Tyranny of various forms can be tackled much more readily when it is easily observed, analysed and opposed. Such tyranny may be a dictator who suppresses political and civil rights, a draconian law which creates a chilling effect and gags the populace, or legal discrimination which deprives people who are gay, lesbian or transgender of equal rights.
Much more difficult is the invisible tyranny subtly embedded within us as a result of culture, norms, political and religious ideology, the palpable pressure of social conformity and our own personal biases.
You can't readily observe the tyranny within yourself if you do not consciously try to examine or observe it. Some may think they can accept equal rights for people of various gender persuasions but may, deep down, be homophobic due to the deeply ingrained culture and popular discourse inculcating hatred or at least dislike towards gays, transsexuals, and lesbians.
Some may think they are for democracy, but may have a hard time acting democratically when it comes to domestic relations, because inside they believe in some form of social hierarchy.
Some may think they are for free speech and against censorship, but can hardly bear any hate speech or unfounded criticisms and accusation against them because they have little tolerance for differing views and in themselves believe in feeding others only the 'right' information.
How can you fight tyranny when some forms of tyranny are not a battle between us and them - but a struggle inside each and every one of us? How can we overcome such bias when it's deeply ingrained in our brain and psyche?
By recognising the tyranny within, we can at least begin to see that the struggle for social and political rights is both an external and internal struggle, and that there's no way to get rid of tyranny without deep introspection by each of us.
While much is said in Thailand lately about the need for genuine democracy, or the acceptance of freedom of speech, little has been said about how we can go about cultivating a democratic culture within us and learn to embrace freedom of speech at a personal level.
We do not hear people talk about how we can cultivate and spread democratic thinking at home, or at the workplace. Many simply assume that if we have an election and no more coups d'etat or no more interference by extra-constitutional forces from behind the scenes, then Thailand will simply become a genuine democracy. But will it happen if parents and schoolteachers continue to demand absolute obedience and do not permit their children and students, when it's reasonable, to argue back?
Can Thailand automatically become a land of free speech without the draconian lese majeste law and the Computer Crimes Act, when many people are intolerant of anything negative said about the monarchy, and about themselves, and won't hesitate to file a libel charge, advocate censorship or take the matter into their own hands violently? Will Thailand become a land of free speech and criticism if many people in the media who engage in criticism of others on a daily basis can't take criticism or accusations themselves?
As people continue to fight and call for democracy, equality and free speech, it's imperative they examine such values at a personal level and not be mistaken in thinking that the only struggle is an external one. Sometimes, I fear that it might be easier to get rid of the external and visible tyranny than the tyranny that exists invisibly deeply within us. And to make it more complicated, I think both external and internal tyranny are intertwined.
(The article was adapted from the writer's prepared notes as a guest speaker in a panel: 'In the Face of Tyranny' at the just-concluded annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali, Indonesia.)