Cross-cultural issues (1)

When people who had grown up or been acculturated in diverse environments come together, there may arise cultural tension, because of the manner in which human societies have developed over their histories. A strong distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seems to be the basal layer of human relationships. What triggers these tensions?

Normally, one is born into a collective, and is sustained in that collective until maturity. Then one becomes one of the legs upholding that collective. In most of Asia, even modernised Asia, this collective is the extended family, in its various forms and traditions. In the Ultra-West, the modern nations of the West created in recent centuries by European migrants, the collective is the nuclear family. The boundary of the Asian extended family will include three generations. The boundary of the nuclear family of the Ultra-West is most unlikely to include even the grandparents.

The cultural underpinnings and traditions of the communalism of the East are quite clearly identified, and enforceable in a subtle manner. Those of the individualism of the West are somewhat amorphous, yet effectively coherent, and apparently binding without coercion (except in the matter of religious conformity).

The reality in both situations is that there is a sense of belonging to a ‘tribe,’ especially when the ‘elders’ of this tribe, the priests and politicians, work hard at keeping separate their collective from other collectives. This separation implies the exercise of power or the display of superiority, reflecting competition for resources, or minds and souls. Fanciful? Or a realistic perception?

Competition between groups (or tribes) of Primitive Man or hunter/gatherer or nomad would have been over resources. Shamans and other self-appointed priests and their subsequently developed institutions, and god kings, would have sought power (and probably wealth). Add tribal leaders, the politicians, and there could result that basal relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

With the ending of colonial rule in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, young people from these countries entered Australia in the early post-war period with, as I observed, no prejudice against white people as a whole. I was certainly taught not to be anti-British, while remaining anti-colonial. We had grown up within extended families in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural territories where mutual co-existence and tolerance were evident; and we were educated.

We were also adequately acculturated to be superbly confident about our historical and cultural heritage. We did not expect the treatment we received in those early days when we landed in Australia.

Why did so many of the host-people display oral prejudice and discriminate against us, apparently because of our skin colour? We were well-dressed, and spoke courteously, and in educated English?

Was that the trigger? After demolishing the cultures of the First Peoples of Australia, demoralising them, and pushing them into a dim background, and in spite of not having been a colonial ‘power’, was the Anglo-Aussie affronted by the presence of educated and confident middle-class coloured young people paying their way?



Delaying job-seeking by degree?

I observed, in my early years in Australia, that some young boys would leave school at about age 15, or at the completion of Year 10, to find physical work. When able-bodied European immigrants obtained work, mainly in building up Australia’s infrastructure, did that reduce the jobs available to 15-year old Anglo-Aussies?

There were also fewer jobs available to these youths as manufacturing began progressively to shrink. Was that why completion of Year 12 became compulsory? Were those interested in working with their hands then enabled to obtain relevant practical training? Indeed, were apprenticeships as tradesmen being diminished as well?

This situation may explain the quaint policy of expecting 45% of youths up to their mid-twenties to obtain tertiary qualifications. Was this not just delaying job seeking? Why 45%? What skills are needed in the economy which requires a university degree?

As well, the many colleges of advanced education (CAEs), which offered vocational training, were converted to universities. For whose benefit? As I observed, the curriculum offered by them was not like the progressively deepening learning offered by the traditional universities. (Refer historian Jacques Barzun in my post “Do universities meet the needs of society?”)

In one example of a re-labelled CAE, for a 4-year teaching degree, the second major was Sociology. No methodology was taught. Of what use is sociology in training a teacher? The content could have been learnt in high school or in the new colleges covering only Years 11 and 12. These colleges offered imitations of university experience.

That is what I was told when I was invited to join the School Board of one of these colleges. I had previously been chairman of a primary school board, a representative of the A.C.T. Schools Authority on another school board, and the president of a high school Parents & Citizens Committee. That is, I have had years of experience with the education of our youth, apart of having been a school teacher in British Malaya.

I then discovered that students could matriculate with limited academic learning. They would be comparable (to some extent) to some students who had completed Year 12 not being able to solve simple problems in arithmetic, or to write clearly (because also of their poor spelling). I write all this from personal knowledge.

Now universities have remedial courses for those deficient in the basics of written communication, and for survival in a numerical transactional milieu, before commencing their course of study. My experience in interviewing candidates for promotion (through Promotion Appeals Committees) in the federal public service led me to question the benefits of some degrees issued by some former CAEs. When a student with a pass mark below 50% is accepted for a university course … … !

Having kept our youth out of the workforce as long as possible, while they acquire a degree and a significant debt to the government for their fees, what sort of jobs are available to them where their degree is relevant? In an economy increasingly based on the service industries, isn’t work-skill training more important than a university degree for many jobs?

