Archive February 2014
“Off with their
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in
Power. Grab it. Earn it.
Put it to a vote. The tango between power and violence is the stuff of
literature. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature:
Why Violence Has Declined illustrates a dramatic
decrease of violence over the centuries. But the world I live in seems extremely
violent making such a statement appear counter intuitive. Facts are facts. And
“Which way you ought to go depends on where you want to get to…”
In part, this 30-fold
decrease in violence means we are historically less likely to be a victim of
homicide than our ancestors. But homicide, like the future (to use William
Gibson’s clever observation) is unevenly distributed across countries and
cultures. Richard Florida in What the
Most Violent Nations in the World have in Common, cites three factors that explain
why there are elevated homicide rates in some cultures and not others. (1)
Social economic inequality, (2) gender inequality, and (3) the macho index based
on levels of masculinity, testosterone, and aggression. Florida’s article
focuses on private acts of violence that results in death. The question is
whether these factors may also explain why some States are more ready to use of
violence against their citizen or why protesters in these places resort to
violence against State and its security forces.
It is public violence by
State authorities and those challenging State authorities that is a common
thread in the political struggles in Ukraine, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela and
Thailand. Projecting violence has escalated in Thailand since January 2014. What
is the cause of this surge in political violence in Thailand? There is no simple
answer, though Richard Florida’s three factors are a guide to following
precursors of violence. We had bombings and shootings. Twenty-two people are
dead. Hundreds have been injured. Four children are dead from bombings and
What emerges when you drop
down the rabbit hole is the world inside offers up a wide variety of possible
sources to explain these deaths. It is one thing to describe violence. It is
another to explain it. Pundits make lots of explanation that are convincing,
plausible argument as to causation. But don’t be fooled. Plausibility and truth
are two different matters.
What appears to fuel the
current Thai power struggle is a controversy over who has the legitimate right
to exercise power. At the heart of the political turmoil is a perplexing
issue: On what basis does the caretaker government support its claim to govern
in Thailand? Owning power, through an electoral mandate, tribal tradition,
military coup, or a strongman, can be traced like bullet wounds in the corpse of
empires and nations recounted in political history. Long before The
Lord of Rings was written, Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can
stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him
Power means that A can
compel B to do or not do an act that B wouldn’t otherwise wish to do. For
example, obtain a driver’s license, pay taxes, refrain from drinking and
driving. You don’t have the option of refusal. You can be compelled with threat
of violence to do something you don’t wish to. Objects of power are taught a
script to perform and the best script makers don’t need guns to enforce their
power over the actors. The actors patrol themselves for accuracy, which means
Power, at its best,
safeguards the larger interests of a community and individuals sacrifice a
degree of freedom they would otherwise have to accommodate that interest. Power
is a river with many streams. Elections are one way power is conferred as a
communal agreement, the power holder has legitimacy in forcing others, within
the law, to comply with new policies and law. Power also has other rivers where
power flows from the barrel of a gun, from a family name, from a reputation for
brutality, or according to cultural custom.
Power also means claiming
privileges and immunities. Absolute power means the laws of the land do not
apply to that person. He or she can bury alive hundreds of public ministers or
court officials on a whim. Chinese history has a number of such examples to
illustrate the dangers of concentrated power. Less dramatic, but still
substantial, is the power that comes with vast wealth, through cartels and
monopolies, through the accumulation of data about your private life, through
the power to indoctrinate children to the ideology to support the powerful. True
power has the capacity to make us fearful, grateful, or to silence us, and the
power to use networks to defeat opponents.
Political power needs to
be monitored and checked and for good reason. Over time, despite the best
intention, the power holder will exhibit autistic behavior. His privileges
become entitlements. The attitude spreads like a pandemic infection through the
whole ruling class with hubris. Once the unrestrained power virus spreads
through agencies, courts, armies and civil servants the capacity for empathy
with the governed is destroyed.
The monopoly on violence
is fragile. The State is many places is losing control over violence. The danger
is that power and violence are being privatized like shares sold in a state
enterprise in one of those rigged auctions.
People with power are
mindful of those who would challenge their power, compete for it, or question
it. Freedom of expression is the one defense ordinary non-powerful people seek;
it exists as a peaceful way to limit the powerful. Free speech allows us to
voice our suspicion of power abuses and make the powerful accountable. The two
most hated ideas of the powerful are accountability and transparency. It means
you can’t just shoot whoever you want without some due process preceding the
firing of the bullet.
