When truth is unable to be discussed, even small and unpleasant truths can cause massive problems when uttered, simply because the habit of denying what is there has become so pervasive that the truth cannot be seen anymore. Such is the case with a lot of areas of life in Thailand. Lady Gaga caused a great stir by making a tweet about what everybody knows: Bangkok is a home of frauds and fakes and knock-offs. Her quote: “I just landed in Bangkok baby! Ready for 50,000 screaming Thai monsters. I wanna get lost in a lady market and buy fake Rolex .” A lot of people love to go to Bangkok for precisely that reason. Not only is Bangkok known as a major hub of fake Rolexes and every other brand, but it is well known as the international hub of logistics for international terrorism, where document forgery is rampant as well . That’s the truth, and if you don’t like the truth, then you need to pressure people to do something about–to enforce the law against counterfeits (or make and then enforce such a law, if there is no law against it to begin with), rather than to attack the messenger for telling what everybody knows.
Sometimes life is like a Leonard Cohen song, “Everybody Knows.” Everybody knows that there are counterfeits rampant all over Thailand. In fact, I myself have seen with my own eyes part of the trade route by which knock-off Chinese products filter through Burma and cross into the border at Mae Sai and then filter their way into northern Thailand. That’s aside from the domestically made knockoffs that exist. Everybody knows this goes on–so why make a fuss about it? The sad truth is that the Thai people (especially Thailand’s elites) are not used to hearing or seeing the truth. And because the rigorous self-deception that allows them to profit off of corruption while denying that they are corrupt or that such corruption even exists is so pervasive among Thailand’s elites, those who speak trivial truths are lambasted because the habit of truth-telling is so rare in general, and quite possibly a criminal act in many ways.
Thailand has bigger fish to fry than to worry about a generally provocative entertainer who says something that is already common knowledge. If the Thai people (especially their elites) are willing to make boldfaced lies over something so obvious and trivial as knockoff watches and other items, could there be deeper and more significant lies that Thailand tells itself to present itself as a civilized and free country when it is not? Indeed, that is precisely what we find to be the case. While elite Thais were furious with Lady Gaga for telling the truth about Thailand’s bad reputation for counterfeit consumer goods, there were two deeper truths discussed in recent days that have not attracted the same amount of outrage among those same Thai elites, simply because they are truths that would rather be ignored.
One of these cases involved the false claim that there were no political prisoners in Thailand . As this blog has commented on before, the United States has an intensely hypocritical attitude when it comes to dealing with political prisoners. The United States government is willing to rile China to allow a blind activist to escape imprisonment in China while doing absolutely nothing for years to protect the right of American citizens to read, review, and translate truthful books while in the United States , and basically ignores the issue and pretends that it will go away. The United States wants to see no evil in Thailand, so it sees no political prisoners, it sees no complicity among Thais with terrorist groups in logistical functions. It sees nothing wrong with military leaders frequently overthrowing elected governments or the use of legal threats and even deadly force against foreign journalists intrepid enough to try to cover such behavior. No, that is just business as usual. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Are Thai elites in an uproar about the untrue statement that there are no Thai political prisoners? Not at all.
Readers of this blog are no doubt aware that slavery is a subject of frequent and considerable interest in my blog . But they may not be aware that Thailand is one of the most well-known nations as a trafficker and as a slaveholding nation itself in the world today. We are not talking about ancient history today, but about contemporary conditions. For example, right now a large part of Thailand’s commercial fishing is done by migrant workers held in conditions of slavery with 20 hour work days and barbaric work conditions, including the killing of workers by the long-haul fisherman that on land are considered rather low in Thailand’s class order. This slavery is an openly known fact, a fact recognized by even the State Department of the United States, which considers Thailand a second-tier threat when it comes to its increasing involvement in slavery and the slave trade . One wonders what a nation would have to do to be a tier-one threat (would it require Mauritania’s slave markets to exist in Thailand?).
Are the Thai upset about the slavery that exists in their midst? Not at all. I have not seen nor heard or read of any Thai comments against slavery in their midst whatsoever, nor any recognition of that fact. The only information one is generally able to find that exposes Thailand’s complicity in enslaving people comes from foreign sources. Why is this the case? Because it is an inconvenient and unpleasant truth. Most Thai probably do not know or care about conditions on fishing boats, or might think lowly fisherman and their ways unworthy of notice. But those actions reflect badly on Thai society and its respect and treatment of human beings in general. The same barbarity that leads Thais to openly flaunt laws against theft and fraud and counterfeiting is what leads them to throw people in jail for telling the truth, and that keeps people enslaved in brutal conditions without any kind of murmur or protest. And no society that does those things and that endorses and tolerates such things can call itself civilized.
So, what does this mean? Thailand has to decide if it wants to be a civilized nation or not. Being a civilized nation requires respecting the property rights (intellectual and otherwise) of others. It requires respecting the dignity and respect due to all human beings, whoever they are, rather than demanding the utmost respect for a small elite and showing no respect for anyone else. It requires admitting the truth (whatever that truth is, bad or good), and working to overcome and resolve problems that are brought to its attention rather than ignoring them and hoping that they will go away, or threatening to lock away people who bring up those truths and throw away the key. If Thailand’s elite thinks that hassling and complaining about the obviously true (and humorous) comments about Thailand’s love of making and selling knockoff goods is going to stop attention about its much more serious problems, then they really are missing the boat. There are far bigger fish to fry than a provocative and humorous entertainer. Far bigger fish indeed–possibly including themselves.