Many people have said that what the students said on 10 August were sincere expressions of opinion that remained within the lines. People have said that the stance of the university should be to protect freedom of thought and expression to the farthest degree acceptable by the society at the time. They have said that the university should not be afraid of unconventional ideas and provocative thoughts, and, as much as is possible, must protect students from threats from the state.
I agree completely with all of these views.
I would like us to contemplate another issue about which there has been little discussion. This point pertains not so much to the royals, but rather to all of us.
I would like to ask each of us in Thai society, those who are grown-ups and those present in the top echelons of society, especially all who have called for the students to be dealt with by slapping them with the accusation of impugning the institution of the monarchy.
I would like to ask you: when talking among your friends or family, have you ever gossiped, ridiculed, or been sarcastic or insulting the royals?
Scholars who study Thailand knew well that this behavior can be found among ordinary Thais of nearly every occupational class over the past 20-30 years, especially middle and upper-class people. This is the decades-long culture of ordinary urban Thai people. Let me add here that people who gossip about the royal very fiercely tend to be those who praise and commend the royals utterly and completely in various ceremonies or even in their daily displays of loyalty for others to see. It is a performance!
This very behavior thoroughly reflects Thainess because it is the simultaneous deception of oneself and others. Thai society is full of those who become members of the “Association of Hypocrites” to survive.
Such behavior also reflects the “go with the flow” (อยู่เป็น) idea in Thai culture, licking the boots of those superior to oneself, but trampling upon and displacing guilt onto those inferior to oneself. Thai society is filled with members of the “Association of Boot Lickers” who search for privilege for themselves and to improve their social status.
The wrongdoings the students are accused of in the present tend to be discussed in terms of law. Law is for disciplining and ordering the society. I have explained elsewhere that the Thai legal tradition and system have created the privileged class. Ultimately, the accusation of violation or defamation placed upon the students is not related to any kind of security, because the Thai monarchy is very strong, like the Golden Mountain (in Bangkok). No way will it be easily toppled.
But the purpose of security laws is to perpetuate the existing social order (which is called by another name “Public Order and Good Morals”). Law is used to control and create citizens who are familiar with and cooperate with the boot-licking, hypocritical social order (which has another name: “Thainess”). Generation after generation.
On one hand, the Thai legal system props up the privileged class. Many people possess the privilege of being above the law. What is most important is the privilege of impunity. But on the other hand, the law that is enforced upon those on the lower rungs and those who are rendered weak , including the stubborn youth who think outside the box, in order to shape their behavior by force. This behavior to be shaped includes how to gossip about the royals. Such gossip can occur in secret. But in public, one must perform the opposite extreme in order to make a living with the royals without raising any doubts.
If what is said in secret is said openly and frankly, even if it is principled and serious, it hurts the feelings of Thais too much. The good people of Thai society cannot accept it.
Buddhism seems to foresee such rottenness and therefore always warns us that honesty comprises both words and minds too. But Thai-style Buddhist society is a hypocritical, boot-licking one. So we call for sincerity from other people a hundred times per day, because we know in our hearts that we are always wearing masks toward one another. We always have to check whether or not others are really being sincere in their words and actions to us.
If that is the case, among those whom are upset with the students, how many have never whispered gossip or insults about the royals at all, even in personal conversation? How many people sincerely esteem the institution and always have conversation about the royals while bowing down to the ground in their daily routines? I offer my great respect to these latter ones, and it is my view that only such people have the right to be furious and accuse the students of gravely hurting their feelings.
But all the other people, the many tens of millions, who gossip and insult the royals in their personal space, but proclaim the need the to deal with the students, especially the esteemed members of the boot-licking senate and the bloodthirsty media out for the young, please will you “Shut Up!”
The crime of the youth is that they have brought what us grown-ups insult in secret and spoken about it with maturity out in the open.
Their crime is to turn the content of whispered gossip into public issues that must be dealt with in a reasoned, principled matter like adults. They have done so while few grown-ups have given any more thought to it beyond petty gossip about various personal details, even though imperfection is normal for humans. We ourselves are no better or more perfect than those about whom we gossip.
The ten-point declaration of the students can be summarized into three main issues which all of us can accept, but on whose meaning we may differ. They are as follows:
1) The king must not be involved in politics or exercise ruling power.
2) The king must not be above law. He is not higher than people.
3) The king must live in a dignified manner and respect of him must be willingly afforded.
The crime of the youth is that they are attempting to tell all grown-ups (they are not addressing the monarchy) that, enough already, stop gossiping that the monarchy is terrible when in secret and offering bootlicking praise when out in the open. If there is an issue, all the grown-ups should speak up and provide reasons because it is “Thai-style going with the flow” behavior itself that is destroying the security of the monarchy in the long term and is itself the most insidious erosion of the institution.
The crime of the youth is that they have asked the revered grown-ups: “When are you going to actually be a grown-up?”
The grown-ups always say that youth are the future of the nation. But instead all the revered grown-ups try to force the youth to learn by rote that, “The future is the past, the past is the future.” Youth, for them, are the past in the future.
Attacking the youth and destroying their dreams today is not only the destruction of the futures of a few individual young people, but is the killing of the futures of all those in the generation. The future of the nation is being destroyed by the hands of all the revered grown-ups.
A better solution is respectful debate between the past and the future, and between the youth who want to create the future that they want and the grown-ups who hold power.
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.