Criminalizing speech is
one way the powerful push back to control their challengers. You can read a
great deal about allocation of power arrangements from the degree of freedom or
repression in the exercise of political speech. The more free the speech, the
more accountable power holders are in the exercise of power. The powerful rarely
attack the ideal of free speech. The really powerful aren’t quite that stupid.
They have another argument up their sleeve. As Christopher Hitchens wrote, “What
better way for a ruling class to claim and hold power than to pose as the
defenders of the nation?” Thus political speech is restricted to prevent
‘enemies’ from attacking the institutions of State and those who are the face of
The powerful need enemies,
real or imagined, to give them a mandate.
“What is the cause of
historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the sum total of wills
transferred to one person. On what condition are the wills of the masses
transferred to one person? On condition that the person express the will of the
whole people. That is, power is power. That is, power is a word the meaning of
which we do not understand. ” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Sometimes the messy battle
to merge democratic and non-democratic power centers spills over into violence.
Power now stays stable because the aspirations, economic realities, and
technology are constantly shifting and often faster than tradition institutions
can adapt. This leads modern political forces to undermine the authority and
status of existing power holders. These forces respond by abandoning the
legislative assembly and take to the streets. Once in the streets, sooner or
later violence surfaces. Violence is a weapon to recover lost power.
The purpose of a modern
political process is to provide a mechanism to resolve conflict over the
exercise of power within democratic institutions. Democracy is a peacekeeping
patrol to keep the powerful forces in society from slitting each other’s
throats. The worry is when one faction gets the upper hand and uses that
position to put the knife in.
In every political system
people have grievances. Not everyone is ever happy. What is sometimes ignored
are the grievances of those who once exercised unquestioned power after they
lose power in an election. When power is stripped away as a result of an
election they are left vulnerable and feeling unprotected and their interest
unjustly ignored. Anger and hatred, threats and intimidation, and breakdown of
law and order follow. They plot to recover what has been lost. George Orwell
in 1984 wrote, “We know that no one ever seizes power with
the intention of relinquishing it.”
In the struggle for power
that a culture defines itself and the identity of its people are
The never-ending struggle
for power is something children need to learn early on. Some of the best books
that children read prepare them to understand the nature of power, its dangers,
seductions, violations, and corruptions. The Lord of the
Rings is a classic for children and adults and the ring of power
becomes a symbol for its corrupting influence, and the greed and excesses
surrounding power struggles. Plato taught wrote, “The measure of a man is what
he does with power.”
If we measure the
probabilities of what people will do with power if left to their own devices, it
is clear checks and balances are essential to prevent tyranny.
What literary influences
have shaped your opinion about power and violence? And what books would you
recommend to a child to learn about power? The books I’d recommend
are: Alice in Wonderland, Golding’s Lord of the
Flies, Philip Pullman’s Dark Matter trilogy, George
Orwell’s Animal Farm. Readers can add their own favourites to this
Here’s a brief reason for
Wonderland is a descent into the
madness, capriciousness and arbitrariness of power. There is no better book to
illustrate how whim couple with absolute power creates selfish, dangerous
monsters. Once you slide down that rabbit hole, you enter an alien world of Mad
Lord of the
Flies illustrates the tribal nature
of power, the symbolic nature of power attached to an object, and the horrible
abuses that lead to violence and murder. Stranded on an island boys revert to a
feral state where seizing power over others turns into deadly games.
The Dark Matter trilogy (The Golden Compass,
The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) by
Phillip Pullman is a portal into the corruption of mystical beliefs and ideology
by the powerful to enforce conformity and to destroy freedom.
Farm a parable of power, violence,
dictatorship, repression, hatred and injustice.
The best foundation for a
crime fiction writer, or any genre of writing, can be found in children’s
literature. You don’t need to be a writer to take in the profound insights that
will guide your own way through a lifetime of political power plays and public
violence. The saddest thing about arriving at adulthood is so many of these
classics are tucked away, spine out in a forgotten part of our personal library,
I would like to walk you
through the maze of the political power struggle in Thailand. The fact is I set
out with a compass and map and a few steps along the path, get hopelessly lost.
So I go back and read Alice in Wonderland, and ask how she did
what she did? I am curious to know just how far the rabbit hole goes and what I
will find at the other end.
Along my Thai journey of
25 years I have uncovered some clues. What I call clues are the things I stop to
pay attention to. Do you ever wonder why you pay attention to something things
and ignore others? Have you ever thought that just maybe people who live in
different rabbit holes, with different culture and language might stop to look
at different things? That’s what I seek to do in my books and essays—examine
those different things.
