Does Hillary Really Have the Foreign-Policy Advantage?


July 28, 2016

Does Hillary Really Have the Foreign-Policy Advantage?

by Uri Friedman

 

Clinton says Trump’s wrong about the world. But she still needs to explain why she’s right.

Imagine you’ve had it with your house. Or, more precisely, you’re conflicted about it. You’ve loved living there. It’s a mid-century design—the biggest house on the block. You don’t really want to move. But the years, the kids, they’ve taken their toll on the place. In looking into what to do, you meet an interior designer with 25 years of experience and a fistful of glowing testimonials; she bounces around your home, gushing about the “life-changing” window treatments she’ll put here and the “modern, sophisticated” sofas she’ll add there.

When you ask for a second opinion, you’re floored: The guy tells you that the whole structure has been neglected for too long, and that it should be gutted and renovated. He didn’t bring testimonials and he couldn’t care less about window treatments, but he says he knows the best contractors in the world. Why tinker around the edges, he asks, when you could build your dream house instead? Why not put the bathroom where the kitchen is? No, really: What’s stopping you?

Welcome, roughly, to the emerging debate over foreign policy in the U.S. presidential election. Hillary Clinton is the interior designer. She appears to have a considerable advantage over Donald Trump when it comes to experience and knowledge. But that experience and knowledge is only a political asset insofar as voters buy into the premises of the international system that the United States has helped design and lead since World War II—the system, in other words, in which Clinton got all that experience. It’s only valuable insofar as you want to keep the kitchen where it is. If you don’t, well … the guy with the demolition equipment starts looking pretty appealing.

Already, Clinton has claimed international affairs as a key battleground against Trump, devoting her first major address of the general-election campaign to the topic. And she’s done so for understandable reasons. Foreign affairs is arguably the realm in which she can draw the sharpest contrast with Trump in terms of qualifications. In her national-security speech last week, Clinton noted that she visited 112 countries as Secretary of Sstate. While Trump was staging a Miss Universe pageant in Russia, Clinton wryly observed, she was negotiating limits on nuclear weapons with the Kremlin. Foreign affairs is also where the stakes of the election seem highest; in her speech, Clinton conjured images of a volatile Trump in the Situation Room, blustering through matters of war and peace with one finger on the nuclear button and another scrolling through Twitter. Plus, it’s where she may be able to peel off some Republican voters. Electing Trump, Clinton said last week, “would undo so much of the work that Republicans and Democrats alike have done over many decades to make America stronger and more secure.”

And yet: It’s unclear whether this strategy will pay off for Clinton. Yes, she has a record of making life-and-death decisions, while Trump doesn’t. But that fact cuts both ways. Experience is not the same thing as success, even though Clintonrarely distinguishes between the two. In his victory speech following Tuesday’s primaries, for example, Trump characterized Clinton’s foreign policy in the Senate and State Department as one that “invaded Libya, destabilized Iraq, unleashed ISIS, and threw Syria into chaos, and created the mass migration, which is wreaking havoc all over the world.” Whether or not that critique is valid, it’s a reminder that Trump can attack Clinton’s actual policy choices; Clinton can only assail Trump’s rhetoric and hypothetical actions.

Clinton has also tethered herself to a decades-old, bipartisan consensus on the rough outlines of U.S. foreign policy, which Trump has been challenging more vigorously than any major presidential candidate has in six decades. Trump has questioned the consensus on free trade by threatening to start trade wars with China and Mexico. He’s questioned the consensus on alliances by pledging to overhaul or even scrap NATO, and to risk antagonizing America’s southern neighbor by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s questioned the consensus on mutual-defense pacts and overseas military bases by promising to withdraw such support unless countries like Japan pay more for U.S. military protection. He’s questioned the consensus on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons by inconsistently suggesting he would acquiesce to countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia obtaining nukes if it made them less reliant on American security guarantees. He’s questioned the consensus on U.S. leadership in the world by advocating for an “America first” worldview that is transactional rather than transformational. As a teleprompter-guided Trump declared in April, “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.”

Experience is not the same thing as success, even though Clinton rarely distinguishes between the two.

