The lord of his domain

There he was, sitting upright, receiving the warmth exuded by his audience, and responding to all that with a joyous look. When members of his audience applauded his appearance and his demeanour, displaying open mouths and teeth, he responded with a cheerful open mouth and toothless gums.

When the initial exchange of mutual approbation had begun to wane, he blew bubbles of baby spit at the nearest checkout lady, on whose counter his mother had seated him. When the checkout lady responded by pretending to copy him, but blowing air at him, he chuckled with that joyous sound that only a little baby can produce. There was so much joy at that supermarket checkout counter that the other checkout ladies and their customers took time off to enjoy one of nature’s gifts to mankind – a happy baby!

To me, every baby, human or animal or bird, is a miracle. The production of a new member of the species is nature’s way of ensuring continuity of existence. Until they become stroppy teenagers (but not many of them do so), human babies, like all other kinds of babies, are a great joy.

Literary deconstruction decried

Descartes reportedly said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ In the light of uncertainty occupying the core of all forms of existence (including my belief in a universal creator of the cosmos), I am inclined to re-state Descartes thus: I think, therefore I am – I theenk! This is not to denigrate anyone, especially any ‘ethnic’ (like me), to whom English is a second or third language. But we are not lacking a sense of humour!

Now, when I write ‘Failure is a stepping-stone to success,’ is it not clear that, at certain times, perhaps in certain places, some of us will pick ourselves up from the ground, or struggle successfully out of a sticky marsh, after being knocked down, or having fallen off our perch, to struggle up a slippery slope (possibly sliding back a little from time to time), driven to survive, and willing ourselves to achieve some form of success? Contrary to what Derrida and his disciples might say, is there not truth in that statement? Can there not be truth in similar statements when based on reality, on experience?

When I, as author, am de-throned by the deconstructionist process, and deconstructionist readers – denying (as required) the obvious truth in that statement – seek to re-interpret that statement in imaginative ways, would they not be changing the subject and/or the intent of my statement? Taking these away by looking for alternative possible meanings may, of course, be an interesting game for semanticists; but what would be the reason for such distortion? Would the intended deconstruction also have respect for the grammatical exactitude of my statement? Or, would grammar, like the meaning of words, be whatever the reader wanted it to be? Is a reader entitled to deny, or merely alter, a reality based on observed past experiences?

Instead of looking for alternative possible meanings of the words written, should not a scholar be looking at the background – of the writer, his/her values, interests, and motivations; of the times and places about which the writing refers; and the accepted or prevalent meaning of words at the time the words were written? I remember a lecturer in philosophy asking for all the possible meaning of the word ‘sensible’ instead of accepting the meaning of that word in 18th century England when philosopher Locke wrote it.

I am curious. In what manner would the deconstructionist process enhance learning?

Racism revisited

I am re-reading ‘Black Athena: the Afro-Asiatic roots of classical civilisation’ by Martin Bernal. I have extracted some of his words on racism.

“All cultures have some degree of prejudice for, or more often against, people whose appearance is unusual. However, the intensity and persuasiveness of North European, American and other colonial racism since the 17th century have been so much greater than the norm … By the 15th century, there is no doubt that clear links were seen between dark skin colour and evil and inferiority, when the newly arrived Gypsies were feared and hated for both darkness and their alleged sexual prowess … a more clear-cut racism grew up after 1650 and this was intensified by the increased colonization of America, with its twin policies of extermination of the native Americans and enslavement of Africans”

“ … Aristotle linked ‘racial superiority’ to the right to enslave other peoples, especially those of a ‘slavish disposition.’ … John Locke, the philosopher was … a racist, as was … philosopher David Hume. … Christian European attacks on heathen Africans and Americans … were classed as ‘just wars’ because the latter were not defending their property, but merely ‘waste land’ … entitlement to land came from cultivation.”