But then, could a nation rely upon market forces to produce private tertiary colleges of competence, quality, and relevance? Do we have bureaucracies competent to assess intended establishment, and then to monitor the operation, of private colleges? News reports seem to suggest otherwise.

What seems to be missing in the educational sector is quality control. Process does not equate to desired or needed outcomes.

The hegemonic empire – cheap to manage

A hegemonic empire is an empire of influence; not of direct control. The current hegemonic empire of relevance is that of the USA. Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA has kept the buccaneers of Europe (including Britain) away from Central and South America.

The nations of this southern region rule themselves. Democracy and human rights are far less important than the profits accruing to the USA through the latter’s over-sight, and some intervention – militarily or in a clandestine manner – of politics and production.

Since the end of the Second World War, the USA has extended its economic, political, and military influence throughout the world, enjoying its role as Sheriff of the ‘International Community’ of Western nations and their acolytes. It apparently made Britain the Deputy Sheriff of Europe, presumably because, as President Roosevelt said (in 1945) of Britain “Now we own the bastards” (through Lend-Lease arrangements). Presumably there are other deputy sheriffs, especially Australia (for the Pacific).

As I wrote in ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ in the chapter titled ‘On empires gone – and going’:

It appoints so-called ‘deputy sheriffs’ to safeguard the interests of the West in their respective bailiwicks; it has trade and mutual-defence agreements with nations which seek protection from imagined foes; and it has military bases here, there, and everywhere to protect the nations of the West and their allies. The USA will fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere; defend itself from attack by enemies, real or creatively conceived; keep the sea routes open, thereby making other navies unnecessary; sell armaments (its primary objective?), and contain political threats, even imagined ones. This has given it the right to have a foothold in all sorts of places; we Aussies are grateful for such protection!

It also makes generous grants as strategically needed, to keep unpopular, even undemocratic, foreign leaders in power. Their job is to ensure that the needs of the USA, viz. oil and other resources, bases, access routes and export opportunities, are met. Its deputy sheriff Israel is furnished with the latest weaponry to prevent an Islamic resurgence. This includes the intended breakup of Iraq into three ethno-religious regions; so wrote an Israeli scholar recently.

A strong foothold on Iraqi soil will give the US power to oversight lesser nations and overlook the more powerful. The US has reportedly installed its satrap in Afghanistan to enable that desired oil pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean to be achieved one day. The US will also enable Israel to recover Judah and Samarra as that pure Jewish nation that their God decided was OK, even as it works assiduously to bring about ‘peace’ between oppressor and oppressed. Justice? Only the Court of Cosmic Justice can ensure that. And it will!

Ethnic cleansing, like ‘rendering’-with-torture, and assassination are acceptable, but only in the interests of protecting Western democracy. Australian politicians who visit Israel without being able to notice the plight of stateless Palestinians couldn’t possibly have any concern with this view of the Middle East of the future.” … …

“How long will this new empire last? Since it is only about 60 years old, who can tell? Through its Monroe Doctrine, the USA assumed indirect control of South and Central America a long time ago. Would the US now install Monroe Mark 2 to keep any rising power away from its current spheres of interest? If so, how?” … …

“Yet, this neo-colonising nation is the only major power which has shown any inclination to protect a minority here and there in the world from being butchered.” … …

“Thus, the USA can become a moral leader for mankind. Should we Aussies hold to this hope?”



Cheapening Australian citizenship

For years, the residence qualification for citizenship in Australia was a total of 5 years out of 8. Then, reflecting a quaint policy of harnessing ethnic votes, including offering some ethnic empowerment, the qualifying period began to be reduced. One government reduced this period to 3 years. The other government educed this period to 2. Just like competition in the retail sector.

Reducing the waiting period for permanent residents to apply for Australian citizenship from 5 years out of 8 to 3, and then to 2, may not have captured the ethnic vote. The reality is that immigrant voters engaged in business tended to vote conservative; the workers generally voted labour. However, this diminution of the value of citizenship allowed those with criminal intent to keep their heads down during this period. With citizenship, they could not be deported.

Prime Minister Howard’s 4-year residence requirement was a pragmatic solution. Was lawful temporary residence included in the qualifying period? Currently, a total of 4 years’ residence, with a minimum of 1 year’s permanent residence is required. As a consequence, now there is a perception that a 1-year residence as a permanent resident should be enough, even without any prior temporary residence. What are the risks for the nation?

Dual citizenship (introduced for political purposes) had already diminished the value of our citizenship. Australian citizens can now fight for their country of origin, if they have dual citizenship.

