Some interesting aspects of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is just another term for ethno-cultural diversity. The world over is largely multicultural. When that term was temporarily linked with the term policy in Australia, a vision of a separate sand-pit for ‘ethnics’ did arise, for some. Here are some interesting facets of experience.

“When ethnicity was in vogue, I asked publicly whether I, Australian by citizenship, Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by distant ancestry, and Indian by culture (Hinduism) could identify myself as an ethnic; and, if so, by what criteria. Even the academics were silent! What of those who are the products of marriage across nationalities or ethnicities? More and more of our young are marrying across parental cultures.” … …

“Cynically, I did ask some of the ethnic community leaders who were second or third generation Aussies if they spoke their mother tongue fluently; and with whom (other than their mums) did they speak. Did they read books, see films and attend plays in that language; dress the way their ancestors had back ‘home’ (except for multicultural festivals in Australia); and celebrate their tribal cultures in any meaningful manner? I also asked if their communities reached out to other ethnic communities as equals.

Then there is the issue of some Australia-born descendants of immigrants going back to their tribal lands to fight a traditional, or even a new, enemy. Further, if integration is rejected by them, would that affect their right to call on the equal opportunity that is available? And since social superiority is given little air in Australia, how would ethnic superiority be viewed? I believe these questions to be relevant.”… …

“In the early 1980s, I once observed 3 teenagers on a tram. Their heads suggested 3 different European regions of ancestral origin. They were dressed almost identically, and their speech accents were identically Australian. This was evidence of integration. Travelling through the city, observing, I saw few turbans, skull caps, head scarfs or face covering. Careful immigration selection was the explanation. Why is the situation different now?” … …

“By and large, were tribal leaders, that is, the priests and politicians, to keep away from the fields of cultural interaction, we the people will eventually reach out to one another? How so?

Excluding the exploiters, there is an innate human tendency – displayed so satisfyingly by children – to do so. In Australia, thanks to the public education systems, by the third generation, youngsters will feel, and behave as, part of a whole far wider and deeper than the family or an ethnic community. The gestalt effect will take over.

How does this work? Good immigrants will tend to retain their values almost intact, while modifying their behaviour as appropriate. Those of their children exposed to Australian values through the public education system will move a step or two away from parental values and practices; reciprocally, parental perspectives may also change, become less parochial. There is good evidence that this happens. The third generation is not likely to be influenced by the values of their grandparents, as peer group values begin to back up values inculcated through public education, socialising, sport, and habituation – unless the priesthood intervenes. Do religious leaders, their schools, and other institutions hinder integration?” … …

“Ingrained prejudice cannot be changed by propaganda. For instance, again in the 1980s, a senior public servant, an icon of his political party, denied accommodation in migrant hostels to British immigrants, thereby denying the most important on-arrival assistance the nation could provide to needed immigrants from other countries as well. The Minister did not note this denial. Are Ministers adequately awake when reading briefs?

This senior public servant also cancelled the planned posting of a Moslem employee to an overseas migrant selection office, and the promised promotion of a Hindu employee to a senior position. But he was not a racist; only a tribal. Tribals tend to look after their own, by discriminating against those who did not belong! And some burbling about the Eucharist!

Racism and tribalism (I have suffered from both in Australia), cultural and religious prejudice, and the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ attitude, like the ubiquitous bacterium or even crime, cannot be totally eradicated. The young priest who, in the mid-1960s, kept 5 Roman Catholic women away from their Protestant neighbour, is unlikely to have changed.

However, education, habituation, and media scrutiny will moderate extreme behaviour. Strengthening citizenship as a commitment to the nation and its values, as a measure of successful integration, will yet continue to make us one people out of many.”

The above extracts are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

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Destiny, God and the Spirit realm

My present understanding of Destiny is that we are indeed marionettes, the puppet master being a set of circumstances set up by ourselves. That is, we have free will, exercised both autonomously and reactively. By our actions and thoughts, we set in train the Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect; that is, the Law of Cosmic Justice (or Karma, as the Hindus term it).

We, in each life on Earth, carve out the banks and the rocky impediments through and over which will flow the river of our personal destiny in the next life, even as we obey the imperatives of Destiny in our current life. The latter would have been carved out in previous existences. Just as there are scientific laws which govern our physical lives, so there seem to be cosmic laws which govern our existence from birth to death, and thereafter.

