The value of history

The examination of events which had occurred in the past, or are believed to have occurred, in (say) 5-year rolling cycles (a useful statistical approach) can, I believe, provide a more meaningful vista than a parade of individual events. To be adequately explanatory, one would also need to understand motivations.

That is, what were the triggers? A unilateral initiative or a reaction? The personal ambition of a leader? A tribal thrust reflecting historical memories, including rancour at past injustices? Tribo-religious greed for land, souls, and other resources? Expectations of gain? National stupidity? The economic forces at play? Or the imperatives of suvival?

A broader issue relates to leadership, whether in an offensive or defensive mode. Does a great leader arise from the prevailing circumstances or does a leader-in-the-making create the circumstances he or she needs? I am reminded of 2 female leaders in recent times – Mrs. Golda Meir of Israel and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. Then there were Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. I believe that these ambitious leaders surfaced only because the flow of the political current was propitious. Ditto Adolf Hitler.

On the contrary, while I received a sound education under the colonial British in Malaya, my study of history was partly wasted on what I thought of as ducks and drakes. The ducks were the dukes, earls, et al of Britain. The drakes referred to were notables in Europe, eg. Charlemange, Loyala, and others.

It was only when, after the end of WW2, I read Harold Lasky and others of like mind, that I realised that taught history was totally irrelevant for an adequate understanding of humanity-on-the-hoof. Sundry tribes had been rushing here and there all over the world, including Europe; and tribal and (later) national boundaries were shifted freely.

Official history, or only some prevailing historical presentations, seem Eurocentric – and some of it truly foolish. For example, that the Greek (not Macedonian) Alexander the Great had conquered India. The Encyclopaedia Britannica had Hindu Indians praying to a range of gods, but there was no mention that these gods were only manifestations of the one and only Creator of mankind.

Then there was Muller who apparently could not accept that Hinduism is older than Judaism. There are others who cannot accept that learned Athenians and their philosophers may have learnt from Egyptians and Persians, whose civilisations also go back a long way.

In contrast, I found a series of books on history by Cambridge University about the origins of cultures all over the globe most educational.

We do need to know the long-term trends of significant events which have occurred over long periods of time, their motivations, and their consequences. I found Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of world history,’ which provide brief outlines (and their significance) of major trends throughout recorded history; Jacques Barzun’s ‘From Dawn to Decadence – 1500 to the present’; Martin Bernal’s ‘Black Athena: The Afroasiatic roots of classical civilisation’; Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David Frawley’s ‘In search of the cradle of civilisation’; Allan& Delair’s ‘Cataclysm: compelling evidence of a cosmic catastrophe in 9500 BC’; Stephen Oppenheimer’s ‘Out of Eden: the peopling of the world’; and sundry other authors of relevance, to be illuminating.

Since the past is embedded in the present, we do need to know how we were shaped. When in doubt, let us keep our minds open.

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The history of nations can be confusing

My country of birth was Malaya, which included Singapore. Today, Malaysia excludes Singapore but includes Sabah, a slice of Borneo. Malaysia is now a Muslim Malay nation, regardless of the substantial development contributions by the elders of the multi-ethnic Asian communities living there.

My father was born in Jaffna, an independent Hindu Tamil territory, in colonial Ceylon. Now, Buddhist Sinhalese control the whole island (thanks to the colonial British), which was re-named Sri Lanka.

India was a conglomeration of independent principalities ruled by the Muslim Mughals from Central Asia for centuries. The Mughal rulers were the descendants of Genghis Khan of Mongolia. Genghis was the ruler of the largest contiguous empire ever. Since Alexander and Constantine are known as ‘the Great,’ Genghis could fairly be described as ‘the Greatest.’

The British then united almost all of the principalities into the nation known as India. Then, in an act (which one of my elders described as an act of bastardry), Pakistan, a Muslim nation in 2 widely separated segments, was created. An unnecessary division of a co-existing people led to inhumane consequences. The religio-political tension between these nations may delight the ex-colonials. Then, Bangladesh was hived off. Who benefited from the division of the sub-continent into 3 nations, since Muslims live as equals, and individuals have risen to power, in modern India?

Need or greed would have led to various tribes entering the lands of other tribes in Asia. Over time, boundaries became flexible, and some tribes apparently merged. No boundary seemed to be durable. What is known about these tribes? That depends upon whether their names are in Persian, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Indian, Greek, or some other languages. In the apparent absence of indigenous records, one is limited to the claims of the colonisers or invaders.

have read that most of the tribes named in history are known by only their languages; and that ethnography is mute. Bias, even in academic circles, is not unknown, hitherto influenced essentially by Eurocentrism (the residue of colonialism). For example, an economic historian recently claimed that the major civilisational developments of mankind arose in Eurasia!

