The old man decided to literally let his hair down the other day. I envied his mane, actually. It was a symbol of his power, his independence, if you like. His Mrs had long discouraged him to keep his hair long. As a kid, his school teachers forced students to keep their hair above the collar – any transgression would be met with a swift lashing by a rattan cane. As a working adult in late 20th century Australia, the prevailing dress codes in the workplace reflected strict attitudes to “proper and professional” work attire and hairstyles. After being his own boss for many years, he didn’t care anymore. When he turned sixty, he turned resolute in wanting it his own way; after all, it was his own hair, his own appearance, his own entitlement to simply do nothing. Would he care anymore, at sixty-four? His respect for Confucius extended to the teaching that we inherit our hair from our ancestors and ought to keep them intact. Keeping his hair long and unkempt drew ire and even attracted criticisms from certain quarters.
“Your hair keeps stopping the robot vacuum cleaner,” his Mrs complained regularly.
“You look like a beggar,” a sibling said.
“Too long lah,” Chip, an old friend commented, about his hair, unaware that it could have been mistaken as an appraisal of the old man’s appendage.
Hair loss was becoming a problem for him and he feared his receding hairline would force him to keep the queue hairstyle mostly associated with Manchu subjugation of men during the Qing rule. It would be a devastating irony for the old man if his defiance in keeping his hair long ended up with him owning a bald scalp at the front of his head and a long plaited tail at the back. “Lose your hair or lose your head” was a Manchu policy to force the men to be openly submissive.
He had been observing the behaviour of the younger generation. A year ago, one of his sons celebrated his birthday with various groups of friends and colleagues over many weeks. Each celebration was with different people, at a different venue with different types of food. “I lost count after his seventh party,” the old man said. To celebrate his 64th birthday, the old man decided to follow his son’s example. “Throw many parties!” he said excitedly. At last count, he has sent me photos of five birthday parties. So I asked him, “Anymore celebrations this weekend?” He winked and said nothing.
The old man’s first birthday celebration this year was at the Empress Restaurant. “I leave it up to you,” he said to his restauranteur friend, Daniel Wong. “Omakase, terima kaseh,” he said, but Daniel although of Malaysian heritage, did not understand the Malay words. “Thank you!” the old man repeated in English. The old man’s Mrs wanted to know what was planned for the menu and the more she asked, the more adamant he refused to reveal. “It is omakase,” he repeated for the umpteenth time. “I left it to him,” he said calmly whilst mentally pulling his hair out.
I was invited to his second party. He was considerate enough to hold it outdoors at the Ballaboosta in Burnside. The Ballaboosta served a mix of Lebanese, Middle Eastern / Mediterranean foods. The old man loved their mezze bread and wood-fired pizzas. Dessert was a serve of Knafeh, without fail. So, I asked him if I could bring a friend. “Sure, why not?” he said. “Can I bring Murray?” I asked. Murray is my son’s dog, although I firmly believe Murray believes he is my dog. Murray fully understands me, in three languages – body, English and Chinese. If I flinched, he would wake up. If I farted, he would jump off my lap. If I asked him “還要? Want some more?” he would nod his head. “I am about to book a table for us, anymore friends you want to join us?” the old man asked.
Not to be outdone by his son’s birthday splurge last year, the old man invited me again to another birthday party a couple of days ago. His love for Italian food was triggered a long time ago when he befriended the Scalzi’s. His Mrs and Anne Scalzi introduced each other at the kindergarten where their firstborn sons met and cemented a friendship that still remain strong. The Scalzi’s introduced home-made Italian tomato sauce and pork sausages to the old man and his Mrs. During those early days, the Scalzi’s gathered together weekly as a big Italian family and not only partook in the feasts that Mama Caterina was famous for but also helped her prepare and bottle her famed tomato sauce. Riposi in Pace, Caterina.
They were back for lunch at the Empress Restaurant to celebrate the old man’s birthday a couple of days ago. Just to keep count, that was his fourth 64th birthday party! Daniel Wong had just got back from his short holiday in Melbourne. Yumcha in his restaurant was always good and to my amazement, he suggested that we try the Secret Kitchen next time we were in Melbourne. They were voted best Dim Sim restaurant in Melbourne.
Last night, they were out partying again. Again, the old man showed his predisposition for Italian food. They went to Enzo’s Ristorante, a multi-award winner in Adelaide famed for their traditional Italian cuisine so much so that they were awarded the Ospitalita Italiana accreditation by the Italian government. The food was great as was the company of the party-goers. I eyed with envy at the old man’s dish Lonza di Bue, a 200-day aged Angus porterhouse steak that was served either medium or medium-rare. “I could have it rare,” said the old man, noticing that his steak did not ooze blood at all. One of the guests requested for hers to be well-done only for her order to be declined by the chef!
Whilst waiting for desserts, the carefree conversation somehow descended into politics. The old man clearly had too much of the Ashton Hill Pinot Noir. He normally limited himself to South Australia’s best Shiraz and Cab Sav’s, finding that the pinot noirs were too ‘watery’ for his liking. Stung by a son’s jest about the Shiraz here being so heavy and thick that one could paint a house with them, he decided to open his mind and try the wine from Piccadilly Valley. Initially, he regretted his suggestion for his Mrs’ sister to select the wine. “Why don’t you explore the wine list yourself?” he said in reply to her invitation for him to pick a Shiraz. The Mrs’ sister was seated next to a celebrity Youtuber who had made a name for herself as a Thai educator in Adelaide. Youtubers normally are preoccupied with monetising their channel but the slim and olive-skinned lady came across as a virtuous person whose aim was to help her community in a foreign land. She sat across the table from me and I could see that anyone who wanted to keep their hair long should have hair that was lustrous, shiny and luscious. I decided to find an appropriate time to tell the old man what I thought of his dry and sparse hoary hair. “Cut it short!” I said to myself without hesitation.
The old man’s Mrs brought up something he had espoused ages ago, the idea that democracies in the modern world no longer work. Someone had mentioned the upcoming snap election in Malaysia after the sudden dissolution of the Parliament by the PM who in doing so, consigned himself to become the shortest serving PM in Malaysian history. What a fool, the old man thought to himself. His belief that his people need not know how to speak English was further testament to his stupidity. The old man stopped talking to himself when his Mrs repeated her question, the second time with much more vigour in her voice. “So, if democracies don’t work, what should replace them?” she asked. She was baiting him to see if he dared suggest that a centralised governing system was more efficient and effective in getting missions completed and goals met. He admired how China had eradicated extreme poverty in just four decades. How the centralised economy had outperformed capitalism at a rapid rate. How China had surpassed the US to become the world’s largest economy (certainly by purchasing power parity). How China had become the world’s factory and primary patent maker. How China’s modernisation of its infrastructure had shamed countries such as the US. “SUCH A LONG LIST!” the old man’s Mrs interrupted him. “Anymore?” she asked. He belatedly knew his lips had been loosened by the Pinot Noir and quickly zip-tied it and shrank back to his seat.
Well.. look at a democracy like Malaysia. Is it helping the people? Are they better off compared with China? The democratic system stubbornly keeps electing kleptocrats. Why is that? Why would the majority of the people keep voting the crooks in? Why does the social contract between the voters and their government not produce a favourable outcome for the people? The common people, if uneducated and uncaring about politics and the health of their own economy, can be easily bribed. Was it not the case that they voted for politicians who gave them just a few hundred dollars and a red t-shirt?
Look at the US, so-called hero of democracy and freedom in the world. Is it not true that its democracy is also termed a ‘donorcracy’ in which the political system is weighted in favour of lobby groups with the biggest donations? How is it possible that the world’s most powerful nation with over 330 million people can vote in a serial-liar Trump and a senile Biden in their last two elections? In the past three years, the Fed had printed eight trillion dollars, and since February 2022, the US had sent billions of dollars to Ukraine to fund their proxy war against Russia whilst many Americans continued to live in squalor and the country was in dire need of modern infrastructure? Is this not irrefutable proof that a democracy is merely a romantic idea of how a majority rule in a society that respects all its peoples’ wishes and freedom should improve the lives of the majority of the people?
The old man’s Mrs relaxed her mood after being sweetened by the Tiramisu she indulged in. “Ok, please continue,” she said, using her elbow to nudge at him.
The old man began. I have summarised it the best I can below.
Basically, there are three forms of government.
- By the one.
- By the few.
- By the many.
Each has a good side and a bad side, just like a coin.
A system ruled ‘By the One’ is a monarchy, but the bad side is a tyranny.
The good side of “By the Few’ is aristocracy, the bad side is oligarchy.
If ruled ‘By the Many’ we get a republic, but the bad side is ochlocracy or mob rule. Plato in 330 BC wrote in his ‘Republic’ that mob rule in a democracy could be the consequence of populism in a political or social system. In recent years, we have witnessed time and again populist leaders who find ways and means to increase their unchecked powers to deliver their promises to the mobs who voted them in, often at the expense of minorities and perceived opponents. Who can forget the mob advancing on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021 in its failed attempt to re-install their leader who had clearly lost the election? The will of the majority is not necessarily for the common good.
