidence and advice from the business community who appreciate the diverse skills that arts graduates bring to their companies.
While Tehan is wielding his axe, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is struggling to make ends meet after another savage cut to its budget as part of a vendetta the government has long been perpetuating against the organisation.
These are just the latest battlefronts of the Australian government’s philistine agenda - that also includes defunding many arts organisations and, as part of its economic stimulus measures following the Covid-19 crisis, initially refusing to support individuals working in the arts.
As far as the Australian government is concerned Australian culture doesn’t revolve around the arts but finds expression in such things as football, reality TV and celebration of military conflict.
But that’s not the real reason why both the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments are pursuing their philistine agendas.
Their real reason is a deep suspicion and fear of people who think for themselves.
These people include journalists, writers, musicians, artists, working class intellectuals, academics and people who don’t see making a buck as the be-all and end-all of their existence.
These politicians fear people who can see through their devious machinations and their dubious relationships to the darker and more venal sides of society.
In particular, they don’t like criticism. Criticism doesn’t only challenge their power but it dents their inflated egos. In this sense Australian and PNG politicians are not much different to authoritarian regimes elsewhere in the world.
And if you don’t believe that is true you won’t believe that they are using things like national security to shut down criticism and silence pesky journalists, writers, lawyers, human rights groups and people, no matter their background, who think for themselves.
What we really have to do if we want any of this to change is to stop electing politicians who exhibit philistine tendencies, be it getting around in sporting team caps or playing golf while ignoring a promise to spend a few minutes talking to a delegation of writers.