Racism and tribalism

When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, Australia could safely join the Family of Man.
However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?
My experience of Australia’s racism and tribalism is indicative of how far we have come in terms of tolerance. The credit for much of this improvement must go mainly to our school teachers, their students, and those Anglo-Aussies who reached out to us foreigners; as well as to us, the immigrants.
From the earliest times, groups or collectives of human beings would have necessarily fought one another to obtain sustenance or resources. Or, learn to work together for a common cause. Because an urge to dominate and thence to control (an inheritance from our faunal, that is, animal, ancestors) is found in some members of humanity, conflict is often unavoidable. Competition for resources (including women) would lead to inter-tribal clashes. Tribes may also split through the young bull taking on the old bull, or through an alpha-male going on the rampage.
Traditionally, an extended family (one sharing a common ancestor) would co-exist with other extended families, were they to be a settled people occupying a specific location, with a common language and shared cultural values and practices; they would represent a clan. A number of co-operative coherent clans would represent a tribe. A tribe would look after, fight for, its interests with vigour and cunning.
A typical example would be the Roman Catholics of Australia, mainly of Irish descent. They would do everything they could to keep separate from the Protestants; This included a separate education system. They would practice discrimination, even as they complained about being discriminated against. This was the divided Australia I came into in the late 1940s. Yet, both sides of this divide had one significant attitude in common; they were, in the main, tribal and racist.
The shared religious prejudice may now have been dissipated or become tactically subterranean. There is some evidence of an on-going strategy for supremacy by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Officially, the racism of the official White Australia policy has gone. The racism in the populace has been substantially diluted; only the yobbo expresses any ignorantly-held prejudice. Racial vilification laws exist to contain those who need to display their superiority.
(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’ This is an end-of-life rear-vision look at the progress Australia has made in its human relations.)

 

Jesus Christ quotes

For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
 

(From BrainyQuote)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demonising Native Title rights for indigenes

Following the decision by the High Court in the Wik case that a pastoral lease did not necessarily extinguish native title; and that, in some cases, some native title rights can survive the grant of a lease, farmers and pastoralists on Crown pastoral leases sought ‘certainty’ for themselves, by the federal government formally extinguishing native title.

Certainty also means the freedom to diversify their operations beyond the terms of existing leases. This would effectively make the leases de facto freehold, independently denying any native title right. Since many of the leases are reportedly already being used for a wide range of purposes, the question is how a pastoral lease, which is surely for pasturage of cattle, allowed full scale farming (as distinct from farming for sustenance). More intriguing was the claim that certain governments had ignored the law in granting mining leases.

The federal government then contributed to the panic that followed. What about our backyards, swimming pools, and tennis courts; can they take them too? This was asked by the newest demagogue then. The threat of Aboriginal intervention under native title will reduce the transfer value of the leases — this was yet another whinge. Apparently this has not happened yet. The federal government did little to allay these fears. Indeed, many of us realised that the government was actually fuelling irrational fears.

A white female pastoralist was reported in the late 1990s to have been fearful when her property was the subject of a native title claim by an Aboriginal community. She thought that, if successful, the Aborigines would simply take possession of her property. After she had met the claimants, she knew otherwise. Why had not the government or the media made this clear? Were they in cahoots with the powerful pastoralist lobby groups? It seems so.

She learnt that the Aborigines’ aim was co-existence.  They only wanted access to significant sites to conduct cultural activities for young people. She was quoted in the press as saying: “When sheep and cattle were moved in, the land the indigenous people lived off was badly affected. They had to find other ways to survive, and the problems were compounded by the aggressive acts of the pastoralists and the local white authorities. During the 1920s and 1930s indigenes were herded together in designated Aboriginal reserves, with little shelter and no water. The communities were split up, their culture fragmented. They gravitated towards the edges of towns … ended up outcasts, on the fringes of white society”.

