The ethos of individualism

It was strange moving from a communitarian culture to a culture based on the primacy of the individual – but with individual rights not counter-balanced by any responsibilities within a cohesive extended family. Moving from a culture involving close linkages between blood relatives to a society in which even one’s brothers and sisters lived far away from one another was isolating, by inference. Did this separation, during the century and a half between foundation and the immediate post-war period when I arrived in Australia, create self-sufficient but self-focused individuals?

I observed too that the ordinary Australian worker was not subservient to anyone; he was everyone’s equal. Did not that reflect the breakdown of traditional power relations? Class distinctions did not seem to be imperative even in power relationships. Nasal accents acquired in private schools had little impact. There were no coolies, no servants; any respect displayed to certain individuals appeared to be influenced by the need to protect one’s income.
I was told, with some pride, that during World War Two, while black American soldiers had to step off the pavement when approached by an officer, and to salute the latter in passing, Australian soldiers would salute only their own officers, but without displaying any subservience.

In relation to the personal dignity which one would want to associate with being human, is not the Australian worker an appropriate exemplar to workers in, say, south-east Asian nations? Other nations exploiting workers as if they are disposable entities, paying homage to the almighty dollar rather than to the Almighty, might also note that successful capitalistic nations are based substantially on the equitable treatment of one and all. Personal dignity should be an entitlement.

However, Australia, while retaining its national ethos of equitable individualism, seems now to have subjugated self-sufficiency to demanding other people’s money, to be received through state-based institutional arrangements. Reciprocity in responsibility, a feature of extended-family support, has gone with that bird, the dodo, in this modern Western nation. (Refer ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bi-cultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society,’ available as ebook at amazon.com at $US 2.99)

A few clever thoughts

I am attracted by clever twists in the way words are used. Here are some examples.

• Atheists can’t solve exponential problems because they do not believe in higher powers.
• An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.
• Alcohol and calculus don’t mix. Don’t drive and derive.
• A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to hospital. His grandmother telephoned to ask how he was. A nurse said ‘No change yet.’
• A noun and a verb were dating, but they broke up because the noun was too possessive.
• A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
• A hangover is the wrath of grapes.

The English language does allow such cleverness. How do other languages compare?

Putting down coloured roots in White Australia

I wrote about the following experiences in the mid-1990s. I was told by a professor of history and politics that they depict a sliver of Australia’s post-war history. They also show the growing acceptance by Australians of Asians in their domain.

“Accepted for citizenship while Australia was still officially white, I worked for the Australian government in such interesting fields as ethnic affairs (looking after the settlement needs of migrants); in the screening of foreign investment in Australia (to ensure that it was not against the national interest); the provision of assistance to secondary industry by government (ensuring the continued inability of Australian industry to be competitive globally); and the artistic (but very reasonable) creation of balance of payments statistics. Indeed, in 1963, I was the first public official (in the then Tariff Board) to argue for reduced import tariffs; naturally, I was disparaged as a ‘free trader.’ Yet, within 6 years, the term came into fashion.

I also made a small contribution to the education system in the national capital (in part by being the foundation chairman of a school board); to career protection in the Australian public service – by leading, for seven years, a trade union sub-committee working on career protection, i.e. improving the equity and efficiency of selection procedures (I received a Meritorious Service Award from my union); and involved myself in a couple of other community concerns (including overseas aid and public speaking for school children).

Twice a year, the local press is likely to refer to two on-going events which I initiated. That is, I believe that I integrated into the Australian nation quite successfully and productively, but without losing my cultural identity or without losing sight of myself.”

In mid-2015, I know that being bi-cultural is no big deal; but one should not expect a foot to do what a hand can do. Apart from that, it is interesting being an insider and (simultaneously) an outsider; the challenges are sociological, mental and moral.

Immigrants and citizenship – for whose benefit?

Once upon a time – and this is not a fairy tale – Australian immigration officials based overseas assessed applicants for immigration as to whether they could settle in their new home successfully. Immigrants were to benefit the nation. Why else take them? Alternatively, the vast intake necessitated by needed development would, if not selected carefully, de-stabilise the host nation; and the government was not looking for cheap labour.