Contradictorily, and amusingly, there is apparently a school of historical thought which claims that no ‘black’ people could have contributed to the origins of civilisation. There go the ancient Indians, Egyptians, Mesopotamians (especially the Sumerians), Persians, and other peoples outside Europe. History based on where coins have been found is obviously challengeable. Ubiquitous traders respect no politico-cultural boundaries. They spread philosophy, social customs, coinage and goods.

Those who claim Athens as the font of new knowledge for Europe are challenged by the claim that Athens was established by Egypt; and that, at one time, 50% of Athenians were Egyptians, with many Athenians (such as Pythagoras) studying for years in Egypt.

We cannot all be leading nations, even in history. If, in each life, we are born into different cultures, hopefully – in time – our souls may intuitively guide us to the realisation that difference is insignificant in impact when we are all connected to one another in time and space.

The myth of racial discrimination (2)

Instead of the confusing use of the semantically misleading terms race and racial, as argued in my previous post, statements of prejudice, as well as acts of discrimination, can sensibly refer to skin colour – a major trigger of hate (or stupidity). There could, however, also be an inherited cultural sensitivity associated with ignorance.

I do admit to being sensitive about colour in one instance. I will not eat beetroot because I do not like its purple colour.

Returning to reality, being a foreigner (or outsider) can be accepted as another trigger for prejudice and discrimination. This would include entering not only ‘white space’ but also British white space (although the latter is now seemingly superseded).

Another trigger is tribal superiority and prejudice. This would cover religion (a major source of claimed superiority); cultural values and practices (eg. the taboo in Australia against killing a goat in one’s backyard for a festival); and social mores (eg. spitting in public) – quite a catchall! Using ethnicity as a marker for abuse can have no future when there is so much cross-ethnic marriage (including partnership and cohabitation).

Countering prejudice and discrimination through the law is available only to the wealthy; or to those with access to pro bono lawyers. Education? The ignorant will probably ignore any media campaign (if they are aware of it); while the opportunists will do what it takes to achieve their ends. Morality (like Grace) needs to be bestowed; although it may of course be learned.

In the sphere of international relations, where there is no place for morality, there is a strange assertion about racial discrimination. Anyone criticising Israel for one of its policies (while clearly not anti-Israel) can be accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’. Yet Western Asia has speakers of a range of Semitic languages who subscribe to a variety of religions; they are all equally Semitic!

There is clearly a need to get rid of the concept of ‘race.’ Which government will dare take necessary action? A recent attempt to go part of the way foundered on a confusion of semantics, politics, human rights, free (but responsible) speech, egoism and exceptionalism. There were hidden ‘sacred cows’ behind some of the waffle.

Is modern Australia lacking the necessary intellectual depth to deal with human rights and free public expression? When voluntary euthanasia is described during a recent debate as ‘killing’ (reflecting only a particular theology), I wonder whether there is a place for not only compassion but also for honesty in public policy.

 

The myth of racial discrimination (1)

Since the concept of ‘race’ is meaningless (common usage being no intellectual defence), then the term ‘racial’ is equally meaningless. What is race? A construct of European colonialism; the ‘white race’ was contrasted against all other races, which were allegedly genetically inferior.

So much for the intellectual competence of those scholars in earlier centuries who sought to prove this. It was no more than the new boy on the patch flexing his muscle. (Mine is bigger than yours!) It may also be that the ‘white’ supremacist had not yet met the peoples of East Asia and those living along the terrain between the Tropic of Cancer and the 40th parallel around the globe; these people are clearly more white than the coppery-white European (except the Mediterraneans).

Funnily enough, when an Asian Caucasian like me marries a European Caucasian, the progeny tend to be whitish in colour; except that the resulting very lightly-tinted ones display an attractive skin colour (like the suntan assiduously sought by white Anglo-Australians).

Since arriving in Australia at the age of 19, I have experienced statements of petty prejudice and acts of discrimination (some very unjust and thereby hurtful). The expressions of prejudice reflected, I realised, my intrusion into ‘white space.’ That this space had been white for only about 250 years, against the reality that it had been ‘black space’ for at least 45,000 years, would not have penetrated the thick skulls of those white supremacists. So, skin colour was the trigger.

Like my fellow-Asian students, I experienced some petty discrimination in service initially, based on my being a coloured foreigner. Disdain was also directed to any white girls in our company. Indeed, in the 1990s, a young Aboriginal youth in my district was beaten up because he was seen walking with a white girl. That was during the ‘Hanson era’ when a new politician complained that there were too many Asians in the country. I too was shouted at in public then. Again, it was skin colour that was the trigger.

Why not refer to this as colour prejudice? It was simply white (repeat, white) supremacy being manifest. There were no ‘races’ implicated.

What of the prejudice displayed initially against the white, Christian, European immigrants who were imported by the government? They were foreign; that is, not British! Racial discrimination? Hogwash! There must be a term for people ‘not like us’! Outsiders? Foreigners? Nothing racially inferior here, is there?

