Thai nationalism

Thai nationalism

The views expressed herein aren’t those of an embittered, disgruntled expat. It’s not my aim to sink to the level of the ad hominem and fire insults at the people of Thailand, who are, at least in my experience, among the kindest if not the most defensive people on the globe. My intention is rather to propose some ideas that may help to account for the feelings of peculiarity and marked shock that many farang as well as non-Thai Asians experience during prolonged stays in the Kingdom of Thailand.

It should first be noted that Thailand has a culture that is either unwilling or unable to engage in self-reflection or self-critique. This is an inherent aspect of Thai culture, and is deeply rooted in the history of the country. From the time they are born, the people of Thailand are instilled with the belief that they are perfect and incapable of making any mistakes – an outgrowth and consequence of this myth is the ludicrous policy of never telling students that their answers are wrong, a policy that’s dutifully enforced even at institutions of higher learning. (The way in which this policy is supposed to facilitate the process of learning is something the educational authorities have never bothered to explain.)

The inability to self-reflect has proved conducive to the promulgation of an absurd form of nationalism that’s based more on myth and the colorful imaginations of bureaucratic elites and other higher-ups in the silly pyramids shown everywhere in Thailand than on any actual historical record. The promotion of a nationalist ethos is not, of course, unique to Thailand; as an American, the cultivation of so-called “patriotic values” beginning at a very young age is a phenomenon with which I’m quite familiar. However, there is a fundamental difference – alongside the reputable aspects of America, as students we also learned about the more reprehensible and egregious chapters of our history (e.g., slavery, the atrocities committed against Native Americans, racism and xenophobia, the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese, etc.). In Thailand, to even imply the existence of a less than 100% perfect or “happy” aspect of Thai history and culture would border on something akin to blasphemy, or worse.

The more important question – and one to which I was never given a valid answer while living in Thailand – is this: What objective fact exists to fuel Thai nationalism? What is there to sustain this myth of Thai perfection and greatness in the hearts and minds of the Thai people? The answer lies partially in the fact that, despite all superficial appearances, Thailand remains a closed society (with the exception, of course, of the allowances made to farang who wish to come and spend their money there or direct the development of the kingdom’s chronically dilapidated infrastructure).

As a closed society, the people of Thailand are indoctrinated into the belief that they are uniquely special, nay superior, vis-à-vis everyone else on the planet. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a shred of evidence to support this belief because requiring evidence implies a questioning of the belief in the first place, and questioning anything about what they have been told to believe by their nationalist caretakers is simply not something the vast majority of Thai people would ever do.

Andrew Woodward

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