53. The South Pacific and Someone’s Restaurant at the End of the Universe

This piece was writ­ten while I was a lec­turer in lin­guis­tics at the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic, Suva, Fiji  from 1987 to 1990. Now it is 2011, but not so much has really changed in the Paci­fic for its peo­ples. Even inclu­sion into the new elec­tronic uni­verse of the World Wide Web remains a chal­lenge. Fiji is the geopo­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal of these states, a fact not widely appre­ci­ated out­side of the region. Fiji, as pre­dicted, has become enmeshed and stale­mated in con­flict between a quasi-reformist mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and the old colo­nial legacy of com­prador-cap­i­tal­ism (a chiefly class get­ting kick­backs from for­eign busi­ness inter­ests) and at vil­lage level, reli­gious pater­nal­ism of the kind that still con­stricts the Philip­pines and which locked down medieval Europe for a mil­len­nium .  (Find­ing the true heroes in a mess like this is best left to his­tory..). The nascent Melane­sian power of the region, Papua New Guinea, has increased its pop­u­la­tion to 7 mil­lion, but accel­er­ated its down­ward spi­ral into a poverty stricken, cor­rupt and vio­lent morass since being pushed adrift from UN pro­tec­torate sta­tus by Aus­tralia in 1975. (for exam­ple, see the Bris­bane Times, 3 Sep­tem­ber 2011, ” PNG exposed as a dys­func­tional blob“). PNG is not a “failed state”. It never was a state in any mean­ing­ful sense. It is a land of extra­or­di­nary poten­tial, but for cul­tural rea­sons there will be extra­or­di­nary grief along the road to find­ing that poten­tial.  For Aus­tralia it may morph into a seri­ous secu­rity risk. China is now a much more active and some­times cor­rupt­ing player in the region for rea­sons both of geopol­i­tics and resource gath­er­ing (for exam­ple see “China, Tai­wan buy influ­ence with secret pay­ments to Nauru politi­cians”  Bris­bane Times 29/08/2011). Indone­sia, which is described as a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in 1989, has since made a sig­nif­i­cant tran­si­tion to democ­racy incor­po­rat­ing a form of devolved provin­cial author­ity. The regional met­ro­pol­i­tan pow­ers of Aus­tralia and New Zealand are, if any­thing, even more blind in pub­lic aware­ness to the Paci­fic Islands states than they were at the orig­i­nal time of writ­ing. The Paci­fic Island states are a “prob­lem” that the Aus­tralian and New Zealand polit­i­cal classes sim­ply don’t know how to deal with since even with good­will, the cul­tural world-views of Paci­fic islanders and West­ern­ers are so rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent. The obser­va­tions below are mostly still as rel­e­vant as they were twenty years ago. [The orig­i­nal post­ing remains on my old web­site, here].

1. Intro­duc­tion

The Restau­rant at the End of the Uni­verse is where we all hope to be on that expan­sive Fri­day evening when the cur­tain comes down for the last encore. There they are, that mot­ley col­lec­tion from his­tory, loung­ing over their drinks, singing, weep­ing, roar­ing with laugh­ter, for what else can you do when there are to be no tomor­rows? So this, Earth Mother, is why we put up with those damned for­eign­ers for count­less mil­len­nia : the priv­i­lege of a seat in Luigi’s Galac­tic Cafe on a space­ship escap­ing to obliv­ion.

In the mean­time, a few tens of mil­len­nia back in Milky Way’s time warp, you and I still have to scheme for tomor­row. This dis­cus­sion paper is one Australian’s unvar­nished view of his neigh­bour­hood. If it wounds a ten­der spot here and there, call the writer a fool and chalk up a debt against him for drinks at the last gasp in Luigi’s. But try to find an idea or two in here as well, for if we stop com­mu­ni­cat­ing this vibrant planet will be a dead planet long before the musi­cians take a bow.

2. The Menu

Our vision is on a gen­er­ous scale, so we begin with the widest pos­si­ble view of Paci­fic geopol­i­tics. Our instincts are per­sonal though, so we taper to the life-choices of pro­fes­sional men and women in sem­i­nal insti­tu­tions like the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic. Both wide and nar­row per­spec­tives are con­cerned with the dis­po­si­tion of human resources, but each is typ­i­cally dis­cussed with­out ref­er­ence to the other. It is the con­tention here that such a sep­a­ra­tion leads either to nar­row and divi­sive ide­o­log­i­cal choices, or to a shift­ing oppor­tunism which ulti­mately puts the peo­ples of the Paci­fic at the mercy of cooler, more cal­cu­lat­ing forces beyond their con­trol.

