My partner made a joke earlier when we went out for dinner. It was something along the lines of “do your duty for God, Queen and Country”, to which I replied, “but I don’t believe or endorse any of those concepts to be good concepts!”. Of course she knows that I am agnostic to all of these, and hence the joke.
The concept of fairness plays a bit part in my mind, and what I consider my values. Yes, despite the fact attitudes may be made up on the fly, I do think that I have some values and attitudes I hold on to – and I like to think I have carefully analyzed and reanalyzed those values I hold to. In short, I think I have reasoned myself into holding some values and chucking some other values. In fact if you had read this blog since its inception in 2004, you would have known I have blogged less, and appeared to be less opinionated on some things – it was partly due to having less time, and also partly due to a lot of re-evaluation of my values and knowledge (essentially there was a period in 2008-2011 when I thought I really didn’t know enough to comment on anything)
Part of why I disagree with the concept of “duty to”, “God”, “Queen” and “Country” is because of fairness, and in one of the cases, a very recent event has left some bitterness and hence triggered this post.
Onwards, shall we?
If you read enough of this blog, you’d know that I self-identify as a strong agnostic atheist. On the Dawkins scale, I am likely a 6 or 7. In places where I know calling myself an atheist would raise a lot of trouble (particularly one hospital in Malaysia – where I was lectured about the evils of not believing in a silly deity – that hospital was where I learned the lesson to avoid trouble), I would self-identify as a Buddhist.
One reason not to believe in a god is the issue of fairness. Am I to really believe I was blessed by an invisible sky daddy, that I above the millions of people in Africa, were born into a fairly middle class family whose parents are able to feed, clothe and most importantly educate me about the world? Comparing my childhood to the childhood of a child growing up in the poorest parts of Africa (don’t forget – Africa is one huge ass continent), it would be quite clear that I had the unfair advantage of being born in the right place at the right time to the right people (whom I might add – after years of introspection – are quite pretty much the most awesome parents I know), and under the right conditions.
It would be painfully clear that these unfair advantages conferred upon me were a product of happenstance. As someone who has studied evolutionary dynamics, and the math of complexity (even giving a talk on complexity a few years ago), I know that my being born to my parents in a country called Malaysia about 20 years ago into a booming economy is actually a cumulative effect of a few generations of my ancestors’ efforts. It is not my ancestors who reap the rewards of their efforts but their offsprings, generations after their passing.
Fairness, in my mind should be judged based on individual effort. If we were to judge fairness based on individual effort, then it is by mere good luck that I was born in a relatively peaceful country with relatively good educational advantage.
It is from this view I reject a belief in a god as described by Judeo-Christian tradition – which more often than not has been described as merciful, and good. Good, my ass.
What is the advantage of being born royal? Being born royal is again, a circumstance of birth. Turns out if you were Queen Elizabeth II, your ancestor, King George III had done a lot of work for you. The lands surrendered from King George to the British Parliament now earns the UK 200 million quid a year. The salary to the royal family? 40 million quid – to what some brits think is them doing nothing.
Again, if one were to judge on individual effort, it would not be fair to compare a member of a royal family to a commoner. And I used the British royal family as an example. They are one of the less powerful monarchs on this planet – as in the Magna Carta has their executive powers limited. There exist some monarchies of which the monarchs have absolute power over the fate of any of their citizens.
If the British royals lose their ruling power today, they’d just be a very ridiculously rich family – pulling in over 200 million quid a year in revenue, and they’d be no different from the Walton family. But if some countries were to lose their monarchs or even make their monarchs lose some ruling power, there’d be lots of probably positive changes to the welfare of their people.
I submit this to you, dear reader, as unfair. Hence I reject any support for any form of royalty (in terms of ruling power). I think they’re cute, but I will not explicitly support any monarchy.
I have long railed against the concept of a country. To keep a long story short, I think the concepts of a country is simply tribalism blown up. I have taken some time and thought for some time on my opinion on this, and while I will agree that there are some benefits to retaining silly human-drawn boundaries (not Australia though – we’re a land girt by sea), I still think that in the larger picture, the concept of a country is detrimental to the growth of humans.
And time it is for the personal story. A few days ago, a recruiter forwarded me a few very interesting jobs in statistical analysis and machine learning – which coincidentally is what I happen to be very good at (at least to my mind). 4 of the 5 jobs were based in California, and two of them were US government and Australian government related jobs (not ASIO – though I would LOVE to work for ASIO too, but I have since given up hope on working in intelligence * Afterall, machine learning and pattern seeking is a thing that any intelligence agencies would use ).
Eager to at least see what opportunity lies out there for me, I replied, indicating my interest, but also raised concerns that I am not an Australian citizen (yet). The reply came back as expected – “sorry mate, they were only looking for Aussie citizens”. You see, visas are harder to get for Malaysian citizens, and hence despite an being an international job opportunity, it was really open to the first world countries. I must admit this: even though the response was expected, it still felt very bitter.
This has happened more times to me than I care to admit. Early in my university days, when I mentioned that I was from Malaysia to any new group of people, one of the first few questions I would be asked is “oh, so you’re muslim?” and immediately any conversational atmosphere changed – you can feel people tiptoeing in conversation, trying to skirt the issue. I’d answer “fuck no, I’m atheist, never will be muslim” and the atmosphere instantly changed again. I think back then the issue was mainly with terrorism, and Malaysia was often lumped in with Indonesia as a terrorist hotbed (despite that Malaysia actually did a very good job at containing any acts of terror before they happened). Oddly Singapore never got such treatment. It was occasionally socially beneficial for me to claim I was from Singapore – people are friendlier instantly for example. People look up to Singaporeans, and by virtue of a similar accent, I could momentarily gain social benefits * I must add though, the long term benefits will almost always reduce to zero . Heck, even the job opportunities mentioned in the story above was opened to Singaporeans.
I never ended up being firm friends with any of those people who asked similar questions* one or two of them are good for networking . Is it my fault that people have stereotypes, or that I was born in a country which excludes me from a lot of opportunities by virtue of nationality? No. It fucking well isn’t my fault. But I shan’t blame it on the people who make stereotypes either. Stereotypes are unfortunately very necessary for the brain to function.
Luck of the Draw – None to Blame
Nay, this is a situation where nobody is to be blamed, hence this is a rant more than anything else. I am also very and painfully aware that I was born into relative wealth (compared to say, the average Sudanese), and that many people are indeed suffering worse fates than having a few job opportunities slam shut in their face. I am painfully aware of the irony of me complaining about unfairness when there are people who are freezing to death in the cold without Internet access.
But this does not mean I must put on a stiff upper lip and go about my day. I believe the American constitution has some parts right – the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are amongst the many rights a human being should have. And I am lucky, in that none of these rights are restricted * think about it, I could be born a female human being in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, and due to the lack of knowledge accessible to female humans in those geographic region, I wouldn’t even begin to understand what a better life could mean , and exercising these rights by working towards improving my personal circumstance (for example: acquiring an Australian citizenship ASAP), the personal circumstances of people close to me (family, friends etc – helping them make their dreams come true), and the personal circumstances of any potential future generations of mine.