Did China spark the Italian Renaissance? (Part 2)

China had been collecting tribute from south-eastern and southern Asia for some time. This process involved ambassadors from these lands being taken to China as valued guests, treated most favourably there, and then returned home with gifts. The visiting ambassadors would have delivered valuable gifts to the Emperor as tribute.

Admiral Zheng He was sent, with 7 Treasure Fleets, to identify and investigate all the barbarian lands; and to offer their leaders the opportunity to pay their respect to China by bringing tribute to the Emperor. To that end, they were given maps and shown the way to China. In this process, the Admiral or his deputies, while suffering a huge tsunami (near South Island, New Zealand) and other fatalities, calculated longitude (hitherto beyond the scope of previous mariners), and mapped the world.

The inside front cover of ‘1434: The year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed into Italy and ignited the Renaissance’ contains these extracts.

“… Menzies makes the startling claim that in the year 1434, China – then the world’s most technologically advanced civilisation – provided the spark that set the Renaissance ablaze.”

“Fifteenth century Florence and Venice were hubs of world trade, attracting merchants from all over the globe. In 1434, a Chinese fleet – official ambassadors of the Emperor – arrived in Tuscany and met with Pope Eugenius IV in Florence.”

“… the delegation presented the influential pope with a diverse wealth of Chinese learning: art, geography (including world maps which were later passed onto Columbus and Magellan), astronomy, mathematics, printing, architecture, civil engineering, military weapons, and more.”

“The vast treasure of knowledge spread across Europe, igniting the legendary inventiveness of the Renaissance, including Da Vinci’s mechanical creations, the Copernican revolution and Galileo’s discoveries.”

Why would the Chinese delegation hand over to the barbarian Pope (and his people) more than the maps required to reach China with tribute? To show the extent to which China was ahead of other people, both industrially and culturally?

Or, did the Chinese hand over a book containing all this additional information, without realising that much of it might be plagiarised by key individuals each proclaiming his inventiveness? Menzies suggests this may be the case.

Nearly ten years have passed since 1434 was published. Have there been any factual rebuttals?

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Being kept alive at any cost

The Hippocratic Oath (the moral guide for the medical profession) says, in effect, ‘Do no harm.‘ It does not, however, require doctors to keep a patient alive at any cost. Who bears any such cost? Obviously, the patient!

An American surgeon, Atul Gawande, in his book ‘Being Mortal’ “… confesses that he and his colleagues in the medical profession have, in their right wish to prolong life, often forgotten that high-risk surgery may give a person more days but also less opportunity in those days to find a meaningful end to their life …

So wrote the Rev. Michael Jensen in the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 Aug. 2018 about ‘Our deepest fear is dying without meaning.’ Jensen also wrote ”And so the pressing problem for us as a society is how we can best end people’s pain – although that is vital – but how we can help each other to find meaning.” He also wrote “The real hell of dying is dying in despair.”

If you have been indoctrinated to fear (the mythical) hell because you have not paid heed to your priest; and if you lack a spiritual belief in relation to our Creator, and to the meaning of human existence, you may fear death. I know a few ardent church-goers who want to be kept alive, irrespective of any consequential significant diminution in the quality of their life.

Then there is the terrible issue of compassion being over-ridden by man-made theology – as has been demonstrated by successive Australian governments persistently rejecting voluntary euthanasia (doctor assisted dying) even after palliative care, surgery, and pharmaceutical products have been ineffective in controlling unending terrible pain.

Has God willed such suffering? What do His theology-bound agents on Earth have to say? Clearly religiosity over-rides morality in federal politics.

About 80 to 85% of Australians have unsuccessfully sought voluntary euthanasia, even with stringent safeguards against ‘killing’ and ‘suicide’, for decades (going back 70 years of observation by me)! Have our elected parliamentary representatives been influenced more by their clergy than by their voters? Compared with some European nations, how backward are we?

University degree vs. vocational training.

Forty-five percent of all Australian youths should attend a university – so decided the federal government. Such a move would obviously keep the job-seeker level low for a while. Yet, the same government allows the entry of a very large number of immigrants and refugees each year. The belief-theory underlying this entry policy is that the consumer demand generated would benefit the economy. What of development?

Australia is already deficient in necessary infrastructure and needed housing. Development, however, requires investment by entrepreneurs and qualified tradespeople. Would the 30 or so universities which are re-badged vocational colleges produce the needed tradespeople?

