A youthful look at proverbs

I received the following by email from a fellow grandparent. We should never under-estimate the perspicacity of our young.

A 1st grade school teacher had twenty-six students in her class. She presented each child in her classroom the 1st half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. It’s hard to believe these were actually done by first graders. Their insight may surprise you. While reading, keep in mind that these are first-graders, 6-year-olds, because the last one is a classic !

2. Strike while the bug is close.
3. It’s always darkest before Daylight Saving Time..
4. Never underestimate the power of termites.
5. You can lead a horse to water but how?
6. Don’t bite the hand that looks dirty.
7. No news is impossible.
8. A miss is as good as a Mr.
9. You can’t teach an old dog new math.
10. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll stink in the morning.
11. Love all, trust me.
12. The pen is mightier than the pigs.
13. An idle mind is the best way to relax.
14. Where there’s smoke there’s pollution.
15. Happy the bride who gets all the presents.
16. A penny saved is not much.
17. Two’s company, three’s the Musketeers.
18. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you put on to go to bed.
19. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you have to blow your nose.
20. There are none so blind as Stevie Wonder.
21. Children should be seen and not spanked or grounded.
22. If at first you don’t succeed get new batteries.
23. You get out of something only what you see in the picture on the box.
24. When the blind lead the blind get out of the way.
25. A bird in the hand is going to poop on you.
And the WINNER and last one!
26. Better late than pregnant.

Aren’t they brilliant?

The path to tribalism and thereafter

“Tribal structures are the rule in those Middle Eastern countries in which the leading nations of the West seek to achieve regime change, and to introduce Western democracy. This would destroy tribal leadership, and hopefully enable a firm Western economic foothold. The path to tribalism is therefore worth noting.

Historically, when an extended family of pre-urban nomadic people moved around on the face of Earth seeking sustenance, staying together by necessity, they would fight or co-exist with any other family they came across, depending on relative greed or scarcity of food.

Established settlers with access to water and other needed resources would find newcomers seeking a similar lifestyle bedding themselves on the outskirts of their tenements. If the people are compatible, a consolidated tribe may form. If not, two or more tribes may co-exist.

An admixture of tribes would seem to be the norm wherever one looks, both during historical times and today. This pattern of co-existing tribes could have risen through the normal process of sharing an abundant food supply in settled locales, or joining together in mutual defence, or being taken into slavery as the booty of war, and such like.

Another major cause would have been empires created by expansionist leaders, mainly over contiguous lands, leading to a mixture of tribes. For instance, there were empires in relatively recent history ruled by Manchurians; or by Tibetans; or by the Huns; or by the Uigur; or by the Mongols.

The much more expansive empires created by the Persians, or by the Romans, or by the nations of Europe created even more complex agglomerations, resulting in the co-existence of previously disparate tribes. The Han Chinese are just the new boys on this pitch. Their current overlordship covering about 60 diverse ethno-cultural tribes may, of course, be as durable as was the British Empire or the Roman Empire, both of which encompassed a great variety of tribes.”

(Tribalism may not reign as prodigiously as it once did, but it can cohere a tribal people in multi-ethnic environments. Acting in unison, a tiny fraction of one tribe did make my life at work most uncomfortable late in my career. European colonialism divided tribes through attempts to achieve spheres of influence (however temporary); cross-border post-colonial conflicts bedevil nations created so carelessly. But, what is it that keeps tribal pride bubbling after emigration, especially after a number of generations following re-settlement? Institutionalised religion?

What is significant in modern times is the post-colonial thrust by key Western nations to replace tribal leaders in certain nations of interest. This is attempted by introducing or demanding the imposition of Western democracy, which should replace tribal leaders with more temporary (and thereby more controllable) political leaders. Globalisation, promising more efficient utilisation of a target nation’s economic resources through foreign investment (and control?) could add to the devaluation of tribalism.

A more likely development will be the leader of the most powerful tribe governing his nation in cahoots with foreign interests, while surface democracy prevails. What a combination – democracy harnessed to tribalism and foreign ‘guidance’!)