Where politicians had promised ‘certainty’ to the pastoralists, she reportedly felt that she had been kept in the dark, misled, and betrayed. She was further quoted as follows: “… people like me were being used as tools, in what was obviously a political agenda being used to continue the hurt and dispossession of people who have been hurt their whole lives”; and “… there are people fanning the flames and spreading misinformation”.  She also quoted the Prime Minister of the day as claiming publicly that it would be possible for 78% of Australia to be under ‘veto’ (for development) by Aborigines. Has the government resiled from this ridiculous claim?

Her comment to that was: “I’ve no doubt that most Australians would have believed him. If I hadn’t informed myself, I’d have believed him as well”. Her final comments are noteworthy. “I did not hunt the (Aborigines) off their land: but what I have today I have partly because others did. If I inherited the fruits of the pioneers’ achievements, I also inherited a debt to those they dispossessed”.

That says it all. And what a wonderful human being — a beacon of light. This enlightened white lady has reached out to the Aboriginal people. She is also educating people in her situation about the need to work with Aboriginal people.

As asked by a respected academic in another, but comparable, context: “If lying comes to seem an acceptable political means to a worthwhile end, what will prevent democracy degenerating into a struggle between elites whose relationship to the electorate goes no deeper than the conduct of an auction …?” In any such auctions, the Aborigines will not be viable bidders.

(The above extracts are from my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’ Since the book was published only in 2005, I do not believe that the Australian Constitution will be mended any time soon to recognise the Australian indigenes as the First Nation Peoples of Australia.)    

 

 

What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?  Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except BuddhismFirst is a claim of a creator god.  The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept.  It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect.  The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’  Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.  There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind.  I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect?  My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows:  ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’  Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision;  I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news!  I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith?  Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog!  This situation continues.

A true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated.  This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions.  On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail.  The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government.  It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor.  Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood;  that is, without an intermediary?  This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests.  From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians).  This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied.  However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain;  and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life?  Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope?  Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated?  If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen.  I continue to deal with them.  They are worthy of respect.  They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

The myth of ‘racial’ discrimination (Part 2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’  Which government will dare take necessary action?  A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.

 

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults (Part 4)

The Bell

The Committee met. They sat in a safe niche in the garden wall from which they could contemplate Max sunning himself. What was more disconcerting was that the mice could hear him purring in his lethargic state. Was he mentally visualizing his catch of the day? They were naturally aware that hunters, like sportsmen everywhere, tended, from time to time, to rehearse those actions which were essentially inherent in any success in their endeavors. Collectively, the mice then veered their minds away from such a debilitating and despairing vision.

When they began to consider their problem, their minds turned predictably to the idea of a bell tied to Max’s collar. This was normal. For minds, whether human or animal, tended, like cars and mountain goats, to follow the tracks already laid down. Some of the tracks of the mind would have been laid down generations ago, and genetically transferred. Like most of mankind, mousedom does not bother to ask, “How is it so?” I mean, who goes about asking, “Who made the sun rise today?” Of course, roosters in the farmyard (and humans born in the Chinese Year of the Rooster) intuitively know that they cause the sun to rise (when they start to crow). This they do when certain electromagnetic vibrations integral to both sentient life and the allegedly inert rock called Earth coincide. Such synchronicities are really not coincidences, but predictable – like the minds of House’s Committee of Wise Mice.

At their first meeting, they chose to live up to their name by deciding wisely not to call for submissions from the rest of the tribe. The thought of Mona (the moaner) and Porthos (the Insistent) offering relevant and sound advice was akin to believing that Max would suddenly fall dead. The morbidity of that menace, consequent upon some strategy concocted by the Committee, was to be deliberated upon later. Foremost in their collective minds was the bell. Virginia had already donated a light bell with a superior tinkle from her toy collection.

Their deliberations went thus. Logically, they first dealt with the question of how. That was easy. The bell would be tied with a loop of fishing line found in the garden to Max’s collar. The question of who led them unimaginatively to Virginia, but she was really too little. A Lilliputian solution was discarded as there was likely to result a great carnage. Mice are not like ants, capable of acting in concert. The prospect of achieving Nirvana prematurely through collective action, even in the interests of a common cause, was not enticing. The mice were not as foolish as those men described in the so-called World Wars of the twentieth century as gun fodder, and who seemingly periodically were sent to save empire, introduce democracy (even with a tribal twist), or to reduce the number of unemployables in the economy (dastardly as this may appear). Whicky, they knew, would not do it – he was an honorable cat. Conscripting an adult was to imagine the impossible. The bell was clearly out – never to be heard tinkling the arrival of terrible terror.