An article in the 28 Feb. 2018 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald by Ross Gittins is pertinent. Ross is an account who explains economics more clearly than many of the economists I have read. In his article ‘Back to school with job training,’ he wrote “Don’t be so sure that going to university is the best way to get a good job.”

He points out that:
• Less than 10% of the increase in employment forecast by the government will be for those with no post-school qualifications
• 43% of the jobs will require a bachelor or higher degree (In what?)
• 47% will therefore require trade qualifications
• Median pre-tax earnings by employees with a bachelor degree was $1280/week whereas an employee with a trade qualification would earn $1035/week.
• While funding for trade training was reduced, university entrance was ‘demand-driven.’ “The vice-chancellors couldn’t believe their luck. Particularly, those at regional and outer suburbs unis went crazy, lowering their admission standards and admitting largely increased numbers.” (And competing with one another.)
• “It’s likely that many of those extra students will struggle to reach university standards – unless, of course, exams have been made easier to accommodate them.” (Multiple-choice questions for first degrees, and no essay for a postgraduate degree?)
• “Those who abandon their studies may find themselves lumbered with … debt without much to show for it.”
• Trade and related training was then exposed to “competition from private providers of ‘vocational education and training.’ To attract … more entrepreneurial for-profit training providers, the feds extended … a version of the uni system of deferred loans to cover tuition fees.”
• “… the supposed trainers could get paid upfront by a federal bureaucracy that took an age to realise it was being done over.”
• “Far too little is being done to get TAFE (Technical & Further Education) training properly back in business after most of the for-profit providers have folded into the night.”
• There is a need for a “thoroughgoing review of our malfunctioning post-school education arrangements.”

(Comment: Could a nation which has no forward plans be expected to avoid the mess its bureaucrats had allowed to happen?)

When Mass had great weight (Part 2)

“Do you realise that you are frightening the s..t out of your fellow Section Heads in the Branch?” asked my new boss. He too was a Roman, but was an outsider, recruited from a university. He nodded when I replied “You know my work.” He then asked “How is it then that you are frightening the s..t from my peer group? When I simply smiled, he said “Tell me “

This is my story. Out of the blue I received an invitation from the head of another department (a man I did not know) to transfer across, with a promise of promotion to the Senior Executive Service as Branch Head. A week after my arrival, the head of management asked me if I would consider a particular task. After examining the job, I agreed. To that, his strange reply was “Don’t be a bloody fool.” That was because I had only 10 weeks to implement necessary structural and operational changes, and to inform all overseas posts about the new policy.

My small team of 3, backed by 3 Division Heads, and assisted where necessary by 3 other agencies, did meet the normally impossible deadline which the Minister had set. The Departmental Head, having expressed his thanks, then asked me to accept the job of Chief Ethnic Affairs for the State of Victoria, based in Melbourne. The task was to implement a new policy of financially assisting the smaller immigrant communities in their settlement. The government would fund the employment of a social worker by each ethnic community. I was to investigate these communities.

My new small team of 3 immigrants made considerable progress, aided by my direct access to the Minister, and my ability to talk freely, on an ethnic to ethnic basis, with community workers and leaders. They liked that.

When the Departmental Head retired without promoting me, I returned home. The new Head, a returned Ambassador, told me that, instead of being promoted, I could head our London Office. Did that office need a Mister Fix-it? Or, was it a sop by a Laborite? I rejected that suggestion. Had I not proven myself – not once, but twice?

In the meantime, No.1 on the promotion list became Branch Head. I, as No.2, was ignored. A few ranked below me were sequentially promoted; and I had to work under them. With one exception, I experienced petty discrimination, and was moved frequently, with a new job each year. It was made clear, with not much subtlety, that I was not one of them. I suspected that I was expected to crack under persistent pressure.

Yet, I was untouchable, indestructible. The Chairman of the National Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki, had already commended me for the depth of my work and my speed of report. A few members of that Council, plus a few other ethnic community leaders in the relevant State, then supported my application for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Community Council of South Australia and, later, of Western Australia. The pay was the same. For the record, parochialism prevailed in both States; and a new position of Deputy Chairman was then created in each State.

Ironically, because I had been sequentially responsible for all the migrant settlement (or integration) policies, I was able, after retirement, to write (with a prior prod from the spirit realm), about the great value of these policies. Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki was a leading supporter of the first 2 of my books. He died soon after. He had also written to me to say that he agreed with all that I had written in ‘Destiny Will Out’ – my first book – except on voluntary euthanasia. No devout Roman Catholic could support that policy of compassion.

