A personal morality beyond inherited culture?

In one situation, the driver of a military tank seeks to avoid crushing the intrepid individual obstructing his path. He does this even as this individual repeatedly blocks the evasive moves attempted by him. The individual is unharmed.

In another place and time, a heavy vehicle is reported to have been run over the individual obstructing its path. The driver had allegedly been directed to destroy the home of this individual, as official policy. Should he have avoided harming the individual?

Was the difference in morality influenced by tribalism? In the first situation, the two persons shared a nationality. In the second, there was a significant difference in both ethnicity and religion between the two persons. Even if the second driver was influenced by a subconscious tribal prejudice, one which identified the defiant individual as ‘not one of us,’ should a sense of a shared humanity under Heaven claimed to be imparted by all the major religions have led to an ending which did not involve a dreadful death?

There are, of course, tribes and tribes. In those nations created by immigrants (the prominent ones being the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), political parties represent the tribes of primary relevance. Cultural tribes co-exist beneath this umbrella. In the rest of the world, it is cultural tribalism which guides, if not controls, societal conduct. A tribe can be defined as a people joined together by a common origin, a shared language, religion, and the cultural values and practices which have evolved over time.

Where the extended family reigns supreme, as in most parts of Asia – even modern Asia – tribal traditions will be upheld. Unlike the nuclear families of the Ultra-West, (the four principal nations mentioned above created by immigrants), the extended family is there to provide support to each individual. This support may be psychological or social or financial. Such support counter-balances the obligations which bind the individual to the collective. And it is the conglomeration of extended families which constitute the tribe.

And, as long as tribalism reigns supreme, with religion the main glue bonding its components, inter-tribal prejudice may manifest itself.

Against this background, the contrast identified in the opening sentences above raise a significant question: is there not a need for, and an expression of, a personal morality even when tribal prejudice prevails? The answer? That one needs a conscience beyond the imperatives of tribal prejudice and religious ignorance..

 

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Has religion been used in a civilisational war?

When the buccaneers of the British East India Company gradually increased their control over the Indian sub-continent, from a small trading post to most of the principalities, they chose to adopt the mode of governance and lifestyles of the rulers they deposed. Many reportedly took Indian wives, and sent their tinted children to appropriate schools in Britain. (There, these very wealthy offspring were seemingly described as ‘having a touch of tar.’) That is, the buccaneers seemed to have adapted to India (with substantial benefit) rather than the reverse.

Then the British Government decided to replace the East India Company. Were certain politicians and their officials a little jealous, or were they horrified at their people going ‘native’? Probably the latter, as a claimed cultural superiority usually attaches itself to the militarily superior – a very human attribute.

The claimed innate (ie. genetic) superiority of the ‘white race’ was then extended to an organised despoliation of the cultures of India, especially its millennia-old religion. The denigration and destruction of the cultures of any people who had been invaded successfully or over-run enhances the control sought by the ambitious new arrival. European Christian colonisers did this rather well.

While I prefer to read history in 300-year rolling cycles (a useful statistical approach) – and this period corresponds to the 300-year circuit of planet Saturn – an examination of the intent and effects of European colonialism should desirably cover the totality of the 5 centuries that this human virus had effect.

Post-WW2 European neo-colonialism – including changing ruling regimes and some national or tribal borders – is a less-virulent infestation; and it too will pass when global governance becomes tripartite – and fairly soon. The newest empire, the hegemonic one, based on exceptionalism (on the one hand) and globalisation (on the other), will eventually fade away; planetary movements should have a role to play in this withdrawal. In any event, no empire has lasted more than 300 years (plus or minus a standard deviation of, say, 50). Look at the Roman Empire.

When the British invaded, for settlement, North America, New Zealand and Australia, they destroyed the First Nation Peoples in these territories. In Australia, according to the renowned Dr. Coombs, they demolished a long-established civilisation as well. Leaving aside for the moment the comparable depredations in other parts of the globe by other European buccaneers, in India, the British set out to damage to the longest-lived civilisation of mankind.

