When I lived in Thailand, one of the notable quirks of life there was the fact that before every soccer or Muay Thai match or even every movie or play, the audience was expected to stand for the royal anthem, in a scene that came almost straight out of the Hunger Games . This is especially true when watching movies and one has to stand while watching royalist propaganda showing a wise king interested in the well-being of his people and receiving bowing and adoration that is improper for any man to receive, and that is only fit to be offered to the Most High. Such moments always made me feel deeply uncomfortable and alien, given my misgivings towards official propaganda. Given that one could be arrested for failing to provide proper respect, there was a dark edge to this sort of adoration, the coercion required to keep up appearances.
In light of this discomfort, I wrote the chorus to a Beastie Boys-style rap that went as follows:
Show respect to me,
Because in God’s eyes,
We’re all the son of a king.
Treat me the best,
Because if you don’t
Then it’s lese majeste.
I have nothing against respect for authority, even considering it a solemn duty and responsibility for people, however difficult it may be in practice. That said, my respect for authority is based primarily on self-respect and my own sense of honor and dignity. I respect others not because they are not necessarily worthy of such respect, but rather because as a respectful and honorable person, I give respect and honor to others out of what I possess, even to the unworthy, in the hope that it may be extended in turn by others to those who do deserve it in return. We are all God’s children, and all worthy of respect, and to show ourselves worthy of respect, sometimes we have to give that respect. It is not an easy thing to respect others, but without such respect no stable and legitimate social order can exist.
The reason I bring this up at this particular time is that I have looked at the disagreement between an elite-backed “people’s council” and the elected government, which threatens to bring yet another royalist coup to a land that has known too many coups in its troubled recent history , with a great deal of alarm . For any nation striving to achieve a legitimate and stable republican order, there comes a time when it becomes necessary for those elites who are trying to hold on to power to decide whether they are going to give up coercion for persuasion, to let ballots replace bullets as the language of authority. So long as an elite has recourse to bullets and is intent on using them to silence disagreement and thwart majority rule, then force will be met by force and progress towards well-being for all will be limited by the insecurities of a beleaguered aristocracy. There are no happy endings in such situations, as the force that is necessary to overcome that coercion at the top only creates lengthy instability and conflict, as the history of many nations attests.
To hear it from those who support the Thai elite, the Shinawatra family, whose members or allies have won every single election in over a decade , are communists or socialists who wish to destroy the Thai monarchy. In reality, they are a very wealthy Chaing Mai-based family that seems to desire to join the Thai elite rather than to eliminate it. Any hostility that the Shinawatras would appear to hold towards the Bangkok-based Thai elite would be entirely warranted given the theft, exile, threats, and violence that they and their supporters have suffered. For understandable reasons, the current Prime Minister, has spent a great deal of effort and political capital seeking peace and reconciliation. It is in her interests for there to be a peaceful and stable Thai democracy that develops strong enough roots to allow for the advancement of the interests of those outside of the Bangkok-based elites, including the people of the north and northeastern parts of Thailand, whose support has been gained through rather unremarkable and predictable populist means . While certain policies may have debatable benefits, it is entirely unobjectionable for people to seek to support those political parties that defend their best interests; we merely have to accept responsibility for choosing wisely and learning from our mistakes, and learning how to separate the truth from lies and to learn what our best interests are.
All of this is the sort of moral and political development that we learn as individuals over the course of our teenage years and young adulthood. It is not an easy process to learn, nor is it a process that necessarily goes smoothly, but there is no way for people to learn from their mistakes as voters if their decisions are constantly being vetoed by tyrannical coups. Without a proper respect for the possibility of maturity and development and wisdom on the part of the great mass of society, no enduring and just social order is possible, for the rigidity of ruling cliques makes it impossible for anyone to rise all the way to the top, making all who merely want to be accepted by those at the top the potential threats and rivals to the insecure people in power. Such a situation cannot long endure, like the uncertainty that now exists on the streets of Bangkok.
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