Flaunting cultural difference

Most Australians would seem to accept personal decorations as an expression of personal freedom. A fashion favoured some years ago by Italian soccer football players of a facial growth of a few days has now been adopted by many players of other sports; the outcome is not always an aesthetic success. It has also been believed generally that some young Australians decorate their heads and faces in order to reduce their chances of employment. Making fashion statements by wearing an undergarment over an outer garment does not seem to make much of an impact. Decorating one’s head by wearing a hat or other head covering can enhance one’s public appearance. Wearing head gear such as a skull cap, turban, or scarf to reflect cultural tradition arouses no more than passing curiosity.

However, a ‘walking tent’ or an approaching person whose whole face is covered except for the eyes is little different from an approaching person wearing a motor cycle helmet – an unidentifiable individual. Would it be surprising that, in a modern cosmopolitan city where harm is possibly a whisker away, some of us become a little apprehensive at being approached by the visions described above?

People from all over the world have rubbed shoulders (so to speak) on Australia streets until recently without any of them claiming stridently to be different, the difference being a projected aura of cultural superiority by the newcomer. Of course, immigration selection was once careful not to allow immigrants who might not accept and live by the nation’s ethos. Now we seem to be collecting entrants as if there is a shortage in the supply line, and without adequate regard for inter-community social cohesion.

The following extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ touch upon this issue.

“The full body-covering niqab, said to be necessary to protect the modesty of women in the presence of apparently ever-lustful men, hasn’t been seen on Moslem boat people seeking asylum. I also wonder if the men supporting the niqab suffer from a permanent erection when surrounded by Australian women of a range of ethnicities who are dressed ordinarily.

Then, imagine driving through Sydney traffic wearing a niqab; how much necessary peripheral vision would be avail¬
able? Imagine too a security guard’s problem when a niqab-wearing person enters his bank; male of female, friend or foe? In some countries the guard would shoot first, as no one with a face covering, say, a motorcycle helmet, could enter the premises without removing the helmet.

This is sheer cultural arrogance! Human rights avail¬able in a free Australian society are being used against the ethos of Australia. I suspect that most cosmopolitan Aussies, including earlier immigrants, would wish niqab lovers a happy life in another country offering compatible cultural values (perhaps with sharia law thrown in). “

National identity undermined by religio-cultural ‘wars’

“The need by the Australian indigenes to be seen as a separate cultural entity is shared by some self-focused ethnic individuals in Australia. These wish to be seen as a separate community and to be able to retain their imported cultural practices and values in toto; and in the case of a few immigrant mullahs, also to have some of Australia’s institutions amended to suit the cultural traits of some historical desert tribes.

These fundamentalist Moslems have a powerful precedent. The Roman Catholics, essentially the Irish, who insisted on having their own educational system right from the beginning, have already achieved a stranglehold on Australia’s socio-political policies, especially in relation to the procreative features of women. Just as the Bible has been re-interpreted or selectively quoted to provide comfortable platforms for authoritarian Christian priesthoods, so the Koran is being misquoted to justify an equally inequitable, if not unjust, treatment of women, as well as to obtain discriminatory privileges in the nation they chose to enter. The ‘ayatollahs’ of both religions seek supremacy in their hoped-for ascent to Heaven.

Unlike the ageing but un-winnable war against the Protestant faiths by some spear carriers of the Roman Catholic faith, the former desert dwellers’ historical battle against un-tameable sand-filled winds could be dispensed with in Australia. There is no need to cover one’s face in suburban Australia, which is free of desert sand-filled wind storms. Yet, clothing has become the weapon of choice in the culture war between secular Western society and ‘desert’ Islam. The peoples of Europe are fighting back in the name of national identity and unity. Huntington’s wars between civilisations may have commenced.”

(These extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ raise an important issue. While migrants seek to better themselves in their new home, nations such as Australia (which seek new citizens) expect the immigrants to benefit the country, while the latter (in turn) are expected, at minimum, to accept the institutions and social mores of the nation, which is also secular.

They have access to the equal opportunity processes of the nation, unlike (reportedly) some former colonial nations of Europe, and assisted to integrate into the nation, and not to live in ghetto-like residential clusters. I draw on my work experience in saying all this. We look after our immigrants. This reflects the traditional ‘fair-go’ ethos which has survived the inflow of ethnic diversity.)

The place of the indigene in a national identity

About 30 years ago, only a decade after White Australia had been officially dispensed with, multiculturalism, as policy, began to gather favour. By then, there were public officials whose parents had emigrated to Australia. The concept of European ‘reffos’ and ‘wogs’ had been tamed, initially through officialdom deeming the new arrivals to be ‘New Australians.’