Over the last 70 years, presidential candidates have largely acted like interior designers within the existing structure of American foreign policy. Not Trump. And while it’s not clear that most Americans agree with his views, what is clear is that his candidacy comes at a time when the public is deeply conflicted about America’s outsized role in the world. A recent Pew poll found that the vast majority of Americans support U.S. membership in NATO and the United States playing a shared leadership role in the world. At the same time, however, 49 percent of Americans say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a bad thing because it lowers wages and costs jobs in the United States, compared with 44 percent who believe it’s a a good thing because it provides the country with new markets and economic growth. Fifty-seven percent want the United States to “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can,” while 37 percent feel the “U.S. should help other countries deal with their problems.”

(The scholar Stephen Sestanovich has pointed out that the Pew results may be more indicative of partisan differences on foreign policy than of bipartisan support for the U.S. reducing its role abroad. Trump supporters are particularly likely to view U.S. involvement in the global economy as a bad thing, while Clinton supporters are particularly likely to feel the opposite.)

John F. Kennedy (Democrat) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)

Dwight Eisenhower, the celebrated World War II general and NATO commander, eventually defeated Taft in the primary, stamping out unilateralism in his party for decades to come. And he did so, in part, by making a passionate, affirmative case for internationalism and its imperfect but indispensable instruments, including the UN, NATO, and U.S. collective-security agreements (though he did want protected countries to gradually take on responsibility for their own defense rather than remain dependent on America).

Eisenhower was not calling for altruism. Every foreign-policy decision, he asserted in a speech shortly before the Republican convention, must advance the security and well-being of Americans. (In a testament to the malleability of language, he, like Trump, once labeled this philosophy “America first.”) And then he made an argument that drew on his authority as a man who had sent other men into battle: Global peace was essential to American security and well-being, he said, and “those who seem to think we have little or no stake in the rest of the world and what happens to it; those who act as though we had no need for friends to share in the defense of freedom—such persons are taking an unjustified gamble with peace.”

Why? Eisenhower argued that technological innovation, along with new production methods and labor skills, had shrunk the world and made countries far more interdependent. This applied even to the mighty United States, which depended on access to foreign markets and far-flung raw materials. America’s communist foes, he claimed, were determined to cut off these vital supply lines, and thus besiege the U.S. economy and political system. “The bleak scene of an America surrounded by a savage wolf pack could be our lot if we heed the false prophets of living alone,” Eisenhower warned.

Hillary Clinton still has work to do in making the affirmative case for internationalism—for sprucing up the house rather than gutting it. Her recentforeign-policy address included a number of assumptions whose logic Eisenhower didn’t take for granted when the U.S.-led international system was just beginning to take shape.

The choice in the 2016 election, Clinton declared, is “between a fearful America that’s less secure and less engaged with the world, and a strong, confident America that leads to keep our country safe and our economy growing.” OK, but why, in the 21st century, is robust American leadership in the world—yes, Clinton’s nuclear negotiations with Russia, but also her support for the U.S. military intervention in Libya—a prerequisite for safety and prosperity? There are arguments to be made on this front, but Clinton didn’t dwell on them last week. (She did offer a detailed defense of America’s unique alliance system and the benefits the country accrues from it.)

“If America doesn’t lead,” Clinton said at another point, “we leave a vacuum—and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void.  Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety—and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.” Clinton vividly depicted Jumpy Trump in the Situation Room, but she didn’t take the time to paint a picture of how Americans’ lives and jobs and safety would change under, say, Chinese hegemony.

Trust me—America must lead, Clinton says. That line may have worked during past elections. But it may not be enough against an opponent who insists that America’s leaders can’t be trusted, and that America’s global leadership is a rotten deal.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/06/trump-clinton-foreign-policy-election/486023/

Malaysia–Eunuchs keep Najib Razak in power


July 28, 2016

Malaysia– Eunuchs keep Najib Razak  in power

by Zaid Ibrahim

In the days of emperors who ruled over vast empires, eunuchs were deployed as their palace guards. These emperors required men they could trust implicitly to take care of their concubines and mistresses—some emperors had more than a thousand wives.

The emperors could not trust “normal” men to keep their mistresses “chaste” and not go looking for pleasure with the palace guards, so a generation of eunuchs—males who were rendered incapable of sexual acts by mutilation and castration—grew to serve the emperors’ special needs.

The castration was done early and because eunuchs were employed in the inner palace areas, they had the proximity and opportunity to mingle with the emperor, his concubines and key palace advisors.

The eunuchs then used these opportunities to influence the emperor and advisors on policy matters and would regularly interfere in affairs of state. This is one of the reasons why eunuchs held important positions in the empire, not to mention acquiring vast wealth and power.