Deportation or death

Other options had to be considered. Could we, asked a Committee member, have Max taken away; that is, sort of deported? After all, some nations get rid of their unwanted residents by deportation. But then, the deportees-to-be first need to be identified as illegal residents. However, Max was a legal resident, adopted by his owners (Max’s imagined slaves). Ha, said the Committee, in our yard he is an illegal arrival like the boat people sailing onto Australian shores. Could we ban him from entry? What a lovely thought, the Committee said. But how? Have the garden hose turned on by a switch tripped by their infamous illegal as he hopped over the fence? No, this is beyond the capacity of mice, cats, and a little girl. In any event, mice too do not like to be made wet – not involuntarily.

Could we have the menace somehow removed, asked the Committee. I suppose the people living under the heavy heel of Stalin, Pol-Pot, or Hitler had asked the same question, said House – and in the same act of futility. Could Virginia’s family somehow convince the owners of Max to get rid of him? A parallel was the past practice of moving to another parish those members of the cloth accused of molesting some of their flock. Ah, that would mean, said House, opening the Pandora’s Box of the unusual connection between the normally unwanted fellow occupants of Virginia’s home (to wit, the mice) and the hitherto unknown and unbelievable communication (spoken and otherwise) between mice, cats, and their child. No, no, that would not do at all. Some matters are best left alone.

That Max might voluntarily keep away from Virginia’s back yard was not even considered, as it was totally improbable. Cats, like the Romini of old in mankind, are the most nomadic spirits in the animal kingdom, are they not? What then? Death? By suicide squad? A sort of jihad? Were there mice in Iraq or Palestine who might be consulted? Whereas there is no evidence of jihadist mice in these countries, perhaps they might offer advice based on their observations. House chuckled to himself at the thought of some of his tribe sidling up to Max with explosives strapped to their backs, ready to take their enemy and themselves to kingdom come – for no one escapes life alive.

The Committee met again and again – and found no solution. Unlike Senate Committees in certain parliaments in the Western world, the members of the Committee were one-pointed (in the vernacular of the Hindus); that is, totally focused on the point at issue. There were no divisive politics, no stage managing, no political mummery, and no bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. The urgency of their deliberations was indeed underlined by the daily loss of a constituent. If the mice had belonged to a religious institution, their priest would certainly have been very busy and the vendors of religious artifacts and icons would each have made a small fortune. For it is the nature of religion that the agony, fear, or uncertainty of the faithful provides the priests and profiteers with sufficient sustenance to submerge their own subliminal insecurities.

Finally, House and his Committee admitted defeat. Despondency descended. The derailment of the intended death-defeating drama of belling Max brought despair. House felt keenly the desolation of the failure of leadership. Then, hallelujah, a savior came to House’s aid. Miracles may be as rare as hens’ teeth, but they can occur. At a private meeting, Whicky suggested to House that he might have a solution. His idea was so problematic, he said, that the stars, which are normally value-neutral, might just take pity on the defenceless mice.

 

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 3)

Whicky, the Tolerant

Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! What is to be done with Maxwell? There he is, resplendent in his shiny black coat and sleekly cuddly because of his skill in capturing a mouse-sized snack each day. Yet he is grumpy. He does so want the respect that he feels he is entitled to because of his Egyptian heritage. At minimum, he would accept his birth name Maxwell. He thus hates Virginia’s Maxie-baby. She likes him in spite of not approving his extra-mealtime foraging. He hates more being called Max by the family, although he realizes that many Australians have grave difficulty in articulating words of more than two syllables – something to do with their low-brow ancestry, he feels.

He most hates the name Mangy Max that House prefers. Yet he accepts me addressing him as MM – a sign of pure friendship. On the other hand, yes, on the other paw, who else could he talk to since he barely deigns to recognize his human slaves? Of course, being required to be celibate makes him quite cranky and a little vicious. He has heard of similar behavior in certain religious schools in his neighborhood – which enables him to be more tolerant of himself. Ah, the self-satisfaction of self-satisfaction! Only we cat-gods can understand that.

