Harmony and Hate: The Strange Thai Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

สามัคคี กับ ความเกลียดชัง: กรณีประหลาดของหมอเจคเกิลกับมิสเตอร์ไฮด์ในประเทศไทย

Disdain. Disgust. Vitriol. Violence. Hatred. Suspicion. Ill Will. Paranoia. These are what fill the air and are spreading like viruses in Thailand at the moment. No wonder I’ve been feeling so ill of late with headaches that would not go away – not a normal occurrence for me. But it’s not a normal time in the Land of Smiles. What a misnomer now: “Land of Smiles.” It feels more like “Land of Hate.”

To my great distress, Thais have just turned into the most rabid hate and fear mongers, a fact anyone who’s followed Thai politics in the past few weeks cannot have missed. The transformation of the Thai national character from a gentle and friendly people to a tribe of venomous and bloodthirsty misanthropes was so swift and drastic as to stagger even the most sober person.

Do we have a case of a Thai Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here? I believe we do.

Introducing Dr. Jekyll

First, let’s have a look at the Thai Dr. Jekyll – the polite, personable, sociable, and hospitable Thai that you have always known (or thought you knew), who is so easy to smile, takes things easy (sometimes too easy), avoids conflicts like a plague and always knows how to have fun. This is the character that we Thais also believe ourselves to be, the amiable and cultured Dr. Jekyll of the “Land of Smiles.”

Thais are a “peace-loving” (รักสงบ /rák sà-ngòp/) people, most Thais believe. How can we not? Copious history lessons together with the many nationalistic songs we learned to sing by heart have drilled that notion into our heads. This “peace loving” characteristic may not bear up close scrutiny given that we have also been taught the glory of wars in which Thais bravely fought and killed our enemies – many times. But that doesn’t really matter because we’ve never really felt the need to scrutinize our past – to glorify it maybe but never to look too closely at our past, or present. On most days we are perfectly happy with our notion of who we are – a proud, free-spirited, peace-loving people. Any discrepancy in our collective belief and the truth has been conveniently left undisturbed except in some small, thus far irrelevant, academic corners where such things matter. It is also convenient that most disagreeable episodes in our history such as ones in which Thais killed each other are normally left out of schoolrooms and social discourse, or get too quick a passing mention that they become so blurry, only a determined few try to reflect upon them.

In all school and social activities, every Thai learns the concept of Harmony (สามัคคี /sǎa-mâk-kii/). That is, we are Thais, we Love each other and we should “Join our Hearts as One” (มีน้ำหนึ่งใจเดียวกัน /mii náam nùeng jai diiaw kan/). Whatever happens, we are taught, we are family, “brothers and sisters” (พี่น้อง /phîi nÓOng/) and we need to find ways to agree, “give and take and compromise” (อลุ้มอล่วย /à-lúm à-lùuay/). Harmony in society is of utmost importance and a foremost virtue to keep and to protect for the sake of our “Nation, Religion and King” (ชาติ ศาสนา พระมหากษัตริย์ /châat, sàat-sà-nǎa, phrá-má-hǎa-kà-sàt/), the three key pillars of our society and the testament to what it means to be Thai and what it means to belong. These ideals have made an indelible imprint in our psyche.

 

Here Comes Mr. Hyde

But what’s just happened evidently shows that the good Dr. Jekyll of Thailand has suffered a serious psychotic breakdown. Friends of Thailand (heck, even Thais) can no longer recognize the good Dr. Jekyll and can only see the vile and ugly face of Mr. Hyde who is terrorizing the citizens of Thailand. It cannot be denied now that Thailand has a split personality. More even start to recollect memories of the suppressed dark episodes in our not-so-distant past – not that remembering is having any effect on the terrorizing Mr. Hyde.

What brought about this latest psychotic episode in which Dr. Jekyll has once again lost control to his alternate personality, Mr. Hyde? And will the good doctor ever regain control over his evil self? I don’t know. I hope so, but I’m afraid it won’t be easy.

The terror of Mr. Hyde lies not only in his capacity for violence, but also because he is guided solely by primal instinct. Unburdened by any code of morality, his actions are hence unrestrained.