I have to explain this for you to be able to explain to others (especially foreigners) why Dato’ Seri Najib Razak is still all-powerful. Najib, the great emperor of the 21st century, has done what others can only dream of doing, which is to be the wealthiest Prime Minister in the history of the Malaysia, and arguably the world.

Najib has survived months of bad publicity in the global media and despite the recent actions of the US Department of Justice (which has detailed his modus operandi to rip off the country of more than USD3.5 billion), Najib still commands a lot of support from his Cabinet colleagues, his party, the civil service, the Police, journalists in the mainstream media and the generously paid bloggers, not to mention the Judiciary, the Attorney- General and Members of Parliament.

How does one explain this phenomenon?

We cannot blame it entirely on a weakened and disorganised Opposition. It’s also unfair to expect ordinary Malaysians to feel sufficiently “outraged” to march on the streets seeking Najib’s removal when many of them are just getting by selling nasi lemak or working as manual labourers. Life for most Malaysians is hard. Finding food and enough extra cash for the tolls must remain a priority instead of being involved in political agitation.

The real reason why Najib remains Prime Minister despite what has happened is his success at creating a long line of eunuchs to serve him. These eunuchs are different from the eunuchs of the Middle Kingdom in only one respect—their Bs are intact—but in everything else they share the same characteristics.

Najib has cut off not their  Bss but something more valuable to a human being: he has removed their self-esteem and dignity; and by putting fear in them, they oblige and kiss his hands and promise to be loyal to him. The cash is too tempting.

They will do anything and everything for him: they fear him, and feel they are nothing without his grace and blessing. Their collective defence of this utterly corrupt patron gives them a sense of belonging and  they are well-rewarded for their zeal.

But the eunuchs of today need millions to wet  their appetite and some even get titles normally reserved for those few whose service to the nation has been exceptional.

These eunuchs do not serve the Government or the country. They see no distinction in (nor do they understand) the modern concept of separation between the head of government and the country. They see no difference between truth and lies.

They see no need for the head of government to be accountable to anyone, since the interest of the Emperor is synonymous with that of the state, like Louis XIV of France. As such, laws are necessary but do not apply to the Emperor if he is disadvantaged or adversely affected by their application.

Our modern eunuchs are ever-willing to die for their Emperor, so it is nothing for them to lie, spin  and behave as if the whole world is made up of fools.

The question is, what about us? Do we care enough about the country and do we feel sufficiently strong to stand up to these eunuchs without fear? If we do, then there is hope, but the sooner we act, the better.

Fire destroyed London 350 years ago, but the city was rebuilt by the great effort of the British people. Our country too has been destroyed, not by fire but by castration. I just hope the Malaysian people can rise to rebuild the country once again.

 

Exit, now BNexit, Collapsit?


July 27, 2016

Exits, now BNexit, Collapsit?

by Dean Johns

Rogues Gallery

I’ve been enjoying lots of exciting times lately. First arriving in London in time to experience the immediate aftermath of Brexit, which for many people over there was a matter for bitter Regrexit, and now returning home to the welcome spectacle of 1MDB getting its long-overdue Wrexit.

And the even more entertaining sight of the culprits doing their damndest to Rejexit, in every way from Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s urging for people not to ‘pre-judge’ the named alleged culprits to the ludicrous claim by BN mouthpiece the New Straits Times that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has been swayed by anti-regime bloggers and others.

Of course, as a friend living in Malaysia has reminded me, I shouldn’t be celebrexing the downfall of the 1MDB-BN gang too enthusiastically at this early stage.

My friend’s BN-supporting relatives, he reports, are still determinedly denying the guilt of all the crooks currently being targeted by the US DOJ, and there must be countless more Malaysians that are similarly desperately striving to delude themselves.

After all, it is not just Najib allegedly aka ‘Malaysian Official 1’ who is responsible for the clearly evident fact that, as the DOJ has asserted, the Malaysian people have been ‘defrauded on an enormous scale’ by way of 1MDB.

Equally culpable are not only Najib’s partners-in-crime like accomplice Jho Low and stepson Riza Aziz, but also countless accessories allegedly including the entire BN cabinet, the Attorney-General and Inspector-General of Police, plus all of Najib’s apologists in the so-called mainstream media and those who have supported him and his regime in a series of fraudulent elections.

And let us not be blinded by the sheer scale of the 1MDB scam to the fact that BN members, cronies and supporters have been guilty of defrauding the Malaysian people on a massive scale for decades.

