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Outside context problems and contact ghosts in the shell

Before anyone can hope to comprehend Thailand’s performance in terms of human rights and therefore have the temerity to develop policy implications, it is necessary to first understand the obstacles that have to be overcome in their totality. In fact, in the situation Thailand is currently facing, the problems appear to be enormous, and the concepts involved are huge and widely discussed, with a massive associated academic literature.

So, there is a need to simplify. There is also a need to develop a reasonably simple theory as a guide. What does a theory mean in the social sciences? A theory is able to discuss and explain a situation and hopefully able to provide ‘solutions’. In some cases, a theory may also be predictive, but accurate predicting in the social sciences is highly complex and the preserve of some of the most advanced human/computing initiatives in the world.[i]

The core of a simple theory for explaining Thailand’s uniqueness, sometimes called Thai exceptionalism, may be found in a theory which has, until now, generally been associated with First Contact events, such as Christopher Columbus’ ‘discovering’ America in 1492. I propose to call it ‘Contact Theory’. First Contact is generally seen as part of anthropology, and at present it includes, for example, the development of protocols when anthropologists come into contact with previously uncontacted peoples, such as in the Amazonian rainforest.

Generally speaking, Contact is between one more economically or militarily powerful culture or group of cultures (Visiting Culture or VC) and another culture or group of cultures (Sovereign Entity Culture or SEC). And, in general, Contact usually has immediate negative effects on the weaker culture. For example, the South American cultures’ empires were defeated militarily, and they were then reduced to serfdom and used in forced labour to extract silver and gold from mines. One of the justifications for reducing the South American SECs (Aztec, Mayan) to serfdom was that they were ‘uncivilized’ because they practised human sacrifice. However, in the Papal Bull Sublimus Deus of 1537, Pope Paul III stated that the South American peoples were rational beings with souls, could not be enslaved, and were entitled to the right to liberty and property. As such, the main aim was to Christianize the SECs and therefore bring them within Christendom though missionary efforts. This did not stop the South American SECs from being almost entirely destroyed and colonized, though it did reduce the level of serfdom and to a certain extent prevented slavery.[ii]

I propose to call Contact situations with negative consequences for an SEC ‘Outside Context Problems[iii] (OCPs), which may in fact last decades. For example, the possibility of colonization was an OCP for Thai monarchs in the 19th century, while in the 20th century additional OCPs included fascism and communism together with American neo-imperialism. OCPs are characterised by specific, often symbolic, events which impact the psyche of SEC, which I term ‘Excession Events’ or simply ‘Excessions’, but OCPs can also lead to developments, some of which create problems for the existing ‘superstructure’ of the SEC. I propose to call these issues ‘Contact Ghosts in the Shell[iv] or Contact Ghosts for short, as they may be seen as unwanted (and quite scary) artefacts deriving from Contact. At the same time, there were technology and culture transfers which may be seen as positive. The following highly simplified table, which admittedly adopts an occidentalist standpoint (except for Maoism and Asian communism),[v] attempts to summarize Contact Theory:


Pre-Contact Siamese Sovereign Entity Culture (Pax Siamensa)

(Decentralized, Pluralistic, Buddhist [Subtype: Theravadan Ritual Purification[vi]] Quasi-Imperial Monarchy with Bonded Labour-, Tributary-, and Entrepôt-Based Economy)

Outside Context Problems

Excession Events

Technology Transfers

Culture Transfers

Contact Ghosts in the Shell

1) British imperialism (Pax Brittanica), 1815-1914



a) Hegemonic powers and international security structures [Held Disjuncture Type 3][vii]

b) The world economy [Held Disjuncture Type 5]

i) First Opium War (1839-1842) & seizure of Hong Kong

ii) Gunboat policy and Bowring Treaty of 1855

i)  Printing press

ii) Telegraph

iii) Railways

iv) Newspapers

v) Astronomy

vi) Sanitation

i) Capitalism

- Bangkok as multilateral trade hub

- Monetary economy

ii) Cent-ralization via Weberian bureaucracy

iii) Siamese nationalism

iv) Social contract (subject vs. citizen)

v) Participatory democracy


i) Siamese imperialism

ii) Intensification of primate city problem

iii) Intensification of regime of images[viii]