In his arrogance, MM is ignorant of House’s plan for him. Virginia is, however, well aware of all that is going on. How so? She is strangely gifted. She is able to hear as well as understand the language of mice and cats in all their simplicity (a little like the Malay language now known as Bahasa) – and tells me all she knows. After all, she is my pet slave. And I suspect that in lifetimes past we may have been together in old Persia with her as queen and me as god. It is of course possible that our roles were reversed then. Gods have indeed been transmogrified (no pun intended) into humans since Earth became inhabited.

Unlike MM, I am able to share my home with House the Mouse and his mob. This is because I am aware, as the followers of the Buddha have taught for centuries before the advent of Christ, that all sentient beings are worthy of respect and care. Since, in their philosophy of the meaning of existence, the bodies of all sentient beings (that is, beings with the power of self-perception) are interchangeable as temporary homes for our souls, the imperative of mutual respect, if not love, is paramount as a guide for living. Did not Jesus later talk of the imperative of mutual love and care for fellow humans? Those of us who have been gods and humans are empathetic to his teaching, although we believe that it is regrettably truncated in its compass.

I think that it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for the mice to nobble MM by belling him. Could I help them? How? By holding him down while they tied a large bell round his fat neck? What would MM’s slaves say about that? Had the mice thought about that? MM’s slaves might indeed like MM to reduce the population of mice in the paddock, even if it is not their property. For it is the nature of the landed gentry, no matter how they had acquired their land, to exhibit an almost prurient (as in morbid) interest in adjacent properties. I wonder if in these circumstances little Virginia might be able to help. But how? She is indeed little and possibly not strong enough to either hold down MM or to tie the bell in a Lilliputian scenario with a horde of little mice tying down a sleek cat. Now that would be a sight, would it not – a descendant of one of the gods of ancient Egypt being held down by common, nomadic, foraging, lesser beings like mice?

House, the Leader

“My, oh my,” I said to myself soon after that tumultuous confabulation of the members of my tribe. “There’s that sleek slob of a sanctimonious, self-satisfied scum of the moggy breed, salivating in the sun, no doubt at the thought of a slight snack on the sly, so to speak.” To be fair, I realize that Mangy Max is only displaying an inherited instinct, neither greed, nor hunger, nor any viciousness. I am aware, even as a member of a lesser species of the animal kingdom, that the gods of yesteryear had already displayed an almost infinite capacity for destruction, acted upon with indifference (as is the right of the gods). It was their nature, as the ancient Hindus and early Greeks had been made painfully aware – the goddess Kali comes readily to mind. There were, of course, no pharmaceutical companies around then to modify or rein in an inherited behavioral attribute.

“What to do,” I thought, day by day, as Mangy Max pawed off yet another member of my tribe. There was, of course, no risk of total depletion of my mob. My tribe could indeed be compared with that major Christian sect which had, until recently, a great propensity to multiply. Eventually, in the same way that this sect would have out-numbered every other sect of every religion had its leaders been successful in their efforts to keep their women in the kitchen and perennially pregnant, so my tribe would have increased in a probably Malthusian manner; that is, where the available food could not fill all our empty bellies. I realize, only too sadly, that Mangy Max was thus in tune (even unconsciously) with the instincts of Gaia (the Soul of Earth). That is, I do realize that there has to be a balance between the capacity of Earth to produce nourishment and those bellies which need that nourishment.

Malthusian proclivities aside, there is the issue of fairness. Sneaking up on someone to kill, rather than to indulge in open warfare, is an act of a terrorist. My tribe has therefore started (perhaps in the manner of Emperor Bonsai) our own war on terrorism. However, just as European colonizers blasted their way around the world in recent centuries by using their big guns, so Mangy Max has the benefit of a big and heavy paw (or two, or four), each armed with sharp claws. My inoffensive tribe, like the poor so-called natives in all the ravaged continents, has no defense against a marauder offering pillage, rape, or sudden death. It must be recognized however that, in contrast with the destruction of whole economies and their associated societies (in the name of mercantilism and Christ), Mangy Max was, in reality, a relatively kindly soul. Yet, he had, as I have fervently repeated, to go or to be nobbled or to be made a Buddhist. That is, Mangy Max’s future has to be either conversion or containment or (as lesser options) deportation or death.

