In 2012 I wrote the first two of a series of Thainess articles (1- National Identity Crisis and Thainess-I) (2-National Identity Crisis and Thainess - II) in a still-developing series about this thing called Thainess, viewed in different quarters as a concept, a firm quality, a pipedream and an unparalleled ego trip. Prior to embarking on another quickly-written personal perspective based on what I think is an approximate but relatively accurate of what Thainess is, the old accusation “A farang cannot know what Thainess is,” kept ringing its bothersome echo. It is still an unsettling reminder that despite reality being made clear and undeniable, understanding can still be denied – and is, with mucho gusto, often denied to the point of violence. In May 2014 this truism became real once again with yet another coup. But this one was much different, far more penetrating, and far more important than coups in the past. Because as Thainess goes, this year Thais were told precisely what Thainess is, were told they will be conditioned. All Thais found that their return to Thainess AKA sakdina (commander-ruled lives) is what is now an inescapable future for all. Brought to you by a sad combination of military determination and social apathy. By Thainess. It was a development that even such newspaper luminaries as Pravit Rojanaphruk earlier may have overlooked in the hope that reason in Thailand would prevail. He and so many others were sorely disappointed in May 2014.
The firm conviction by fundamentalist Thainess wannabees that farangs cannot know Thainess is the result of an indoctrination regimen engineered by ‘noble’ ideas and professed ‘men of honor’ – proving that the road to Hell IS paved with good (often not) intentions. Planners and those who guide society - determining the way things shall be - are first and foremost mortals. None has a divine nature or a singular road to divine wisdom. As a result, what these mortals do is sometimes in error, sometimes done to err, too often done to remain dominant in a climate of dangerous self-delusion. In the process of doing, many “isms” have come and gone, taking the lives of millions with them under administrative systems like communism, extremist, and atheism. In their undulating journeys through history and windings throughout one society after another, besides the misery, pain and suffering, needless guilt and fear from inquiry that they perpetuate and propagate, they also inculcate a false sense on the part of advocates (AKA believers or loyalists) that they are unique; that those who fail to recognize and accept (in terms of agreement) this are unable to understand, or worse, unwilling to understand and must be forced to understand to understand. This is one of the fundamental symptoms of Thainess in the kingdom deriving from the consent-indeed insistence-of those who govern and those who guide those who govern; but such a social malady does not come from any truly informed and self-empowered governed.
Prior to further delving into the roots of Thainess, one thing should be mentioned - as it opens more appreciation of the difficulty in getting Thainess advocates to understand reality. Thainess-advocating Thais generally hold that understanding equates to acceptance and agreement – that is, you have been made aware of the situation and appreciate it the same way as the Thai does. If you do not agree nor accept its principles and concepts, this means you do not understand Thainess. So it follows that you are either unwilling (consequently biased, just dumb or bearing ill will) or incapable of knowing what Thainess is. It becomes a simple matter to say, “Farangs cannot know Thainess,” and self-delude oneself that saying so reiterates reality (that is but a product of an inventive mind.) Because farangs are different, think differently and don’t know as much about Thais as Thais do (Hah!), ergo they are unable to know Thainess - therefore cannot even begin to know what Thainess encompasses. They are totally unable to know why ‘Thais’ believe in and insist on (sometimes to the point of death (usually someone else’s) loyalist, sakdina beliefs.
In this third article on National Identity Crisis and Thainess I hold that farangs, and indeed, many other culture’s representatives can know Thainess – know it for what it is - the good, the bad and the ugly, the latter two which “real” Thais can’t/won’t admit to. It thus falls to disloyal Thais, fake Thais, foreigners who “just don’t know” or who “are trying to ruin Thailand’s image” to set the story straight. The current (pre-May 2014) “fake” Thais are the Red Shirts, the Enlightened Jurists, the pro-Thaksin factions, the half-Thai/half-foreigner thousands being born in the kingdom whose parents want them to have a life and a home that not only they can be proud of and honored by living in, but who also want them to enjoy and be protected by basic fundamental human rights that all people are entitled to on this world, Thai – real or fake, foreigners and all…ALL…others. No exceptions. No excuses. No dictators.
In refutation, therefore, that “farangs cannot know Thainess,” the following attempts to set the record straight about what Thainess really is and why the idea that no one except a real Thai can understand it got started and what destructive purpose it currently serves in society. This section is followed by representative examples of how Thais violate, profusely and often, principles of Thainess they claim to believe in and claim to practice but do not.
1. “Farangs cannot understand Thainess.” This position runs totally counter to the non-Thainess mentality that understanding is not a causative result of acceptance and agreement, but that the latter two are instead a result of understanding. In this context, it follows that if one adheres to the dictate that understanding is based on a sympathetic view and acceptance, then the person (the Thainess advocate or ‘real’ Thai) is precluded from realizing that his or her approach is improperly biased, and that it curtails any possibility of mutual appreciation and observances of the principles of true tolerance put into play in an atmosphere of personal regard and open discussion between advocates of different philosophies.