I invite you to a journey
of discovery of power and violence and ask how and why people pay attention to
one thing and not another, and how we share many similarities on this journey
but at the same time it is a winding, twisty road and sometimes we find people
stop and look at things we’d rush right passed. How they manage love and hate,
fear and hope, lying and truth, justice and injustice, and how we all put our
nose against the window pane and seek a glimpse of who these people who control
our lives and our freedom and liberty, and wonder if they see me, see us as
people like them. Or are we invisible?
What happens when we see
each other through the pane that separates us? How does it happen that I’m on
one side and they are on the other? How can I see and understand what people
using different languages in a different culture see? Do I know what deep
passages inside their rabbit hole their language leads them? I try to follow but
I discover it is hard work understanding life deep under this surface. I try the
best way that I can and know that what I witness, describe and shape into words
is a rough approximation of the reality.
I look around Bangkok
where I live and I feel the pain of the Thais. I see the sadness and worry in
their faces. I have heard their rage and frustrations. We all started as those
four children killed in the past week. A child wants to be loved and to be free.
Carefree. They want crayons and a coloring book. Even a child’s level of Thai
fluency opens an expat’s heart to the suffering all of us experience each
The bombs and guns, the
hate and the threats are on a page we should turn. Make it go away, a natural
child’s request. One that I wish was in my power to grant. But it’s not. Instead
we must face the violence as not some remote event out of sight, but as touching
our lives, only then can we deal with it, and deal with ourselves.
The legacy of artists
depends on their enduring ability to make succeeding generations pay attention
to nature, mankind, humanity, beauty, and the dark, dangerous shadows that
surround life. They make us notice things about ourselves, frame them in a
universal way. Mozart, Bach, Sibelius, Shakespeare, Goya, Titian,
Rembrandt, El Greco, Lucian Freud (you weren’t expecting that one), Wagner,
Dante, Chaucer, Dickens. . . the list of great artists is Borges’ Library of
Lucien Freud, the grandson
of Sigmund Freud, who along with Francis Bacon are two of the most important
painters in England over the past 100 years. They specialized in portraits. They
observed people and painted what they saw in others. Some say they painted
images of themselves reflected in others. What of those who sat for these
paintings? These patient sitters most of whom no one will remember spent many
hours. What is their story of being observed? What of their observations of the
painter observing them?
Think of these painters as
emergency room doctors who took the pulse of their time. The blood, bone,
flesh are inside these artistic works. They embody a range of health and
disease. They create an illusion of immortality.
In his brilliant Man with a
Blue Scarf: On sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud (2014) Martin Gayford who sat for
a period of one and a half years for a portrait painted by Lucian Freud, reminds
us that in 1800 there were a billion people on the planet. Each and everyone one
of them is now dead. Not a single survivor walks amongst us. Looking over some
of the names on the list above to discover the ethics, morality, and temperament
of those we will never meet. Our passions and emotions are no different. What
moves us to tears and laughter may have changed (though As You Like It
still makes us laugh), but the reality of tears and laughter is
These artists have taught
us how to look, what to look for, and what patterns bring understanding, joy,
hope, terror, hate, anger and despair. Mostly we don’t consult this list.
We dart in and out of their worlds like we clean our teeth, and shortly
thereafter we are greedily on to our next meal.
They have thrown us a life
preserver to someone in the middle of a sea with no horizon but the sky on all
sides. We are that dot floating, waiting for rescue.
In the world of noir, that
rescue never arrives. We are abandoned inside our lives to struggling to keep
our heads above water. We seek not truth, but allies. Others who experience life
as we do and share with them a common emotional reaction to life, experience,
others, and meaning.
Our looking is an
experience of bias management. Like a thirsty wander in an undrinkable sea we
search for drinking water. We reject any idea that such a search is futile or
that we are going about it the wrong way. Our group feels its way toward the
shared goal. Nothing can persuade us that we are deluded or looking in the wrong
We are prisoners of these
biases. No one escapes from them. They are our black hole. The pull of their
gravity is far stronger than reason, which acts as the weak force. What we see
is all there is. What we want is confirmation of what we believe and feel.
Contrary evidence is misinterpreted so we can maintain our illusions. We
all claim to be truth seekers. What we seek is the truth that makes us
comfortable with what we believe to be true. We can’t accept there might be a
contradiction. Cognitive dissonance makes us angry and dangerous. Our cure is to
back into our corner with our community and turn up the sound and sights of what
we know in our hearts to be right, truthful, honorable, and fair.
