As 2012 winds down let's examine the duality of love in the context of Thai culture, not least of which because I'm in the mood to party and couldn't care less about the news and what's going on in politics. We'll save that for next year, after I sober up. Instead, let's ponder philosophically on romance. An unexamined life is not worth living; an unexamined society is not worth living in.
The first phrase belongs to Socrates; the second belongs to yours truly. Not that I would ever have the audacity to put my thoughts on par with the founder of Western philosophy, but putting the two phrases together does help to order the flow of logical thoughts a bit. After all, what is a society but a cluster of lives in a community? For that matter, what is social behaviour but a collection of individual behaviours acting together somewhat uniformly? I qualified "uniformly" with the term "somewhat" because no group of people ever acts exactly the same, though there is always the prevailing norm.
That prevailing norm of course becomes a stereotype, a generalisation when we theorise about a society. There are always exceptions to any man-made theories; after all, as man is flawed, man-made theories are full of holes. As such, behavioural science is subjective at best and when the focus magnifies from a single person to an entire society where millions of whining, me-me-me individuals exist, generalisation is necessary to form an understanding.
But an honest critical examination of Thailand is not an easy thing to perform, especially not for a Thai. Face value is very important to us. We are vain. We are shy. We get embarrassed easily. Our egos bruise at the slightest touch. To criticise or expose is considered inappropriate, un-Thai.
We must always remember that there are two sides to every coin and that good and evil coexist in an eternal partnership to make tragic comedians out of us all. That this column space focuses on the ugly side is simply because it is neither a tourist brochure nor government promotional material.
The aim is to magnify the bad and the ugly, while giving kudos to the good just enough for the sake of good taste. This is because to build a better tomorrow, we must be honest and critical about our failings in the past and the present.
As well, it is worth noting that what might be ugly today, may have been necessary, or even good, yesterday. Every product has an expiry date after all. However, Thailand's present dilemma is that we try our best to hold on to what should be no more, and in the process we are our own worst enemy. The concept of appropriateness or kwam mor som is very important to the Thai cultural psyche. The entire educational system operates along this mantra, the culture demands likewise. They exist to first and foremost uphold, defend and spread what is considered appropriate for the Thai people and their traditions, however rigid and outdated. Educational advancement and cultural enlightenment are somewhere at the bottom of the list.
Though as stated, there are two sides to every coin. Another popular concept in Thailand is rak look hai thook tang, which means "love your child the right way". The logic behind this saying is that too often love is corrupted. We love our child, so we want to shower our child with happiness, and therefore we end up spoiling our child. We spoil our child and hence we encourage irresponsibility and unaccountability.
Such encouragement leads to corrupt behaviour; the sort of behaviour that we then condone and make excuses for out of an unconditional love that is blind, deaf and downright dumb. It is because we love our child so dearly that we end up with a society corrupt in its entirety, well in a large part anyway.
However, according to this Thai wisdom, we should love our child the right way. This means that love should be nurturing. Love should encourage responsibility and accountability through the art and craft of character-building. In building such character, we provide a chance for the behaviour to be shaped and moulded virtuously. The sort of behaviour that can benefit and better society and we can be proud of. We do this because we love our child, not blindly, deafly and/or stupidly, but responsibly and with accountability. To do this we must teach the child to seek, to appreciate and to spread the truth, to use critical thinking. The problem is that the truth isn't always pretty. Be that as it may, we must want for our country as we want for our child.
The blind, deaf and dumb sort of love, spoiled with passion, is reserved for romance. It is how romantic love should be, for romance without passion is like mango without the sweetness, no one would buy it. Romeo and Juliet would have been a puritan love story between two virgins, without the poetry and the hanky-panky. There wouldn't be "light" in Twilight _ no teenage girls would care about the love triangle between vampire Edward, werewolf Jacob and human Bella _ and the rest of the world would have been saved from this teeny saga.
Yes, we understand that humans cannot breathe without romantic passion. But to love a child with passionate romance is not only unethical and frowned upon; it is also illegal in most countries. And while loving a country or a society with passionate romance can lead to unity and patriotism, it also can lead to discrimination at best and atrocities at worst, because patriotism can easily slip into nationalism, which can quickly fall into the trap of fanaticism.
Having written all of that, we must also realise that half of the human character is emotional; as such we can't help but to love our country with passionate romance. But the other half of us is rational, and therefore we should also love our country responsibly and with accountability. This is the duality that we must embrace.
Passionate love can inspire one to build and climb and to stand tall. But one also at times ends up building on blood and bone, climbing on a pyramid of skulls and standing tall on the sorrow of others. On the other hand, it is true that logical love doesn't have a sexy ring to it, unlike passionate love. It doesn't get the juices flowing, the heart pumping and the adrenaline rushing. All it does is bring sense and sensibilities, followed by boredom and inaction. Sure, logical love can motivate rationale and intelligence, but it is simply too stoic, too emotionless to inspire one to soar high and reach new heights. In such a case, humans are not humans, we are robots programmed to perform.
Passionate love is not all bad and logical love is not entirely good. They are but two functions that make up the duality of the human character, and therefore they must work together. Logic will help us to understand. Passion will make us build. And ideally we won't end up building on the corpses of others.
The emphasis of "appropriateness" serves to uphold the Thai face-value culture. The norm of being considerate and respectful is a good thing that Thailand should always keep and foster. But to be obsessive with face value to the point of losing sense is not only dangerous, it is downright stupid, and begets the shallowness, superficiality and incompetence we see every day.
So if Thai adults lament that the young today are simply too superficial and entirely too materialistic, lacking in substance, it is only because that's what we have unwittingly taught them to be _ to obey and follow, rather than to question and be critical _ and hence, they become hapless victims of marketing savvy in the consumer age, whether it's political or commercial marketing.
Thailand today is but a product of our own cultural obsessions. To build a better future, we must understand the present. To understand the present we must investigate the past. We do all this with pure and simple honesty, through critical thinking. Therefore as I love Thailand so dearly, I shall critique her logically.
For those who can't stomach it, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has beautiful brochures and the mainstream media is never short on empty propaganda stamped with an approval seal from the Culture Ministry.
This is all I have to say for the end of 2012.
Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author
- Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator