Hushing up harsh facts into oblivion

Hushing up harsh facts into oblivion

You've heard the news, and you know what they're talking about even though they're not talking about it. Or maybe you don't know, but you think you do, and as they keep talking about it in codes, in murmurs, in paranoid whispers shielded by cupped hands, you're not sure if they're really talking about it. About what? Those policemen who fell from grace straight into the gutter, among other things. But what do you talk about when you talk about something people don't want to talk about, or not in public: you burrow into the deep stream, into the silo of speculations and rumour mills. You do it and I do it, and we contribute to our descent into an anti-knowledge society.

If I don't make much sense in the above paragraph, sorry, but you know what I'm talking about even though I'm not talking about it. Language is free, but it can be caged. By caging it long enough, certain words disappear, become extinct. I don't think it's right, but it's really above my pay grade to say so.

Ours has always been an anti-knowledge society. Our history is a weak tale, murky and full of holes, and no one, no education minister, has ever raised a finger to fix it. More rote-learning and recitals of 12 values, or other brain-deadening tasks. We dig mob mentality rather than personal scrutiny that crystallises into opinion, or maybe wisdom. At one time, this might not have seemed like a problem, because the world was small and people didn't have Google, or YouTube, or Amazon, or curiosity. But our plunge towards an incorrigible anti-knowledge status has accelerated so dangerously, firstly because technology and the dissolution of info-frontiers are moving the world in the opposite direction, and secondly, because under present circumstances, preventing knowledge is official policy.

Take a recent comment by the permanent secretary of the Education Ministry, for instance. When a person who's supposed to bulldoze our path towards enlightenment decides it's best to keep the light out, we know we're in a sticky philistine den. The secretary said this week that "radical students" — meaning those who raised three fingers and showed anti-coup sentiment — should think about their future, not their personal gain. Well, if showing three fingers is a form of radicalism, I suggest we adopt Hello Kitty as a new symbol.

That wouldn't be allowed anyway (Hello Kitty is mouthless, and that is a potent metaphor that could frighten authorities). The point is, the permanent secretary's notion of "being radical" is utterly inane — being radical is when you put a gun to someone's head and force him to be happy. No, that's not radical, that's thuggish, and thuggery is another catalyst to non-knowledge. It's all the more depressing as this comment came not long after our education minister received his North Korean counterpart, during which the Thai minister remarked that there were similarities between the two nations' education systems. That, dear Hello Kitty, is priceless: North Korea is the model of the anti-knowledge society, where the leaders seal off their people from the world and feed them cooked news and history, where thinking is a crime and blindness is a virtue. We surely want to learn from a pro.

Some argue that those who make a fuss are selfish and unpatriotic, because we're living in a calm and happy atmosphere (last year, it was those who didn't make a fuss who were selfish and unpatriotic). What a self-defeating argument. Precisely because we prefer silence to discussion and blindfolded vision to open forum, we've confirmed our anti-knowledge status and receded further into a diabolical black hole while the rest of the world is travelling at the speed of light. We're living in a calm atmosphere, yes sir, of a dormant volcano.

Which brings us back to the not-talkable, re: the disgraced policemen et al. Before this present quagmire, the turn-off of certain knowledge (sometimes it's just information, which is a lower form) was the willingness of well-behaved citizens. What alters that collective sentiment, however, is the force of the deep stream, of unofficial channels, of technology and the new consciousness it has brought along. They have cracked the glass ceiling, and now we want to see more — not because we're hungry for scandals, but because it's part of our destiny. We don't talk about what people don't talk about, even though everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and even though we're dying to talk about it.

This game of talking by not-talking is kind of fun, but to keep playing it is worse than confirming our anti-knowledge stance. It confirms our ignorance and probably doom.

Kong Rithdee is Deputy Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

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.

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