Social cohesion and ethnic diversity

With the invasion of Europe by very large numbers of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, a major policy issue for European nations is the successful integration of the new arrivals. Australia has successfully integrated its post-war immigrant intake, who worked hard to contribute to their chosen home, even as they benefited from being transplanted.

In sequence, Australia took in needed able-bodied workers, as well as war-displaced persons, from Europe; middle-class Europeans from the Levant; light-skinned East Asians (preferably Christian); humanitarian entrants from Indo-China; and (eventually) coloured immigrants and refugees. All of these settled in (or are settling in) smoothly.

“ It is an undeniable fact that Australia’s immigrants have never been denied the right to pray as they wish (other than to avoid disrupting their workplace); to eat their own kind of food; to speak their own language in public (the Aussie yobbo in the street excluded); to dress traditionally; to celebrate their national festivals freely; and to retain those of their cultural practices which are not inconsistent with the law, institutional practices, societal values, and behavioural norms of the host population.

They are thus required to accept Australia’s Constitution and the related institutions of government; of law, order and justice; the equality of genders; freedom of speech; and equal opportunity. They are also required to respect the nationally accepted cultural practices and social mores of not only the host nation but also of all the other cultural communities in Australia. They are further required to discard imported cultural practices such as spitting in public spaces, clitoridectomy, and such other practices which have been traditionally anathema to their host people. In the event, what other rights might immigrants or their descendants need?” … …

“The bid for a parallel settlement service, and (later) an inter-cultural relations policy, both to be controlled by ethnic community leaders reflected, in my view, an assertion of a newly-created right, rather than a need.” … …

“A parallel settlement service, delivered by language-specific ethnic social workers and controlled by ethnic community leaders, was essential, it was asserted. So, millions of dollars were spent for years in providing grants to ethnic communities under this new approach.

The ethnic grant-in-aid (GIA) social workers and, quite separately, GIA directors met regularly, in order to exchange experiences. As Chief Ethnic affairs Officer for Victoria I did attend a few of these meetings. I sensed that the social workers were pleased to be able to have a dialogue with an official who was a fellow-immigrant. Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs), being multi-ethnic in scope, were serviced in the English language by employees of ethnic descent. I wonder if the social workers manning the MRCs were aware of the apparent anomaly.

State-wide ethnic-controlled councils were then established to ‘coordinate’ GIA and MRC policies and practices. Naturally, a national body (FECCA) had then to be established. State governments also got onto the stage, offering career paths for some, including the odd freelancing academic. Ethnic employment through State or Federal consultative or advisory bodies became quite fashionable. Anglo-Australian federal public servants and I in DIEA (the Department of Immigration & Ethnic affairs) managed the machinery so established.” … …

“For a few years, I was responsible for the allocation of millions of dollars annually on the settlement services provided by this parallel structure. But I was unable to have anyone actually delivering the services tell us about the components of the services they delivered and the efficacy of these services. Basic data were not collected, because these workers said they were too busy. Process was all.” … …

“Mainstreaming, whereby all official agencies would now employ, where necessary, foreign language workers to deliver migrant settlement services (as before), was rejected by one and all in the industry, especially the State agencies established as multicultural policy. Even some academics took up the refrain, although I was not made aware of any research underpinning their assertions.” … …

“As for multiculturalism, the term is a big mistake. Even if the original intention was to encourage the ‘ethnics’ to remain in a separate sandpit, or just to garner the so-called ethnic vote, the refreshed recent emphasis on this term is a policy error.” … …

“What should be of great concern to one and all was the recent public statement by a spokesman for the newly established multicultural body in 2011 that he wished to ‘order’ (so said the news report) certain people to carry out a certain action. It was the tone of the alleged statement that reminds us that people from authoritarian cultures do need time to adjust to Australia’s egalitarian politico-social ethos. It also highlights the imperative of ultimately integrating strongly divergent cultural communities and individuals into one Australian people.”

The extracts above are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’ (2012)



Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Observing bird-life in wonderment (2)

A number of plovers occupy the ground opposite my home. They are garbed in the manner of the scholars of the Middle Ages of Europe; what looks like a brownish overcoat gives them the appearance of dignity as they walk. They do dart here and there each morning though, feasting on the insects which seem to be active then.

I do wonder: are insects only intended to be fodder for birds? What else are they good for? But then, the same question could be asked about crocodiles and alligators.

Digressing, I recall that, in my boyhood, my family would holiday at a place named Port Dickson on the west coast of British Malaya. We bathed standing up (we did not, could not, swim) in the mud-tainted water off the Straits of Malacca. For our safety, a cage of solid timber poles protected us from attack by crocodiles. With all the navies passing through the Straits today, the risk of being chemically poisoned should be high for anyone wishing to cool off there from the heat.

In September, each female plover will produce 4 eggs. When hatched, the tiny chicks will forage for themselves! The mothers are fiercely protective. Anyone walking or cycling too close runs the risk of an ear being sliced by a cutting spur at the end of each plover’s wing. Their swooping, as they call a warning to their chicks, can be threatening to intruders.

