Will the West be overtaken? (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some interesting ‘spin-offs’ from colonialism

Australians were British subjects until 1948, when Australian citizenship was introduced. Quaintly, following its invasion/killing/settlement phase, Australia set out to be a nation of only white people, where no man would disdain any kind of work. A strange ambition, considering its location; set in ‘coloured’ seas, and surrounded by worrisome foreign faiths. This objective is not true today, not while welfare and cheap Asian labour is available.

A commendable national ethos of a ‘fair-go’ then evolved. Seemingly fading now. Trade unions became strong, but have now reached ‘bully-boy’ status, as my newspapers tell me. Yet, as I was told by an elderly Australian, it was the communist immigrant-English trade union leaders who had achieved much of the benefits enjoyed by industrial workers when I arrived in the country in 1948.

During WW2, having been Britain’s back yard till then, Australia (with its British-subject residents) placed itself under the control of the USA – for protection from the Japanese. The post-war hegemonic American Empire which evolved enabled the new Australian satrapy to become an industrialised nation without going through the normal process of industrialisation, step by step.

Major US corporations established a range of industries in Australia. While some competed with one another, they also limited their markets to Australia (avoiding competition with themselves overseas). Becoming progressively inefficient relative to their overseas competitors, both technically and economically, the new industries needed ongoing high tariff protection. Such protection reinforces high-cost production.

In 1963, as an employee of the Australian Tariff Board, I was pejoratively labelled a ‘free trader,’ because I recommended the progressive reduction of all tariffs. Why? Because we were increasingly uncompetitive internationally. For example, Japan’s per unit labour costs of certain major products were lower than in Australia; yet, labour costs were higher than in Australia!

Then, to show how poorly we had been governed (possibly through a subconscious subject-mentality), an ALP (Australian Labor Party) Government began to lower the tariff wall. The ALP normally represents workers. As a political orphan (a communitarian small-l liberal – ‘neither fish nor fowl’), I was entranced. The values of a former colonial subject were implemented by a political party representing workers who had benefited substantially from employment in tariff-protected industries.

Australia seemed to be on the way to becoming a truly independent nation.

The damage caused by European colonialism

“ … the southern Moslem states of Thailand might logically belong with Malaysia. Does the Buddhist nation of Thailand rule the southern states according to Buddhist teachings? Are the Moslem peoples in the southern regions of the Philippines rightly ruled by the Spanish blood-infused Christians of that nation? Should therefore the national boundaries laid by colonial marauders be set in concrete?

In the case of Indonesia, with its official cultural tolerance set out in its praise-worthy principle ‘Panchasila,’ the very wide diversity of its ethno-religious peoples spread over so many islands may mitigate against equitable and efficient governance. Tribalism can be expected to over-ride a shared hoped-for nationalism, especially if the Roman Catholic priesthood has any influence.

When one considers what the British did to the Indian sub-continent, after bringing together a great variety of peoples previously ruled as independent entities, one can only wonder at the seemingly unlimited capacity of the relatively tiny (and now unimportant) nations of Europe to create inter-tribal mayhem elsewhere. That their chickens are now coming home to roost, in the form of their former subject peoples now claiming a home with their former ruler, may be seen as cosmic justice. Or, will cheap labour compensate for the presence of the unrespected ‘other’ of yesteryear?

A major issue in colonial heritage is whether the modernisation which inevitably occurred in the colonies benefited the subject peoples. Although the improvements in transport, education and health facilities were established as necessary infrastructure in the occupied territories, there were clearly some benefits to a few. But the downside was the destruction of the traditional economy, especially the loss of skilled artisans.

Nehru pointed out in his letters to his daughter, while he had been imprisoned by the British (simply because of his wish to achieve the independence of India), that the economies of Egypt and India had been destroyed by the British; and, worse still, that in each of the four famines of India in the nineteenth century, twenty million were estimated to have starved to death. Of what use was the infrastructure to the poor?

A recent academic study shows that modernisation in the Middle East by the ‘great powers’ Britain and France (which played merry hell with boundaries and rulers there too) did not result in the consequent expected inflow of new technologies as had occurred in Europe. There, modernisation in the form of new political and social structures, the inculcation of new values and modified approaches to governance, trade and commerce, enabled the introduction of new technologies as available, subject to the recalcitrance of religious and other community leaders.