Thus, in each life, I will paddle on the river of my personal Destiny. My trajectory will be within the walls of the canyon and over those rocky impediments I had carved out during my past life. As I paddle, relate to others, and respond to circumstances reflecting both the Law of Chance and the cosmic unavoidables (exercising what free will seems available), I will be carving out the framework for my next life, paying off my cosmic debt, and improving myself spiritually (if that is what I want).

Seems reasonable, does it not? Thus, I reached the conclusion, as said by some guru, that karma, like shadows, follows one everywhere. I also felt that chance must have an independent role in the circumstances of my life.

So, where is God in all this? All that is required from the one and only Creator is to set up the mechanisms underpinning our lives and relationships, let them evolve as appropriate, and allow us to choose our own path and bed. In some circumstances, He/She might choose to intervene in our lives.

But then, why not leave that work to the higher beings in the spirit world? They certainly seem to have been active in my life. Indeed, I can testify that I have received the odd message – and in a timely manner!

In so doing, were my spirit guides acting on their own? Or, were they only instruments of Destiny? If the latter, were they guiding me to optimise the opportunities available in my path of Destiny to improve my life-chances in both my current and future lives? Or, were they acting at the behest of God, who had chosen to intervene in my life?

How cosmic laws affect us after death, whether one meets God and one’s spirit guides; and, if so, where, is something which (presumably) one finds out only then. We certainly do not remember such experiences, any more than we can remember our past lives. Strangely, my attempted glimpses into my past lives, through auto-hypnosis, had displayed a strange consistency with the presentation of a couple of my alleged past lives by a respected clairvoyant healer.

When a significant experience is both confounding and inexplicable, why not simply accept it tentatively, I asked myself.

(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Observing little children with joy

Little children are little people. They will grow up to be big people. In transit (as teenagers), some will become ‘know-alls’, based (presumably) on their belief they had suddenly acquired many rights and great understanding of the human condition. Some of those who attend university will claim to have solutions to everything they see wrong in society. Why not indeed?

Little children will progress (as they grow older) from asking “What’s that?” to “How does it work?” to “Why is it so?” They can’t help their enquiring minds. Some will proceed through adulthood enquiring, wondering, speculating; even prognosticating.

The adult-to-be can often be visible as the child progresses from being an observing baby (aren’t they all!) to an enquiring child.. Each such child is, of course, a complex product of Nature (essentially their genetic inheritance) and nurture (their experiences as they grow up). But, what of any memory (much of it concealed, but not completely buried) of a past life? (Professional sceptics may deny anything they do not like, but reality will prevail.) I have intimations of a past life which resonates (possibly) in my soul.

One uniformly-displayed attribute of little children intrigues me. Each child will point with a forefinger at whatever is interesting. Is this an inherited shared characteristic?
Yet, there is so much variability in their presentation of the ubiquitous startle reflex. Some will freeze; others will cry. Is this a variation of the fight-or-flee instinct? This instinct is shared with animals. Fighting or fleeing is not a realistic option for little children when a threat (real or imagined) is experienced. To freeze (to be still and quiet) seems to be the preferred option by both young and old, and both humans and animals. Crying may reflect a hopeless fear.

It has been said that anxiety is the prevailing emotional condition of all motile forms of life; and that such a state reflects the uncertainly of much of existence. Little children do display uncertainty when they expect, or are exposed to, change in their circumstances. They may subconsciously remember the terrible shock of being born.

What interests me is the variability in personality observed in little children. Of course, if often isolated, or lacking in displayed love, or brought up institutionalised (eg. long child-care hours, up to 8 hours per day each day, between age 3 and 5), any child can withdraw emotionally, or become subliminally angry. I write from personal observation here; research evidence confirms.

However, in normal circumstances, there seems to be an innate basal layer of a personality in each child. Seeking to explain an inborn proclivity would be fraught with difficulty. That is because I believe that past-life experiences are cumulative. I do know that a relaxed, co-operative child can house a concealed fighter who, in the Australian lexicon, ‘takes no shit’ from anyone. Another child in the same family can be recalcitrant or even infallible in presentation, while otherwise acculturated. Another member of that family may sail through life, cheerfully indifferent to others. Again, I write from close observation.

By and large, little children are a delight; especially if supported by a loving family. Those I see with their mothers are the most out-going, responding with a smile, or even a wide grin, to anyone who shows a clear interest in them. I have tested that response over many years, benefiting from the reciprocation of a personal interest.