These were the prongs of this attack:
• Missionaries began to gather heathen souls to the bosom of Christ by rubbishing their traditional beliefs and practices
• The peoples of the sub-continent were also told that they prayed to a large number of ‘gods’, when the reality is that the so-called gods are deities who are representations of a single universal creator God – who is unknowable, but is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.
• They were also told that a superior ‘white’ species, the (mythical) Aryans had over-run and civilised the local ‘black’ peoples previously living there. This is false history!
• From about the 18th Century, European scholars claimed that, not only was the white ‘race’ superior to all other ‘races,’ but that no coloured peoples could possibly have contributed to the origins of human civilisation. These inferior races included the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, and Indians (while the Christian Bible draws heavily on the Sumerians). Dear, oh dear!
• Some European scholars also decided that Hinduism could not go back beyond 1300 BC. This is the earliest possible origin of the Europeans’ religio-cultural ancestors, the peoples of  Samaria and Judea. No faith could apparently be older than that of the Jewish people. Furthermore, all learning was claimed to have originated with the Europeans’ intellectual ancestors, the ‘Greeks’ (viz. Athenians). Yet Athens was said to been established by the Egyptians, with many Athenians studying in Egypt. Pythagoras apparently studied there for 8 years.
• The Indians were also told that Hinduism had been derived from Christianity!

This religious war on India’s civilisation was not successful, despite a reportedly brutal rule by the Kaiser of India, leaving the Indians to sort out their caste and related societal problems after independence.

Contrary to Prof. Huntington’s theory that a war of civilisations is probable in the future, such a war began with the rise of European colonialism; and it continues virulently in the Middle East. What a waste of human lives and spiritual potential.

Prof. Sam Huntington’s quotes

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

The relations between countries in the coming decade are most likely to reflect their cultural commitments, their cultural ties and antagonism with other countries.

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new [post-Cold-War] world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

The colonial experience all Muslim countries went through may be a factor in the fight against Western domination, British, French or whatever. They were until recently largely rural societies with land owning governing elites in most of them. I think they are certainly moving toward urbanization and much more pluralistic political systems. In almost every Muslim country, that is occurring. Obviously they are increasing their involvement with non-Muslim societies. One peak aspect of this, of course, is the migration of Muslims into Europe.

Countries will cooperate with each other, and are more likely to cooperate with each other when they share a common culture, as is most dramatically illustrated in the European Union. But other groupings of countries are emerging in East Asia and in South America. Basically, as I said, these politics will be oriented around, in large part, cultural similarities and cultural antagonism.

Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.

(From AZ Quotes). European colonialism was based on the assumed superiority of the ‘white race’ and its weaponry. It was bloody too.

 

‘The Dance of Destiny’ by Raja Arasa RATNAM – Overview

PART 1  :   THE WHEELS FELL OFF

Chapter  1  –  The upheaval

Covers the attack by the Japanese on Malaya in Dec 1941, the surprising retreat of British and Australian troops, the Japanese military Occupation begun in early 1942, and life under the Japanese until 1945.  Sub-headings are: a casual contact; a speedy withdrawal; avoiding the bombs; life under the Japanese.  This last sub-heading is further broken down to: the early days; the latter days; the final days; a retrospect.

The retrospect highlights the corruption of Christian colonialism, Japanese military brutality, the starvation of the people and, for my family and the surrounding neighbourhood, a reign of terror imposed for a period by a gang of communist anti-Japanese (so they claimed as they carried out some killing of civilians).

Chapter  2  –  Back in time

Describes in detail the peaceful progressive life of an immigrant family from Ceylon in the context of the British administration before the Japanese Occupation.  Sub-headings are: origins; boyhood; the way we lived.  Highlights the religious and cultural tolerance of people of diverse origins, and the way we all lived.

Chapter  3  –  Forward in time

With the defeat of Japan, Malaya became focused on the future, on freedom from foreign rule.  The author’s life, however, falls apart.  Yet, there is a glimmer of light ahead.  After a short flare of hope, the author’s life again appears doomed, when his Anglo-Australian wife rejects him on his return to Australia.  This leaves him in a societal and geographical limbo.  A quotation from the Upanishads indicates the author’s optimism-larded realism. 

Sub-headings are: a new beginning; the descent to doom; keeping afloat; Quo Vadis.  The end is dramatic: the reader, like the author, is left in suspense.