What was the modernisation in the Middle East? A new administrative middle class which dressed and spoke like the foreign rulers? Did that aid the economic development of their peoples? Not on the basis of evidence. It was post-independence investment by both foreigners and locals which rebuilt some former colonial nations.”

(One might accept that any investment by the colonial governments was directed to developments which suited the rulers back home; any benefits to the ‘natives’ were incidental. That 20 million Indians starved to death in each of 4 famines under the British says it all. That local industries were destroyed is also undeniable. The damage done to the peoples in the Middle East continues.

Why place Muslim districts in East Asia under Christian or Buddhist rulers? Why grant Hindu lands to Buddhist rulers? Why split the Indian sub-continent on the basis of religion? Why rush around converting the lowest social groups to Christianity? Why create a ‘creole’ Christian people wherever they reigned? And back home, the rulers lived in splendiferous style, thanks to the spoils of colonial rule.

Hopefully, the events described in the above extracts from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ will never ever be repeated. Would it not be nice if Western politicians and priests allowed people in other countries to live as they wish?)

The more different, the more similar

Cross-culturally, in Singapore and in Malaysia, as in Australia, the governments emphasise one nation. They are successful, to a degree. In Singapore, there was apparently some effort to keep the proportions of each community stable. Notwithstanding some confusion about Confucian principles building the island state (all the nationalities working together built the state, and Confucian ethics are common to all faiths, surely), the people in Singapore live and work well together, sharing in the annual celebration of one nation with resounding support.

It is good to see the various people intermingled in the housing complexes. It is interesting to see three generations of Chinese dressed in three styles of clothing walking down the street: Grandma had her ‘pyjama suit’, not in black but in a floral pattern; Mother in a floral dress, and Daughter in jeans and a T-shirt. Older Ceylonese women can be seen wearing Punjabi-style clothing or, like the daughters, in slacks or jeans. Daughters are wearing shorts, too. Cross-cultural styles of clothing, food and lifestyles are not new.

What is new is the uniformity of modern youth. They, as in Australia, are dressed alike. Hairstyles, clothing, manner of speech, speech accents, social affectations, ambitions, mixing with everyone in the same way in the same easy manner, are all common features. With light-skinned people, it is difficult to identify their national origins; with the darker-skinned people, it is only slightly easier (there is a little less choice). They come across as Singaporeans – these are the educated ones.

In Melbourne, in a working class suburb, I once noticed four young boys dressed identically: Adidas-imitation shoes (the then preferred style), jeans, T-shirt, and a short haircut. Their accents were identical and their speech modes uniform. Only their physiognomy suggested various origins: Slav, Greek, Turk, or Italian. The better-off youth in Australia, too, are equally uniform in dress, behaviour, speech and even in appearance; ethnic origins are not easily discernible, except by guessing from shape of nose and so on. In Malaysia, the middle class is comparable to those in Singapore and Australia in its uniformity.

In both countries overseas, origins are more readily manifest with the less sophisticated being less Westernised. The differences notable are, in part, in their clothing styles. More commonly it is in their use of their own language – as in Australia with first generation migrants. Language is excluding. The use of a common language is conducive to social cohesion across community barriers. Yet, even where a number of languages are audible, there was a clear sense of a people being in harmony; there was give and take, courtesy, friendliness in ordinary transactions, indicating that the ‘other’ was accepted (more than ever).

In a Chinese provision shop in Singapore, the owner touched his left hand to his right elbow as he gave me change with his right hand. In spite of my accent, he saw me as an Indian, and offered me a traditional courtesy – which actually is not seen as much between the Indians themselves. How much more could he be culturally sensitive? I was very impressed.

Throughout the whole of Malaysia I found successful integration. As I drove west to east along the highway separating Malaysia from Thailand, and then down the east coast to where the turtles visit, I found the security most impressive. I was driving a local car when I was stopped at a security checkpoint and asked for my passport, not my identity card. How did they know that I was a foreigner? I liked that. My people were safe.