The most interesting people in life are the little people.

Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Ignorance or prejudice?

At a gathering of (ostensibly) religious leaders at a dinner table, a Hindu deity (a non-human) was included. The gathering was seemingly to celebrate the sharing of a meal based on the flesh of an animal. This animal is normally depicted in children’s story books as a cuddly ‘baa lamb.’ Lamb is a popular source of protein in Australia – which once rode to prosperity on the back of sheep (aged lamb).

In my early days in Australia, a great distinction was made between lamb and the less-popular mutton (the flesh of sheep). Mutton, however, provides a more tasty curry because of its higher fat content. A comparison could be made between range-fed beef and lot-fed beef, the latter containing the desired strings of fat threading the flesh.

As for the gathering of lovers of lamb meat from diverse faiths, which I saw on tv, it showed a caricature of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity. This caricature showed ‘Ganesh’ with a trunk which wiggled (in my view) like the tail of a pig. The trunk was thus a caricature of the trunk of an elephant.

Since the Hindu God, although omni-present, omniscient, and omni-powerful, is ‘unknowable,’ Hindus pray to a spectrum of deities who are manifestations – each with a predominantly characteristic attribute of relevance to humanity – of the one and only God of all mankind. Ganesha is one of these deities. He is much-preferred. My formative years included regular prayers at a Ganesha (Pilleyar) temple.

Where the Indian Government has reportedly protested that this advertisement for lamb meat is an insult to Hindu culture, I suggest that it represents sacrilege. I am offended. In the new multicultural Australia, could those responsible for the creation and approval of this advert. be so ignorant as to include a Hindu deity within a group of humans? And at a dinner table!

Further, since Hindus tend to be vegetarians, or eat very little meat, could the advert. be a form of thumbing one’s nose at a foreign faith? That is, does this advert. indicate a degree of religio-cultural prejudice? Is White Australia being re-visited?

Just asking!

Individualism vs. communalism in modern societies

Society is that highly organised and integrated collective of individuals, organisations and institutions which, in any civilisation, has specified roles, functions, and responsibilities to enable arms of that civilisation to operate as efficiently as possible, while offering security, social stability, good governance, and practices for the furtherance of its youth into useful future roles, within an evolving environment which is necessarily potentially destabilising.

Without such a structured entity, humanity would probably operate in a chaotic manner. Unlike the physical and chemical world, where there can be found coherent patterns of stability within the observed chaos, there is no basis for assuming that similar stability would underpin any chaos of humanity. Indeed human chaos is underpinned by social instability through unfettered selfishness. The events of recent history throughout the world support such a conclusion.

In those 4 nations which I describe collectively as the Ultra-West (viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), which were developed through successive inflows of immigrants from Europe (including Britain), it would have taken quite a while for society to be formed in each location. By necessity, the earlier arrivals had to be self-sufficient in finding a place for themselves and settling down. It would seem that, by the time each society had achieved a necessary stability, and by the very nature of the circumstances of settlement, an ethos of individualism had permeated the psyche of the people. Church attendance may have been the exception. Any sense of communalism which may have prevailed ‘back home’ may have been weaned by new necessary lifestyles.

There may be a flip-side to this development. Did societal alienation then evolve? Through a deficiency in support from one’s extended family (assuming there was one in proximity), a degree of communal support may have been necessary. That is, officialdom may have had to step in to some degree to alleviate extreme hardship, in a material sense. But what of the psychological bulwark available to some degree in more traditional societies?

Francis Fukuyama, an American scholar of renown, wrote in depth of the deterioration of society in the USA, a civilised nation. The USA is a leading member of the Ultra-West. Australian society appears to be following the USA. While Australia is heavily committed to welfare while ruled by the ethos of individualism, it is gradually becoming acclimatised to American culture, business practices, and the philosophy of governance.

This spirit of individualism seems to have engendered claims for more and more personal rights. Taken to extremes, traditional respect for others may be diminished, if not ignored. Conflicts over relative individual rights can occur. In Australia today, surnames and addresses indicating respect for age, position, or relationship have given way to the universal use of first names.

Rights breed rights – even in the open! The proliferation of claimed rights, aided by those using the courts to acquire yet more rights (even for unlawful asylum seekers) can be juxtaposed with the reality that rights are not set out in the Constitution, or a Bill of Rights, or official policy statements in Australia. This results in all manner of societal difficulties, primarily because of a lack of corresponding or counter-balancing personal responsibilities towards the collective.

