In 1988, when he was director of the Institute of Political Science in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Yan Jiaqi gave a speech titled ‘China is no longer a Dragon’. He argued that the symbol of the dragon gave China the image of imperial authority and unrestricted power, but that this was ‘inappropriate for a nation seeking to be a democracy. It should be replaced, he urged, by a symbol more consistent with the idea of the rule of law.’
Religion is both an enduring reality in our world and a seriously problematic one. We can trade statistics or polemics regarding the number of believers in one religion or another, or about whether religious freedom should be respected and on what terms; but the presence of religion in the 21st century remains palpable and is something we must all grapple with. This paper is a brief attempt to set out a position consistent with the ideals and goals of the Rationalist Society of Australia.
Good afternoon, one and all. We live in a time of considerable turbulence and uncertainty. I feel sure that almost all of you last weekend were astonished by the five AFL games that were decided by less than a goal and the huge victories by the Giants and the Demons that propelled them, as well as Hawthorn, up the ladder and seemed to rewrite the script for the way the finals will play out in September. I don’t doubt that many of you are Eagles fans who revelled in their victory over the Dockers in the Western derby and are hoping for a premiership this year, but the current hegemon, Richmond, still sits on top of the table and looks hard to beat.
A few days ago, an old friend from my days in military intelligence called me from Singapore, declaring that China is exerting intense pressure on Singapore to not accommodate American strategic plans in South East Asia. During the week, we have seen reports about Paul Keating criticizing the Labour Party’s defence spokesman Richard Marles, for saying that the government must authorise the navy to decide when to undertake freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to defend Australia’s interest and send a clear message to China.
Writing to his friend, the Cambridge political scientist Goldie Lowes Dickinson, in 1913, Bertrand Russell confessed to a feeling that a great many of what we now call knowledge workers must often feel:
We here in Cambridge all keep each other going by the unquestioned assumption that what we do is important, but I often wonder if it really is. What is important, I wonder? Scott and his companions dying in the blizzard seem to me impervious to doubt – and his record of it has a really great simplicity. But intellect, except at white heat, is very apt to be trivial.