Along the east coast of Malaysia, Malay businesses were proliferating. Yet I was told, with wealth coming into the area, especially through oil exploration, that the local Malay farmer was being squeezed. His purchases were rising in price faster than the price of his farm products. There were diesel-powered Benz cars everywhere, driven by Malays. It was good to see.

(Not every developing nation achieved economic progress after independence – there being few countries which had escaped the clasps of colonialism. As the above extracts show, the terrain of my birth and growth was displaying a smooth blending of the descendants of those who had made a substantial contribution to the territory they had entered as immigrants. The credit for that is attributable to the people involved.

Have these nations continued to grow since my memoir was written? Obviously, when it is evident that the growth was planned. This is something that Australia might emulate.)

Of persons and personalities

I enjoyed working in that office. The staff were obviously selected for their personal and communication skills, apart from necessary skills in analysis and report-writing. The members of the Board were generally courteous and competent, even though the odd senior public service appointee could be preoccupied with his relative status.

… Of all the members of the Board I had worked with, one was a particularly charming man. He was often seen dining or even travelling with attractive, polished ladies, all of whom seemed to be his nieces. He had a lot of them. He had no airs and was always willing to ask for explanations.

One day, he claimed to have difficulty with the idea of the high cost of final products resulting from the tariff applicable to the materials in the intermediate chain of production. I offered a reasonable analogy of the process whereby DDT accumulated in meat. “Aha!” he said, “I now understand!” He represented the rural sector.

Unfortunately the humourless chairman of that enquiry apparently felt that my ‘bizarre’ sense of humour would one day get me into trouble – but he was a stuffed suit. “No bird soars too high if it soars with its own wings.”

During the six happy years I spent in that office, I was promoted twice, rising to be the first operational team leader, or sectional head. On each occasion, the question was raised: how would the Aussie staff accept me? However, did anyone ask how I would manage a team of Aussies? Apparently there was no doubt about that. I had learned to call a spade a spade and, occasionally, a bloody shovel or, for that matter, a f***ing shovel. That is, I spoke the language of the masses and had the approach of an Aussie manager to staff. I also worked ridiculous hours, rewrote pages of our reports, and took full responsibility for anything I put up the line, i.e. I gave my team total protection and loyalty.

My colleagues were a mixture of Masons, Catholics, golfers, other Christians and “calathumpians” (a term used by my mother-in-law to refer to religious people with no readily identifiable label). The Masons complained that they had to be twice as good as the others, as the CEO (another Mason) leant over backwards to prove that he did not favour the Masons. The Catholics were never heard to complain. The golfers, being a species apart, were happy to be promoted when opportunities arose, as long as they were free to stop and tell anyone who was not smart enough to avoid them, about their weekend golf – hole by hole, stroke by stroke.

The other Christians and calathumpians were normal people with no special distinguishing features. Irrespective of faith, affiliations, or interest, we all drank together every Friday evening. The only risk was that a third-generation Irish-Aussie would bring out his ancestral accent by seven o’clock in the evening and, on Monday morning, would want to tell you the joke that you had told him on Friday – with one variation; he told you the punch line first. It was a cohesive office.

Relating to industry was interesting. I found co-operation and courtesy at every level. … One company came for increased protection for almost every product; yet the company as a whole usually made a great profit. The difficulty for us was that the piecemeal approach to a company’s tariff needs did not enable the agency to examine the company as a whole.

In my last year in that agency, I let an accountant loose on that company (when many of its products came under examination). He came to the conclusion that the company had a profit centre from which all supplies, including furniture, needed anywhere in the company’s operations, were marked-up heavily before being sent out to operational centres. How clever and how profitable.

… However, by the end of my term in the agency, there had been another sea-change. The office began to recommend reduced effective protection to inspire increased competitiveness in global markets. When this began to happen, the industry department’s social club threw out those of us who worked for the agency (although we still worked for the same Minister). We were the free traders, and thus operating against the received wisdom of government. So we formed our own social club, which I led for a year.

I then left, looking for different work. Strangely enough, many of the economics-oriented people also left at about the same time.

(The above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ suggest how, in the 1960s, the Australian government protected an inefficient manufacturing sector dominated by foreign enterprises. These were allowed to produce only for the local market; the car industry today – with 3 remaining manufacturers – is an excellent example.