-  Uniforms

-  Awards

iv) Elitist democracy[ix]

v) Hyper-bureaucratization

- Institution-alization of corruption

- Jobsworth mentality

2) French colonialism (Civilizing Mission of 1884)[x]



a) Hegemonic powers and international security structures [Held Disjuncture Type 3]

i) 1864 annexation of Cochinchina

ii)) 1867 Cambodia becomes protectorate

iii) 1893 Lao added to French Indochina

-    Paknam Incident

iv) First Indochina War (1946-1954)

i) Mapping of the geobody (surveying)

ii) Siamese civilizing mission[xi]

iii) Missionary activities (also vs. Protestant missions)

iv) Repub-licanism

v) Citizenship

vi) Utopian socialism

i) Siamese inferior race theory (e.g., The Jews of the East regarding Chinese)

ii) Siamese  internal colonialism

- Subordination of indigenous peoples

3) Fascism / Japanese imperialism (1933-1945)



a) Hegemonic powers and international security structures [Held Disjuncture Type 3]

i) World War I (total war)

ii) 1933 Hitler comes to power

iii) Bombing of Guernica (1937)

iii) World War II

-          Fall of Siam (1941)

-          Pearl Harbour (1941)

-          Fall of Singapore –(1942)


i) Indust-rialization

ii) Radio

iii) Mass media



i) Heroic realism

ii) Bushido (martial duty)

iii) Orientalism


i) Thai hyper-nationalist totalitarianism (fascism)

-   Lost territory discourse[xii]

- Anti-western race theory based on Japanese propaganda[xiii]

- 12 Cultural Mandates (Some of; 1939-1942)

ii) Militarization of society

-          Bureaucracy

-          Daily life

-          Education

iii) Advanced neo-imperialism[xiv]

4) Communism

(Marxist-Leninism -> Maoism, Asian Communism, 1905-Present)[xv]



a) Hegemonic powers and international security structures [Held Disjuncture Type 3]

i) Russian Revolution (1917)

ii) Chinese Communist Revolution (1946-1949)

iii) Korean War (1950-1953)

iv) Vietnam War and Fall of Saigon (1975)

v) Khmer Rouge (1968-1996) and the Killing Fields


i) Commun-itarianism

ii) Scientific socialism

iii) Buddhist socialism

i) Police state

ii) Fear of the rural rebellion

iii) Thammasat University Massacre (October 1976)

5) US New Imperialism (Pax Americana -> Project for the New American Century, 1898-Present)



a) Hegemonic powers and international security structures [Held Disjuncture Type 3]

b) National identity and the globalization of culture [Held Disjuncture Type 4]

i) Spanish-American War (1898)

ii) World War II

- Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)

iii) Cold War (1947-1991; see above)

iv) 1997 Financial Crisis

v) 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report


i) Roads

ii) Airports

iii) Irrigation

iv) International financial system

v) Mass media

vi) International communication systems


i) Develop-mental democracy

ii) Technocracy

iii) Regional university system

iv) Civil society

v) Modernism

vi) Global-ization

vii) Philosophy of the Sufficiency Economy

i) Highly advanced imperialism

- Primate city problem

ii) Praetorianism

iii) Advanced police state

- Emerging electronic surveillance state

iv) Neo-colonialism

- Advanced subordination of indigenous peoples

vi) Consumerism

vii) Corpor-atocracy

6) Post-modernism (including deconstruction, critical theory, post- feminism, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, ethnic rights of self-determination and autonomy etc., 1900’s - Present)



a) International politicization of political decision making [Held Disjuncture Type 2]

b) International Law [Held Disjuncture Type 1]

c) The world Economy [Held Disjuncture Type 5]

i) World Trade Organization

- Failure of Doha Development Round (2001-2015)

ii) 1997 Financial Crisis

iii) UN (Human Rights Treaties)

-  2015 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Report

iv) European Union

- Yellow Card on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing 2015

v) Global warming (2014[xvi]-Present)

i) Internet

ii) Social media

i) Progressive Buddhism

ii) Inter-nationalism

iii) NGO movement

iv) Democratic socialism (‘populism’)

v) Universal human rights


i) Highly advanced quasi-imperialism

ii) Advanced praetorianism[xvii]

iii) Advanced police state

- Electronic surveillance state[xviii]

iv) Neo-colonialism

- Racism / Discrimination

- Human trafficking / Slavery

v) Color wars (polarisation of society)

vi) Millenarian hyper-nationalist totalitarianism (Ur-fascism)


Post-Contact Thai Sovereign Entity Culture in Transitional Disequilibrium

(Quasi-Imperialistic[xix], Hyper-Bureaucratized, Hyper-Nationalistic Nation State with Advanced Praetorianism, Advanced Police State, Neo-Colonial Economy

[Subtype: Modern Theravadan Buddhist Ritual Purification State])