Effec­tive plan­ning can only begin from sound premises : a) a bal­anced view of the major polit­i­cal forces which will strive, maneu­ver and clash about the Paci­fic rim over the next sev­eral gen­er­a­tions; and b) a fair under­stand­ing of the aspi­ra­tions of all indi­vid­u­als who call these islands their home (how­ever neigh­bours may see them). To exclude any of these indi­vid­u­als from the plan will not neu­tral­ize them, but rather cre­ate antag­o­nis­tic ele­ments which must weaken the whole.

3. Ghosts at the Feast

Nation states are a rather new inno­va­tion for the island peo­ples of the South Paci­fic. The pre­rog­a­tives of national fron­tiers are nursed with a prickly regard for the self-respect of the var­i­ous care-tak­ing gov­ern­ments. A few insti­tu­tions, such as the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic, claim a trans-national iden­tity, stem­ming at least in part from a brief time when each Islander’s pass­port begged the care and pro­tec­tion of some large colo­nial empire.

The regional co-oper­a­tion which does exist in the Paci­fic is in fact largely sus­tained by exter­nal fund­ing and encour­age­ment. This applies to all the “regional” orga­ni­za­tions from the South Paci­fic Bureau for Eco­nomic Co-oper­a­tion to the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic. Is the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic a colo­nial anachro­nism ? Yes and no. Colo­nial­ism is a new name for a very old con­di­tion. There is a time­less strug­gle in all human soci­eties between economies of scale (lead­ing to cen­tral­iza­tion) and local ini­tia­tive.

All of the micro-states of the Paci­fic are to some extent client states of met­ro­pol­i­tan pow­ers on the Paci­fic rim, or even fur­ther afield in Europe. More locally, Fiji acts in some ways like an insen­si­tive colo­nial power towards smaller island states. These states act in the same way towards their own out­liers. Right across the Paci­fic there is a trail of hun­gry fish try­ing to eat the next small­est size of fish. It didn’t and doesn’t need Euro­pean colo­nial­ism to gen­er­ate this appetite, or to sus­tain it.

SP Island states do have inde­pen­dence in most mat­ters; any manip­u­la­tion tends to go on behind the sce­nes. They also retain some of the more for­tu­nate spin-offs of a short colo­nial his­tory, includ­ing con­sid­er­able infra­struc­ture and on-going aid pro­grams. This moment in his­tory how­ever is a fairly benign inter­reg­num. The rel­a­tive free­dom Paci­fic peo­ples enjoy now may be looked back on as a golden age. More tur­bu­lent forces are gath­er­ing.

4. Should the Paci­fic Island States Inte­grate ?

From the begin­ning of Euro­pean set­tle­ment in Aus­tralia and New Zealand there has been a free move­ment of peo­ple between Aus­tralia and New Zealand. Cit­i­zens of either can work in the other coun­try. As an Aus­tralian I went to a New Zealand uni­ver­sity, no ques­tions asked, and even received a New Zealand bur­sary. This inter-coun­try co-oper­a­tion extends to all lev­els of soci­ety. It has gen­er­ated tremen­dous social, eco­nomic and polit­i­cal ben­e­fits.

Some­times the South Paci­fic peo­ples demon­strate an affin­ity too, espe­cially against a com­mon out­side force. Too often though the bonds seem ten­u­ous. The politi­cians in island states of the South Paci­fic, reflect­ing their con­stituen­cies, seem to eye each other with a mix­ture of indif­fer­ence and jeal­ously. Nauru kid­naps the chil­dren of Kiri­b­ati for six months over an indus­trial safety dis­pute with Aus­tralian air­line pilots. Fijians talk con­temp­tu­ously of “Islanders”. The Poly­ne­sians are con­vinced that the pidgin-speak­ing Melane­sian peo­ples are bar­bar­ians. The traf­fic in peo­ple, infor­ma­tion and goods between these states is neg­li­gi­ble. The Fran­coph­one islands might as well be in the North Atlantic. This xeno­pho­bia is not the fruit of West­ern colo­nial­ism; it is the nar­row vision of vil­lage peo­ple who haven’t accepted yet that they also belong to a larger, global com­mu­nity which has deep lay­ers of trans-eth­nic, trans-national cul­ture.