“In Hume’s case, racism so transcended his religion that he was a pioneer of the view that there had been not one creation but many different ones …”

I wish I had been aware of Bernal’s multi-disciplinary scholarship when I had looked at Locke and Hume (perhaps somewhat casually) a very long time ago. As one brought up to reject the societal evils of racism, of the Indian caste system, and of social class, and because of my own spiritual beliefs, I am truly saddened to find that these 3 Western philosophers were so ignorant.

What does societal integration mean?

I have written about the desirability of achieving one people from diverse origins. Let me explain. We humans may be truly one people, created by God. We are certainly one people living under the auspicious of the sun. Yet, we are divided by national borders – and necessarily so, for reasons of security, at least. Most regrettably, we are also divided by religious affiliation. Yet, each religion (or each sect within a religion) seeks only to guide its flock to God.

Since religions are artificial man-made ideational constructs, one would hope that, one day, those of us who are religious will accept that we are all reliant upon the one and only God of mankind to sustain us, if not to guide us; and that in our relationship with our Creator, it would be desirable, indeed necessary, to deny any divisive dogma derived from institutional religion.

I would doubt very much if there are any exclusive or unique paths to our Creator, as may be claimed, unlike those cemeteries which separate the dead by religious sect. I also doubt that there are people chosen by God over all others; there is no evidence of that. Thus, tribal differences, which reflect accidents of birth linked by mutual support, are temporary in their duration. What is known as history confirms that. Ethno-religious communities often signify little more than either geographical or politico-societal isolation at an earlier time.

In an immigrant-created and/or immigrant-sustained nation, societal integration then means the avoidance of exclusive zones of residence based upon ethno-religious differences. It also means that, united spiritually by co-creation, and linked to one another by a defining national border and its associated structures of governance, all the residents would desirably seek a certain unity. This unity would be one of proud belonging to a coherent over-arching polity subsuming ethno-cultural differences; all that while praying, eating, dressing, and celebrating one’s festivals according to one’s culture. This would be done without limiting the right of others to express their own cultural values and practices.

No one’s religio-cultural values can surely over-ride those of others in a multi-ethnic domain, as they often do now. In a comparable manner, those who do not need God, or those who are spiritual rather than religious, would be left in peace. None of us, none of our religio-political leaders, is qualified to dictate to others as to how they should express their relationship with their Creator. We may learn this one day through the operation of the Law of Cosmic Justice.

Societal integration would thus represent togetherness blended with mutual acceptance of surface differences, while each individual seeks that which his soul desires.

Challenging deconstruction – Part 2

The rest of my writing is covered here.

1) The Dance of Destiny
Having been well-educated by British colonialism, buffeted (but not damaged) by ignorance in a relatively new nation set in coloured seas and surrounded by foreign but ancient and durable cultures, risen to leadership positions in both civil society (through a highly interactive and contributory life) and in the federal public service, and sporadically falling into holes which were certainly not there, and also experiencing the wheels of my life-chances cart falling off for no discernible cause, I had to ask: ‘What determines human life on Earth?’

Trekking through the maya of history, geography, sociology, significant psychic experiences and personal relations of some import, I came to postulate how a personal destiny might evolve. I drew upon Hinduism, not on the New Age modifications. Increasingly, I speculate whether, like the nested fields of force in physics, there may be a nested network of human destinies, leading to one which encompasses the Cosmos as a whole. Thus, this book is much more than a memoir.

Necessarily and intuitively, I have woven through my narrative some Eastern (mainly Hindu) spirituality. Supportive endorsements again followed. The US Review of Books recommended the book, previously supported by Kirkus Discoveries and BookRead.com.

2) Pithy perspectives: a smorgasbord of short, short stories
This book was written for fun. It was reviewed by the NSW State President of the Federation of Australian Writers. He describes the stories as “interesting,” “crazy, frightening, weird, some really lovely,” “a clever book.” The last story in the book (“quite intriguing,” “so different”) ends in a spiritual haze which envelops cats, mice, and a little girl who understands the language of animals.

