The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.

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The British came – and went (Part 2)

An English friend told me that he had been taught at school that Britain was in all the places coloured pink on the map in order to teach the natives how to govern themselves. The superior white men strutting around the globe were, however, busy piggy-backing local governance practices; and replacing leaders where considered necessary.

Malaysia’s legal system is based on codified law, based on precedence; and adversarial in the courts. English is the language of the law. Thus, a thousand years hence, when an archaeologist discovers Malaysian court records, he will be confused about the ethnicity of those who had created these records.

Observing the British system of law in Australia, I wonder why the English-speaking world prefers an adversarial process for getting at the truth in a court. In France, a magistrate leads the investigation, with sound prospects of unearthing the truth without being diverted by barristers seeking to win. As well, instead of asking pertinent questions, a defence barrister may promote alternative scenarios – in the interests of justice, of course. “I put it to you … … etc., etc.” does not seem to me to be a search for the truth.

I had an interesting experience of a highly-paid barrister insisting, during a court case when I was a witness, that “surely” I must know something – which I had repeatedly said I did not know. In the meanwhile, the judge just watched the proceedings. Had he been a barrister before he became a judge? I have read that contesting lawyers tell the judge, before a hearing is commenced, how many weeks they need for a hearing. What then is the judge’s role? What of efficiency and costs?

I do wonder if justice is adequately served under the British approach. Isn’t the law meant to be the pathway to justice? In positing precedents, could one cherry-pick? How much scope is there for personal preferences? Is there scope for the exercise of wisdom by a judge, especially in terms of the good of the people, of society?

Nehru (in his ‘Glimpses of World History’) referred to the village councils operating in India a long time ago. Did the elders there apply wisdom instead of being bound by past precedents? Curiously, Britain apparently had village councils of the round-headed people living there before the long-headed ones arrived by long-boats – just like the European colonial intruding into self-governing Asian communities. Could there have been more justice in these pre-invasion communities? Is it not the welfare and future of the community that is to be protected by law?

n the current post-colonial realm, European legal systems and practices will remain in now independent nations. French practice is obviously superior to that of the British, in terms of justice. In the reality of mixed ethno-cultural populations in most of the former colonial territories, village or tribal systems of law and justice may now be inoperable.

Codified law, a legacy of British colonialism, will meet the bill in current circumstances for mixed-population nations. But, why should precedents be imperative, considering that mixed populations with varying cultural values may require, in certain circumstances, new approaches? These need to be more appropriate for prevailing circumstances.

That is, is there not scope for more wisdom, and more freedom from past decisions? One can be hog-tied by law, when law should aid justice for the individual and society contemporaneously.

The British came – and went (Part 1 )

In 2012, when I felt keenly that I could hear the whisper of the wings of Death, I wrote 44 articles (of a somewhat intellectual flavour) for exinearticles.com. I wished to leave my thoughts on some serious topics.

Since then, each month, a number of readers have looked at my articles. The article attracting the most interest is titled “The pros and cons of British colonialism.”

That anyone could find any benefits to a subject society from European colonialism must attract some attention. To then find that the author is a former colonial subject who is avowedly anti-colonial (but clearly not anti-British), would be more surprising.

The principal benefit I and my age cohort received in British Malaya was a sound education in English. This was based on a curriculum in Britain. It was truly broad-based. My classmates succeeded in various disciplines post-school, studying in Britain and certain colonial outposts offering competitive professional qualifications. One classmate became a professor at Harwell, UK, the atomic research institution.

Our education was, in my experience, superior to that provided to my offspring in Australia. This assessment is based upon my substantial involvement in the education system in the national capital. My children’s education was superior to that offered to their children. By then, there were many fads creeping into what should have been a focused preparation of the nation’s youth to become viable in a highly competitive global realm.

My first grandchild, near the end of her second year in school, could not read. Why? Phonics was out – by fiat, by the teaching profession. The rationale? Semantically unclear verbiage of such a high abstraction that one would need a bank of anvils to ground the attempted rationale to an operationally-definable level. We do have many, many excellent teachers – but they had to toe the line. In two 20-minute sessions with me, my grand-daughter could read. She turned out to be a bookworm. What a waste of 2 years!

The second benefit of colonialism which I accepted was British law, codified, and based on precedence. That justice does not always match the intent of the law, is covered in another post.

The third benefit is the concept of democracy. It has surface merit. However, regrettably, from my 70-year exposure to Australian democracy, I now assert that what is known as Western democracy is a sham. Yet, as the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) showed, there are other viable versions of democracy. Refer my later post.

China in the 15th Century AD

“We, Zheng He and companions, at the beginning of Zhu Di’s reign received the Imperial Commission as envoys to the barbarians. Up until now seven voyages have taken place and, each time, we have commanded several tens of thousands of government soldiers and more than a hundred oceangoing vessels. We have … reached countries of the Western Regions, more than three thousand countries in all.

We have … beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising sky high, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away, hidden in a blue transparency of light vapours, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds, day and night continued their course, rapid like that of a star, traversing those savage waves.”