We hear many calls for regional devel­op­ment. What does “regional” mean ? Your cor­ner of the lagoon, or mine ? Or does regional devel­op­ment mean an expanded per­cep­tion of the real estate which you and I call home ? I sus­pect that orga­ni­za­tions such as USP will never be organ­i­cally “regional” until there is a free move­ment of peo­ple and ideas amongst all the Paci­fic islands. This emphat­i­cally includes the unre­stricted flow of infor­ma­tion, which will require a lot of cul­tural adap­ta­tion. Jour­nal­ism, for exam­ple, is a low sta­tus occu­pa­tion in the region at the moment, seen as a threat rather than an indis­pens­able guardian of citizen’s inter­ests. The very geog­ra­phy of islands seems to cre­ate a psy­chol­ogy of insid­ers and out­siders. Real co-oper­a­tion would there­fore require much change, vision and hard work. A com­mon polity would nor­mally have to be rooted in the eco­nom­ics of man­u­fac­ture, trade and labour move­ment, lead­ing to some accep­tance of a pan-Paci­fic cul­tural iden­tity.

5. Sce­nar­ios for Regional Inte­gra­tion

Pat­terns of socio-polit­i­cal devel­op­ment in the South Paci­fic region are equa­tions too com­plex for exact pre­dic­tion. One indi­vid­ual in a key posi­tion can seize on a cur­rent of oppor­tu­nity and reverse expec­ta­tions overnight. It hap­pened in Fiji in 1987. We can nev­er­the­less make some esti­mate of how the tides of oppor­tu­nity might flow. Where peace and pros­per­ity pre­vail, and where met­ro­pol­i­tan pow­ers are dis­tracted else­where, the South Paci­fic Islands soci­eties may mud­dle through with a shift­ing patch­work of responses to devel­op­men­tal pres­sures. For the pur­poses of this dis­cus­sion I have assumed a more hos­tile inter­na­tional envi­ron­ment. The sce­nar­ios out­lined below should be inter­preted from that premise.

6. The Indone­sian Model

A likely, if not the most desir­able, model for long-term Island State inte­gra­tion is Indone­sia, an arch­i­pel­ago of thou­sands of islands and hun­dreds of indige­nous lan­guages which has been welded into a some­what brit­tle empire by a Javanese-based mil­i­tary elite. Indone­sia, per­ceived by the out­side world as a sin­gle nation, is in social real­ity a never end­ing fer­ment of regional and cen­tral­ist forces held together in crit­i­cal moments at the point of a gun. There is no deny­ing that even such a frag­ile unity has yielded con­sid­er­able ben­e­fit for the upwardly mobile ele­ments of Indone­sian soci­ety. Hope­fully these islands will become a more organic social and polit­i­cal entity over time.

At present many fac­tors work against an Indone­sia of the South Seas, although it could per­haps become a dream sooner or later of the Fijian mil­i­tary estab­lish­ment. Most met­ro­pol­i­tan pow­ers would cur­rently view the emer­gence of such a state with dis­favour for both secu­rity and com­mer­cial rea­sons. The Fijian mil­i­tary itself would not have the eco­nomic resources to sus­tain the empire with­out large-scale out­side spon­sor­ship, which would cer­tainly come at a high polit­i­cal price.

Periph­eral island states would of course fiercely resist any threat to their local sov­er­eignty. Nev­er­the­less, some ver­sion of the Fiji empire-sce­nario remains a pos­si­bil­ity in a future, less con­ge­nial inter­na­tional envi­ron­ment. If Japan had pre­vailed in W.W.II she might have found such a solu­tion quite use­ful. The rul­ing elite in Fiji has been a clas­sic model of com­prador cap­i­tal­ism (I use the expres­sion tech­ni­cally, with­out pejo­ra­tive intent). It would be a nat­u­ral devel­op­ment for them to extend the role and emerge as regional over­lords, sir­dars bankrolled by one or more of the major Paci­fic rim pow­ers.

7. The Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity Model

A More attrac­tive exist­ing model for Island State inte­gra­tion might be the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity. The motive force in the EEC is eco­nomic self-inter­est, crusted with a thin layer of ide­al­ism. There is always a sur­ren­der of some sov­er­eignty (i.e. local pride) in such asso­ci­a­tions, since reci­procity is the indis­pens­able ingre­di­ent. Noth­ing comes free. In the puta­tive SPFM (South Paci­fic Free Mar­ket) an edu­cated Fiji elite (indige­nous and Indo-Fijian) would fan out through the Paci­fic, amid wails about Fijian neo-colo­nial­ism. Suva would become a mecca for kids from Tarawa and Funa­futi with stars in their eyes.