The entire regime apparatus supported that act of political, social and racial treachery, and has since been complicit in Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s allegedly repressive and rapacious 22-year premiership, and now Najib’s reprise of more of the same.

Compelling suspicions

Indeed, BN at large has been more than complicit in Najib’s case, as its members elevated him to the position of prime minister despite his being notoriously tainted by compelling suspicions of his involvement in the Scorpene submarines kickback scandal and the associated murder of Mongolian ‘model’ Altantuya Shaariibuu.

These suspicions were almost as international as those currently swirling around Najib’s involvement in the 1MDB fraud.

As Hamish Macdonald of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote when BN awarded Najib the top job back in 2009, “Malaysia (has sworn in) perhaps one of the most questionable current politicians in any of the world’s democracies as its new Prime Minister, in a triumph of party-machine politics over sound governance and morality.”

And as former BBC correspondent in Malaysia, Jonathan Kent, similarly commented on Najib at the time, “it is really rather unusual for a head of government to find himself linked to the brutal murder of an attractive young woman or to huge and questionable commission payments for the purchase of armaments.”

Undaunted, however, BN members saw fit to inflict Najib on Malaysia the better to serve his and their own alleged lusts for power and plunder, and seven years more of regime secrecy, lies, evasions and crimes against the people, culminating in 1MDB, have been the result.

So when the international pressure inspired by the 1MDB swindle finally grows too intense to bear, it is not just Najib who has to go, only to be substituted with some other BN crook that’s just as bad or even, if possible, worse.

Whether through the ballot, or massive public demonstrations of people-power, or rolling national strikes, or a class-action suit in the International Criminal Court, the entire gang of regime criminals has to be got rid of along with Najib, in one great and glorious BNexit.

 

Bill Clinton endorses Hillary at DNC


July 27, 2016

DNC-Philadelphia 2016: Bill Clinton endorses Hillary and Why

Hillary Clinton must be in The White House. She is most qualified and well prepared to be  the 45th President and Commander-in-Chief. She exudes Smart power( to quote Madeleine Albright) and will be good for Asia and global diplomacy. I endorse her and wish her and her fellow Americans  all the best.

A screen displays Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivering remarks to the crowd during the evening session on the second day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We all face tough times with terrorism on the rise in France, Germany, Japan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere and in America itself. We need a global response with steady, resolute, smart and cerebral leadership in America. Hillary Clinton is my man in The White House because she has the qualities to be the Leader of the Free World.–Din Merican

BERSIH 5.0– It’s about restoring Malay Dignity


July 27, 2016

BERSIH 5.0– It’s about restoring Malay Dignity

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”–– John F Kennedy, remarks on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress,  March 13, 1962.

COMMENT:  My non-Malay friends, those disinterested in the state of the country but claim to vote opposition, tell me that the important thing for non-Malays to do is to work the system and most importantly, profit from it.

Malaysia, they say, is a great country to live in – stable, sheltered from natural disasters – so what if the government is corrupt? It is like this everywhere, they say.

UMNOo, meanwhile, does it best with its outsourced thugs to push a hegemonic and racist agenda to maintain a ‘social contract’ that has brought stability and wealth to a specific middle class, while subjugating the majority of the Malay polity into subservience to UMNO through Islam.

Nowhere is apathy embraced as a legitimate lifestyle choice and as a means to deflect from issues beyond pecuniary self-interest.

Malays friends of mine – former diplomats, civil servants and military officers – bemoan the fact that “Malay” leadership has devolved into a quagmire of corruption and racism, our public institutions the public face of “Malay superiority” and safety nets for a “Malay” subclass, there to prop up a corrupt regime.

In my piece urging the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak – with apologies to the inspector-general of police (IGP) for my perceived wanton law-breaking – I acknowledged that resignation is the last thing this Umno potentate would consider. Why would he?

Regional media reported that it was business as usual for Najib, a day after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) made its announcement to seize US$1 billion in assets bought with ‘stolen money’ from 1MDB – “The message was clear: the premier is focused on matters at home, especially the economy, as he seeks to preserve support among his ruling party’s base of ethnic Malays, many of them in rural areas. One of his pit stops on Thursday was a speech to employees of a government agency that is tasked with helping thousands of smallholder farmers.”

The IGP also reminded Malaysians that any form of popular dissent would be sanctioned because “We will not allow it because there is a way to ask the prime minister to step down as stipulated in the law,” even though as Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah points out, no rally has been confirmed, only mooted.