Being down-to-Earth, as good leaders are expected to be, I have set up a Committee of Wise Mice to inquire into the problem of who would bell this cat. Since we have no realistic way of belling our persecutor, I propose to widen the Committee’s terms of reference to examine appropriate alternatives. These (obviously) are to have Mangy Max destroyed, removed, reduced to incompetence as a mouser, or forced to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice.

………………………………

Virginia continued her narrative. She might have been modeled on Scheherazade, but her motives were different: her life was not at risk!

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ – Ponderings of significance

The full title of this book is “Musings at Death’s Door – an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.”  It is a rear-vision-mirror view of Australia after more than 60 years of a highly interactive and contributory life as an adult. The book was first published in 2012.

Chapter 2 – On subservience

“I am intrigued by the discrepancy between the independent stance of the Anglo-Australian worker (originally the bulk of the people) and the obsequiousness/arrogance of Australian governments.  Having been a tram conductor, worked in factories and offices, and socialised with all levels of Australian society, I say categorically that this Aussie worker is someone I respect.  He is the one who will stop to help you were your car to break down on the street.  He stands tall at all times, and encourages immigrants to emulate him.

Contradictorily, Australian governments are subservient, but selectively; originally it was to Mother Britain, later to stepfather USA.  Yet, they will throw their weight about in the Pacific (their US-allocated bailiwick), or look askance at the newly independent nations of Asia with foreign faiths.  These nations will never bend their necks again, and will not pay the respect claimed by Australia.”

Chapter 3 – On family and society

“The family is the basic unit of society.  Some extraordinary, some terrible, changes have seriously affected Australian society since my arrival two generations ago.  These changes parallel those elsewhere in the Western world.  The individualism underpinning those Western nations I describe as Ultra-West has been honed, through associated personal rights, to the point that many children and society at large may be seen as at risk.

Is society, as the coherent collective that we have known it to be historically, on a downward trajectory in Australia?  Will any sense of community and the reciprocal responsibilities within it survive?  Will my Australian descendants, who have grown up without significant support from an extended family, continue to be deprived, relative to my own extended family overseas, of the moral and cultural support available in a community which is linked genetically?”

Chapter 4 – On governance

“Australia plays a prominent part in the push for developing nations of interest to the Western world to adopt our form of politics.  A vote for each adult should lead to governments based on representative democracy.  This will replace traditional tribal governance with rule by political parties (the new form of tribalism), aided and abetted by religious groupings (the other form of tribalism).

Whereas traditional tribal leaders, with a durable leadership, focus on the long-term needs of their tribes, the leaders of political parties, whose leadership is relatively transient, will focus on their short-term survival needs.  The consequential contrast may be between a stable society with a relatively stagnant regional economy, and a relatively unstable society engaged in some economic growth, where on-going growth is a condition of survival.

The core issue is whether the acquisition of a voting right results in voters having any effective say in the politics of elected governments; and whether this is an improvement over traditional tribal rule.”

Chapter 5 – On racism and tribalism

“When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased.  Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, there is little danger in Australia now joining the Family of Man.

However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant.  In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?”

Chapter 6 – On multiculturalism

“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 permanent residence 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.”

Chapter 7 – On migrants, refugees and asylum seekers

“Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants.  Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration.  This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy.  Awaiting  God’s Will may explain this approach.

However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or choose not to wait, for God’s Will.  Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees.  The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, will not pass our normal selection process.

Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit a claimant for refugee status.  This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia.  Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note.  In the meantime, what are the issues involved?”

Chapter 8 – On national identity

“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 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 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 that my wife and I 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 arena, one’s social contacts were obliquely, yet inevitably, set by one’s position in the pecking order!”