In the first few weeks, the chicks will forage near their mother. When she sits and spread her wings, at least two of the chicks will sit under her wings, while the other(s) forage nearby. Soon, the tiny chicks will chase insects here and there. They will wander on to the road, with the mother making frantic protective calls when she sees a potential threat.

Currently, there are more than 4 cats living very close by. I doubt if any of the chicks will survive the local dogs and cats. Why do people bring cats into bird-land?

I have noticed 2 interesting behaviours by the plovers. When a strange bird flies over them, a mother and her chicks will duck close to the ground. I wonder if this action, like the foraging, is instinctive. The other behaviour of interest is an adult tapping the ground with a foot, while looking a little ahead. Moving forward, the plover is able to drive out of the ground its target. That is, it behaves like a calculating hunter, as well as a casual chaser.

In spring, magpies are seen to attack cyclists passing by on the road. I have watched a magpie keep pace with a fast-moving helmeted cyclist on the main road to the city centre in Canberra. It did not attack him. Perhaps it was doing what American planes were doing recently flying beyond North Korean waters: signalling a warning!

Then we have the galahs. Strangely, the term galah has pejorative implications when directed at humans. This bird is light grey with pink. A flock will attack our lawns, digging up new shoots. They are not interesting to observe. They are always too busy feeding.

It is the cookaburra which is interesting. Its call demands attention. Two or three calling together is quite exciting. It can sit still on an electrical wire for quite a while; then suddenly swoop to the ground to collect its prey. Its eyesight must be fantastic.

The nearest comparison is the little eagle. It hovers, then suddenly swoops onto its prey. Its eyesight too is impressive.

I find bird behaviour more interesting than the behaviour of humans – except for babies and little children.

Tolerance of failure

‘Tolerance of failure’ behind declining results

Following my previous posts on matters educational, especially in a competitive global milieu, here are extracts from an article which brings out the issues. The contents of this article are consistent with previous news reports on Australia’s ranking on a global scale.

These who make counter-arguments claiming that Australian students are better ‘rounded’ than their counterparts overseas or their Asian-Australian cohorts, because the typical Aussie is more involved in sport, appear incredible. Equally questionable are claims in the local media that regular tests and exams are stressful. Could normal life be expected to be stress-free?

The article is by Pallavi Singhal in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 Sept. 2017.

“The co-ordinator of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has linked Australia’s steady decline in all three test areas of maths, reading and science to the country’s “tolerance of failure” in schools.

Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education directorate, said “It is perhaps too easy to do well in Australia” and that the country tends to accept that “some students will come out less well.”

“We asked students what makes you successful in maths, and many students in Australia said that it’s about talent, but if you asked students in China or Singapore the same question, you had the vast majority saying, ‘I can be succeed if I try very hard and my teachers support me’,” Mr. Schleicher said.

“In other countries, there is a belief that the education system is just not sorting them but that it can make a difference. There would be a much greater tendency for teachers to redouble their efforts for students who are struggling.”

The latest PISA results from last year showed that Australian 15-year olds are declining in both absolute terms and relative to their international peers. … …

“Australia used to be very good at the high end of the skill level but there’s been a gradual slide over the last 15 years,” said Mr. Schleicher. He said that the countries performing best “pay more attention to how they develop and retain the best teachers”. … …

“Australia needs to make teaching intellectually more attractive and provide better support and opportunities for the profession. … … “

Comment (based on nearly 70 years’ residence in Australia as an adult): The ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude held by many in the formerly closed and protective Australia is no more. Multiculturalism and globalisation require better planning and performance for survival.


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.

Do universities meet the needs of society?

Here is the view of an eminent historian. “… the historian of the 20C notes the love of the conglomerate. Originally used for business, the word denotes here the wish to mix pleasures, activities, and other goods so as to find them in one place.” … …

“The conglomerate that best fulfilled the idea of the time was the course offering of the large colleges and universities. It had ceased to be a curriculum, of which the dictionary definition is: ‘a fixed series of courses required for graduation.’

Qualified judges called the (current) catalogue listings a smorgasbord and not a balanced meal. And large parts of it were hardly nourishing. The number of subjects had kept increasing, in the belief that any human occupation, interest, hobby, or predicament could furnish the substance of an academic course.

It must therefore be available to young and old in higher learning. From photography to playing the trombone and from marriage to hotel management, a multitude of respectable vocations had a program that led to a degree. On many a campus one might meet a student who disliked reading and had ‘gone visual,’ or be introduced to an assistant professor of family living.”

‘Fifty-some majors, thirty-some concentrations, and hundreds of electives.’ – The Dean of an Ivy League College to arriving students.

‘A university that offers a doctorate in sensibility, including courses in “niceness and meanness” and “mutual pleasurable stimulations of the human nervous system” was (well described) in 1992 as “an academy of carnal knowledge.” – New York Times (1996)
(These are extracts from ‘From Dawn to Decadence – 1500 to the present’ by historian Jacques Barzun. He has published more than a dozen books, and been described ‘As one of the great one-man shows of Western letters.’

One might ask, in the context of the Australian Government’s subsidy to our universities (based on enrolments rather than graduation, or on the utility of the content of courses,) about the taxpayer cost of university courses which do not provide usable skills. Of course, those who seek other kinds of courses can pay for these courses themselves.)


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?”