The real bar­rier to any major devo­lu­tion along these lines is the minus­cule size of Island mar­kets. Nev­er­the­less, if Fiji devel­ops a qual­ity con­sumer man­u­fac­tur­ing base, Sin­ga­pore style, there would be scope for it to dis­place much of the trade which now flows between the Paci­fic Islands and Aus­tralia & New Zealand.

In the medium term it is easy to see that there could be a blend­ing of the Indone­sian and EEC mod­els just described. The present Fijian elite is too self-absorbed to see past the ends of their col­lec­tive noses. There­fore the ini­tial growth of an intra-Paci­fic com­mu­nity might well depend upon ini­tia­tives from other micro-states. Are they pre­pared in Apia and Nuku’alofa to allow Fiji nation­als to set­tle and work freely?

8. The Melane­sian Wild­card

The prog­no­sis for the Melane­sian Spear­head Group of coun­tries is more tur­bu­lent than for those islands to the north and the east. The Melane­sian states have larger land masses and larger aggre­gate pop­u­la­tions than those in Poly­ne­sia and Microne­sia. On the other hand the Melane­sian cul­tures are frag­mented into tiny “tok ples” units, are non-hier­ar­chi­cal in social struc­ture, and have spir­i­tual val­ues which are so potently tied to local land-forms that the very notion of a nation state (with its explicit claim to ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity) is a threat to per­sonal and social iden­tity.

The new Melane­sian elites may tac­itly choose to oblit­er­ate exist­ing cul­tures (as the Indone­sians have) if that is the price of claim­ing to rule nations at all. This ancient bat­tle has been fought in many places on the planet, and it has always been a bloody one, riven with betrayal and coun­ter betrayal. It is likely to be espe­cially volatile in Melane­sia because the lead­ers of local seces­sion tend to be young, West­ern-edu­cated and ambi­tious, rather than tra­di­tional vil­lage author­i­ties.

Out­siders are com­pelled to view the devel­op­ing Melane­sian tragedy in terms of geopol­i­tics. Aus­tralia espe­cially faces a no-win sit­u­a­tion in Melane­sia over the next cen­tury. Aus­tralian will be asked to sup­port the emerg­ing rul­ing elites (who might not always be nice peo­ple), even while it is loudly accused of neo-colo­nial inter­fer­ence. Hes­i­ta­tion, as in the cur­rent sup­ply of mil­i­tary heli­copters to Bougainville, could quickly induce Ted Diro types to turn to the Indone­sian mil­i­tary machine for help. This would pose a direct, major threat to Australia’s own secu­rity, and be a fatal move for Melane­sia itself. East Timor lost maybe 200,000 peo­ple (30% of its pop­u­la­tion) between 1975 and 1980 in an Indone­sian mil­i­tary solu­tion, but such lessons may well be lost in the hot-house of Papua New Guinea polit­i­cal intrigue.

9. The Guam\Marshall Is.\Cook Is.\Okinawa\Hawaiian Mod­els

Var­i­ous Island States have entered into com­pacts of asso­ci­a­tion with met­ro­pol­i­tan pow­ers for rea­sons rang­ing from the his­tor­i­cal to the strate­gic to eco­nomic and social advan­tage. The degree of com­pul­sion involved in each case has var­ied.

The Mar­shall Islands lit­er­ally sur­vive on the pay­roll of the Pen­tagon in Wash­ing­ton. Hawaii and Oki­nawa have become incor­po­rated as out­ly­ing met­ro­pol­i­tan provinces to Amer­ica and Japan, attract­ing large scale invest­ment and oppor­tu­ni­ties for skilled locals. They have also had to absorb sub­stan­tial non-local pop­u­la­tions and big mil­i­tary bases. There has been a strug­gle to pre­serve a cul­tural dis­tinc­tive­ness. Given the choice (improb­a­ble) it is unlikely that either would sue for absolute inde­pen­dence. The free move­ment of their nation­als into met­ro­pol­i­tan heart­lands is a pow­er­ful attrac­tion.

At another extreme, Cook Islanders enjoy free access to New Zealand with very few rec­i­p­ro­cal oblig­a­tions. There is a lot more advan­tage in this asso­ci­a­tion for the Cook Islands than there is for New Zealand. West­ern Samoa and Tonga also enjoy priv­i­leges on a more lim­ited scale. No doubt there is some cur­rent strate­gic ben­e­fit for New Zealand in main­tain­ing close links with these out­ly­ing islands, but in any seri­ous impe­rial mil­i­tary con­test (say, with Japan or China) they would be an oner­ous bur­den.