When one of these officials asked about the place of the Australian indigenes in this new multicultural society, his boss, also a second generation Australian of European descent, denied them a place. The spectrum of multiculturalism seemed to be for those of European stock, supplemented (possibly) by the trickle of the preferred light-skinned East Asians, most of whom were (later) identified in the Census as Christian.

In the light of the undeniable heavy hand across the entry door for those wishing to migrate to Australia from the Indian sub-continent, until near the end of the 20th century, and the 2 centuries-long plaint by many white Anglo-Australians “Why can’t they be like us?” (‘they’ being the indigenes who had been marginalised by white settlement), is it surprising that the Australian Aboriginal is expected to be assimilated, rather than integrated like the immigrant communities?

Buckets of scarce taxpayer money, wrapped in very Christian utterances about helping the original occupants to achieve parity with later Australians, do not seem to have done much. Indeed, the prevailing prejudice when the High Court relatively recently threw out the original coloniser’s claim to have entered ‘terra nullius’ (an empty land), and granted ‘Native Title Rights’ to the Aboriginal people, conservative politicians joined in the frantic wailing that up to 85% of the swimming pools in the cities would be taken away by the minuscule Aboriginal population of the nation! Racist prejudice was thick in the air.

Notwithstanding that a number of people of Aboriginal descent have achieved great success in academe, the law, the arts, particularly dance, and in business, my view about the plight of the Aboriginal people as a whole is captured in the following extract from ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’ (The chapter is ‘On multiculturalism’)

A proposal to have the Constitution recognise the Aboriginal people as the first nation people of Australia has been long delayed. Those who oppose the so-called ‘black armband’ view of Australia’s history are probably responsible for that.

“The indigenes – are they included? I am sure that they do not want to remain submerged as a people beyond more than the two centuries of being ignored. As a former colonial subject, I can understand how they must feel about their post-invasion experience. Their terrible history is matched only by that of the indigenes of the Americas and New Zealand. However, their claim to be the foundation people in this island continent may one day be enshrined in some official document. Whether this would put them on par even with imported coloured people is uncertain.”

A misguided policy of multiculturalism

When a nation’s population expands, and one of the components of expansion is a widening of ethnic diversity, the resulting mixture of cultural origins and identities can be expected to permit the emergence of progressively varying national identities. Such identities will be projected identities – from within the nation.

There will be some jockeying by long-established cultural communities for positions at the top of an imagined power totem pole. These will be challenged by newer cultural communities seeking competitive places on this pole. As well, strong individuals will seek personal power or influence through appointments by governments to new ethnic structures – which will secure their positions as ethnic community leaders. Ethnic empowerment then becomes the game, with political parties seeking the so-called ethnic vote.

The following extracts are from my last book ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ (2012).

“Multiculturalism has become a divisive term. Instead of being a mere descriptive term for an admixture of ethnic cultures, it has now come to reflect an official policy. This policy enables permanence for ethno-cultural communities with religion-based traditions which are widely divergent from those of the mainstream populace; with the new communities wishing to retain their traditions unmodified by time.

An unsought, and an even undesirable, consequence of this policy is that, instead of converging in time with the socio-political structures of the host population, there develop, by choice, parallel cultural structures. These either delay or deny a desirable eventual integration of these new arrivals into the mainstream populace. The enlarged population is now not a unified people bonded by a shared citizenship and shared civic values.

Ironically, while these introduced communities seek to retain their version of ancestral cultures intact, back in the countries of origin of these new communities, their cultural practices keep evolving.

A further challengeable consequence of multiculturalism as policy occurs when governments place unelected and unpaid self-titled ethnics in management control of migrant settlement policy structures.

Thus, in the former all-white racist nation of Australia, minority segments of the populace now chortle with joy because Australia has recently discovered ‘multiculturalism,’ known to the rest of us as ethnic diversity. Opportunistic politicians now spout about this new wonder of Australia, in order to harvest what they see as the ethnic vote. The ‘professional’ ethnics of Australia form the requisite glee club. Their reward is the government’s multicultural policy and administrative structures attached to that. This is a playground for ambitious self-titled ethnics.”