Chapter 9 – On religion

“While increasing numbers of our younger generations do not see religious affiliation as relevant to their lives, the governments of a secular Australia permit the social values of an authoritarian Vatican to impose these values on non-Catholics.  By favouring Christian immigrants, especially from Asia and Africa, federal governments have sought to counter the progressive erosion of church affiliation.  Strengthening the Catholic vote almost led to East Timor becoming a dependency of Australia.  Religion also interferes with our relations with our neighbours.

Yet, I accept that religious belief can be beneficial.  The need is for mutual tolerance, with the power of divisive priests and their acolyte politicians constrained.  My musings follow.

Almost all of those who profess to having, or believing in, a religion are born into it.  Is it not the religion or faith of the family?  Some exchange their religion for another later in life: it would be a well-thought out shift of allegiance, reflecting a search for a more satisfying faith or religious community.  There will be of course some who are born into a family without adherence to any religious belief, but who may subsequently join a religious sect through a considered choice.”

Chapter 10 – On the Cosmos

“To ponder is also to wonder.  Tiny drops of moisture, each on its own blade of grass, winked at me early one morning.  As the sun’s rays changed direction, an invisible movement of ground-level air created a choreography – a dance of winking droplets.  How aesthetically and spiritually satisfying that was!  Indeed, the beauty of wondrous Nature has always transfixed my ever-roving mind.  To wonder is therefore also to ponder.

A Seeker of Reality will commence with the question ‘What is it?’  In time, his search may lead to the next question ‘Why is it so?’  Is the next logical question then ‘Quo Vadis?; that is, ‘Whither goest thou?’  There surely has to be a destination for our journey through Earthly existence, through life after life.  Is there also a destination for our universe, other possible universes, and the Cosmos as a whole?”

Chapter 11 – On empires, gone and going

“When I ponder about empires, I do so both as a former vote-less colonial subject, and a present-day free citizen.  I now belong to a satrapy, a country subservient to a great power, but I am not in the least fussed about that.  I wonder, perhaps with misguided charity, whether any long-term benefits (even if unintended) had accrued to mankind as a consequence of the great empires of history.  My intuition says that there may have been some benefits at a regional, rather than a global, level.

My feelings dominate my thoughts about colonialism.  These are about the loss of personal freedom and political independence; the imposition of foreign religio-cultural values and the consequent denigration and attempted destruction of the cultural beliefs and practices of the conquered and oppressed people; and the subversion of the local economy and much of the way of life of its workforce to suit the trading and other economic wants of the coloniser.  After all, the interloper was not there for the benefit of the so-called natives; for instance, to teach us how to govern ourselves (as a friend of mine was taught at his school in England).”

Chapter 12 – Concluding my musings

“From early boyhood I have wanted to know about the Cosmos; about nations and why they behave as they do; about key aspects of society anywhere and everywhere; and about what makes we humans behave the way we do.

More recently, I have pondered the following issues.  What determines the trajectories of our lives?  Does the spirit world normally impact upon humanity?  If so, why?  Is there a Creator behind human affairs as well as the Cosmos as a whole?  How can we really know what we think we know?

My most recent interest is in how people divided by their cultures, including religion, can reach out to one another.  How can we un-learn taught prejudice, and accept that inner yearning within us to accept one another?  Would a sense of belonging to the same nation (hopefully with some pride) induce a feeling of one people, in time?

Perhaps because of my increasing understanding of humanity, and possibly some maturity on my part, I find myself becoming more frivolous, while simultaneously ‘taking no shit’ from anyone.  I have had enough of ‘racism,’ tribalism and religious prejudice.  Thankfully, I have finally achieved mental as well as spiritual peace.”

 

Read my books ’The Karma of Culture’ and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ about the issues of immigrant integration, and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ which offers contrasts between Australia and Malaysia/Singapore in the manner ethnic communities relate to one another.    
 

 

 

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ – Extracts

Preface

“Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948.  Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted).  Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured (although recent black humanitarian entrants are viewed askance by some, mainly because they may not be economically viable for a long time), and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cosmopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins both official policies and much of interpersonal relations.  As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this.  I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colonial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  Their human rights record is also deplorable.

These nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us.  The intent of this approach is the destruction of tribalism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-nominated individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere.  Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’  These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, eg. asylum seekers.  Communal responsibility and personal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach.  Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies – the current batch presenting themselves as the worst I have experienced – the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.

Where goes my adopted nation, to which I have made a substantial contribution, especially in civil society?  With little time left, I ponder about those issues of interest to me.  These, I believe, are relevant for all thinking fellow-Australians.  My musings are naturally filtered through my bicultural values.”

Biculturalism

Being a bicultural Asian in a Western nation has given me a significant advantage.  I can understand the divide between those acculturated (as I was) in what the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Mr. Lee Kuan Yew) popularised as ‘Asian values,’ and those who were conditioned by life in an immigrant-created nation which could not provide extended families and their near-universal role.  Newly-inhabited countries such as Australia simply lacked the communal support that one is born into in Asia.

By necessity, I became acclimatised to living, initially alone, later within my own nuclear family, in a society which requires self-sufficiency.  In some of us, this situation engenders a wish to contribute to the welfare of one’s community by volunteering time and effort.  I have thus had my head in the clouds of Asian values (metaphorically speaking), with my feet firmly planted on the hard rock of individualism, which now respects not authority figures and even one’s elders.

For individual Asians in this bifurcated society, there is the solace of a spiritual life.  This assists me in achieving a necessary balance between two cultures.

Now, who am I?  What is my background?  And how am I enabled to ponder at some depth about my adopted nation?

I am 83.years old.  I am thereby well past my statistical use-by date.  No member of my extended family has survived longer.  Greater longevity may of course have applied to earlier generations living in our ancestral land in Jaffna in the north of Ceylon; we are known to be a hardy people.

As a tribe, we are also known to have earned an adequate living from a harsh land for more than two thousand years; to have competed more than successfully with the Singhalese majority of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in academe, in civil society, and in the public service, while living under British suzerainty.  Subsequently, we have adapted successfully to the diverse Western nations to which, as an on-going diaspora, we migrated.  Initially, migration was for economic reasons; later, for political reasons.

In Australia, to which I was despatched by either my personal destiny or the spirit world, I have adapted successfully.  Indeed, I have also integrated successfully, including holding leadership positions in civil society.  My initial preference was naturally for living with my own people in the land of my birth.  Why so?  Because the land of my birth was, already in my time, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-religious; and with a mutual tolerance between the Asian communities there far in advance of that level of inter-cultural tolerance to be reached in Australia by the end of the twentieth century

It is highly probable that I will be ejected from the departure lounge of life fairly soon.  Because my observations of key aspects of Australia, from the vantage point of ‘Asian values,’ began more than six decades (or about two generations) ago, there should be some socio-cultural and historical value in the attached musings.  I need to highlight, however, that my thoughts have been filtered through my anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-communist (that is, freedom-loving) values.”

 

 

 

 

‘Musings at Death’s Door’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM – Overview

‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’

Near what I considered to be the end of my life (as erroneously forecast by an otherwise accurate clairvoyant), I decided to take a rear-vision-mirror look at the nation into which I had been sent by the spirit world (I did once think of it as exile). Having survived the White Australia era unscathed; having had my career path blocked four times unfairly; having a creditable record of accomplishments during my contributions to civil society; having experienced a full life in a Western milieu over nearly 7 decades, while retaining the spiritual values of Asia which had formed me, I was in a position to place on record my considered conclusions about Australia and its society.

During a 30+ year career as a public official, I had spent 14 years dealing with the private sector, and 9 years with leaders of our immigrant communities, with some significant contact with ministers of government, and a slight tussle with a shire council about citizen rights; and served on many committees wherever I lived. My Anglo-Australian wife supported me in all these activities.

I had been the national president of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters), and responsible for opening membership to women; the founder of a public speaking competition for primary schools in the national capital and surrounding townships, and co-founder of a comparable nation-wide competition for secondary schools; as foundation chairman of a school board, I had produced (and had accepted) an outline of an educational program for primary school students about religion.