The New Zealand involve­ment in Poly­ne­sia has a large altru­is­tic com­po­nent, which is rare on this planet. The moti­va­tions are com­plex. For exam­ple, we might pon­der whether 100,00 or so Samoan res­i­dents would be wel­come in New Zealand if it were an entirely Maori nation. In any case, the altru­ism does not nec­es­sar­ily engen­der undy­ing grat­i­tude. It is a quirk of human nature that the giver of gifts is often dis­liked, for the act of giv­ing implies power. Reci­procity is the only sound basis for endur­ing rela­tion­ships. The prob­lem for Paci­fic micro-states is to find items of value with which they can rec­i­p­ro­cate. I sus­pect that their return gift will need to be not coconuts, but some­thing of human con­struc­tion. The devis­ing of this exchange cycle is a mat­ter for inno­va­tion now. The wis­est Paci­fic minds should be bend­ing their thoughts to its solu­tion.

10. An Aus­tralia & New Zealand-Paci­fic Union

Just as most Paci­fic regional asso­ci­a­tions are at present sus­tained by Aus­tralia & New Zealand fund­ing and exper­tise, it is con­ceiv­able that a more inten­sive eco­nomic, social and polit­i­cal union could be pro­mul­gated between these pow­ers and the Paci­fic micro-States. After all, such unions are the pat­tern favoured by the United States from Puerto Rico to Guam. Objec­tively, it would prob­a­bly offer the best chance for free move­ment of peo­ples and goods amongst the islands them­selves. Aus­tralia & New Zealand are well on the way to becom­ing a sin­gle economic\political unit. The rel­a­tive size of the Aus­tralia & New Zealand block would pre­vent any micro-state (such as Fiji) from sub­or­di­nat­ing the oth­ers.

It is unlikely that Aus­tralia & New Zealand would take on such a quasi-national respon­si­bil­ity as the Paci­fic micro-States with the same non-rec­i­p­ro­cal ben­e­fits that New Zealand now extends to the Cook Islands. In fact Aus­tralia & New Zealand might need some heavy per­sua­sion to con­sider the propo­si­tion at all. Why try to defend vast tracts of ocean con­tain­ing minus­cule pop­u­la­tions and mar­kets ? It would amount to mas­sive sub­si­diza­tion from met­ro­pol­i­tan taxes for lit­tle ben­e­fit. Island pop­u­la­tions would want free access to Aus­tralia & New Zealand, but doubtless com­plain bit­terly if met­ro­pol­i­tan nation­als attempted to set­tle, run busi­nesses and seek employ­ment in the Islands. Such reci­procity would be a min­i­mal con­di­tion of any polit­i­cal pact between Aus­tralia & New Zealand and Paci­fic States. Now, which of them is pre­pared to pay the price ? A micro-state which felt under threat of annex­a­tion from a north­ern Paci­fic rim power could per­haps play the Aus­tralia & New Zealand card as a last resort.

11. The Sta­tus Quo

No Paci­fic Island state is ever going to become a world power. None has the capac­ity to become a regional power unas­sisted, although within a cou­ple of cen­turies Papua New Guinea could be a state of con­sid­er­able sig­nif­i­cance. In the shrink­ing global vil­lage no com­mu­nity, even the most remote, has the option of becom­ing a “her­mit king­dom” in the way that Japan, Korea and China did for large peri­ods in their his­tory. The cul­tural, eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal and social bound­aries of all nation states are increas­ingly per­me­able.

The inher­ently con­ser­v­a­tive com­mu­ni­ties in the Paci­fic Islands have a dis­po­si­tion to let events over­take them, then tem­po­rize with what nature and sundry preda­tors have left behind. The sce­nar­ios out­lined in this paper are unlikely to warm the hearts of many Paci­fic Islanders, or move them to acts of glory. Yet such sce­nar­ios are prag­matic pro­jec­tions. Some­times the best that a small fish can do is to plan which shark it prefers to be eaten by. Now is the time to plan. The eat­ing can come later.