On national and personal identity – Part 2

“Australia’s official presentation of itself is fascinating. Totally subservient to our hoped-for protector (against whom?); a ‘middle power’ throwing its weight about in the Pacific (as any Deputy Sheriff might); and patronisingly friendly towards the relatively under-developed nations to the north; and seeking to make friends with other nations in order to obtain a seat in the UN Security Council.

Overall there is a certain smugness projected, but which does not seem to be persuasive.

In its image of itself, Australia produces a quaint collage. Initially, it was proud of its white, British and Christian ori¬gins. Typically, its explorers kept finding things which the indigene must have already known about. (Burton and Spake seeking the origin of the River Nile come to mind.) From the mid-1960s it became progressively proud of its convict heritage. In the mid-1970s it saw itself as progressively cosmopolitan, drawing upon its increasing ethno-cultural diversity (the Aborigines just need to be more patient).

It has always seen itself, correctly, as egalitarian, welfare-minded, with gender equality, and with increasing intellectual and social freedoms (in spite of opposition from the religious fundamentalists who are still riding their high horses).

Beneath this surface mixture of identities, a few chasms run this way and that. The tolerance by the Australian public of its often pathetic rulers (as in the second decade of the twenty-first century) is itself an essential ingredient of the core image by Australia of itself; tolerant and laid-back, while a little rough on the fringe.

Other essential components of national identity are the national icons, each of which should reflect some significant aspect of the nation’s history. A nation with a very brief history has, however, little of the past to choose from. However, there is the publicly celebrated ANZAC tradition. It is a reflection of the courage, tenacity and loyalty of Australia’s soldiers during defeat in WW1. I wonder: apart from the successful battles against the Japanese in the Pacific, can Australia claim any successes in wars, usually other countries’ wars?

A misted-over part-icon is a highway man, a strange choice. There is then the cringe-arousing fondness for a cross-dressing humorist gladiolus. Icon or not? Those seeking a little too assiduously to create national icons have offered the Eureka Stockade as a harbinger of a thrust to democracy. Icon? Doubtful. Why does this remind me of foreign-owned mining companies and taxation?

Perhaps it is time for modern Australia, with its 30% non-Anglo-Celt multi-ethnic composition, achieved over more than half a century, to establish new icons. What could these be? How will we identify them?”

(When I suggested, in one of my other books, that we immigrants should be free to nominate new, and possibly more appropriate, national icons, I was fiercely attacked by a well-known historian. Traditions must be upheld, right? Which traditions? British settlement based on the destruction of a whole indigenous people? The White Australia policy? This evolving nation has now much to be proud of.

What are the national icons which will reflect the new national identity? Perhaps we need to define more clearly this new identity. As seen by our Significant Other nations, or by us? If by us, will Aborigines and immigrant non-Anglos have any input rights?

The extracts shown above are from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ and are intended to inspire some thought about what identifies individuals as well as nations.)

Is the core of an identity ever perceivable?

Following on from my suspicion that one’s variable perceived personal identity may mask a self-identified personality, could there be a core personality within that? Would we dare look at it?

Our real personality, the core, would surely be affected by the accumulation of memories from the past, especially the ‘sealed’ memories from one’s past lives. While past lives, as experienced, are said to influence a current life-path, the associated memories may be an archive. Who knows?

The following extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ set out my efforts to think through this interesting issue of identity.

“Then, when my community discovered that I am a bicultural immigrant writer from Asia, of an unclear ancestry and religious affiliation, I was (thankfully) ignored as a non-identity. Because I did not fish, play golf or bowls, I obviously did not fit in as one of them; that was in spite of my visible involvement in civil society, often in leadership positions.

So, if personal identity is a rolling stone, what can I say about Australia’s identity as a (now) fast-evolving nation?

But then … … what have the various perceptions of me by others to do with what I am? Do I not have a core per¬
sonality? If so, what is it? How is it to be discovered, and by whom? To confuse matters, could I be a multi-layered entity? If so, could I intuitively seek to strip away layers of myself to ascertain what might be a core that is an invariant me?

Peeling away the persona I present to the public (including my colleagues at work and in civil society), then, the persona I present to the (extended) family, can I then divest myself of the image I have created for myself (if I dare!), and expose that long-buried skeleton of my innate personality or idenity? Would it be a frail courage or a disarming folly to go that far?