Table: The Thai Sovereign Entity Culture as Explained by Contact Theory

The question of agency in terms of Contact Ghosts is deliberately omitted. This is because, while Contact Theory can explain underlying causes, it is not intended to allocate blame. However, agency can be recognized in the OCP. For example, it should be recognized that the French Civilizing Mission was explicitly built on the theory of inferior races and that this concept, unfortunately readily adopted as what I term a ‘Pattern of Force’[xx], was relatively new to Thailand. It should also be remembered that both Hitler and Mussolini came to power by legal means and that the Siamese adoption of fascist elements at a time when Adolf Hitler could meet with Western diplomats prior to World War II was seen at the time as normal. In addition, the adoption of elements of the police and surveillance states were viewed as necessary during the Cold War. There is also agency in terms of how the Thai SEC has responded to Contact Ghosts, for example in the Pi-Nong alliance with the US. Part 6), post-modernism, is admittedly both under-developed and ‘messy’ in multiple senses,[xxi] and the cumulative aspect of Contact Ghosts is not well described in the table at present.

To conclude, democracy, especially in its radical forms, yet may provide Contact Solutions to Contact Ghosts through still-arriving concepts such as social democracy, which while having a history dating back the birth of social theory, is relatively new to Thailand. However, creating Contact Solutions also requires the recognition of the validity of the Contact Ghosts by the majority of people and then pursuing the solutions through techniques (such as the Contact Hypothesis) common to social science, for example Peace and Conflict Studies, including irenology, the solving of conflicts in real time.

Ultimately, one of the main problems in reducing the impact of Contact Ghosts may actually be cost. For example, a combination of a bureaucratic legal system (trial by jury was never culturally transferred to Thailand) and the ‘police state’ Contact Ghost aspect to the Royal Thai Police (RTP) mean the RTP is dysfunctional, with the examination of human trafficking witnesses expected to take five years before a case can be brought in the recent recognition of human slavery. Provided the Contact Ghost can be mutually recognized (as it seems to be in this case), this presents a simple question of reallocation of resources to increase the number of officers working on the case combined with the need for professional training with an advanced police organization from a Visiting Culture, such as the United States’ FBI.

In such a case, the Sovereign Entity Culture (Thailand) may wish to apply innovations such as the introduction of trial by jury on a trial basis. Trial by jury exists in multiple models, including in combinations of professional judges, lay judges, and jurors. If jury systems are experimentally introduced in Thailand, statistical representation, based on principles such as self-determination and autonomy, means lay judges and jurors in such cases should include proportional representation by affected stakeholders.[xxii] In this instance, jurors could be selected from communities in Deep South, non-trafficked Myanmar refugees, and naturalized Myanmar Thai citizens. Possibly, even Myanmar and Malaysian guest judges could be involved (though not as chairpersons) given the trans-boundary effects. Moreover, jury service is seen in many Visiting Cultures as a foundational issue in terms of inculcating a sense of citizenship and civic responsibility. In a high-face patron-client system such as Thailand, trial by jury would require rigorous jury protection as well as the normal witness protection. Still, collaborative experiments to solve Contact Ghosts by creating an innovative solution in itself and thereby the opportunity for inter-group (Visiting Culture/Sovereign Entity) problem solving should, perhaps, be attempted. After all, these are special circumstances.


1) Contact Theory is meant to be seen in combination with, and as a possible extension of, the Center for Global Policy’s Political Instability Taskforce’s PITF Phase V Societal Systems Analytics model, public version available from the Center for Systemic Peace website here, exemplified in this figure:


Figure: Simplified Model of a Modern, Complex, Societal System

In essence, this model provides an overview of the SEC’s ‘operating system’ (‘Transient Socio-Political and Economic Structure’ or TSPES), different versions of which can be associated with the cumulative effects of OCPs, Excessions, Technology Transfers, Culture Transfers, and Contact Ghosts, as well as Indigenous Sovereign Entity Culture Developments (ISECDs), such as the Thai Pi-Nong (Elder Brother, Younger Brother) relationship with the US Visiting Culture. Contact Ghosts are both inherently part of the TSPES and manifest in complications in how individuals and groups interact with the Shell (user interface with the Sovereign Entity Culture’s TSPES). Concretizing the versions through description, analysis, and visual representation is necessary for the cumulative effect of the OCPs and their Contact Ghosts to be accurately described and therefore widely understood by people, thereby granting them self-determination and agency. The hardware aspect of the SEC is the physical environment, including rivers, mountains, and cities, which can be modified or upgraded, e.g., by irrigation, mining, and urbanization.

