The authoritarian rainbow

I was born into an authoritarian family and culture. We were an immigrant family living in a typically authoritarian cultural terrain. Authoritarian cultures are Asia-wide. That is because Asian cultures are communitarian, except for some modernised or Westernised individuals. These cultures are not individualistic, as in the modern nations of the West.

Communitarianism reflects the central role of the gene (and marriage)-linked clan in life. Even in the diaspora of the Hindu Tamils of Ceylon (now re-named Sri Lanka), the clan remains (so I have been informed) an atmospheric bond – tying relatives spread over many countries into a tradition-bound ideationally-coherent unit. The extent of traditional authoritarianism will, of course, vary over space and time.

Beyond the clan stands the tribe. Historically, as well as currently (in most parts of the world), the tribe is the structure into the lacunae of which fit the clans sharing a language, a religion, and all manner of cultural traditions. The similarities within a tribe over-ride any surface differences. This was manifest pre-World War 2 when, through chain migration, the Ceylon Tamils entered British Malaya; while geneology was traced through village origins, they were one people – even in the way some dishes were cooked.

Of course, within a predominantly multi-tribal multi-ethnic nation (as I have mentioned in an earlier post) excessive tribal cohesion can delay integration into that nation. In such a nation, in time, nationalism is likely to overtake tribalism (as has happened in Malaysia), in spite of some stakeholders in the tribes affected anchoring themselves to a vaguely-remembered glorious past or to the prevailing religion.

The recent death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew who, together with 2 intellectual colleagues, took the island of Singapore into a prosperous independent nation, raised the issue of authoritarian governments. Singapore, like China, is a planned command economy – thereby producing results beyond the scope of those Western nations led by political-party tribes with few plans for a strong future; laissez-faire prevails!

Australia, typical of such nations, is also authoritarian, but in less overt ways. For example, in spite of more than 80% of voters seeking voluntary euthanasia (in the form of physician-assisted death) in the name of true compassion for those whose severe pain is not being alleviated through both palliative care and pharmaceutically, our governments will not budge! So much for representative government; what is represented is a restrictive ideology of the political-party tribes controlling the people.

In other countries, authoritarian governments can also be based on overt greed or religion; but with the camouflage provided by a surface democracy. Authoritarianism will rule in various colours!

Would not a command economy which develops the nation, and which offers the people, progressively, increasing freedoms (to be expressed responsibly) be more attractive? Relying on ‘market forces’ while yet inflicting the political party’s religious preferences on the electorate is a poor alternative, surely?

The ethos of operational individualism, when tied to authoritarian ideological governance, is a mirage: one can walk into the sea only so far without possessing some apparatus for buoyancy when the supplier’s door is closed.

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