These days I often shudder when I read and hear things uttered by my fellow Thais. Many Thais are no longer relating to each other as humans, but as animals and monsters: stupid “buffalos” (ควาย /kwaay/) and nasty “lizards” (เหี้ย /hîia/) rank among the top. Polite Thais now use the most vulgar forms of address with one another, though still largely behind keyboards. It seems, more Thais now have very little respect for other Thais as human beings, if they don’t wear the same political colored shirts. Those who resist one color or another, or try to talk principles rather than ride on the psychotic tides, are deemed suspicious. “Us or them” is the reigning mentality. If you agree with them, you are “true” Thai. If you don’t, you are suspected as “fake” Thai or “fake” something or hiding your true color.

I witness some nice and gentle school friends turn into hideous and vicious creatures who spew out hate and vulgarity and clamor for death and destruction of “the enemies” who wear different colored shirts. How much more simplistic can it get? Hating others based on their shirt color? Wishing them dead because of their shirt color, because they are “stupid,” because they love someone you hate, or because they are suspected to hate someone you love? Is the psychosis that unleashed the evil Mr. Hyde so simplistic as this or is it possibly rooted in something a little more complex?

The Root of the Thai Jekyll-Hyde Psychosis

Obviously the Thai Harmony has broken down. สามัคคี (samakki) now cannot be taken for granted, when parties in conflict no longer wish to compromise. A large number of Thais don’t feel they are valued in society and Harmony hasn’t done them much good. Some may no longer feel they belong, while those enjoying the status quo don’t see anything wrong and are deaf to others’ complaints.

Thais now question national loyalty of others who have different views from their own. The epithet มึงเป็นคนไทยหรือเปล่า (“Are you f**king Thai?”) is hurled freely. Different viewpoints are considered disagreements that are taken personally. The subsequent attacks are hence also personal, unrestrained, juvenile, even childish in nature. Those who disagree become suddenly “traitors” of the Nation: คนขายชาติ ทรยศชาติ and so forth (see The Reigning Vocabulary of Thai Colored Politics).

The Harmony in the Thai brother and sisterhood has ruptured, leaving a deep divide; brothers and sisters have become enemies who can be wished dead and whose lives can be dispensed with in order to preserve Unity and Harmony – at least more than a few have said so.

How can a society that so extols harmony and unity be so intolerant and vicious towards its own? I see the culprit in the Thai education and socialization. In other words, the Thai society has created its own monster; it has nurtured its own Mr. Hyde. By extolling unity and harmony at the expense of other no less lofty values, in particular the pursuit of knowledge and truth, Thais have learned to abhor differences in thoughts or any diversity in behavior and identity because, I believe, Thais have mistaken Uniformity for Harmony. Thais have not been taught to value pursuit of knowledge and truth through independent learning and open discussion with those with differing viewpoints.

“Truth” in Thai society is often something that has been agreed upon (those in power get to agree of course, and those not in power get to accept the agreement and the truth). “Truth” in the Thai concept is not something unalterable that is based on facts and supported by logical reasoning. Many Thais, even those with many years of schooling, are often unable or uninterested in developing and articulating serious thoughts or analyses. Not because Thais are stupid, but because serious thoughts and analyses are usually not required for success in Thai society, so many Thais have not got enough practice in serious thinking. I believe Red Shirts have real grievances but they have so far been unable to articulate clearly their grievances and what they really want – this is not helped by the fact that many of their leaders are inarticulate blockheads. On the other hand, many anti-Red Shirts are simply uninterested in knowing if the Red Shirts might have real grievances because they have already prejudged them as having only one motive: to reinstall the square-faced devil. There is a conspicuous lack of interest in the majority of Thais to listen to or to seek what the protesters want because of this prejudgment as well as the common lack of interest or capacity to seek the truth.

Thais have never been taught to like vigorous debates because they are too uncomfortably confrontational, and likely disrupt the jealousy guarded Harmony. We are not encouraged to sort through our differences with reasons and principles but through agreement and compromise. So when agreement and compromise are not possible, we go haywire. We are unable to deal with conflicts in any other way and so resort to the only other means available: primal emotions or faith. I’m not saying there are no Thais with intellectual maturity who can rise above primal instinct and programmed thoughts. There are many but there are not enough of them to withstand the overwhelming tide of raw emotions and unreason.