The book was also favourably reviewed by the US Review of Books.

3) Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient, bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society
This is a hard-hitting, no-punches-pulled summary of my lived-through observations, gathered over more than 6 decades as an adult, culminating with a view on the place of religion in human lives, and the place of mankind in the Cosmos. Not unexpectedly, my perceptual stance is bicultural, since I was well soaked in Asia’s communitarian spirituality before I arrived in Australia, while becoming grounded firmly in the operational requirements of the Western world through more than 6 decades of a participatory life in a nation reflecting the primacy of individualism.

This book highlights what the Australian media has identified as the racket of asylum seeking (now re-affirmed by the current government), with little to no evidence that the vociferous supporters of an open door to all asylum seekers are adequately aware of the national interest. I argue for due process to enable those who have a genuine fear of persecution in their country of nationality to be granted necessary succour. The book is also critical of those who seek to retain their cultural separation even after the third generation has merged with the rest of the population; we are already an integrated multi-ethnic people. The book compares the subservience of Australia’s politicians kow-towing to powerful interests to the stand-tall stance of its workers (who could thereby be a beacon to our neighbours). I also examine empires gone and going, as well as the sham of Western democracy, and a number of other issues of societal relevance.

On the other hand, I do highlight the commendable aspects of my adopted nation, of which I am proud. We can be a beacon of tolerance and equal opportunity.

An endorsement by a professor of history and politics says “ … there is wisdom here … this book is rich, intelligent and provocative. A major contribution to Australian culture.” This book was also Recommended by the US Review of Books.

These books are available as ebooks for deconstruction or to be read for information and/or pleasure at Amazon Kindle Direct at $US 2.99 each.

Other writing
I have had a few articles relating to migrant settlement issues published in: ‘Asia Sentinel,’ ‘Malaysian Insider,’ ‘Webdiary,’ and the Multicultural Writers Association of Australia’s anthology “Culture is … “. The Eurobodalla Writers’ recent anthology “Where penguins fly” includes 3 pieces of fiction by me.

More recently, I have had 44 short articles published on http://www.ezinearticles.com on a wide range of issues, most open-ended, thereby inviting intelligent readers to reach their own conclusions.
For further background, refer http://www.dragonraj.com and http://www.independentauthornetwork.com .

Challenging deconstruction

In the light of my recent posts about deconstruction, I offer an overview of my 3 books on migrant settlement. They cover ethnic affairs & multiculturalism; citizenship & national identity; refugee & humanitarian entry; and settlement assistance.

1) Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia
I was a lightly-coloured Ceylonese Malayan boy, brought up in a British territory, where the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-coloured people co-existed with mutual tolerance. I entered Australia in 1948 as a fee-paying student at the University of Melbourne. I had never experienced any discrimination in the land of my birth.

In Australia, I observed a roaring sectarian religious divide, a colonial mentality, and racism. I faced discrimination in service in shops, in finding accommodation, and with seating on public transport. I was commonly described as a blackfellow (there being no other term in the local lexicon for coloured people). In a fashionable arcade, in spite of being expensively dressed, I was once loudly asked “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” in a very aggressive tone. I did wonder at such ignorance, thinking that a similar question should have been addressed to Lt.Cook & Co, the white invaders, when they had arrived to open a new settlement for those considered by Britain to be criminals.

This was White Australia in the 1950s. Yet, I eventually reached the rank of Director in the federal public service, becoming finally responsible, progressively, for each of the immigrant settlement policies of the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs. However, I suffered discrimination even within that department – both racial and tribal (the word mass had a weighty influence with the latter group).

This book weaves fluidly my settlement experiences with my work experiences, in a readable manner, with no bitterness. What was encouraging were the reviews from senior academics, a number of private agencies, and a variety of immigrants and others. Although out of print, copies of the book can be found in the National Library of Malaysia, the National Library of Singapore, and the National and State Libraries of Australia, and in the top 20 Australian universities. The book is being prepared for re-publication.

