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..


Delaying learning through fads in education

Teaching a young child (say, 3 to 5 years old) or adults learning a new language has been successful through the phonics method. I learned my mother tongue, Tamil, as a 4-year old, and English as my second language from age 7 in British Malaya, through phonics. As an adult, I taught Indian shopkeepers in Singapore necessary English through phonics. Before that, I taught Chinese high school students basic English through phonics.

hen the pronunciation varied from the norm, all of us accepted the variations through memory. Yes, bough/ bought/rough/cough, row/row, and similar temporarily confusing sounds were memorised as idiosyncrasies in a slightly confusing foreign language. That the letter ‘a’ has a variety of sounds was no problem to me or to those I taught.

My wife and I taught our 3-year olds to read without difficulty in distinguishing between ‘sight’ words and ‘memory’ words. There are not that many ‘memory’ words in the English language of common usage. One can learn these without recourse to semantically unclear and confusing jargon phrases. I once read a short paper by a professor in education whose phrases were so abstract that a barrage of anvils was needed to be attached to them to obtain any operational meaning.

Then, when I found that my granddaughter could not read, even near the end of her second year at school (Year 1), I admit to having been disgusted. She had been taught by the whole-of-word method for 2 years, and could not work out the word ‘kingfisher’. I put her on the right track to reading, learning and enjoying books in two 20-minute sessions. How could a school hold back any child because of a sacred fad?

This bright child had been held back by a fad – which had been inflicted on little children for about 25 years, with the teachers bound by the edicts of their trade union, academics in education, and a certain arrogance by some teachers, when the right of teachers to decide how our children are taught had never, to my knowledge, been challenged. This arrogance did lead to a claim by some teachers that they should be free to decide what is taught. What arrogance! How would they know about the nature and needs of the society into which our children grow; and how our youth are enabled to fit into this future society?

We live in a global and competitive environment. Our children need to be as educated and as prepared for the real world as will be children from other nations, and who will be fluent in English. I do not detect that emphasis on excellence which is required to equip our youth for the real world, although a few educators and some politicians do their best.

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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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 http://www.reference.com)



Why are the desert religions aggressive?

All the major religions in the world have the same God, the one and only Universal Creator of all that is. Creation may have occurred all at once or through an evolutionary path. The Creator God may be unknowable, except through a deep meditative process; or knowable, perhaps through revelation. Asking what was there before Creation, or about the origin of God, are meaningless questions. (Ask the cat which looks behind a free-standing mirror for that other cat.)

Most of us need a saviour offering succour, primarily in terms of survival in our normally harsh environments. Others may have lesser needs, but which can loom large in their lives, depending on how insecure or greedy they are. Wants may be greater than need.

A significantly powerful personal need, but which can (in an exaggerated state) threaten the very existence of other humans who are also believers in God, is the need to believe that one is on the only path to God; or that one’s path to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father is the more efficient one. This Abode may offer angels, or dancing girls, or advanced spirits, or ever-lasting peace. (Or perhaps a wondrous mansion filled with gee-gaws of great value, and serviced by valets galore.)

How does such a strange need of exclusivity or superiority arise? Surely through the priesthoods. Why would priesthoods need to compete with one another? The exercise of power, or a collective ego-gratification?

Religious belief systems arose in widely dispersed regions of the world over a long period of time. Each could not have known about other belief systems unless traders from afar displayed their foreign faiths. See what happened when Hindu and (later) Buddhist traders influenced the cultures of South East Asia and the islands of the adjoining archipelago now known as the Indonesian. So many individuals there have names and even facial features which reflect this cultural infusion.

Of course, marauding armies would also have imposed a new religion here and there. Or, a ruler, by accepting a new religion, had all his people follow him.

Priesthoods would also tend to protect their reign when they control the path to eternity. As evidenced in Egypt, when Aten replaced Amon temporarily, it was allegedly the prevailing priesthood which recovered the status quo. Was this also the earliest evidence of a closed trade union?

But then, why did Christianity, which offers a loving universal god in place of a fearsome desert god, set out (through colonialism) to convert peaceful followers of the forest religions of Asia? What drove Islam, the successor to Christianity, to use the cutting edge of weaponry to convert all and sundry? Do not these religions have a record of destroying the followers of other faiths, and sects of their own religions, here and there? In my experience, these are the only 2 religions whose followers talk a great deal about their faith, whereas the others simply live their religion.

It is surely undeniable that the 3 major desert religions have been, and are, the predominant warring nations of the globe. Humans will, of course, attack one another for material gain. Our simian genetic heritage is probably responsible. But what gain is there in collecting souls? Why not take the coveted materials, and leave beliefs alone? More efficient control of the ‘other,’ using priests?

In any event, the diversity of beliefs reflects merely the diversity in approaches to the Divine. The paths do vary, thanks to differences in man-made theology and dogma – all arbitrary, and replaceable. On what basis would a priesthood claim superiority or priority?

Would not the wanton destruction of fellow-humans and their societies in the name of one’s religion affect one’s chances of finding peace in the Hereafter? Or, do the guilty deny the existence of a meaningful Afterlife?

Why not live in faith on Earth, and allow others to live with their respective faiths too? In the Afterlife (Hereafter or Heaven) all souls will surely be equal as non-entities!

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.