The fact that Thai society has long been closely attached to militarism, Thais have also learned to view uniformity and order as desirable and harsh discipline for any divergence (แตกแถว /tÈEk thĚEw/ – going out of line) as expected, or even necessary. (See Exhibit A: overwhelming support among Thais for many military coups in the past half century.)

Thais have a strong tribal mentality – love ones of our own and hate those that don’t belong. We have great capacity to love and to hate intensely and irrationally. It doesn’t sound very modern or very attractive, but face it, that’s what we are: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Will Dr. Jekyll recover and find the right formula to make the potion needed to put an end to Mr. Hyde? I believe eventually he probably will, but perhaps not before Mr. Hyde has a chance to wreck more havoc. But more importantly, will Dr. Jekyll learn a lesson and find a way to deal with his inner demon? Will he ever learn that there is good and evil in all of us, that nobody is all good or all evil, and that the key to survival is to come to terms with one’s real self?

9 responses to “Harmony and Hate: The Strange Thai Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

  1. “No animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple we are all brothers.” — Animal Farm, George Orwell.

    I like what you wrote. I think it is brilliant.
    I will let all of the other pandas, and all other animals in the zoo know what you said. They will like it.

    PandaLiveBKK

  2. Very well said, Kaewmala,

    And I would encourage you to submit your insightful essay to the Bangkok Post and/or The Nation. In fact, it might be even more constructive if you were to translate it for publication in Thai journals. It is, afterall, what Thais need to read–and perhaps digest–if they are going to come to terms with the failings.

  3. Pingback: Will Thais Talk to Thais?: Thailand's Multi-Coloured Politics | Women Learning Thai... and some men too ;-)·

  4. Achievement in Thai society has rarely been connected to intellectual performance but following the right person. Mr. Hyde had always been there, you are absolutely correct. The only difference now: In former times Mr. Hyde did not dare rise against Dr. Jekyll who was feeding him. Probably Dr. Jekyll was feeding the wrong food for many decades? The right food might have been education, books, Internet and the like. And not soap operas, electoral goodies such as a new 6-lane highway or street lights in the middle of nowhere.
    Where are the agriculture colleges that teach farming and the use of farming technology and equipment on a more sophisticated level? They certainly exist, but not in the numbers needed.
    Another problem: One cannot expect a real democracy without giving every participant a true understanding of it.
    Thailand has long had two systems in one. The official one: Democracy (with the limitations of the constitutional monarchy of course). The real one: The elite rules, the folks dance. Whoever needed the mass to play the democracy game in parliament just paid off the mass. Nothing has changed.
    It is never to late, though. The government has just cancelled a rescue package for the ailing economy. Well, why not divert the funds and create something more sustainable than bailing out firms of elite friends. But don’t make the mistake of distributing candy as a short term treatment. The one million Baht for every tumbol was the least sustainable measure one can imagine. Good food for the mass but no use for the future.
    It will not be easy to get the folks off their candy addiction but, one has to try it. Today, not tomorrow. Now, and not after reconciliation. Reconciliation will come by itself through action, not promises.

  5. Armin….

    I am surprised and indeed shocked at your comments on the 1M Baht /tambon scheme, also known as the “village loan scheme”… are we talking about the same thing?

    I understood these funds were distributed as seed money for rotating loans under control of each village committee

    seemed an excellent initiative, further I read that there was a very low default rate on repayments. of course with the unstable political environment and without democratic elections for village and higher level officials its probably been destroyed or in disrepair now

    will appreciate if you have different information to point at

  6. Thank you for this insightful piece.

    I have always love Thailand, Thai people & culture and the King. Thailand & Australia are my 2 favourite countries.

    While I fell in love in Thailand, I realise that 99% of the time, Thai people are the soul of courtesy & good manners that rivals Japanese society (with more warmth and less polite ritual).

    But the other 1% of the time, when the Thais get angry, they get REALLY ANGRY.

    I knew this but did not understand why. Your article gives a good insight. I agree that you should get the article published in a newspaper!

  7. Pingback: The Thai Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde | Thai Woman Talks - Language, Society, Politics & Love·

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