2) The Karma of Culture
It was during a significant psychic experience after my premature retirement (which was to escape any further discrimination) that I was introduced to the spirit world. It was then that I received the suggestion that I could “contribute to building a bridge” from where I came to where I am. This is my second book in this effort, as I had been advised by senior academics that my experiences in Australia do represent a sliver of the post-war history of this rising nation.

Culture is like a second external skin, and immigrants need to trade some of their traditions for new ones in order to benefit from institutional adaptation and societal integration. These and other cross-cultural impacts, including the influence of Asian cultural and spiritual values upon Western thinking about democracy, human rights and societal values are woven through this book. Strong endorsements by 3 senior academics in diverse disciplines followed.

The book was Recommended by the US Review of Books (a rare accolade, said the Review).

3) Hidden Footprints of Unity : beyond tribalism and towards a new Australian identity
This is the third of my efforts to meet the obligation I had accepted to contribute to cultural bridge-building. It is about the inter-connectedness of mankind. It has 2 threads – the relationships between the ethnic communities in Australia; and their respective searches for God, with some peering into the Void of the Cosmos. I ride my spiritual horse to extol my ideal – the Aussie Family of Man.

I find a core commonality in the major religions when dogma is divested; and express the hope of a revised national identity, with new national icons identified by immigrants as well. After all, immigrants too had helped to re-shape the nation into the relatively tolerant cosmopolitan polity that it now is.

Again, the endorsements were gratifying, especially the one from the Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian.’ This book was also Recommended by the US Review of Books.

Intending deconstuctionists of my writing will find my ebooks at Amazon Kindle Direct at $US 2.99 each.

Fads in education- some examples

When Cuisenaire rods were introduced into our school, it was obvious to one and all that Year 1 children would more easily understand numerical relationships through the colour-coded spatial relationships shown to them. However, to our surprise, at a meeting of the P&C (Parents & Citizens Association), a teacher said that the children need not now learn their ‘times tables.’ Would they not need to remember numerical relationships by Year 3, we parents asked.

Then when hand-held calculators became available, at a high school P&C meeting, we were told that the students need not learn how to calculate by using paper and pencil or pen. How would they judge whether the answer supplied by the calculator was correct, we asked.

Then came an innovation supplied by the State education authority. It was to rename what had hitherto been known as ‘sets’ in maths. Soon, the same authority decided to improve the students’ understanding of grammar by re-defining words like adverbs and nouns, etc. Since the English people back in Britain had not seen any need to re-define their own grammar, what were our education experts seeking to do? These attempts at re-definition soon died a natural death.

Then arrived post-modern, post-structural deconstruction, which we did not understand, and which is presented in jargon phrases, and at such a high level of abstraction that one would need to tie an anvil to each phrase to bring it down to an operational level of meaning. This approach is clearly more suitable for an academic faculty of philosophy, which would offer great scope for the most subtle of semantic distinctions, than for schools preparing our youth to survive in the real world.

This approach replaces the author with the reader, who would interpret what was written in a variety of imaginative ways, as the written word apparently has no intrinsic meaning, even in context, and even after allowing for the meaning to reflect the time, place, history, and semantic culture depicted in the writing. Perhaps it would be now appropriate for deconstructionist readers to write their own scripts.

Speaking as a writer whose books had been favourably assessed by competent manuscript appraisers and editors, and which also received accolades for what I have to say, and how I have said it (eg. 4 of my non-fiction books have been recommended by the US Review of Books – the 5th is out of print – and my book of fiction was favourably reviewed by both the Review and a State President of the Federation of Australian Writers), let me say that we writers of non-fiction do not necessarily seek the truth, but state the truth where possible (as one must), when writing non-fiction; my book of fiction was written for fun, and should be read for fun.

Are there not fads in teaching?