(Stone inscriptions in the Palace of the Celestial Spouse Chiang su and Liu Shia Chang, dated 1431)

From back cover. The inside front cover states as follows.

On 8 March 1421 the biggest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di’s eunuch admirals. Their mission was to proceed all the way to the end of earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. That journey would last over two years and circle the globe.”

“… They had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years before the Europeans.”

The above are extracts from ‘1421. The year China discovered the world’ by Gavin Menzies. He is a retired Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer, born in China. He “spent 15 years tracing the astonishing voyages” of Admiral Zheng He’s fleets.

The book contains many pages of supporting evidence; eye witness diaries; key charts “describing the first navigation of the world”; and the “determination of longitude by the Chinese in the early 15th century.” A somewhat comprehensive presentation.

As said on the inside front cover “His compelling narrative pulls together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators. It brings to light the artefacts and inscribed stones left behind by the emperor’s fleet, the evidence of sunken junks along the route and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in thanks to Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.”

The reviews shown by amazon.co.uk had an average rating of 4 (out of 5) from more than 500 reviewers.

Eurocentric readers, fed on Columbus and Magellan (both of whom had maps to follow), will need to rely on the achievements of European colonialism from the 15th to the 20th century AD, and today’s neo-colonialism. Ironically, the former colonial powers are now led by a new nation created by European emigrants within this colonial period.

 

Will the West be overtaken? (Part 2)

‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris is interesting while challenging. His representation of China as the East is somewhat selective; he ignores any significant historical developments in mid-Asia. How could the Indian civilisation be the oldest continuous culture on post-Deluge Earth? Indic philosophy, not being consumer-oriented, allegedly developed an understanding of mankind in the universe a long way back in history.

Morris also conflates West Asia (“the first Westerners”) with Europe and the USA (the latter two normally known together as the West).

Then, is consumption of food the best criterion for comparing social development? A high average figure of consumption may cover vast disparities within the community. Is there not a place for moral or spiritual progress? Man shall not live by bread alone.

Yet, the Morris thesis is worthy of attention. There is this question: Did not Europe develop industrially and philosophically much later than the core cultures of Asia? Only after the 15th century CE was Europe joined by Morris to Western Asia as ‘the West’, except for the 500 years from 250 BCE when Rome was first linked to West Asia as ‘the West.’ A new nation created by European emigrants, viz. North America, was subsequently added to ‘the West.’ Ultimately, it is the USA, as ‘the West’, which is compared with China.

Morris, who writes in a very erudite manner, is most knowledgeable about all the major events of human history. He shows how ‘the West’ was ahead of China for at least for 2,000 years until 541 CE in terms of social development (as defined by him). Then China moved ahead until 1773. Industrialisation and battle-capacity subsequently enabled the West to get ahead again. China will, however, soon catch up, he expects (a somewhat unavoidable conclusion).

The reality is that China already contributes to consumption in the USA. Its recent economic, technological, and military advances, allied to a probable future in association with most of East Asia and probably all of Southeast Asia, while simultaneously linked to Central Asia through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, will soon equal the military and industrial might of the West (the USA and its satrapies and NATO).

While Morris’ analysis is most impressive, his scenario seems to be much ado about little. A combination of economic success and military power (subsuming the necessary information technology and organisational competence) will probably result in China, Russia, and the USA eventually forming a tripartite global system of power-based governance – – by necessity.

Like the poor in developing and developed nations, the rest of humanity will survive, hopefully in peace; with energy consumption more equitable than at present, in the penumbra of this most probable governance relationship.

How will geography, impacted also by sporadic cosmic catastrophes, respond? Would the presence of 3 powerful nations, eyeing off one another with some suspicion, provide more protection than hitherto to the smaller, weaker, and unprotected nations?

Will the West be overtaken? (Part 1)

When I watched the video on ‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris, an archaeologist/historian, I was intrigued. Morris gives the West no more than 3 generations before it loses its lead on the East on ’social development.’

The West is initially the ‘Near East’ or Western Asia; ultimately it is the USA. This is confusing. The term ‘Eurasia,’ which seems to me to represent an ambition by some modern Eurocentric writers to expropriate for Europe the early achievements of the cultures of the former Fertile Crescent of West Asia, is also used by Morris.

The East is consistently China, because it was allegedly the first culture to grow rice. However, Stephen Oppenheimer asserts that rice growing began in the terrain of the now-sunken Sundaland of Southeast Asia. Oppenheimer’s historical cultural pathway is based on genetics, a more reliable way of reading the movements of cultures or peoples through history.

Overcoming my scepticism, I read on. What is social development? “… social development is the bundle of technological, subsistence, organisational, and cultural accomplishments through which people feed, clothe, house and reproduce themselves, explain the world around them, resolve disputes within their communities, extend their power at the expense of other communities, and defend themselves against others’ attempts to extend power. Social development … measures a community’s ability to get things done, which, in principle, can be compared across time and space.”

