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Thailand’s Social Regimen – Thainess as an addictive substance.
The following is right off the keyboard and may be rambling a bit, but it’s sincere and hopefully worth reading through for reflection purposes. From time to time I wonder why I didn’t see a certain aspect of culture, my own or Thai, that is suddenly clear now, or why fellow expats are predicting certain things to follow form today’s political upheaval that just don’t have a chance of happening. But opening the mind and eyes is a continual process and hopefully this little piece will help that along…

Men and women much more qualified than I have brought into print meaningful analysis of the nature of the Thai ethic, general social more, Thainess, the way things are here in the Land of Smiles to the point where replicating (and admittedly not being able to remember it all) the citations and references is a bit superfluous. However, from a layperson’s view, a peek into Thainess and the way society handles its issues in the kingdom seems fitting.

I have placed two previous “National Identity Crisis and Thainess” articles on Prachatai, and am working on a third but have, like many others, been interrupted by fascination, shock, fear, loathing, curiosity and hope by the events that have taken place in Thailand since 2006 when Thaksin was sacked for corruption.

Thainess encompasses the embracing of society-wide values under the general label of unity and loyalty to the monarchy, religion and nation. Standing on its own, Thainess would not be able to exist and be maintained at a given level of intensity without constant indoctrination, society-wide reminders on a daily basis and imposition of subjective values introduced in the nation’s educational, criminal justice, armed forces, media, government, legal and all other systems and institutions. Millions of dollars a month are spent inscribing identity and what it means to be Thai into the national ethic, into the individual’s very awareness of existence. So prolific and deep-seated is the indoctrination that it has become an addiction, hungrily devoured by the masses who have learned to feed off its substance.

To provide an excerpt from Wiki on addition as it relates to functioning of an organism, in our narrative here Thais in Thai culture, “Physiological dependence occurs when the body has to adjust to the substance by incorporating the substance into its 'normal' functioning.[5] This state creates the conditions of tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance is the process by which the body continually adapts to the substance and requires increasingly larger amounts to achieve the original effects. Withdrawal refers to physical and psychological symptoms experienced when reducing or discontinuing a substance that the body has become dependent on. Symptoms of withdrawal generally include but are not limited to anxiety, irritability, intense cravings for the substance, nausea, hallucinations, headaches, cold sweats, and tremors.” Looked

I am not certain to what extent any researchers have look at Thainess as an addictive substance needed by the Thai culture as-is to function and exist. But from all of the parallels one can conceive of between addictive substances and Thainess, it is a bit frightening to think that perhaps a substance has been produced that is so potent that it is addictive to the extreme of being the sole substance that can sustain the organism’s identity.  

Like any other addictive substances, there has to be supply and demand. If the copyright holder, so to speak, of the substance has been able to generate both, so much the better to be able to control both sides of the addiction.

Now if you are running a country, and of course the society in that country, you need to have control. No rocket science here. It’s how that control is effected that matters. Societies structured around a top-down model where patronage and loyalty, iconic love and self-identification with all of the positive attributes of a utopian concept of what society is and little to no recognition or even acceptance of the negative, even wrongful aspects…such societies are stable in their own way except when it comes to exposure to contradicting realities. When alternate concepts, opposing ideas, interruptive behavior and far worse for the stability keepers a growing disquiet among the different factions of society based on principles of self-empowerment and access to information, instability is certain to occur.
Again, none of this is rocket science. What is being attempted here is to keep feet on the ground and tie the overall concept of cultural addition, in our case Thainess, to the problems at hand and why it’s sometimes difficult to understand why Thailand is how it is.

So what we really have in Thailand at this time is a wealth of new ideas and contradicting concepts that are basically depriving the Thainess addict of two things – supply and demand. Where before Thainess was relatively simple to construct, dictate, indoctrinate and legislate, it is now face to face with such concepts as self-determination and thus freedom to reject the thinking and dictates of others, such concepts as need for a particular brand of loyalty to a particular icon, and such concepts as accepting the reality in today’s world that the old ways are not necessarily the best Thai ways.

Opposed to these eye-opening and mind-opening concepts are the daily regimen of strict control over thinking by society as to what is right and proper, what is allowable and what is not, how to behave and how to not. There are several instruments used in this indoctrination that reaches into the school, living room, bedroom, temple, government office and theaters: twice-daily announcements on all state TV channels preceding the national anthem citing that the Thai flag and national anthem are symbols of what it means to be Thai and that thus all people should stand up and pay respect…et. Al. Portraits of important, revered and respected persons are placed everywhere, making it impossible to escape exposure to them.

Now you have this indoctrination that has, over the decades, produced a highly toxic substance we’ll call Thainess for the moment. The toxicity is there because if you were to attempt to remove the line into the arm that feeds it to the patient, there would be immediate resistance. That you may be removing it for the patient’s own good or not is beside the point – to him! That may have been there and done that and know its negative, debilitating, even illegal effects does not matter – to him! Now, suppose that the law also says that this patient is not only allowed to use the substance but is required to use it, is not really a patient unless he uses it and can even be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned if he does not use it. And of course, it could get worse. The law could leave lots of loopholes so that if you or your upset colleagues discover that such a patient has taken himself off the drug and is now telling other people that the drug causes far more harm than good, your own indoctrinated nature takes over and you collectively decide that this person can be eliminated. So someone kills him and you say that he deserved what he got.

Now, this could be seen by foreigners who do not understand Thainess as Thainess. And to be honest, a question needs to be asked whether it is or not. Are parallels between the physical and psychological effects of addictive substances close enough to at least accept the idea that Thainess itself is addictive, that its manufacturers know it to be addictive, and that its production, marketing, supply, consumption and incessant demand are all components of an addiction that may be not just creating unrelenting demand for more, but in the process could be eliminating other beneficial treatments (freedom of choice, self-determination, loyalty to that which we choose to be loyal to, independence from indoctrination, public and open discourse, all of this while also demanding and deserving the right to say “I am Thai, and I am different, and I am going to decide for myself what I want to read, what I want to watch, who I want to be friends with and…” much more, including demanding these rights for your children in school, at the temple, downtown or anywhere in the kingdom.

Recently such rebellious ideas were announced by pro-democracy advocates in Bangkok in public venues attended not just be Red Shirts but by students and academics and people, Thai people, who want choice, who want removal of the shackles of indoctrination that they have had to wear for so long and with so little sympathy as to the cost to them of doing so.

In the overall context, then, of the above and considering the depth and reach of indoctrination and the extent of its planned and successful addiction among almost all of society, Thainess may not be the label that many Thais want to use anymore. Or if there is to be Thainess, many now want that term to mean first and foremost freedom of choice, not freedom of choice if…

The alarming comparison between a patient and treatment once again occurs when we look at a psychiatric patient who is being considered for release. The medical staff in charge of his case have the moral and legal responsibility to review whether it is appropriate or not to release the patient. If there is any kind of unjust bias among them that is nonetheless the norm in a given society then it may well be that they will never, ever, let the patient out.

In Thailand those who mandate what Thainess is, or rather who have in the past indoctrinated others with Thainess and legitimated its definition and as a result established what Thai identity is, are not about to do the proverbial 180, recant their sins and help everyone wean off the product. Likewise, those who were addicted or who don’t want to be addicts are acting up and upsetting the applecart. They are demanding things that the old guard don’t want to let go of and indeed can’t afford to let go of. Indoctrinated Thainess battles with genuine Thainess – the latter being all men’s right to freedom of choice – battle one another with lots of winners and losers. But all at great, great cost.

Related Articles:

National Identity Crisis and ‘Thainess’

National Identity Crisis and ‘Thainess’ – II

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