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Leave the Village!

On this past 10 April, Voice TV did something very interesting. They sent reporters to five neighborhoods in Bangkok, including Kok Wua, to ask 5 people in each area (my guess is that there may have been an unreported principle guiding the selection of people asked for information, for example, ask only those wearing flowered shirts)  what happened on 10 April 2010? What were the causes? And what were their thoughts about what happened?
 
It appeared that only 3 out of 25 people knew or still remembered what happened three years ago.
 
I think that Voice TV ought to have also done this in large regional cities, such as Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Khon Kaen, and Chiang Mai, for comparative purposes. So that  Bangkokians would perhaps perceive those outside Bangkok as less  “buffalo (stupid)” or  as “buffalo (stupid)” [as they are]. (In fact, buffaloes are quite intelligent animals, but this is how the word is understood in Thai usage).
 
The newscaster concluded that the remark that says Thai people are forgetful still holds true. 
 
However, psychologists have long known from experimentation that remembering and forgetting are constructed processes. Memory is not the natural working of the brain, but is constructed partially by a given individual, partially by those surrounding a given individual, and partially by the society and culture. If you don’t believe me, go ask Bangkokians, who is King Naresuan? I believe that the data would be a lot better than this, even though the story of King Naresuan is an ancient one. 
 
How was the process of forgetting 10 April 2010 constructed?
 
Some people say that it was the media who created this forgetting. Upon consideration, I cannot really agree 100%. Because in truth, the media (including that which we call the mainstream media) raised 10 April 2010 frequently. They had to discuss the progression of cases by the DSI and the court judgments (such as the case of the person shot and killed in Dusit Zoo). Even in April this year, Voice TV frequently reported news about the families who lost people in the incident. This meant that PBS also had to do so, but they focused on the families of soldiers. This was good and created balance in the news, even if it was balanced across two channels. 
 
The process of forgetting was not created because no one spoke about 10 April at all. It is a much more complicated process.
 
I want to talk about this complicatedness, as far as my intellect will allow.
 
Let me begin with Thai culture first. It was no more than 100 years ago that Thais left the village. This includes Bangkokians as well. At the end of the reign of Rama V, Bangkok was really a big city, but the populace of Bangkok dwelled in different "neighborhoods," which were very community-oriented, although the people were not agriculturalists.  Simply put, Bangkok at that time was an amalgamation of different "villages." The relationships between people in each village was similar to those in villages in the countryside.
 
As for Thais outside Bangkok, their life was lived in its entirety in the agricultural village.
 
This agricultural village culture is the foundation of present-day Thai culture.
 
Relationships in the community of the agricultural village were tranquil. At least they were this way on the surface, to avoid creating excessive tension in the community and creating peril for the machinery of the culture of production. This does not mean that people in the village did not dislike each other, or did not fight or kill each other.  But all of the conflict would be repressed or resolved in order to not affect the cooperation necessary for life in the agricultural village.
 
Open conflict is very dangerous. It is difficult to work together to repress the conflict, once it has become public. There is inevitably the price of “face” that a given side must lose. Open conflict between groups of individuals or "cliques," not between individuals, is even more dangerous. Cooperating to limit conflict in order to not destroy village life and cooperation in production then becomes challenging, or impossible. 
 
Present-day Thai society therefore fears this kind of conflict. Open, public conflict, conflict that is between entities or groups of people, not conflict between two individuals, is frightening. There is reason to fear this kind of conflict. This is because present-day Thai culture has not created the machinery to  address (or deal with) this kind of conflict.  Other than letting the parties struggle until one side or another wins a decisive victory, we have no way of dealing with it.  Or else, we will "read" this kind of conflict as conflict between individuals, as there are many devices within Thai culture that are able to suppress or mitigate this kind of conflict. For example, “having a heart-to-heart chat” or “reconciling” (while each bargaining for his/her own benefits) to get over the conflict. 
 
One day we wake up to find ourselves in a new Thai society, where conflicts become open and public and conflicts between groups of people  become an ordinary and normal occurrence, and we are left without any culture that supports living together in a modern society which is rife with such conflicts. 
 
The sole way that present-day Thai culture deals with this kind of conflict is to deny or gloss over the publicness of the conflict. Even if large groups of people come to be involved in a conflict, we will make these groups of people out to only be instruments of individuals in conflict with one another.
 
The process of forgetting that we constructed for 10 April 2010 is not the forgetting of 10 April qua 10 April. On the contrary, it is the forgetting of the social dimensions of the conflict.
 
We pass on our capabilities in closing our eyes to conflict in modern society through education. It took a long time for the Ministry of Education to find a way to supplement the curriculum about 14 October; that is, to include a book written about 14 October based on the experience of the author for students to read as an extra-reading outside their regular class. Perhaps there is no need for me to say any more about the attempt to dissemble this kind of conflict in the textbooks of the Ministry of Education. Let me raise one question in the 2010 Grade 6 O-net exam as an example:
 
The question asked, "What actions are not in line with democratic process?" The answer selections were: 1) Striking; 2) Exercising the right to vote in an election; 3) Accepting the voice of the majority; and 4) Expressing one's political opinions. The correct answer was 1) Striking is an action that is not in line with the democratic process (!!!)
 
Striking is very clearly intended to be a public form of disagreement.  It is not a case of the head of the union disliking the management personally.  The education system is trying to instill in the heads of the students that this kind of conflict is undemocratic and good people should not engage in it. 
 
To return once again to the process of forgetting 10 April 2010. The media presented accounts of the families of victims. This was nothing out of the ordinary, as in every  conflict, there are individual as well as social dimensions. We should not forget that the victims on all sides are real people whose death caused a not insignificant number of effects on other people. But the clash on 10 April 2010 was deeper than the sacrifices made by individuals. The media must investigate and present these many different diverse dimensions. I want to know, for example, after the passage of 3 years, do  Abhisit Vejjajiva, Sondhi Limthongkul, Chamlong Srimuang, etc., still perceive things the way they did when they occurred?  If they could be given a choice, would Nattawut Saikua, Jatuporn Promphan and General Anupong Paochinda choose to use the same strategies, or not?
 
Ultimately, this is the question that the media cannot forget: where is the rift in the present-day Thai system? Where is the gap that causes us to be unable to deal with this kind of conflict?  What do the lawyers think? What do the political scientists think?  What do the anthropologists think? What do the private executives think? We cannot attack and kill each other like this in perpetuity. Is there any indication that three years after the incident, our system has begun to learn, and find ways to deal with this kind of conflict peacefully and democratically?
 
In other words, media (and society) must come to face this kind of conflict frankly. We must help to end the complicated process of forgetting, the process of forgetting that eliminates the public space for conflict and instead casts it as personal. On the contrary, we should work to help to create a process of remembering that will strengthen society in order to build cultural mechanisms, laws, and political rules and state administrative rules, institutions, and processes to check (this kind of) conflict in order for us to have a happy life in modern society.
 
And, for certain, we should cease dreaming about the smooth relations of the village community. Doing so is one of the ways we avoid the problems of the present, namely the forgetting of the public conflict between groups of people.
 
Source: นิธิ เอียวศรีวงศ์: ออกจากหมู่บ้านเสียที
 
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn

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