In areas of social policy, Mass (even with limited attendance) has strong gravitational pull in Australia. Papal Bull rules! Just look at the controllers in federal Parliament.

Racial vs religious discrimination

I offer personal testimony about these two major categories of discrimination. I experienced racial discrimination in my early years in Australia. That was when the White Australia ethos had seeped into the sphere of public behaviour. The trigger was my skin colour – then a light honey colour. The protection of ‘white space’ was triggered by the sudden appearance in public places of Asian students. “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” was my first experience of this dual trigger for expressions of prejudice.

The discrimination experienced by Asian students was petty: we were the last to be served in the shops; or denied accommodation; there was often a reluctance to serve us, displayed by a gruff voice, and a sour look; people avoided sitting next to us on public transport; some white students would jeer at us on campus; etc. It was all quite puerile and obviously silly.

By discrimination, I refer to an act, not to a displayed attitude or an oral comment reflecting prejudice. The former can cause harm, whereas the latter can be ignored as reflecting an immature soul. In time, when the oldest generation obtained their wings, life became less irritating for us.

Yet, the record will show that I was denied appointment as a psychologist because I was considered to be “too black” (reliably witnessed). I was subsequently denied appointment as an economist with major corporations (as told to me by the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit) because ‘the Australian worker was not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.’ Was that not racial discrimination?

However, late in my career in the federal public service, I experienced religious discrimination (but no words of prejudice were heard); that is, one would find it very difficult to prove discrimination. The trigger for discrimination in my case was the competition for promotion which I provided.

A singularly overt display of religious bonding (and boorishness) occurred thus. My new branch head opened his first meeting with his section heads by saying that it was a long time since he had attended Mass; but he had been busy at work. My peer group responded, each in turn, by saying that they too had been remiss in attending Mass! I did not dare ask what Mass was. My life was then made very difficult; the slights were overt!

As well, for the next 5 years, I was asked by 3 successive bosses to move out of my job, in favour of the boss’ choice. Then, annually, my work responsibilities were altered substantially. I kept my cool, until age 60, when I took early retirement. Those responsible for my plight were only a handful, but they were influential. To attempt to counter them would have been unwise.

That was 30 years ago. As long as those who belong to the faith now behave in a mature and professional manner, my experience should not be repeated. Religious discrimination is far more insidious and deleterious than ‘racial’ discrimination; utterances reflecting petty prejudice should be ignored.

 

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 Buddhism. First 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.

The 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.’)

 

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 3)

Regrettably, there is a core component of religions which can be, and often is, divisive; when there is no reason for it to be so.

Religious beliefs can arise spontaneously in very widely separated regions of the globe. Some of the beliefs evolve into belief systems, aided by the thinkers within each faith community. Some of these thinkers may have been influenced by the traders and travellers with whom they have come into contact. By and large, relevant perceptions and knowledge are transferred between communities by a slow process of cultural diffusion.

It is unexceptional for the priests and other leaders of a religious community to seek to bond more closely their followers through some explanatory claims they have conceived about origins, links with the numinous, and so on. Separated by geographical space, each religious community can go about its business without interference; theological differences with other religious communities do no harm when religious communities are not close to one another.

However, aggression through war and colonialism against other people seem to have engendered a need to denigrate the religious (as well as other cultural features) of those conquered. Aggressive priesthoods and ambitious royalty have also seemingly added fuel to unwarranted religious wars throughout history.

When will those responsible learn that their ambitions or folly mean nothing after their Earthly demise?

The following extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ (Chapter 16) is, I believe, pertinent.

“ All religions have an explanatory component too – which offers us, with varying degrees of clarity, a story about man’s relationship with his Creator, his place in the universe, and the way the universe is (and was and will be). It is in this area that wars between men usually commence. It is in this area that men who seek to rule as much of mankind as possible claim the superiority of their faith – by means contrary to the ethical teachings of their own faith.

Expediency is just, killing in the name of Christ, butchery in the name of Buddha, massacre in the name of Mohammed, horror upon horror in the name of Hinduism, are also just, allegedly to gain favour with God. A God of Love supposedly condones, if he does not want, the slaughter of his Creation by self-chosen preachers of God’s Love. I fear an anthropomorphic God.

We are a blood-thirsty, power-hungry species of animal left to find ourselves by a Creator who merely set up the mechanism and let the details evolve. We cannot blame God for what happens, or what we do. Neither can we justify our actions by blaming God.”