12. High Tech­nol­ogy States and Low Tech­nol­ogy States

The fun­da­men­tal divi­sion amongst mod­ern polit­i­cal states is not based on ide­ol­ogy, eth­nic­ity, geog­ra­phy, or even eco­nomic sys­tems. It is based on the pen­e­tra­tion of a cul­ture of com­plex tech­nol­ogy. States can be ranked in a con­tin­uum of Low-Tech­nol­ogy to High Tech­nol­ogy depen­dence. To sus­tain a high tech­nol­ogy state requires much more than mere skill acqui­si­tion. It requires that a sig­nif­i­cant seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion of such a state devel­ops cul­tural and psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms for the con­stant eval­u­a­tion of old knowl­edge and the gen­er­a­tion of new knowl­edge. It implies intense spe­cial­iza­tion, and elab­o­rate mech­a­nisms for the trans­mis­sion, inte­gra­tion and exploita­tion of these men­tal arch­i­pel­agos of spe­cial knowl­edge. Con­sider the knowl­edge data­base which has gone into the inven­tion and man­u­fac­ture of a plas­tic shop­ping bag, let alone a dig­i­tal watch.

Vis­i­tors from a met­ro­pol­i­tan high tech­nol­ogy state might wish the Paci­fic Islands states to remain pristine and “unspoiled”. Expa­tri­ate experts and edu­ca­tors might feel that Paci­fic Islands states can never com­pete at high tech­nol­ogy state level and are bet­ter off with “appro­pri­ate” (i.e. sim­ple) tech­nol­ogy. Intel­lec­tu­als in Paci­fic Islands states them­selves are often highly pro­tec­tive of tra­di­tional cul­tural pat­terns and view the high-tech seduc­tion with dis­trust, until they can lay hands on a video machine for their own lounge room. Often a kind of schiz­o­phre­nia pre­vails, ratio­nal­ized as tak­ing the best of both worlds.

As China’s moguls are dis­cov­er­ing, when it comes to high-tech, you can’t have your tran­sis­tor and eat it too : every light switch is a lit­tle bit of cul­ture. The man in the street is in no doubt about adopt­ing new cul­ture; if it goes pop-bang-crackle and is shiny, he wants it. When ideas are unstop­pable like this, the only sen­si­ble thing to do is to har­ness and mas­ter them, which means becom­ing a cre­ator of tech­nol­ogy, not merely a con­sumer.

13. The Pro­fes­sion­al­ism of Edu­cated Peo­ple in Low-Tech­nol­ogy States

This paper has talked rather grandly about the behav­iour of nation states. Undoubt­edly there are large equa­tions of geog­ra­phy, eco­nom­ics, belief sys­tems and so on which help to impose a spe­cial logic on events. How­ever, the agents and arbiters of human affairs are men and women, indi­vid­u­als who make choices. Some of those indi­vid­u­als are extra­or­di­nary, or find them­selves in extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions. It is their fate to alter the course of events in major ways.

An extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­ual can come from any walk of life, but in aggre­gate the prob­a­bil­ity is that he or she will have had an unusual edu­ca­tion. There­fore, since our busi­ness here is pre­dic­tion, it is worth pay­ing some atten­tion to the behav­iour pat­terns of highly edu­cated peo­ple.

Highly edu­cated indi­vid­u­als in low tech­nol­ogy states have been such a rare com­mod­ity that they have often been seduced into unpro­duc­tive direc­tions. Power cor­rupts, and the power of hav­ing scarce knowl­edge has cor­rupted in many ways.

Edu­ca­tion is a cul­tural acqui­si­tion. A com­mon reac­tion of those in third world states who have acquired this new and spe­cial cul­ture is to go where they can find oth­ers who com­mu­ni­cate in it freely : to the West. It is a nat­u­ral human reac­tion. There will always be many who make such a choice.

A sec­ond reac­tion is to become big frogs in a very small pond. In one sense this is the aim of such edu­ca­tion : the blessed one is meant to remain and share his priv­i­lege with his orig­i­nal spon­sors. Some peo­ple are saints. Some place fam­ily bonds above a pro­fes­sion. Oth­ers are merely lazy. The equa­tion is rarely a sim­ple one. But it hap­pens too often alas that the man who stays at home carves out a ter­ri­tory in which he is secure to be incom­pe­tent. He nois­ily defends it against out­siders, not on grounds of com­pe­tence, but of xeno­pho­bia. As an old apho­rism puts it, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

A third reac­tion to being some­body pretty spe­cial is a kind of pro­fes­sional dilet­tan­tism. Here I must turn to per­sonal exam­ples. I saw a very sad case of dilet­tan­tism in Papua New Guinea a few years ago. Two men in my depart­ment belonged to an elite of only twenty indige­nous MA’s in the whole of the coun­try. As lin­guists and lec­tur­ers they were utterly incom­pe­tent, and had no inter­est at all in the pro­fes­sion. They spent their lives apply­ing for jobs as air­line pilots, min­ing cor­po­ra­tion man­agers, per­ma­nent sec­re­taries to gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, and so on. The illus­tra­tion is not an iso­lated instance.