The enabled high-consumption nation is increasingly dependent upon service industries. It seems that we do not want to learn from dynamic nations such as Singapore in preparing for a competitive long-term future, which includes manufacturing.)

Joining a large family

Small nations need allies. Alliance based on affinity is not enough. Allegiance to a stronger partner, underpinned by affinities based on a shared culture, itself reflecting common origins and linked histories, will ensure protection militarily. The proof of the pudding is found in Australia’s history.

This nation was once British to its bootstraps, reflecting its origins. Until 1949, all Australians were British Subjects. The Australian Citizenship Act converted them to Australian citizens. Immigrants who were British Subjects (as I was) were exempt from the need to take an oath of allegiance to the British Crown when they were granted Australian citizenship. That was until I asked my boss why this was so.

Since I was then acting head of the Citizenship and Language Services Branch in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, I was asked to ‘look into it.’ My expert team and I (as policy chief) then recommended certain amendments to the Citizenship Act. One of these was that all immigrants should be treated alike. We proposed that, as citizenship represents a commitment to one’s nation, all immigrants granted citizenship should be required to offer allegiance to Australia. All this came to pass.

That worked well until the arrival of American CEOs of major local corporations; dual citizenship then became available. I wondered what happened to commitment to one’s nation; in fact, dual citizenship enabled Australian citizens to fight for their country of origin without being labelled mercenaries.

Australia had, of course, been beholden to the USA from the time an Australian Prime Minister placed his country, during World War Two, under the care of the USA. American investments had subsequently industrialised the nation which, hitherto, had ‘ridden on the sheep’s back’ through its reliance on its exports of wool and other rural products.

Australia’s compliance with everything sought or even hinted at by relevant American authorities is not worthy of public comment. That is what friends and satrapies do. Moving into the USA as its next member-state would not represent a big step. This would offer substantial benefits.

Australia would become a republic (which a majority of the population want), with voters having a say in the election of the head of state, the president (which about 85% of us want). It was the official denial of the latter right which scuttled the referendum on becoming a republic. Reliance on welfare should be diminished (reportedly 30% of the population is now on welfare lists), with personal enterprise encouraged, even necessary. Military protection would not be an issue.

The relics of colonialism would be dissolved. We also need not then pretend to be a ‘middle power.’ As well, we would continue to govern ourselves as we do now. We can continue to speak American and eat American.

Is there really any downside to this pragmatic proposal? Indeed, there is a benefit which had been pointed out to me: we need not pay for any armaments or ammunition in protecting the interests of the West.

From satrapy to new state

Most thinking people might concur that a benign foreign influence is likely to be an advantage to a small nation. Australia is guided in its foreign relations by its protector and benefactor, the USA. This ‘godfather’ nation will protect us militarily, as our neighbours do not have a natural affinity with our culture, and have not been bonded with us historically. As identified by a former prime minister, history over-rides geography. In return, we facilitate certain logistical transactions by the USA in its role of enhancing political freedom and human rights in regions of interest to the Western world.

Contrary to the chauvinistic and somewhat idealistic utterances by some in the media and the political commentariat, Australia is a satrapy. That is, we are free to govern ourselves as long as we give due regard to the wishes of our protector, without whose investments we would be so much poorer economically. American interests already own significant segments of Australian industry, having initially established it securely following World War 2.

It does not require much perspicacity to realise that the USA is the latest emperor on Earth; but unlike all its predecessors, it operates a hegemonic empire, an empire of only influence, not direct control.

Culturally, increasing American influence is reflected through our tv programs; our speech, especially through the proliferating ‘nairies’ (like ordinairy) and ‘tauries’ (like Territaury); our foods; our music; our clothing  styles (hoodies, or shirt tails hanging outside the jeans and visible under a jacket); our love of convoluted jargon phrases (regrettably devaluing the simplicity and clarity of an otherwise  expressive language); our support for America’s wars; and our understanding of US policies in the UN, especially on Middle Eastern affairs.

I think that it is time for us to seek to join the USA as its new state. Heresy? Not so! This will offer substantial benefits. Read ‘Of empires gone and going’ in Musings at Death’s Door (Recommended by the US Review of Books).