Our tragedy is we fail to
train ourselves to pay attention to the fine details around us. We gain our
identity, our selves, our information from instruments and machines. Not from
nature or each other. That separates us from our ancestors, their lives,
burdens, and social life.
It takes endurance to pay
attention, and to seek clarity and definition in what we are attending to. If
there is a single reason why I continue to write books and essays, it is to
continue on a journey of exploration of what is in front of me, and the
expression in words, pictures, and music of what is found along the way as we
stopped to take in life. Those who lived before our birth continue to
dwell in our time through art. The presence of these ‘sitters” share our space
along the river of time. We look over our shoulder and let them inside our
minds. We try to see through their eyes. We seek a glimpse of ourselves in their
faces. Mostly, though, I fear we suffer an illusion that we navigate on our own,
that we captain our own boat, without much thought for those who lived before
It takes a large amount of
psychological resources to pay attention. Basically we are lazy. Putting on
filters and recharging our biases is our lazy way of idling through life.
Imagination fires on distant shores hold no interest. We crave excitement but
fear adventure. We take no risk. When our adrenaline rush is over we lose
interest quickly. We move on like junkies looking for a new fix. What all great
artists teach is the discipline to keep paying attention at those small details
we no longer see, and to keep up that concentration for weeks, months, and
years. Great art results when the artist channels his or her attention over time
and emerges with an artifact that makes us feel larger than ourselves, expansive
[CAPTION] Lucian Freud, the artist,
and his subject, Martin Gayford, “the man with the blue scarf” on the right and
on the canvas
We avoid disorder, chaos,
ambiguity and uncertainty. These things are unsettling and frightening. The
great art doesn’t pander to this fear. Instead such art animates and discloses
how our current of charged feelings passes through this invisible, unstable
field. We need an artist’s angle to view our own passage through life.
Paintings, music and words are a psychic map to master new landscapes of the
world inside and outside us. If we allow them in, we find that they’ve created a
bridge between our everyday ‘us’ and the objects that surround ‘us.’ We are in
harmony with those objects, and those others, people and animals, when we
understand the nature and scope of our connection.
Here’s what Lucian Freud
had to say about a visit to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in Albi:
It is was very interesting, very
exciting. That marvelous subject of the whores sitting round a circular pouf,
when you look at it you realize that the one thing he couldn’t do was people
together. To me, the most touching Lautrec in the museum is the one of the two
girls, both whores, in a bed; you just see their heads. It’s so moving. They’ve
finally finished their work and there they are; because they actually like each
Lautrec captured the most
human of all moments: mutual liking of two people, and in a setting, which is
commercial and people aren’t thought of as liking each other. It’s a fleeting
moment. And it reminds us that liking, love, pain, hate and anger are constantly
shifting in and out of our lives. None of this is stable; just the opposite, it
is in constant flux. Five minutes later the two ‘whores’ could have been at each
other’s throat. But that is not the moment in the painting. We choose our
moments like an artist. What to record, what to remember and what to ignore. The
two women in the Lautrec painting showed their liking. Now they would click the
‘like’ button on Facebook.
Gayford’s lesson in
sitting for Lucian Freud is that we are different every day. Every hour of every
day. Our mood, temperament, our interests fade in and out, cancelling one
another, and that leaves us with the sinking feeling of unreality. It is not
possible for the artist to capture the ‘real’ you because that person is in
constant transition. Underneath the mask we wear is someone who is in flux.
Persona from the Greeks was a reference to our mask. The one we put on at home,
school, office, or inside the car or at a restaurant, or on Skype video calls.
We have a certain face for the camera. For looking in the mirror. For displaying
to our loved ones and for strangers.
Underneath the face is
changing moment to moment. We look at paintings, listen to music and read books
to find out what lies beneath the mask, to embrace it, to recoil from it, to
recognize it inside us. It is the part of our psychology hidden from our own
view. Gayford showed how Lucian Freud, like his famous grandfather Sigmund
Freud, was in the business of reading the person hidden behind the mask. He
waited, like his grandfather, until the sitter patient involuntarily revealed
himself or herself. It might take hundreds of hours. Lucian Freud was a
psychologist who diagnosed using paint. Every patient mood recorded deep inside
the face as surely as daily notes by an analyst of the mental
Artists pretty much do the
same thing, treating their subject as a palimpsest to be decoded. They blend
observation, memory, emotion, and imagination, and then find the right colors
and shades and tones of paint to recreated these layers onto a flat surface. A
writer or composer does something very similar with words or musical notes.