A fourth reac­tion is, of course for pro­fes­sion­als in low tech­nol­ogy states to remain per­fectly bal­anced, thought­ful indi­vid­u­als, ded­i­cated to their work and their com­mu­nity. Any­one who has worked in a low tech­nol­ogy state would have to fairly admit to meet­ing excel­lent local col­leagues of this cal­i­bre.

14. High Tech­nol­ogy Equals High Mobil­ity

A defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of tra­di­tional soci­eties every­where has been the min­i­mal geo­graphic mobil­ity of indi­vid­u­als and groups. Relo­ca­tion when it hap­pened gen­er­ally stemmed from social break­down, con­flict, war. Excep­tions were restricted to cer­tain lim­ited exchanges of mar­riage part­ners and trade items. Reli­gion, value sys­tems and social sanc­tion enforced this immo­bil­ity.

High tech­nol­ogy soci­eties, by con­trast, impose a regime of per­sonal mobil­ity. Work­ers fol­low the jobs. The logic of this process is potent enough to dis­solve national bound­aries, as in West­ern Europe at the moment. The South Paci­fic states are as vul­ner­a­ble to such pop­u­la­tion mobil­ity as any region in the world. Already large num­bers of Poly­ne­sians have fol­lowed the jobs to indus­trial Paci­fic rim coun­tries, and such move­ment has irre­versible con­se­quences for their whole social and polit­i­cal fab­ric. Melane­sian peo­ples have moved less, mainly from lack of oppor­tu­nity.

Skilled occu­pa­tions may force per­sonal relo­ca­tion in socially irra­tional ways. A spe­cial­ist in rocket launch­ers has only a few places in the world where he can work. I hap­pen to be a lin­guist and an Aus­tralian. In order to teach lin­guis­tics I am forced to oper­ate in a world mar­ket. There are a few places in Aus­tralia, if I am lucky enough to get a job in one of them. If there hap­pens to be a Samoan , a Brazil­ian or a Rus­sian lin­guist on the mar­ket, I com­pete with him for such a job. Acci­dent decrees that I must work in Fiji at half an Aus­tralian salary. I do this from com­mit­ment to a pro­fes­sion, not because I love the sunny South Seas (though there are worse places!).

It was my good for­tune to be born in a nation state of mid­dling power and great wealth, yet I must still make a choice to live beyond my cul­tural hearth. That choice is bound to be even more fre­quent and irrev­o­ca­ble for those Paci­fic Islanders who become highly spe­cial­ized.

15. The Spe­cial­ist Insti­tu­tion as a State within a State

Occa­sion­ally some par­tic­u­lar local resource will lead to the estab­lish­ment of a high tech­nol­ogy unit in a remote loca­tion. Min­ing in Papua NewGuinea is a good exam­ple. To per­sist with a lin­guis­tic exam­ple, with which I am famil­iar, descrip­tive lin­guists (peo­ple who mostly work with lit­tle-stud­ied lan­guages) have estab­lished research cen­ters at the Paci­fic Lan­guages Unit in Van­u­atu and at Uku­rumpa in Papua New Guinea. This is not a cheap oper­a­tion, and effec­tively still a form of resources con­cen­tra­tion.

Uni­ver­si­ties in their teach­ing role are “peo­ple fac­to­ries”. If you are mak­ing bis­cuits, you site your plant where there is the best sup­ply of labour and raw mate­ri­als, and a good dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem. If you are train­ing minds, the same logic applies. Unfor­tu­nately remote cen­ters can­not be eas­ily accessed by poten­tial stu­dents. Dis­tance edu­ca­tion is not an ideal solu­tion. For exam­ple, I have recently run iden­ti­cal lin­guis­tics courses on cam­pus in Suva and by exten­sion with respec­tive fail­ure rates of 26% and 68%.

A uni­ver­sity is the quin­tes­sen­tial exam­ple of a spe­cial­ized group of peo­ple. This makes it inher­ently cen­tral­ized. With­out the resources which such cen­tral­iza­tion makes pos­si­ble the spe­cial­ists sim­ply won’t come. For me per­son­ally the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pacific’s Lau­cala library is barely accept­able in my field; any­thing less and I would leave. For those involved in the cre­ation of knowl­edge, as opposed to its mere trans­mis­sion, such resources are the bot­tom line. They are not nego­tiable.