To re-clad citizenship, which requires a commitment to the nation, it is surely desirable that 4 years of permanent residence be a primary requirement. A secondary requirement is that those seeking our citizenship should demonstrate clearly that they wish to integrate into the nation. What is unfair about these requirements?

(I was the Head of the Citizenship Branch in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, whose expert team conducted the first ever review of our Citizenship Act – in the early 1980s. It was my recommendation, which was accepted by the government, that no one should govern, administer, or fight for the nation without Australian citizenship.

Beware those who want to make citizenship easy to access. Ask ‘Who benefits?’

I am also the author of a number of books, under my author name Raja Arasa Ratnam, on the successful settlement – integration – of immigrants and refugees. Refer amazon kindle)


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The dearth and probable death of democracy

Democracy, as we in the West know it, is correctly referred to as Western democracy. Effectively, in this form of citizen-participation in the process of governance, electors vote for a political party. Political parties became involved in governance only about 400 years or so ago. Technically, electors vote for the candidate offered by their party of choice. Electors have no say in the selection of candidates. Even local party members have almost no say in the selection of their candidate. The political party controls all.

With compulsory voting, as in Australia, there can be many ‘donkey’ votes, some with added rude words. Interestingly, as eligible voters become disenchanted with the process, many reportedly do not even register as voters. Where non-voting by registered electors will result in a fine, non-registration seems to be substantially ignored. Not long ago, when the responsible poobah was asked about non-registration, a media report quoted him as saying that the public would not accept punishment for non-registration.

The whole process has lost its credibility. The political parties prefer playing politics rather than debate policies in parliament; that is beyond question. The Opposition of the day, and minor parties, can delay or deny necessary policies. Minority parties can be single-issue parties, cherry-picking potential winners in policy. Some politicians act as individuals, pushing their personal barrows.

Australia does not have long-term policies: no economic policy; no population policy; no infrastructure policy; no housing policy; no policy regarding the objectives and outputs of tertiary education; no coherent and integrated social-welfare policies; no climate policy; and no energy policy.

‘Market forces’ influence outcomes in the economy, just as the USA influences defence policy. Without an ongoing inflow of foreign capital (with increasing foreign ownership of sound enterprises) Australia will sink. Worse still, we rely on cheap foreign labour (on short-term entry visas) in industries of no apparent interest to able-bodied, childless, unemployed persons.

Yet, we offer free hospital treatment for all residents, irrespective of capacity to pay. Then there are tax concessions galore, which benefit mainly the wealthy. These concessions require those who have no means of minimising their burden to also subsidise those who ‘create wealth’ (for themselves) by paying less tax. Overall, acquiring OP (Other Peoples’) money is a highly-preferred approach to achieving a lifestyle of choice.

To be fair, Western democracy permits a wider range of people to be subsided than those nations ruled by autocratic, kleptomaniac, rulers supported by a limited circle of supporter-beneficiaries.

Is there a fairer, or more efficient, or less-corrupt system of participation in the governance of a nation?

Speaking American English on Australian tv

For years, the Australian media has tended to follow any new developments in American media. For example, way back in the 1960s, when some radio advertisers in the USA began to shout their messages, Australia followed. Until recently, a particular presenter on Australian tv shouted his wares as if he had to rush off to void something.

Then, more recently, tv news readers on the national broadcaster and on the multicultural channel (part subsidised) began to interview reporters during the news broadcast. Unlike the olden days, when the speech sounds were (sort-of) British, the accents heard in recent decades were those of educated readers speaking Australian English.

Now, there has developed a new trend. Increasingly, some presenters and reporters are attempting to speak American English. I set out below a letter I wrote for publication in my local newspaper; it did not see the light of day.

“Speaking American English on ABC tv and SBS tv

It is fascinating to hear some Aussie newsreaders and reporters on ABC tv and SBS tv attempting to speak American English. They do this by accenting the first syllable; for example, Sah-hara (the desert), dough-nation, dee-fence. Increasingly, we also hear nairies and tawries, like ordi-nairy and terri-tawry.

Are we preparing for the privatisation of these two institutions? Or for that desirable shift from satrapy to new American state? Heh! Heh!

In view of the probable isolation of Australia on the edge of Asia, when mother hen progressively gathers the chicks wandering about on their own up north, as well as for a desirable shift in Australia away from policies based on welfare to individual enterprise and effort, and for us not having to pay for our military equipment, I have recommended in my book ‘Musings at death’s door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ that Australia should seek to become the next state of the USA.