2. “Farangs cannot understand Thainess.” Before trying to define that word ‘Thainess,’ it helps to comment on who is using the term and for what purposes. To be honest, lots of people use it and most of them, including the Thainess freaks, don’t understand what it means. So in a sense, one can say, “Thais do not understand Thainess.” Those who most lack the capacity to understand it, in fact, are those who insist on your and my unabashed willingness (and others who don’t agree with them) to do so. Two types of Thainess advocates can be identified: 1, those who really don’t understand the term but who are convinced that it fits them or their cause; 2, those who understand the term and appreciate the powerful uses it can be put to. There may be a third type, those who fit into category two and who as a result of understanding and being aware of the powerful uses that Thainess can be put to rebel against it and begin to advocate for change. This third group is, in fact, anathema to the cultural fundamentalist (some say ‘fascist’) who views Thainess as some kind of sacrosanct and unique quality only ‘real (loyal) Thais’ can possess. Some short but partial definitions of Thainess…
1. Thainess is…a belief that supposed Thai ancestry (race) warrants a unique set of admirable values that only those of the same race can understand and which other non-Thais can benefit by but never understand. This is a racist concept.
2. Thainess is…a set of values, some of which are measurable and some not, that those who are real Thai will hold near and dear and propagate as in any other doctrine.
3. Thainess is…a set of beliefs taught and inculcated from childhood through to adulthood that prescribes what a good Thai is from what is not.
4. Thainess is…defined as loyal ethnic Thai who holds the nation’s three pillars – the nation, Buddhism and the monarchy – sacred eternal components of Thai society.
5. Thainess is…the collective values of a national society so respecting the three pillars and taking whatever steps are needed to uphold them over and above contemporary thought or democratic pressures. This translates into forced beliefs.
6. Thainess is…collective shunning of individuals or groups that are seen as advocating a different path in life.
7. Thainess is a direct result of the patron sakdina system. As outlined earlier in this series on National Identity Crisis and Thainess, sakdina (Thai ศักดินา) is an offshoot of the ancient Siamese feudal system whereby all members of the Siamese nation, all subjects under an absolute monarchy, were afforded a certain value, worth, duty and place in society – with the expectations and indoctrination, coupled with enforcement of various kinds that each member would confirm with the ranking. One of the particular aspects of this feudal system that has carried over to modern times is the low bowing and prostrating in front of persons or noble rank or of the monarchy. Such practices would not have been possible in contemporary society unless decades of enforced indoctrination were engineered, and this is what has occurred in Thailand – with the express intent of preserving elitist control of the state and society.
In a twisted sense, when General Prayuth Chan-ocha took over Thailand in May 2014 he probably did academics a huge favor in subsequent prescription of Thainess under two sets of military-style standards – one a series of nine strategies that he would use to restore happiness to Thailand, and the second a set of twelve characteristics that according to him comprise the core values of all Thais…core values that have not been followed and which need to be reinstated with vigor. The Thai language version of pro-democracy Prachatai website published the general’s references to these Thainess standards.
Rabop (system) Sakdina (feudal), or the Siam-Thai feudal system, conflicts directly with elemental non-Feudal principles of self-empowerment and actualization, upward free-choice mobility and other called western constructs – which are not western at all other than where they first rose in western awareness – such as freedom of speech, democracy and human rights. It is noteworthy in Thailand’s case, for example, that the Privy Council members, who are His Majesty’s personal advisers, are all prohibited by the Constitution to be members of any national human rights commission. While the reasons for this are understandable, one can also say they are lamentable. Human rights, it can be argued, should be at the forefront of all state and government rule of law over citizens and subjects of any nation. The problem is that nations, including the United States, who allegedly champion human rights but then systematically abuse or violate them themselves lose sympathy for advocacy of human rights.
It’s difficult to escape criticism from modern day Thais who are ardent adherents to sakdina because they do not even understand that it’s time to move beyond. The problem with sakdina supporters is that modifying contemporary feudalism and eventually phasing it out means loss of power and influence for select persons and groups – particularly the elite, who traditionally control, and insist on continuing the control, of purse strings and power in the country. It also imposes an unavoidable eventual curtailment of many cultural practices that Thai society has identified itself with.
The sakdina system, in Thai more formally known as ระบบเจ้าขุนมูลนาย – system of cao khun mun nai – or as defined by the Royal Institute as ผู้บังคับบัญชา, เจ้านาย – phuu banchakarn, cao nai – is also defined as a civil servant or state enterprise official who has authority over those under his jurisdiction; that is, commander or governor. Back in those ancient days of course, persons of high rank were rarely held accountable for actions and almost never had to respond to injustices in areas under their absolute sakdina rule.
Things changed a bit when a landmark review of Siamese laws was conducted by King Rama I (1707-1839), a review inspired by a divorce case at the time. A woman had filed for divorce from her husband after having cheated on him. The way the laws were written at the time the decision would have been in the woman’s favor and she would have been granted a divorce. Seeing that single “statute” as unjust, Rama I then ordered a review and this resulted in the Law of the Three Seals (Thai wiki), mentioned in earlier writings.
We jump to 2014, present day post-coup Thailand.
Old laws need reinstatement. Non-Thai attitudes need to be adjusted. Guidance from above is vital. The nation’s security is at risk. All antics as these are historically familiar, centuries apart, nations apart, but the same. The all-powerful state itself historically made the changes – today, in Thailand, it is an arm of the state, the military, doing so. Today, all Thai subjects have been relegated to robotic slaves subject to the will of the military. The precise and far-reaching nature of the renewed indoctrination shakes freedom of choice in Thailand to its very core.
The full story of Thailand, what it is, and what it isn’t, is told in my book, National Identity Crisis and Thainess, available in future on Amazon Kindle.
About the Author: Frank G Anderson is currently completing a short contract as outreach advisor for a Khon Kaen based civil society support center. With an MBA in information management, he founded NE Thailand’s first regional English language newspaper, the Korat Post. He can be reach on Facebook.