The IGP’s pre-emptive strike on democratic ideals would be much appreciated in the Erdogan regime. I hear security personnel are in short supply in Turkey now, so perhaps it would be a good time for “lawatan sambil belajar” (study tour) for the IGP.

Maria Chin Abdullah has confirmed that a rally is on the cards, and former Prime minister and  Najib refusenik in Chief Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has also mooted the idea of popular dissent through street demonstration, added rather impishly, “Malaysians are timid. In other countries, millions take to the streets. Malaysians are very nice, we don’t normally hold such (protests).”

The mother of all street parties

The Bersih chief said: “More important to me would be the objective of the rally and not the venue.” In this piece, I humbly propose my objective of the rally, if given the green light.

Of the last Bersih rally, I wrote, “The dangerous idea of the Bersih rallies is that each time it is held, more diversity is introduced into our public spaces. The dangerous idea that large groups of people of different races, political and racial ideologies are congregating with a specific goal of demonstrating their discontent of the UMNO status quo.”

Diversity should be reflected in the various ‘Malay’ rights groups, political parties and oppositional Malay politicians or personalities sympathetic to whatever strain of oppositional politics they think best serves their communities interests, coming together against corruption.

Let me be very clear, I am not advocating that non-Malays discard their obligation to democracy by not attending this rally but rather that the focus of this rally should be on the Malay community and non-Malay solidarity in fighting corruption, and as rights group Hakam President Ambiga Sreenevasan clearly articulates, “It is not just Najib  who is guilty of what is going on in Malaysia, it is the entire cabinet. All those ministers who are saying nothing, it is a sin of omission.”

Simplistically this is the time for that crew-cut Malay thug screaming about special rights to make an alliance with that long-haired liberal university student and say: “You know, we have completely different ideas about what it means to be Malay, but that Prime Minster of ours is really corrupt and although they say our economic numbers may go up, our community is really suffering. Maybe we should do something about that.” (I actually witnessed this at a home of a close Malay friend. Those were not the exact words but the intent is the same).

Defending Malay ‘maruah’ (honour/dignity)

In fact, this Fredrick Douglas quote should be translated to Malay and passed around.

“Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Malays should take heed of what Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said, “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia,” but most importantly “…I believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture. At least I am real and not a hypocrite…”

This rally should be, for lack of a better phrase, be about ‘Malay’ pride – ‘maruah’ – and how UMNO has systematically destroyed it. In addition, this message should be delivered loudly and clearly, by a decisive majority of Malay participants made even more ‘Malaysian’ by non-Malay participants.

What the opposition and people who support the opposition have to realise is that there are diverse Malay groups out there with very different ideas about the concept of race and religion that in some cases are anathema to supposed oppositional ideas, but who want Najib to resign because he is allegedly corrupt.

Now I realise some folks will have a problem with what I have written but this is for my Malay comrades, their fears and aspirations. I have said it and the ball is in their court.

In this case, the messenger is as important as the message.

 

 

Hell, Heaven, Potentates, Priests and Politicians and the Business of Religion–Coping with Uncertainty


July 28, 2016

Hell, Heaven, Potentates, Priests and Politicians and the Business of Religion–Coping with Uncertainty

by  Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

[R]eligion has an “autoimmune disease”, a critical flaw … that leads to its misuse…. The disease’s two main symptoms are “God intoxication”… and “God manipulation”.

From ‘Religion’ , Brook Wilensky-Lansford’s review of “Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself”, The New York Times Book Review, July 17, 2016, p. 26.

The only constant is change. It’s the most basic fact of human existence. Nothing lasts, nothing stays the same. We feel it with each breath.

From birth to the unknown moment of our passing, we ride a river of change. And yet, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we exhaust ourselves in an endless search for solidity. We hunger for something that lasts, some idea or principle that rises above time and change. We hunger for certainty. That is a big problem.–Adam Frank

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2012/05/15/152745489/the-liberating-embrace-of-uncertainty

Malaysians watching with bewilderment and dismay as politicians, ulamas, and evangelists expound the superiority of their religion and promise milk, honey and paradise for their followers, and the fires of hell for those who do not belong, shouldn’t be surprised. The antics of these fire and brimstone practitioners follow a well trodden pattern going back hundreds if not thousands of years.

Any basic course on religion run not by graduates from religious institutions but by reputable scholars would teach about the history of the estimated 6,000 religions of the world, the differences, commonalities and patterns, and associations with cultural and ecological features, especially political.

