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If it’s not one thing, …

Here we go again. Not content with telling us what we can and cannot do (I thought we had a government to do that) Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha takes time from his undoubtedly busy schedule to explain Thai society for us.

‘There are only two groups of Thai people: the good and the bad, normal people and outlaws.’

That’s it?

What happened to the idea that Thai society was so complex, so subtly nuanced that only Thais with the proper ethnic purity could possibly understand it and that pig-ignorant farangs should just keep out of it?

This black-and-white view of society (or perhaps we should say ‘green-and-the-rest’) is nothing special. While it seems to have a stronghold in the more authoritarian segments of society, it is easy to find examples in other cultures.

Like ‘Tut’ Meredith, who taught maths at my school. I have no idea what his real name was; he got this moniker for his habit of peering over your shoulder as you worked out some classroom problems and using what phoneticians call an apico-alveolar ingressive velaric click –normally written in English as ‘tut’ or ‘tut-tut’.

When you heard this, you knew (a) that your answer was wrong and (b) what was coming next – a saliva-flecked tirade based on the same simplistic dichotomy that governs Gen Prayuth’s view of the world.

‘Tut’ Meredith at least started from a reasonable premise. In maths, answers were generally either right or wrong. But from there he went on to categorize the producers of right answers as ‘good students’ and those that got the wrong answers as ‘bad’. And a whole lot more epithets far worse than Gen Prayuth’s ‘outlaws’.

Depending on which direction his prejudices were taking that day, ‘Tut’ might link the ‘badness’ of incorrectly answering students to their ‘bad’ upbringing, the fault of their ‘bad’ parents, who had been influenced by ‘bad’ TV (i.e. not the BBC) and so on and so on. He was particularly venomous on the deleterious effects of a Beatle haircut on intellectual capacity.

At the time, I tended to think this was the result of Tut’s age. This was how older people thought, I reasoned. Perhaps they’d been brought up in a simpler world where black really was black and grey hadn’t been invented yet.

Alas no. This simplistic compartmentalization can be found at all times, in all places. Natural processes tend to sift such people into becoming teachers, military officers, traffic wardens and the fringe lunatics of politics and religion.

But in Bangkok today we are still under an Emergency Decree which means (a) we all have to do what the authorities say and (b) the authorities cannot be wrong. So let us continue a Prayuth-style analysis of Thailand, using his exclusively dyadic methodology (readers will undoubtedly have ideas of their own and are invited to contribute).

There are only two groups of drivers in Thailand: those who are trying to cut in ahead of you; and those who already have.

There are only two groups of uniformed personnel on the streets of Bangkok: unofficial security guards, car park attendants, etc., who blow whistles all the time and are ignored; and official traffic police, who blow whistles all the time and are also ignored.

There are only two groups of students in Thailand: those who forget whatever they have been taught before the exam and fail, and those who forget it after the exam and pass.

There are only two groups of Thai relatives: those liable to turn up at any moment and make themselves at home in your living room, kitchen and bedroom; and those who already live there.

There are only two groups of security personnel on Bangkok mass transit: the guards at the gates on the underground who look in everyone’s bag but will never find any bombs; and the armed soldiers on the skytrain who never look in anyone’s bag and will never find any bombs.

There are only two groups of old people in Thailand: those who command your respect for a lifetime of experience distilled into wisdom; and those who demand your respect for a lifetime of simply staying alive.

And finally, there are only two groups of generals in the Thai army: those who have only just enough brains to think you can divide everyone into 2 categories; and those who don’t.

About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).