Artists see a wide range of possibilities that most of us overlook in the
hurry of the day.
Gayford reminds us that we
have 22 muscles on either side of our mouth. The muscles are tattered to our
skin and not to bone. They can move like a 44-instrument-orchestra and the
number of piece of music that can be played in huge. Adams was off by two
digits away. 44 was the actual number that the supercomputer called Deep Thought
in Douglas Adam’s The
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gave as the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The
Universe, and Everything. There is a near infinity of possibilities in the human
face, body, attitude, mood, disposition and none of it stable for very long like
clouds passing through. How to express the depth of that range? That’s always
been the unanswered question. No one knows. The answer may well be in observing
the human face.
I also recommend Alan
Accidental Universe. Lightman is an interesting author as he holds a dual
position at MIT in humanities and the physics department, as well as a physics
and novelist. He’s been on both sides of CP Snow’s Two
Where scientist and
non-science in the humanities seek to understand each other’s language and
premises and to establish a line of communication. This has been a divide as
large as any political divide. Near the end of the book Lightman talks about
electromagnetic fields crosses a broad spectrum and how we perceive light is a
very narrow range inside that spectrum. We know these other ranges not from our
sensory system but through our instruments. Unplug the instruments, study them a
thousand hours and you will see nothing. They could never painted as various
positions of the 22 muscles around the right or left side of the mouth. The
physicist in him notes that in the electromagnetic field at the upper range
there are more than 10 trillion frequencies and in the lower ranges an excess of
a 100 trillion frequencies. Those are number beyond our imagining.
Art is carried inside our
sensory range. It is what we share as we pass through time and the
electromagnetic fields pass through us. Lightman leaves open the possibility of
mortality as a state of perception experienced along a narrow band nestled in a
vast of infinity of possibilities that preceded and succeeds our brief
experience inside the human band range. It is a comforting speculation. But it’s
not provable. It’s a belief. So the debate will never end.
Meanwhile, Martin Gayford
has left us with a testament to Lucian Freud’s artistic temperament and way of
being that created portraits of the many layers within each of us and they be
studied for expression of the many emotions and moods and vulnerabilities a face
can hold so as long as there are people to care.
Lucien Freud had a burning
need to closely observe, to understand what he observed, to find paints to
explore the range of observations. Though as Gayford concludes, he wasn’t a man
given to introspection. What an observation meant in the larger scheme of things
didn’t interest him that much. He lost himself in that observer’s world where he
was in control.
At the end of the book,
Lucien Freud’s words make for a perfect closing, a way of making the debate
The notion of the afterlife is much
he same, giving people the idea that this life – your actual life – is just hors
d’oeuvre in comparison with what comes later. As far as I’m concerned, the whole
idea is utterly ghastly. I’m not frightened in the slightest of death; I’ve had
a lovely time.
This may be the most
lasting of legacies. The final obit when wishing to remember a departed loved
one or dear friend: “He had a lovely time.”
If you observe long
enough, closely enough, Lucien Freud’s life suggests you will find your own key
to Number 44. Time passes on this search but it is let go of without regret
knowing the full of richness of life comes from observing the fine detail. There
lies enduring satisfaction. It’s enough. For a lovely time.
14th February is Valentine's
Day. On this day for winning hearts, protesters remain in the streets of Bangkok.
There has been another push from protester leaders to call the masses into the
streets to support their anti-government demonstrations.
In war, politics
and love winning the hearts and minds separates the victors from the vanquished.
I find significance in the traditional word ordering of the phrase. Start with
the heart, and the mind will follow. Straight from Hume and every modern psychologists
led by Daniel Kahneman. If you can emotionally involve another person the hard
battle is won. The mind simply fills in the justification for the heart's decision.
The hearts and
minds drama is being played out in the streets of Bangkok. It also has a psych
ops patterns worth exploring. If one were clever and devious enough, the best
line of attack would be to undermine the populist programs of the Government
by turning the recipients of the populist programs against the Government.
Let's talk about
Thailand's rice farmers. Any psych ops that would win the hearts of rice farmers
might represent a political turning point. This is an interesting story. A brief
summary: The vast bulk of rice farmers live in the Northeast and North of Thailand.
They are loyal supporters of the Government. The Government draws support from
the Reds. The Red movement is committed to representative democracy and elections.
Since the election of Thaksin Shinawattra in 2001, rice farmers have voted in
super majorities for members of his political party.