A regional uni­ver­sity, as the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic claims to be, is there­fore a strictly lim­ited con­cep­tion. It can go to the peo­ple on their tiny atolls, some­times, in spe­cial ways. For the most part Island folk will always have to come to the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic, it its glory of con­crete and glass, at the Suva cam­pus. Is it such a bad thing after all to “region­al­ize” thou­sands of stu­dents rather than region­al­iz­ing a hand­ful of lec­tur­ers? Those stu­dents have an inter­na­tional expe­ri­ence, learn the folk­ways of the wider Paci­fic, in a man­ner that would never have been pos­si­ble at home.

16. The Eth­nic and Cul­tural Com­plex­ion of Regional Orga­ni­za­tions

Any insti­tu­tion is made in the image of the peo­ple who inhabit it. The trick is to decide who does inhabit sur­viv­ing Paci­fic regional orga­ni­za­tions such as the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic. In the case of a uni­ver­sity, that selec­tion must be made for the staff and for the stu­dents. In each instance there are three main kinds of cri­te­ria to work with : ethnic\cultural, geo­graphic and vocational\professional.

The exer­cise of the three cri­te­ria just men­tioned for pop­u­lat­ing an insti­tu­tion may be con­strained by var­i­ous ide­olo­gies. In gen­eral, the more spe­cial­ized the occu­pa­tion or the knowl­edge, the less force ethnic\cultural and geo­graphic cri­te­ria have on selec­tion. This fol­lows from the prop­er­ties of H.T. soci­eties described above.

Since a uni­ver­sity is a com­mu­nity involv­ing many lev­els of spe­cial­iza­tion, dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria may acquire a dif­fer­ing sig­nif­i­cance in var­i­ous instances. His­tor­i­cally how­ever those uni­ver­si­ties which have sur­vived as out­stand­ing repos­i­to­ries and gen­er­a­tors of human knowl­edge have done so by favour­ing indi­vid­ual intel­lec­tual excel­lence over nar­rower con­sid­er­a­tions of race, cul­ture, reli­gion or national affin­ity. The Amer­i­can astro-physi­cist is likely to have more in com­mon with his Chi­nese coun­ter­part than with the man in the gro­cery store down the road. Like attracts like: the mediocre pre­serve medi­oc­rity as an act of self-preser­va­tion, the super-nova draws bril­liant satel­lites .. and so on, (which is not to deny that a genius on X-blobs often can’t tie his own shoe laces). The default cri­te­ria (social Vs pro­fes­sional) adopted for aca­d­e­mic staffing is there­fore inclined to exert a long term influ­ence over the ulti­mate suc­cess of the insti­tu­tion itself.

The gen­eral inter­nal staffing pol­icy prac­tised by the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic is prob­a­bly as bal­anced as it is ever likely to get. That pol­icy, as I under­stand it, is that a regional can­di­date will be appointed to an aca­d­e­mic posi­tion if his or her qual­i­fi­ca­tions equal or bet­ter those of other can­di­dates. Since local knowl­edge of stu­dents would be a com­po­nent of such qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and since the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic salaries are uncom­pet­i­tive on the world mar­ket, any regional can­di­date has a bet­ter than even chance of being selected.

The staffing bal­ance in the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic and other regional orga­ni­za­tions is dis­torted by the immi­gra­tion prac­tices of the Fiji Gov­ern­ment. In both direct and indi­rect ways the Fiji admin­is­tra­tion dis­crim­i­nates against non-Fiji nation­als. Within Fiji itself, there is also increas­ing eth­nic dis­crim­i­na­tion in the selec­tion of stu­dents through the manip­u­la­tion of schol­ar­ships. Such inter­fer­ence detracts from the qual­ity of the uni­ver­sity. It is also coun­ter to the wider inter­ests of Fiji’s cit­i­zens since they are the main con­sumers of the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pacific’s out­put.

The ten­sions implicit in select­ing a bal­ance of regional and spe­cial­ist inter­ests at the Uni­ver­sity of the South Paci­fic are a micro­cosm of the uni­ver­sal ten­sion between nation­al­ism and pop­u­la­tion mobil­ity. We have been pick­ing over that equa­tion in this paper. The fate of all of us who divide our loy­alty between a home cul­ture and the pro­fes­sional cul­ture of our work­place is only partly a mat­ter of per­sonal choice. It will also turn on those larger geopo­lit­i­cal choices, the sce­nar­ios with which we began this dis­cus­sion.


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