PART  2 :  OF HOLES WHICH WERE NOT THERE

Chapter  1  –  Quo Vadis

The author restates his dilemma, but now within the context of family and tribal origins and background.  He draws together the many strands of Destiny-derived influences.  These suggest that he is to belong to Australia.  Yet, there he was, stranded at a kerbside in the city of Melbourne on a cold winter’s morning in 1953.  Reconciliation with his wife offers a future, but in a nation of white supremacists and colonial arrogance.

Chapter  2  –  Memories of White Australia

As necessary stage-setting background, the author recounts his disastrous life in Australia between 1948 and 1952.  The country and people of Australia, as perceived by the author in that period, are presented as further relevant background.  The insights he has gained, the lessons learned, and his obvious respect for Australia’s ‘fair-go’ ethos ready him for his precarious future.

Chapter  3  –  A failed takeoff

In spite of a tremendous effort, involving a substantial denial of sleep over four years, the author is unable to find appropriate graduate employment.  He is a foreigner, and a coloured one as well, as made clear to him.  He has to move to the national capital (a small town set in a desert) to become a public servant.  Beggars cannot be choosers!

Chapter  4  –  The trek to the new world

The sub-headings ‘The launching’ and ‘Settling in’ describe the author’s multifarious experiences, especially his contributory exposure to a range of significant facets of society in the national capital.  He has an interesting life, being involved in an unusually wide range of societal issues.  With his second wife, he builds his family, and becomes integrated into the nation (as the spirit world might have expected).

Then, having  his career path overtly blocked because (as again made clear to him) he is “not one of us”, he moves on.

Chapter  5  –  The forks in the road

There are 2 forks here, the first highlighting the maturation of Australia through its policies on immigrant settlement (of a diverse intake) and citizenship enhancement, leading to an evolving national identity.

The second fork reflects the widening gulf between the Asian values relating to family and respect for one’s elders, and the individualism of the Ultra-West, those nations created by immigrants.  The author decries the alienation overtaking the nation, essentially through the breakdown of the nuclear family.

The author provides adequate detail on both forks, based upon his knowledge and personal experience.

Chapter  6  –  Ultimate Reality

In this chapter the author gathers together all the threads of his life experiences, and ties them into a spiritually coherent philosophy of human existence.  The path available is clearly upward.

Overview :  The nature, role and impact of Destiny are woven lightly through the whole MS.  In much the same way, a personal narrative is set casually in each chapter in the context of relevant geography, history, sociology, politics and philosophy.  Official policies pertinent to each segment of the narrative give additional depth and some colour.

The embellishments, in a story-telling approach, are not easily compartmentalised within each chapter; instead, they float in and out, often with a glancing touch.

Having completed his responsibilities to family and society, he now awaits, in mental and spiritual peace, his return to that Way Station; there he hopes to expand his learning.

 

The legacy of European colonial empires

What was the legacy of colonialism? In British Malaya, now Malaysia and Singapore, the positive gains were: the English language, now the language of international rela­tions; Western democracy (for what that is worth); respect for law and order in the British way (but needing some serious improvements to deliver justice); and a form of mul­ticulturalism which is potentially more equitable than the traditional forms.

Colonialism, allied to slavery, ‘blackbirding,’ contract transfer of labour from one colony to another, and free immigration entry as needed, contributed to the juxtaposi­tion (and some intermingling of genes) of diverse popula­tions and cultures. This did enhance inter-cultural contacts and relations between the peoples affected. Did the colo­nies of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Belgian, French and Germans benefit in a similar manner? They were known to be more brutal than the British. Certainly, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the communist revolution which drove the French out of Indo-China, learned about obtaining independence through revolution during his studies in France.

A cursory scan of some of the better-known empires to see if they offered durable benefits either to the subject peoples or to mankind in general might be of some casual interest. The difficulty inherent in this endeavour is in separating civilisation from empire, the former generally localised but often making a contribution to the future of mankind, the latter often generalised geographically but soon not worthy of remembrance. Civilisations endure. Yet, apart from those of China and India, has there been any substantial long-term continuity of civilisations?