Look at Russia’s toppling of the Czar when they stormed the Winter Palace. The result of their popular uprising saw the country changing from a monarchy to an autocracy. All the group of angry people needed was a charismatic leader such as Lenin who was able to stir the mob and kick out Kerensky, the Prime Minister of the provisional government.
In the roaring twenties, many countries experienced loose monetary policies implemented by their governments during and after WW1. War efforts needed money desperately, and it took the printing press to simply print more. Every nation that went to war had the idea that victors would reap the bounty from the vanquished and Germany was the big loser. The Treaty of Versailles was another hammer in the nail for the German economy; it imposed vast reparations to France and Great Britain, and annexed much sought-after land and key ports to the winners. Soldiers returned from the war and joined the long queues of unemployed labour. Hyperinflation followed soon after with too much money chasing too few goods. As in Russia, it was mob rule that installed a tyrant in the name of Hitler as the supreme leader in post-war Germany. People were angered by the Weimer Republic‘s poor governance of the State that oversaw the hyperinflation in the economy and allowed rule by decree and suspension of constitutional rights in a national democracy.
Does this not sound familiar during the recent years of the latest pandemic? The imposition of draconian laws that barred the freedom of movement and gatherings during long spells of lock-downs and the discriminatory laws that took away peoples’ jobs (means of livelihood) for those unvaccinated or unmasked. Today, record 40-year high inflation across the globe and the devaluation of most currencies against commodities and the USD are also reminiscent of the Great Depression following the extravagances of the roaring twenties.
Is majority rule really for the common good? People’s Power sounds like a great thing. After Benigno Aquino’s assasination, the people took to the streets in what was known as the ‘Yellow Revolution’ using yellow ribbons to depose Ferdinand Marcos from the presidency. But, the energy of mobs can fizzle out quickly. Mobs can be crushed by a strongman, as proven by all dictatorships or they can simply lose interest in politics especially if their primary focus is to make ends meet and lessen their misery. Thirty six years later, the Filipinos voted in the son of the man they ousted as President. Ferdinand Marcos Jr can thank his mob for their short memory span.
“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”Thomas Jefferson
A good start is to ask the question, ‘Is it for the common good?” But, who can decide what is good for the common people? Who should decide?
- A monarch? A dictator?
- The mega wealthy such as those billionaires who are members of the World Economic Forum?
- The everyday Joe Blows from Kokomo? The ordinary working class people and the mum-and-dad business owners? Those disinterested, too busy trying to make a living, or uneducated to care?
“So, what is your solution?” the old man’s Mrs asked, tiring of his long-windedness. The old man looked up and she could tell his mind was racing at almost the speed of light. He did not want to look stupid or sound idiotic in not coming up with a plausible solution after sharing his lengthy views above. At the same time, he did not wish to embarrass himself with an off-the-cuff suggestion.
“Well, don’t you have anymore to say?” she asked in a challenging tone.
The old man’s reply would not be accepted in today’s woke culture. Any suggestion of depriving any group or class of people will be shot down and the proponent cancelled in a public outcry. Yet, he spoke his mind and foolishly (in my opinion) revealed his thoughts to the party revellers.
“I think with any system, there has to be compromises. There are great features in a centralised system of governance such as China’s mixture of state capitalism and collective enterprise. Every system including the most capitalistic ones such as America also adopts a great deal of centralised control. The most important power in any nation is the control of money and that power resides not with the elected governments but with a small group of private banks, named as The Federal Central Bank (Fed), a misnomer since the federal reserve system is governed by seven officers of private banks. In truth, the Fed controls the US, since they control the monetary system there, and since the US Dollar is the reserve currency of the world, the Fed controls the world to some extent.
“Who controls money controls the world.”Henry Kissinger
So, my solution is this. I still believe in a democracy but a democracy that is elected by the top one hundred people in every field nominated by the people, be it medicine, music, arts, sports, political science, social science, education, et cetera, et cetera. These experts who belong to the top echelon of their fields then have to familiarise themselves with the political parties’ policies since they have the responsibility to vote in those candidates who wish to participate in the electoral process. This is a better system than the Westminster system in which the leader of the government can be deposed by a member of his or her own party; the sacking of the national leader may not be the wish of the people.
“That will never be allowed to work though,” said the old man. “People will be mistaken to think this process is elitist,” he said.
“Then, what’s the point of even suggesting this?” his Mrs said. “Anymore bright ideas?” she asked dryly.
With that last remark, the party ended.