Then, in a competitive work environment, I experienced (between age 55 to 60) overt (and painful) discrimination based on my religion; I did not belong to ‘the faith.’ This was purely tribal discrimination (not one of us). Nothing to do with race!

Ignorant people displaying prejudice through looks and words can be thick on the ground. But they can be, need to be, ignored. Why not? Unjust and hurtful discrimination denying rights or entitlements reflects much more than idiotic prejudice.

Is substantive protection available from legislation in Australia?

Racial discrimination law presents confusing concepts

Australia’s racial discrimination legislation successfully confuses acts of discrimination and words indicating prejudice, a feeling. Discrimination involves treating an individual or group differently from others, generally less favourably. Examples would be: a denial of equal opportunity, or paying wages below a legal entitlement. There may be no antipathetic feeling associated with the act of discrimination.

Whereas prejudice can be displayed in looks of disdain, or in spoken words, such as those used by bullies (or idiots) in a playground or in a work situation.
Denial of a right or entitlement will hurt – emotionally and materially. The effects can be very long term. Do read my 2 posts titled ‘The myth of racial discrimination’ to fully appreciate what actual discrimination is all about.

The discrimination I had to endure in not only the White Australia era but also in the 1980s was substantial, not imagined or coined. Initially, the discrimination I experienced reflected responses to my skin colour and to my being foreign. Latterly, the trigger was tribo-religious (‘not one of us’); and I had to ‘go with the flow’ to be allowed to work in peace. I thought it wise to retire prematurely.

Words uttered by rude people – mainly through ignorance or stupidity – can hurt, but only if one allows that! Why would one want to do that? Would one feel hurt and humiliated were the heavens to open suddenly, and deposit cold water on one’s head? Of course, one would feel chastened and a little hurt were a parent or a teacher or one’s boss to be rude in correcting one’s attitude, behaviour, or quality of work.

The Australian Aborigine has had to put up with more than 2 centuries of oral abuse! Has racial legislation provided significant protection? Yet, some recent coloured immigrants have allegedly spoken about being hurt and humiliated by nasty people addressing rude words at them. Is it time to adopt this adage: “The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on”?

Legislation should legitimately focus – and be restricted to – acts of discrimination (ie. to a denial of rights), and be couched in semantically and legally clear terminology. However, the current legislation in Australia offers the opportunity for harmless words of disapproval to be posited as harmful and humiliating.

Immigrants are traditionally ‘adventurers,’ displaying resilience and fortitude in travelling to another nation, and integrating with those already in the country they chose to enter. Some of them can, of course, be opportunistic.

 

Not all insults are racially motivated

Who are those claiming to be hurt and humiliated by words uttered by others? Should I have felt insulted by being asked repeatedly whether I would join ‘the faith’ for my ‘salvation?’ Instead, I saw the speakers as well-meaning but not educated. When, recently, a former Church worker claimed that the one and only God of the universe is a Christian god, all the other gods being ‘pantheistic,’ I challenged his arrogance. I suggested that Christianity is a late entrant in humanity’s search for the First Cause of all that is. Were these people racists?

At a political level, when Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader of Singapore, offered a more efficient definition of democracy, he was attacked by the West. Was he insulted? Instead, his Ambassador to the UN published ‘Can Asians really think?’ That closed down further challenges; were they racist?

Significantly, Singapore is ahead of Australia at so many levels of governance – from education to economic development, based on long-term plans; not, as in Australia, waiting for foreigners to invest (if they chose). A silly accusation recently was that, although students in Singapore are ahead of their Australian counterparts in maths, they could not possibly understand the underlying concepts. Racism or dented white superiority?

More ridiculously, the terms ‘race’ or ‘racial’ are applied, almost as a mantra, to a wide variety of allegedly hurtful utterances. Thus, Australia’s ‘racial’ legislation denying free speech is defended as offering protection against any criticism of Israel’s policies! The Catholic Church is also said to need similar protection (something I do not understand). The Australian Aborigines, the only First Nation Peoples not recognised in the Constitution, do need protection from insults; but how are they to access any protection which might be available?

Then, there are the seemingly newly-arrived immigrants who, unlike their predecessors over half a century, claim to be humiliated, hurt, or offended by foolish words by silly people. Offensive words? That depends on whether one is easily offended. Some people are. Why?

Were such people never spoken to disdainfully ‘back home’? Could there be any intangible benefit in claiming to be psychologically damaged by unfriendly or ugly words in Australia?

We early immigrants were genuine ‘adventurers’ who crossed land and sea to start a new life, and to better ourselves. We ignored (or retaliated occasionally) denigrating words. We were not wimps to feel ‘humiliated’ by words from the ignorant.

Words may hurt only if one lets them. Why allow that?