A senior teacher in a prestigious private school had this to say recently (‘Weekend Australian’ 12/13 Oct. 2013) about films replacing books in many classrooms. “Increasingly in contemporary Australian schooling, great store is placed on what is described as ‘visual literacy’ … Film …does not, and never can, help reading and writing skills. … Visual literacy should not be confused with substantial textual knowledge. That requires students to understand language, how it works, how we read it, comprehend it and write about it in clear grammatical English.”

In the event, I wonder what it is that Derrida-derived deconstruction of any writing or literature enables students to do in a work environment which would require them to communicate with others by writing to them, or to write reports or analyses. I must say that I have not met anyone who seemed disadvantaged by not having learnt about deconstructing language.

So, are ‘visual literacy’ and deconstruction of language just fads in education? If they are fads, who was responsible for introducing them, and how did they become popular here and there? If they are not fads, what are their claimed benefits? Is there any research evidence demonstrating their value? I wonder how non-teacher parents whose children are exposed to these approaches feel about them.

More examples of false pride

Man’s 5 senses and their processor, the brain, have great limitations in terms of accessing the knowledge required to explain almost everything of significance to us. At minimum, this includes the universe or a multi-verse Cosmos, as well as our place in it, and how we came to be where we are.

We have scholars who reach what seem to be sensible, but are often speculative, conclusions. Then, instead of holding onto such conclusions on a tentative basis (as required by the methodology of science), some of these conclusions tend to be upheld, in many areas of relevance to us all, as if they had been conclusively verified. The guilty parties may be more the writers, including the media. But are we not smothered by some tentative conclusions which seem to be set in stone? Why this false certainty? Who gains by it?

For example, key Egyptologists are alleged to continue to insist that the pyramids are royal tombs, and built only with stone tools; and that the Egyptian civilisation goes back only about 5,000 years. When this and other ‘set-in-stone’ but more probably tentative conclusion are challenged, the challengers are apparently required to provide undeniable and conclusive evidence to prove their case. Why does not this requirement apply also to the prevailing belief? Such stances are to be found in assessments of pre-history, where one might expect to find less certainty than otherwise.

Recently, an eminent professor in physics claimed that the Greeks were the first to have discovered maths. What about the earlier Chaldeans? Or the other cultures which are known to have studied the heavens carefully, and for a long time, and calculated events of significance to them? Increasingly, clever people everywhere in the world discover more of the maths which exists. I am curious; Where is it hidden? Is this an unknown unknown?

Mistaken historical pride – some examples

British writers I have read wrote thus. Indians pray to hundreds of gods, as well as to stones and trees. (Each Indian will pray to a few well-chosen manifestations of the one and only God of the universe.) Indians are afraid of the sea. (How is it that they were one of the great seafaring peoples of the world?) Alexander conquered India (without crossing the River Indus?) Hinduism is not more than 1,500 years old. Evidence? (How old are the so-called ‘desert’ religions of the Middle East?)

In examining the relative ages of our cultures, one needs to realise that, in the 19th century, racism-cum-colonialism led to futile attempted revisions of the previously-accepted historical record, to assert the superiority of the ‘Aryan’ people of Europe, and the primacy of their chosen cultural ancestor. Further, did not the culture of the non-Semitic Sumerians precede those of the Semitic people of the Middle East by a few thousand years? The culture of Mohenjo-Daro/Harappa seems quite old. And Indian maths (remember who discovered the zero?) seems to have a long history.

All this reflects false pride in the relative superiority of the European ‘Aryan.’ But then, the Chinese were believed to be the most advanced people technologically up to about 1,500 AD. The Persians were said to have had a 1,000 history of excellence in the arts. Muslim architecture in Central Asia – has it been bettered? There also seem to be many small cultures which had advanced philosophies – for example, the Mayan culture.

The reality is that all asserted superiority can only be temporary. Look at what happened to the great empires of history. Perhaps mankind cannot overcome the influences of our planets, since both planets and people are made of the same substance, stardust, and are thereby closely and inescapably linked in our respective trajectories!