Although my adopted nation (of which I have reason to be proud) is clearly a satrapy of the US hegemonic empire, rushing off to back the USA in any conflagration commenced by it, our media and politicos pretend that we a middle power. That we may be as well, but we cannot be an Asian nation.

I find it fascinating to hear how some readers and reporters try to emphasise that first syllable in what apparently is the way Americans speak. However, some words, like ‘missils’ (for missiles), pose no difficulty.

How do our school children cope with this dual approach to speech, with their teachers speaking Aussie English and tv offering American English?


What is national sovereignty?

‘National sovereignty is the idea that independent nations, which have declared their independence, have an organized government and are self-contained, have a right to exist without other nations interfering. It is essentially the unspoken rule of a nation’s right to exist.’

‘Sovereign nations not only have the right to form governments, they have the right to defend themselves against those nations that pose a threat to their sovereignty. National sovereignty is a driving force behind the American ideal of independence. The colonists became very disillusioned over being taxed by England without being granted any sort of representation within the English government. So they decided to form an independent nation that would allow them to govern themselves. With the Declaration of Independence, the United States took the first steps toward becoming a sovereign nation.’

‘With a growing emphasis on a more globally focused worldview and economy, some nations have expressed concern over infringements on their sovereign rights. Some leaders feel that increasing the powers of international organizations, such as the United Nations, and alliances, such as the European Union, is detracting from their ability to remain sovereign by imposing sanctions on individual economies and militaries and forcing them to make decisions for the greater global good rather than for the good of their own nations.’

‘A sovereign state has complete control of the property and the people in the territory. Under this concept, one sovereign state is not allowed to interfere with the internal affairs of another sovereign state. Each state has the right to function independently and make decisions as an individual state. However, some sovereign states have agreed on treaties determining minimum standards for human rights.’

‘Being a sovereign state means that no outside entity can rightfully demand any internal action of the state government, says Globalization 101. For example, if Brazil wished to create an amusement park using a rainforest’s material and land then no other country would be able to outright tell them to stop because of Brazil’s sovereignty rights.’

‘There are 195 sovereign states in the world as of July 9, 2011, reports One World Nations Online, when South Sudan became an independent state. Before that, the last changes occurred with the end of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 and the two nations emerged as independent states.

All sovereign nations of the world are also members of the United Nations … … Included among the non-member states of the UN are the Holy See (Vatican City State), Palestinian Territories (Gaza Strip and West Bank), South Sudan, Taiwan and Tibet.’

(The above are extracts from




“The Negro revolt is not aimed at winning friends, but at winning freedom, not interpersonal warmth, but institutional justice.”   Harvey Cox, US educator, 1966

“In order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to take up the gun.”  Mao Tse Tung, 1966

“Riots are the voices of the unheard.”   Martin Luther King, 1968


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.

Do authoritarian religions produce intolerant bullies?

In mid-2017, one of the Australian States is reportedly about to legislate the availability of physician-assisted death, with necessary safeguards to avoid anyone being killed, and preventing an avalanche of deaths rushing down a slippery slope. Up pops someone protesting against this availability.

He does not want this right, but I do. He has no right to speak for me or to represent the whole population. No one has, not even a bioethicist or a theologian representing a church of choice. In fact, over many decades, more than 80% of the Australian populace has sought what was once described as voluntary euthanasia, now defined more specifically as physician-assisted death under the most stringent conditions.

His defence in seeking to interfere with my right is that his God, through the medium of his priesthood, denies such a right – which is based on compassion. Since his God is surely the universal god of all mankind, how could he claim that his priesthood has sole right to interpret God’s wishes? In the absence of revelation, has not his priesthood made an arbitrary judgement – an assumption – on this matter?

This church, whose spokesmen have persistently opposed voluntary euthanasia (as well as certain processes related to the nether-regions of women), is based on a claimed authority, and had exercised strong control (as evident to me during my residence – as an adult – for nearly 70 years in Australia).

Those who belong to this church are entitled to live by the codes of conduct set by its priesthood. The rest of us should not be required to do so.

Thus, no more than 20% of the Australian population can be claimed by their church to oppose the right to voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted death sought by more than 80% of the population over decades. The 30% of the population who stated in the last Census that they had no religion can surely demand that religious institutions (or their spokespersons) do not interfere in their lives by claiming to speak for a God they deny. These people are atheists, with a right be so.

Australia is officially a secular nation, in spite of the apparent control of national policies by Roman Catholic politicians currently. Hopefully, State Governments will allow compassion as a human right, by challenging any church-determined policies to the contrary. We do need choice, not rule by religious bullies!

On the sea of life, let us all paddle according to our respective rhythms. Do respect my right as I respect yours.