I had also received a Meritorious Service Award from my trade union for my decade-long contribution to career protection in the federal public service. My only failure was in my efforts over 7 years, after retirement, to achieve improved health services in my Shire. I feel that I understand my country of adoption to be able to write objectively, while being proud of its achievements.

An endorsement pre-publication

“Raja Ratnam has lived a full life and made significant contributions to Australian life over six decades.  His experience as an Asian in Australia from the time of White Australia to that of multiculturalism is unique.  This book is a final distillation of the wisdom he has gained over that time. He provides insight into a wide range of areas from society and culture to religion.  And even better, his insights reflect his unique experience.  There is wisdom here and, like all of his work, this book is rich, intelligent and provocative. A major contribution to Australian culture.” –Prof. Greg Melleuish, History & Politics, Wollongong University

A review

Recommended by the US Review of Books, as follows:

“Before I leave this shell, my body, I need to recognise what it is that I have learnt from my turbulent but interesting life.”

“This book is a commentary about how Australia has changed since the author first moved there in 1948. This work stands on its own merit, however his previous nonfiction work, The Dance of Destiny, describes the prejudices he, as an Asian from British Malaya, experienced. Those experiences are discussed in this latest book, as they relate to his observations of how society has reacted to different races, nationalities, languages, and religions.

Ratnam witnessed a change from White Australia to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual nation. During his years of public service, he achieved several high-ranking positions in areas of refugee settlement and migration, education, and humanitarian work. He was also denied positions because of his ethnicity. Even though he was well-known in his field, including serving as an advisor at a government level, he still faced racism from time to time. In the early 1970s, the country developed an official entry policy that was non-discriminating. Skin color was no longer an official issue. In fact, as more immigrants arrived from ethnically diverse backgrounds, more social workers were needed who could speak those languages and understand the cultures.

This well-written book flows easily from one point to another. It is excellent for anyone studying sociology, public service, immigration policies, and related categories. It is also a recommended read for those who are not necessarily students, but who are interested in how a nation went from being “very British” to one of diversity acceptance. To use the author’s words, “Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948.”

Presentation at Beijing Book Fair 2016

The book was presented at this fair by Dr. Irina Webster of the Australian Self-Publishing Group.

Chapter headings

Chapter  1     On Biculturalism

Chapter  2      On Subservience

Chapter  3      On Family & Society

Chapter  4      On Governance

Chapter  5      On Racism & Tribalism

Chapter  6      On Multiculturalism

Chapter  7      On Migrants, Refugees & Asylum Seekers

Chapter  8     On Religion

Chapter  9      On the Cosmos

Chapter  10      On National Identity

Chapter  11      On Empires – gone & going

Chapter  12      Conclusion

 

EXTRACTS from chapter 12

From early boyhood I have wanted to know about the Cosmos;  about nations and why they behave as they do;  about key aspects of society anywhere and everywhere;  and about what makes we humans behave the way we do.

More recently, I have pondered the following issues.  What determines the trajectories of our lives?  Does the spirit world normally impact upon humanity?  If so, why?  Is there a Creator behind human affairs as well as the Cosmos as a whole?  How can we really know what we think we know?

My most recent interest is in how people divided by their cultures, including religion, can reach out to one another.  How can we un-learn taught prejudice, and accept that inner yearning within us to accept one another?  Would a sense of belonging to the same nation (hopefully with some pride) induce a feeling of one people, in time?

Perhaps because of my increasing understanding of humanity, and possibly some maturity on my part, I find myself becoming more frivolous, while simultaneously ‘taking no shit’ from anyone.  I have had enough of ‘racism,’ tribalism and religious prejudice.  Thankfully, I have finally achieved mental as well as spiritual peace.

My musings, as recorded above, are obviously tentative.  If I have time, I would possibly revise them;  but that will not happen.  So, why record these musings?  To show that I have learnt.  To whom?  It is always possible that the Cosmos will guide some kindred spirits to take my thoughts into their ponderings about what it is all about; in which event, I would not have lived in vain.

Nevertheless, I will take with me my learning and add to it through my future lives.  That is my perceived trajectory of re-iterative existence, hopefully leading to that realisation of why it is so.