Selected immigrants sought to better themselves, and settled in successfully – with initial support from Good Neighbour Councils of Anglo-Australians. Very expensive settlement services were then provided by the government. I was responsible for their implementation, sequentially over the years, of all of them (bar the English language program). That is how I was able to write ‘Destiny Will Out,’ which demonstrated how well our migrants were looked after.

These settlers accepted Australia’s institutional framework, and adapted themselves to the prevailing (and evolving) social mores. No ‘ghettos’ were formed. Imported tribal tensions and sectarian prejudices were quietly nipped in the bud.

Now we have immigrants who want the host nation to amend its laws to suit their religio-cultural preferences. As well, whether they arrive by boat without entry visas or by air with visas, many demand a right to stay, to move freely, and to be supported by taxpaying Australia. Quaintly, some ‘single-issue’ politicians, and ‘legal eagles’ seeking to open up the entry door, supported by caring (but financially irresponsible) people, support free entry!

Thus, secure national borders and the financial self-sufficiency of immigrants – the requirements of honest, tax-paying residents – move backstage against the ethos of entitlement to other people’s money, and the demands of the welfare industry. An indication of undesirable outcomes: a ‘snakehead’ (people smuggler), granted asylum as a refugee, reportedly went back to Asia to continue his business, while his wife was given public housing ahead of a long waiting list of residents.

A critical observer might look askance at the laborious process of assessing asylum claims, and the unemployment record of accepted ‘refugees.’ For example, a well-respected reporter wrote that, 5 years after acceptance, only 9% of Afghans were employed. But then, our asylum seekers may be traders, ‘middlemen,’ and suchlike, rather than factory or rural workers.

What is the benefit to the nation of those who will seek and live on welfare (an attraction in Europe as well) for years? Some of the jihadists now overseas were reportedly on Australian welfare. Ask those whose taxes are being handed out so freely, not UN officials, spokesmen for NGOs spruiking ‘human rights,’ or those local politicians who participate in ‘pork-barrelling.’

The joy of learning

In my view, learning should be continuous, on-going. Alas, there is never enough time. So, enjoy pondering these.
I’ve learned… That no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.

I’ve learned… That life is tough, but I’m tougher.

I’ve learned… That opportunities are never lost; someone will take the ones you miss.

I’ve learned… That when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.

I’ve learned… That one should keep their words both soft and tender, because tomorrow they may have to eat them.

I’ve learned… That a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

I’ve learned… That when your newly born grandchild holds your little finger in their little fist, that you’re hooked for life

I’ve learned… That everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.

I’ve learned… That the less time I have to work with, the more things I get done.

(Aren’t these great?)

Celebrating indigenous cultures

In support of the Australian indigenes’ claim for recognition as First Nation Peoples, and of inter-cultural tolerance in a former racist white nation now seeking to be a full-fledged member of the Family Of Man, I present the view of a writer I respect.

The following was part of an article by Nikki Gemmell in the August 8-9 2015 issue of the ‘Weekend Australian Magazine’ of ‘The Australian’ newspaper.

“ … a champion (football) player does a whisper of a tribal dance after a goal, during National Reconciliation Week, in solidarity with some up-and-coming Aboriginal players he’d just been with. It was graceful, exhilarating, moving cheeky – a celebration of triumphant and playful Aboriginality. He was nodding to his culture, fired up, elated. But a vast swath of Australia couldn’t cope. Still can’t cope. Makes endless excuses about why it can’t cope.

Australia, what exactly are you afraid of? Why is difference so terrifying to you? When Aboriginal people are strong and vocal and empowered, why are so many of us so fearful? We need to learn from our New Zealand neighbours; learn how they celebrate their Maori culture. What we have done to Aboriginal people is a stain upon our nation, and the reality of course is that some people want the indigene ‘problem’ to go away; have wanted it to go away since white man first stepped foot on this soil and declared the land ‘terra nullius.’”

“ … We nurture among us the Earth’s oldest living continuous culture, and we should be damn proud of that. But, of course, some among us don’t like overt displays of Aboriginality, want them disappeared and silenced.”

“ … I’m on the side of tolerance, generosity of spirit, and an attempt to understand and embrace difference.”

(Could an explanation be, not white-man superiority, but a subliminal sense of collective tribal guilt? Alternatively, what is being demonstrated is plain unadulterated ignorance. Can’t do much about that.)

