Thaksin worse than Hitler? Give us a break
It is a mighty stretch of the imagination, isn't it? It is a form of extremism, and extremism is what we're dealing with these days. Above all, it's history being twisted and trampled, all for the sake of bombastic triumphalism and jubilant schadenfreude.
This is priceless: On Thursday, Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck overtook Adolf Hitler as "the world's worst leaders," according to a poll in http://www.thetoptens.com website.
The news was greeted with a standing ovation from the anti-government crowd - not all of them I'm sure, but a sizeable portion I would guess, and the news was reported on radio channels, at least one newspaper, cited by a couple of academics, and of course shared with ecstasy on social networks. Great, now that the nefarious siblings have claimed the top spots, some Thai students no longer need to feel any qualms should they want to march around in Nazi costumes and brandish the swastika like a bonfire of the vanities, as they did before.
The sins of Thaksin are political and fiscal, cultural and metaphysical - he normalises greed and arrogance, and I'm enraged to this day about what he and his policies triggered in the deep South, as I've written about it since the pre-whistle years. But surpassing Hitler, who's bumped to No.3? Not to say, if you scan down that ridiculous list, Hun Sen (4), Saddam Hussein (6), Osama bin Laden (8), George W Bush (9), and Pol Pot (10).
"To be fair," said a popular radio host, trying hard not to gloat, "I should also report that Abhisit Vejjajiva comes in at No.13." Brilliant, that's just one spot below Stalin (12), not to mention that Mr Abhisit has lost to Thaksin in a poll, again!
That list, obviously, is a joke. That website is a joke, or at least something that doesn't even take itself seriously. Its polling has no editorialised rules, so anybody can just go there, create a new category, and tell their friends to vote (take that, Respect My Vote). Besides this offensive list that's an insult to history, the Holocaust, and the victims of atrocities in many places along the centuries, the website, which looks cheap and half-finished, features mundane as well as arcane lists such as "best car insurance companies", "best movies of 2013" (Iron Man 3), "best guitarists ever", "best rappers ever", "things a queen would put in her handbag", and "top 10 worst things about blood on the dance floor" (enlighten me, Goebbels, what is that?).
The most perplexing thing in our perplexing time is that a lot of people didn't take it as a joke. They seized it with joy and paraded the clown around as if it was a saint, only to confirm their prejudices. This tendency for emotional extremism - the passionate hatred, the collective desire to lionise us and demonise them, the push for a zero-sum game or for a win-all-lose-all scenario - is what's edging us closer to the cliff as it did four years ago, with the players just changing sides. Voting Thaksin (for once the Suthep Thaugsuban-led carnival revellers flock to the ballots) as a bigger criminal than Hitler or Pol Pot is as extreme, as self-righteous, and as depressing as hearing the red shirts repeating that Mr Abhisit is "a murderer", another form of propagandistic maximalism that ignores the fatal crimes of their own leadership.
Emotional extremism is a protest drug; it heightens and distorts perception. It keeps you awake and it makes you see ghosts. Then it obscures substance (not to mention reason, temporarily or else) and conceals the pressing need for the meaty stuff, like what reform is, what a people's council is, what the blueprint for the post-carnival is, which is something we've been anxious to hear.
Granted, for all its folly there's a fable-like quality to this stupid poll: The anti-Thaksin demonstrators, in blatant irony, have just shown that they can soundly beat their arch-enemies through the simple process of voting, something the protesters keep insisting is impossible unless the rules are changed.
Going through the list of "the world's worst leaders", we realise there are a few options to get rid of them: Pray for their suicide (Hitler, Pol Pot), natural death (Kim Jong-il), or kill them violently (bin Laden and Saddam).
But the most humane way - slower, less satisfying and more frustrating, for the imperfection of democracy is heartbreaking and inevitable - is to vote them out. The junior Bush got that. Likewise, one of the biggest dictators who didn't make it on to this superb list, Gen Augusto Pinochet of Chile, who found the rug being pulled from beneath his feet when he lost a referendum despite his fear-inspired, iron-clad ruling of the country. This isn't utopianism but pragmatism, and certainly not emotionalism, the gratifying poison that's taking us nowhere.
Kong Rithdee is deputy Life editor, Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post columnist
Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.