To seek the core identity of my adopted nation in a comparable manner, I begin with how other people might see us. In Malaysia/Singapore, the media waste no space or time on Australia, but the people there like what they see of the Australian people. On the other hand, the governments of Asia must surely be aware of official Australia’s undue sensitivity to Islam; its indifference (mainly of the past) to the darker peoples of the Indian subcontinent; and its obsequiousness towards Asian buyers of its major exports.”

A colourful and foreign identity

I have not had a relationship with any Aboriginal people. A few work-related contacts were glancing, with no depth. I have read and been told that non-urban Aboriginal people refer to themselves as ‘blackfellas’; and that all others are ‘whitefellas.’ But, how could I accept that description when I sport a superior colour? (Heh, heh!) Then I believe that the term ‘yellowfella’ was applied to non-indigenous coloured people. Since the colonial British had referred to East Asians as belonging to the ‘yellow race’, I am not inclined (although I have part-Chinese relatives) to accept my colour as in any way yellowish.

I then decided that, since I had been described as a black in my early years in Australia, I would describe myself as a blackfellow; note the ‘ow’. That did not go well with my friends and colleagues; you are not black, they insisted. That is, my identity seems to be determined by others – and is thereby variable.

This was borne out during a social function during my mid-40s. Soon after my arrival in the national capital and found myself a lowly clerk, I met a few Asian diplomats. I had actually been offered a job as a trainee diplomat in the government of newly-independent Malaysia. Through one of these friendships, my wife and I attended a few diplomatic parties. We must have presented ourselves with some style, and displayed some maturity, for certain favourable assessments to have been made about our identity.

However, at such a party, people would walk away when I denied that I was a diplomat; or a non-resident on a training program. More people would move away when I said I was an Australian government clerk. Those who stayed to talk were interested in our background, as an Asian/Anglo couple were rare. I therefore used that description of being a government clerk for years to sort those who would talk to us only if I was someone with status. “What do you do, and what is your status?” was the normal conversational opening in our government city, in not only social gatherings of government employees, but also in gatherings of, say, academics.

However, an inquisitive fellow at a party given by a friend of mine, an Australian diplomat (actually, diplomats remained public servants when at home), rejected my mask. He said, “If you are a government employee, you must be a Director. No one below that rank would be here.” This chap, our host and I were all directors.

Personal identity seems to be determined by the observer, no matter how one sees oneself.

On national and personal identity – Part 1

“I do wonder if a nation can have its own identity. Might it be defined in the same way that a personal identity is drawn? But then, is there a single personal identity for each individual?

In British Malaya, the land of my birth, we were classified according to the territory from which we had come. I was therefore Ceylonese. In post-war White Australia, I was initially described as a black man, occasionally a black bastard. Later, I was an Asian student, with Immigration authorities ensuring that we did not become over-stayers. Then I became an Indian, because everyone brown in colour, other than the indigene, was Indian; although I was occasionally asked when my Afghan ancestors had arrived in Australia.

Later, much later, like everyone else, I was defined by my work, with passing reference to my origins. Occupation and status were then standard delineations of identity. However, when my wife and I mixed with middle-range diplomats, I was assumed to be a foreign diplomat; brown-skinned Asian-Australians were a missing species. I guess we scrubbed up well too, and spoke ‘proper like.’ Among the academics, I was assumed to be one of them; my tendency to speak in jargon from the social sciences may have misled them all. I was a mere public servant. In this specific arena, one’s social contacts were obliquely, yet inevitably, set by one’s position in the pecking order!

When I retired, to live alone in a small and cheap fibro-and-tin house in a low-income district, and drove an old Corolla, initially I seemed to be viewed as a blackfellow. That is, many of the local whites looked askance at me, reminding me of the White Australia era. Even when I was dressed relatively expensively, some locals looked at me, as in earlier times, as if I might suddenly bite them; they had that wary look. The local Aborigines would not, of course, accept me as a ‘black¬fella.’ I was, to them, a ‘whitefella.’”

(The above extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ are offered in the context of each one of us understanding who we are in terms of a personal identity, in the context of imagined national identities (for, surely there are more than the officially asserted one).

Yet, as set out above, it does not seem to matter how we see ourselves. How others see each one of us seems to be the definitive perception – and this will vary with each perceiver, whether an individual, or a group, a collective.)