China’s contribution to mankind is the emphasis on good governance, with a passing reference to the Void of the Cosmos. India’s contribution? Metaphysical speculations about the meaning of human existence and its relationship with the Cosmos. The contributions, both artistic and techno­logical, by the empires of old pale into insignificance against the wide range of the contributions of China and India (their current deplorable human rights record notwithstanding).

These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’

“You people are always … … “

Wow! I remain ‘you people’ after more than half a century of having lived , as an adult, a highly-interactive and contributory life in Australia – which is becoming increasingly colour and culture-blind.

“You people are always having riots over there” (Malaysia/Singapore, my birthplace). The only riot in Malaysia was in 1969; the skirmish in Singapore at about that time was a minor one. Then, a retired war-horse, a Vietnam War veteran, claimed that “You people are always fighting one another over there.” ‘Over there’ was now south-east Asia. Both men were within my social circles. These 2 instances stand out in my memory.

What was their problem? They represented a people which had ‘lorded it’ over the Australian indigene; and did not like ‘uppity’ blacks (Aborigines) and other coloured people (Asians). The traditional ‘tall poppy’ syndrome, manifest in a tendency to cut down any achievers who had risen above their class (in an allegedly classless nation), had now to put down any coloured high-flyers. The underpinning psychological demons rattling the comfort zones of those who did not want ‘them’ to become ‘one of us’ is pretty obvious. Get over it, Guys!

More interestingly, some Vietnam War veterans (incredibly) want to commemorate, on Vietnamese soil, a battle which the Vietnamese lost to the Aussies. While this story always refers to the small number of Aussie out-numbered troops involved, little is written about the heavy artillery bombardment which was responsible for the many Vietnamese killed.

As well, it is a fact that the USA and Australia were driven out of Vietnam by the Viets. These 2 white nations had no business being there. The domino theory was a furphy. South-east Asia was in no danger of being over-run by non-existent communists. There is seemingly an urge by some Aussies now to celebrate a sole victory in a series of lost (and losing) wars since the successes of the war in the Pacific during WW2.

But – to commemorate this win in the land they unsuccessfully invaded? How sensitive!  The arrogance of the colonial-minded Westerner will not, of course, endure. I say this as a known anti-colonial and anti-communist. As my father repeatedly advised, freedom heads the list of human needs.

The traveler, the trader, the marauder

Some young children love exploring – when they are allowed to do so. Some youths need to test something within themselves by undergoing clearly risky pastimes or endeavours.

I instance my (one and only) son, who decided, at age 17, to go wild water rafting. With 2 friends, without any relevant experience, they took on the Franklin River, said to be a very dangerous river to navigate on flimsy rafts.

When he left, my wife and I did wonder whether we would see him again. Having brought up our children, who did display early in life a risk-taking nature, to be self-confident, competent, yet careful, he was free, even at that age, to take on the world – if he wanted to (after due consideration).

Throughout the history of Man, either as individuals or in groups, men have travelled long distances – over the land or by sea – to explore or trade. Those who survived learnt about other peoples and their cultures and/or influenced those others with their own beliefs and values. This exchange would be osmotic and peaceful.

Since humans are a greedy species, there have also been, all over the world, almost interminable invasions, brutal wars, and forced religious conversions. Two of the desert religions top the list for rapacious performance over quite a number of recent centuries. The people who were responsible for most of the recorded depredations came out of small tribal nations in Europe: Europe itself being a relatively small peninsula jutting out of the massive continent of Asia.

They were aided by new and powerful weaponry when they went initially to explore, then trade; marauding came naturally when their animal instincts exploited opportunities for subjugation of the peoples they traded with. Traditional economies were destroyed, and much injustice was imposed upon the so-called ‘natives,’ including conversion to a faith offering no more than the prevailing ones; often less. Ask the indigenes of North America and Australia to begin with.

Now the marauders are toothless, and back at home. Yet, the new emperor in the West, the hegemonic one, has harnessed them into a modern aggressive force; but this team lacks a coherent capacity to bite anyone powerful. As with the failed British invasion of Afghanistan in recent history, there may now be another toothless retreat, especially from the Middle East.

The guise of diplomacy can provide a necessary cover. In the long run, only negotiation can provide the pathway to peace with a necessary co-existence.