Using scientific evidence, logic and rationality, such courses can help put into proper perspective the so-called universal truths and answers peddled by the religious books and scriptures of the literate Abrahamic religions, as well as the other absolutist claims made by them.

My design of a course on “Comparative Religion 101” will begin by pointing out that the idea of an ultimate creator responsible for all living things on earth, including man, is one common to many of the established religions found in the different parts of the world. It would also make the argument that the origin and spread of religion is inextricably connected with the quest for authority, power and followers.

The search for a supreme maker goes very far back in history. We do not have a precise dating for it. However, some idea of how far back it goes can be obtained if we look at the history of evolution.

Irrefutable scientific evidence has shown that the physical and behavioral features shared by all people originated from ape-like ancestors and that these evolved over a period of 6 million years. The ability to walk upright evolved over 4 million years ago.

Other important human characteristics such as a complex brain, ability to use tools and capacity for language have developed more recently. More advanced traits such as complex symbolic expression, art, cultural diversity, etc. emerged over 100,000 years ago. With this emergence came ideas and beliefs of hell, heaven and the worship of gods, goddesses, spirits, deities and other man-created objects or points of veneration to facilitate the ascent to a better existence after death.

What Happens After Life’s End?

Questions and answers about where we come from and where we go after the end of life on earth have been voiced in all kinds of ways without any resolution. Archaeological evidence suggests that early man such as the Neanderthals who can be dated to over 50,000 years ago had some sort of preoccupation with death. They were self-conscious beings and were likely to have an awareness of death and the meaning and implications of death. Such consciousness has continued unabated and unresolved with modern man; it will remain unresolved until all humans die off – whenever that may come about.

Most if not all religions have been especially concerned with man’s destiny after death. They probably began with some notion of an Underworld as an abode for the dead. Evidence from ancient burial sites and rituals also indicates concern with ensuring that the spirits of the dead were appropriately sent off or they would not rest peacefully which explains the presence of priests and other before and after-death guides and experts.

A parallel role in society was performed by soothsayers, seers, oracles and diviners who were seen as able to foresee the future by magical and other means. The roles of priests and diviners and oracles were often integrated in the ancient religions. Predicting the near and distant future as well as promising some form of paradise after death proved a lucrative and privileged undertaking for those who belonged to these occupations.

From its earliest too, priestly and equivalent personages have exploited man’s sense of insecurity and fear of the supernatural and made it their powerful ideological tool. This modus operandi served the needs of its founders and prophets who could then impose on their tribes their understanding of ‘truth’, ‘hell’, ‘heaven’, ‘light’, ‘darkness’, and ‘paradise’ and their solutions to human anxieties.

These ‘holy men’ can be considered to be among the world’s first politicians. They still are. Women priests have been relatively sparse in history except in matrilineal societies. Perhaps if they had become dominant, it could have made a difference to the history of the world.

Mountains rise, mountains fall: change is constant.

Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Above the witch doctors, shaman, priests and similar personages holding positions in the little or great religions of the world have been the chiefs, lords, emperors, sultans, caliphs, sovereigns and other similar potentates standing at the highest rung of their society. Whether it is with pre-Homeric Greek religion, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, the religious systems of the world can be seen not only as providing explanations for our earthly existence. They also provided strategies for managing the distribution of political and socio-economic power.

Today, despite the advancement of science and knowledge, the gullibility of the believers of religion continues as also its exploitation by the leaders and charlatans of religion.

In the past primitive societies were petrified and mystified by natural phenomenon such as thunder, lightning, floods and earthquakes. Modern science has demystified these phenomena and enabled us to conquer our fears about this aspect of the unknown.

In contrast to the fear of unknown nature, some primitive societies were relatively stoic about death. Hunter gatherer societies such as the Hazda, for example, have no particular belief in an afterlife, and the death of an individual means a straightforward end to their existence.

It is paradoxical that such societies rather than our modern ones seem to come closest to the current scientific position regarding the mind–body dichotomy which sees consciousness as derived from and/or is reducible to physical phenomena such as neuronal activity occurring in the brain. The implication of this premise is that once the brain stops functioning at brain death, consciousness ceases to exist.

Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Acceptance of a straightforward end to life – that humans, on death, simply become part of the earth, sea or river that we evolved from without any further afterlife – would, however, run against the world wide industry that is organized religion, and the political and religious elites who exploit and benefit from it.