Are the ‘desert’ religions intrinsically violent?

The 3 Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been described as ‘desert’ religions in contrast to the ‘forest’ religions of Asia. Could the forest religions, in their institutional forms or, as collectives, be described as fiery or blood-thirsty as have the desert religions? Of course, when conjoined with politics, especially ethno-politics, the guidance offered by revered teachers may move backstage. For instance, are inter-ethnic political relations in the predominantly Buddhist nations consistent with the Buddha’s guidance?

I have recently read that Genghis Khan went on the rampage against the Muslim peoples further west, because the latter had harassed, for centuries, the Mongolians and other neighbouring peoples. Having achieved the largest contiguous empire in the world, and administering it with competence, the Great Khan’s ruling descendants of western Asia became Muslims themselves, with changed names. Would Mongolian genes contribute to Middle Eastern politics today? Or, would religion rule? Or, would that ubiquitous greed for power be the determinant influence?

Today, the 2 major sects of an Abrahamic religion are battling for supremacy, , with the other 2 Abrahamic religions also involved in this terrible debacle. In this context, my recent post about the historical killing by both Christianity and Islam is surely relevant. More relevant are the recent incursions by the Christian West into 2 Muslim nations; could Christianity be so foolish ever again?

But what drives the aggression of the nations bound to the desert religions? Not religion, but pure greed for resources or power?

Do religions have to compete?

One of 2 strands of development in my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ looks at the various paths to God taken by ethno-cultural communities in Australia. The Religious Affairs Editor of ‘The Australian’ newspaper, James Murray, SSC endorsed (pre-publication) Chapter 4 ‘Which Way to the Cosmos’ in ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ thus:

“I find the concepts in ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ most appealing, coming as they do from an agile mind which has managed to embrace cultures usually seen as competitive, or even enemies. This book should prove a precious contribution to mutual understanding”.

What triggered my interest in the competitive aspects of institutional religions was the contrast between the mutual tolerance displayed by the adherents of a variety of religions in British Malaya, and the strangely bitter sectoral prejudice between Australian Christians (and their shared disdain of other religions) when I arrived in Australia in the late 1940s. I had also noted the futile attempts by so many ordinary people to convert non-Christians Asians to their faith. Worse still, recently I overheard a senior citizen say to another ‘I have the better faith.’ Really?

Obviously, for the leaders of some religious sects, control of the ‘flock’ and the exercise of power is satisfying. While on Earth, they can enjoy the privilege of some influence over governments, seeking to have their theology over-ride all others. To what ultimate end? These guys remind me of the behavior of roosters at the crack of dawn. How long does that dominance last?

As power-hungry religious leaders leave their bodies, do they ever review their lives, in order to assess whether they had enhanced humanity by stressing the core teaching of their Great Teacher during their time on Earth?

The essence of that would be ‘Do unto others as you would have done to you,’ would it not?

‘Then the fight started’

Even old people are allowed to have wacky tastes in humour. I was amused by the following 2 snippets of attempted humour sent to me. My apologies to those whose PC sense may be violated.

One year, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a
> Christmas gift…
> > The next year, I didn’t buy her a gift.
>> When she asked me why, I replied,
> > “Well, you still haven’t used the gift I bought you last year!”
>
> And that’s how the fight started…..
>
> ________________________________
>
>
> My wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire while
> we were in bed.
> > I turned to her and said, ‘Do you want to have sex?’
> > ‘No,’ she answered.
> > I then said,’Is that your final answer?’
> > She didn’t even look at me this time, simply saying, ‘Yes..’
> > So I said, “Then I’d like to phone a friend.”
> > And that’s when the fight started…
>

More learning

Wisdom must be shared. I do hope you agree. Here is more learning (received through the internet), author unknown.

“I’ve learned… That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I’ve learned… That we shouldn’t be disappointed we don’t get everything we ask for.

I’ve learned… That money doesn’t buy class.

I’ve learned… That it’s those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I’ve learned… That under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

I’ve learned… That to ignore the facts does not change the facts.

I’ve learned… That when you plan to get even with someone, you are only letting that person continue to hurt you.

I’ve learned… That love, not time, heals all wounds.

I’ve learned… That the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am

I’ve learned… That everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile.”