“The simplest way to think about energy capture is in terms of consumption per person, measured in kilocalories per day.” Then one needs to organise the energy capture, aided by information, and a capacity for war. It seems to me that, in the history of mankind, war is as important as geography, Morris’ initial causal factor in energy capture.

Geography, subsuming climate, determines social development, which then affects geography. So says Morris. Biology is irrelevant; people everywhere behave in much the same way. Sociology (group behaviour) explains how development occurred.

Further, similar things happened to both East and West; and in the same order. But the West had a 2,000 year advantage. Where was this West? West Asia, not Europe (the latter presumably recovering from the residual effects of the last ice age). Perhaps, the Universal Flood (mentioned in about 70 and more cultural histories) of about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago, had a role in enabling the lands east of the Mediterranean Sea to create what is known as the first post-Deluge civilisations.

In this context, Oppenheimer speculates that the escapees from Sundaland, not only went north to seed the cultures of Vietnam, China and neighbouring terrain, but also went west; having become skilled in managing water (rising seas), they may have been the ‘dark-headed people from the East’ to control the Tigris and Euphrates. Like so much of early history, that is mere speculation.

Morris identifies the geography of the Hilly Flanks (the re-named Fertile Crescent of yore) as the original site of energy capture. He describes this area as Western Eurasia. How so? One would expect Western Eurasia to fringe the Atlantic coast, not the Mediterranean.

However, leaving aside the challenging terminology, how credible is Morris? Refer Part 2.

Why the West rules – for now

‘Why the West Rules—For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future’ is a history book by a British historian Ian Morris, published in 2010.

The following is an extract from Wikipedia:
“The book compares East and West across the last 15,000 years, arguing that physical geography rather than culture, religion, politics, genetics, or great men explains Western domination of the globe. Morris’ Social Development Index considers the amount of energy a civilization can usefully capture, its ability to organize (measured by the size of its largest cities), war-making capability (weapons, troop strength, logistics), and information technology (speed and reach of writing, printing, telecommunication, etc.).

The evidence and statistical methods used in this book are explained in more detail in Social Development,[1] a free eBook, and by the published volume, The Measure of Civilization.

Morris argues that:
When agriculture was first invented, areas with reliable rainfall benefited most.
Irrigation benefited drier areas such as Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

Plants and animals more easily domesticated gave certain areas an early advantage, especially the Fertile Crescent and China. (See cradle of civilization.) Development of Africa and the Americas started on the same path, but it was delayed by thousands of years.

With the development of ships in Eurasia, rivers became trade routes. Europe and empires in Greece and Rome benefited from the Mediterranean, compared to Chinese empires (who later built the Grand Canal for similar purposes).

Raids from the Eurasian Steppe brought diseases that caused epidemics in settled populations.

The Social Development Index shows the West leading until the 6th century, China leading until the 18th century, and the West leading again in the modern era.

After the development of ocean-going ships, the significantly greater size of the Pacific Ocean made trans-Atlantic exploration and trade more feasible and profitable for Europe than trans-Pacific exploration and trade for East Asia. Though the mariner’s compass was invented in China in the 11th century, Chinese exploration was less successful than the European Age of Discovery and subsequent colonization.

Eurasian diseases to which people in the Americas had no immunity were a by-product of Eurasian development that devastated Native Americans after contact, in addition to superior European weapons.

Globalization and advances in information technology are leveling differences between civilizational areas.

This is an incomplete outline. Below are extracts from a review in ‘The Telegraph’ of 25 Feb. 2018.

His theorem runs as follows. There is no biological reason why the West came to dominate. People in large groups are much the same everywhere – lazy, greedy and scared, and always looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things, “in the process building stronger states, trading further afield, settling in greater cities”.

He portrays the rise and fall of empires as amoeba-like movements, in which individuals have little long-term influence. Collapses follow the same cruel pattern: conquest, riches, babies, competition, starvation. The struggle to control the core brings in people from the margin, who then take over – viz the Phoenicians, the Mongols, the Goths, the Huns.

Geography, Morris argues, is the main reason why the West rules.

Not that China didn’t catch up. In fact, for 1,200 years (between 550 to 1776), China pulled ahead of the West. Marco Polo described China’s commerce as being “on such a stupendous scale that no one who hears tell of it without seeing it for himself can possibly credit it”. Sound familiar? Long before we did, the Chinese had compasses, paper, guns – and maritime superiority.

The future that Morris anticipates is not conventional or reassuring.

He leaves us with two scenarios. In the first, China Easternises everyone by 2045. “All over the world, people will forget the glories of the Euro-American past. They will learn Mandarin, not English, celebrate Zheng He, not Columbus, read Confucius instead of Plato…”
In Morris’s second scenario, thanks to technology we stand to become machine-enhanced, post-biological creatures. We will become like Däniken’s aliens – so destroying the premise of this enjoyable and thought-provoking book. “The ancient distinctions between East and West will be irrelevant to robots.”

(Comment: In his video, Prof. Morris gives the West less than 3 generations before China catches up and overtakes the West, viz. the USA. Refer my 2 posts –to come – titled ‘Will the West be overtaken?’)