The current political
turmoil finds his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawattra, who led her party
to the polls on 2nd February, and who has faced months of unrest led by ex-MPs
of the Democrat Party, who resigned and took to the streets to lead protestors
to bring down the Government. The protesters have used various means in their
struggle---blocked road, cut electricity and water to government offices, blocked
polling stations, 'arrested' and beat up people, threatened kidnapping of the
prime minister's son, and ten people have been killed and hundreds injured in
violent incidents related to the anti-government protests.
The protest leaders
have shifted their reason for attacking the Government from an ill-conceived
amnesty bill, and the allegedly illegal attempts to amend the Constitution (the
Government wanted a fully elected as opposed to a half-elected, half-appointed
Senate) and the usual standby---corruption. The leaders have had their bank
accounts frozen by a government agency. They have marched around Bangkok gathering
'donations' to support their protest.
So far the protesters,
looking at the dwindling numbers in the streets (sometimes a handful) are not
winning hearts and minds of their fellow Thais. But they have a new idea. Having
effectively reduced the authority of the caretaker government, it isn't surprising
problems are arising. Such as payments which are now due to rice farmers under
a controversial rice subsidy scheme, which by all accounts is riddled with problems,
including allegations of mismanagement and corruption. The protesters having
closed down the ability of the Government to pay the farmers, now blames the
Government for failing to deliver the payments. The protesters have powerful
allies. The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) is expected to bring
formal charges against the caretaker Prime Minister for her role in the rice-pledging
The message is
being spread that this heartless Government you voted for is letting you down.
They created a bad program. The local English language newspapers, which are
heavily anti-government, run stories of rice farmers committing suicide over
money worries. They show 500 rice farmers who have come to Bangkok to complain
to the government.
have a new message that goes something along these lines:
your friend. Your friends pay you. This Government is a false friend. Voting
and democracy are unreliable. They cheat you.
If your heart is
in democracy, you will only be disappointed.
Join us. Sing with
us. Come to our picnics and nightly concerts. Happy Valentine's Day, rice farmers,
we love you! Wait for the new T-shirts we've ordered.
Even though we
called you water buffalo and said you were stupid last month, that was last
month, forget about that. This month, we are your friend, and your savior.
In fact, the objective
appears to be an old fashioned psych ops plan to sow the seeds of discontent
and doubt in the hearts of rice farmers. It is a cynical ploy (but brilliant
at the same time) and given the track record of Bangkok's elite caring about
the 'heart' of rice farmers, the chances are high that it won't work.
Still the pitch
is being made that if the rice farmers would only return to the traditional
Thai values, their betters in Bangkok will take care of them. Just like they
always have. People in Bangkok had given ten or twenty million baht in cash
handouts to the protest leader who then as the 'big faced man' gives it to grateful
rice farmers. That's a photo op anyone heading this psycho op will frame and
put on his wall.
There are several
problems with this approach. It assumes that rice farmers can't see through
the endgame, which is to discredit populist programs, and the Government that
sponsors populist programs. At the heart of this Valentine's Day message from
the demonstration in the street is one that the protesters and their allies
are the one with a true heart. Given the outstanding amount owed under the rice
subsidy scheme is in the billions, and the donations in Bangkok handed to a
protest leader are a rounding off error in the larger scheme of this mountain
of debt doesn't matter.
What does matter
in this coded message, sent over the head of the democratically elected government
to their main rural constituency that continues to return them to office no
matter how many times the elites ban their party and leaders, is that democracy
lacks the traditional Thai heart. Walk away from democracy like you'd walk away
from an abusive lover. That true Thai heart is found in the ancient concept
of kreng jai system, where the good people aren't elected (a concept that can
go so very wrong) but are known by their rank, position, name and status. They
decide what is right, moral, fair and just. Trust them. Trust their heart---their
nam jai, 'water heart'. They have shown their good intentions by collecting
donations for them. Has the government done that?
Here's their story:
Heartless government. Overflowing heart of protesters.
The battle of hearts
and minds of Thailand's rural voters will continue. The idea is these donations
to rice farmers will pay several dividends., The rice farmers are then expected
to return a respectful wai of gratitude for the handout and more importantly
will turn their back on the unreliable Government and democracy. It remains
to be seen whether this will happen. I suspect that very few people who labour
in the rice fields of the North or Northeast are betting the farm on the protesters
looking after their long-term interest. The seeds of democracy have been planted
and yielded too many good crops for the supporters to return to the days of
waiting for a coin to be dropped in their rice bowl.