Some consequential effects of enhanced access to claimed personal rights are the suffering caused to children through the impermanence of marriage and cohabitation, a fear of empty streets (casually brutal attacks by louts or a threat to children), the serious abuse of generous welfare and free medical services, a denial of personal responsibility (eg. acquiring skills to enable employment or to re-locate to centres offering employment), and escalating demands by the well-off for ‘middle class welfare.’

In the light of the above, the unavoidable conclusion is that, at least in the USA and Australia, modern society does not generally offer the cohesion and mutual kin and community support of traditional societies. Does not such support implicate a certain spirituality inherent in mankind to look after one another? Unless governments step into the vacant shoes of extended family, could not escalating personal rights without matching responsibilities be seen to lead to social alienation and to the deterioration of these societies?

Would not weak social bonds and an uncertain sense of community indicate a diminution of valuable social capital?

 

 

Being ‘too black’ and a ‘coloured foreigner’

The White Australia policy had a sharp bite. Way back in 1949, Australia’s first Immigration Minister tried very hard to deport Mrs. Anne O’Keefe and her children. She was then married to an Anglo-Australian, and they had a cute little white baby. Mrs. O’Keefe and her daughters were Ambonese. They had been given succour in Australia, when her husband had died defending The Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) against the Japanese invasion. I had been a neighbour of that family.

The family remained in Australia after the High Court’s intervention. Reportedly, the High Court found that the Minister’s earlier deportation of other coloured people, especially Sergeant Gamboa (a Filipino who had served in the US military in Australia), was unlawful. But the Minister had only been attempting to apply the law. However, it was the Australian public which had defended the O’Keefe family.

Yet, as I had observed over a number of years in that period, the prevailing public attitude towards coloured people was antipathetic. The antipathy applied to white foreigners (non-British) as well. However, when able-bodied European workers were sought and brought into the country, the Good Neighbour Councils (of Anglo-Australians) set out to make them feel welcome.

Educated, fee-paying Asian youth studying in Australia had to fend for themselves; they were however strongly buttressed by their religio-cultural heritage. Discrimination was overt. Oral slights were not uncommon. Yet, we remained untouched, even as we adapted to Aussie traditions and colloquialisms.

One tradition I liked was the evening barbeque over a 9-gallon keg of beer. The party ended when the beer ran out – from (say) 4am to 8am. My hosts were fellow-workers in the factory where I worked, and on the trams. I must have been the first coloured tram conductor in Melbourne.

Since the Aussies then described all coloured people as black (East Asians were yellow), I had to put up with being a ‘blackfellow’ or ‘black bastard.’ But my Asian friends and I just went with the flow, knowing that when the oldest generation of superior whites met their Maker, our lives would be smoother. That did happen. Only the ignorant yobbo continues to seek to protect white space by name-calling.

S.18 (c) of the Racial Discrimination Act, regrettably, emboldens the odd coloured new immigrant to feel offended and humiliated by oral abuse by the yobbos. That is not discrimination! Such immigrants should have been here in the 1950s. I remind them of my father’s adage: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on.’

In the mid-1950s, although I had qualified as a research psychologist, I was told that I was “too black” to be accepted by Australians. (I am a very light tan.) Later, when I qualified as an economist, I was advised that “the Australian worker is not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.” The first incident was witnessed; she confirmed my story a few years later. The second event was reported to me by the Head of the Graduate Employment Unit of the University of Melbourne.

In spite of all that, I am quite proud of my adopted nation. It has evolved into a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic, colour-blind polity. During my work experience in State and federal agencies, and in private companies (from factory hand to senior accounts clerk), only once was I addressed improperly. A fellow factory worker called out to me “Hey, Rastus!” He was obviously a book reader. The Australian worker does stand tall, unlike most of the workers in ‘emerging economies.’

My only complaint is about the overt discrimination during the last 5 years of my career (leading to early retirement) from a small but powerful gang, for whom the word mass carried great weight. This discrimination was clearly tribal. Yet, by being moved from here to there often, I had the opportunity to become very knowledge about all of the government’s migrant-integration and related policies.

From that nasty experience arose 6 books (refer amazon.com), and 44 in-depth articles (refer ezinearticles.com).

Destiny can work in shocking ways. I paid a heavy price for my learning, but it was worth it.