2) I am well aware I am from a Visiting Culture, though I have adopted Thai Cultural Schema through my marriage to a Thai Lao and by having three Thai Lao / English children, as well as by adopting Progressive Buddhism as a guiding philosophy. Also, Kant’s notion of a ‘Cosmopolitan Law’ (the hospitality of a cosmopolitan, democratic SEC in a Contact Situation) should apply as a foundational principle to relationships between Thais and any foreigners commenting in the Thai public sphere (following Jürgen Habermas), whether in English or in Thai.

3) As I am from a VC, one might ask whether I am ‘sorry’ about any of the Contact Ghosts resulting from the Outside Context Problem introduced by Contact with the British Empire. As pointed out above, there is no culpability in Contact Ghosts. This is because there were, at the time, no strong barriers to interference by economically and militarily more powerful Visiting Cultures, i.e., no ‘Prime Directive’, though US neo-imperialism presents a special problem due to American Exceptionalism, while Post-modernism presents a special problem due to its complexity. However, it is possible for a VC as a nation-state to formally apologize to an SEC, for example in the instance of massacres, slavery or colonization, and Germany has formally apologized for the Holocaust, though this process can be extremely complicated, as in the case of Japan and the People’s Republic of China. Personally, I am sorry in terms of having sympathy and compassion for Thai people facing the Contact Ghosts introduced by the Pax Brittanica. So, I would like to take this opportunity to say sorry for Siamese imperialism, for the intensification of the primate city problem, for the intensified regime of image, for the elitist democracy, and for the hyper-bureaucratization.

3) I would be very interested in any feedback from anyone, academic or otherwise, on this nascent model of Contact Theory. Please ‘contact’ me at with any comments or suggestions.

[i] For example, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Aggregate Contingent Estimation Programme (ACE) combines computer Soft Artificial Intelligence with human ‘super-forecasters’ to predict future events. And if that sounds like science fiction, you would be right – Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series popularised psychohistory as the ability to mathematically predict social movements in terms of large patterns of movement.

[ii] Unfortunately, African cultures were exploited for slaves by the ‘West’ as they were seen as less ‘civilized’, quite possibly connected to Western concepts of civilization being associated with large buildings, which the Aztecs and Mayans were clearly capable of building, and which while they existed in African cultures, were less widely known to the West.

[iii] I am deliberately borrowing from the language of Iain M. Banks’s science fiction novel series on the Culture. The foreign policy of the Culture has been discussed in the literature, for example Brown, C. (2001). 'Special Circumstances': Intervention by a Liberal Utopia. Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 30 (3): 625–626.

[iv] This is a deliberate reference to The Ghost in the Shell manga: It should be noted that a shell is a user interface for an operating system, in this case, the operating system of a Sovereign Entity Culture (Thailand). See

[v] This summary table does not include orientalist elements such as contact with China nor does it address contact with Islam, otherwise the scope would be too large.

[vi] Following Streckfuss, D.  (2011). Truth on trial on Thailand. New York: Routledge, pp. 77-80.

[vii] Following Held, D. (1995). Democracy and the global order: From the modern state to cosmopolitan governance. Stanford, CA: Stabford University Press, pp.99-140.

[viii] See Jackson, P.A. (2004). The Thai regime of images. Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia (19), pp. 181-218.

[ix] This means the belief that some the votes of some citizens are worth more than the votes of other citizens and can be traced back to the philosophy of J.S. Mill.

[x] In French, the Mission Civilisatrice.

[xi] See, for example, Winichakul, T. (2000). The quest for 'Siwilai': A geographical discourse of Civilizational Thinking in the late 19th and early 20th century Siam. Journal of Asian Studies, 59(3).

[xii] See, for example, Winichakul, T. Siam (2015). Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation. Hawai’i:  University of Hawaii Press.

[xiii] See, for example, the discussions of Nai Khong and Nai Man in Strate, S. (2015). The lost territories: Thailand’s history of national humiliation. Hawai’i: University of Hawai’i Press.

[xiv] It is imperialistic both in terms of an expression of sovereignty and in terms of how it manages subject peoples. Also called Thai cultural hegemony, following Gramsci.

[xv] The Thai state refers to the (approximately) 1958-1988 period, when it became a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ of the Cold War, as ‘Abnormal Times’ (AT), which is the Local System Term for an Outside Context Problem and the accompanying (by definition) State of Emergency. AT theory in the Thai SEC is defined by Section 36 of the Act on the Organization of Military Courts as “when there is fighting or in times of war or when martial law has been declared” and is quite advanced. See the index of Streckfuss, D. (2011). Truth on trial on Thailand. New York: Routledge.

[xvi] This date refers to the Fifth IPCC Report.

[xvii] See, for example, Montesano, M. (2015). Praetorianism and “the People” in Late-Bhumibol Thailand. Singapore: Seatide. Available from:

[xviii] See Laungaramsri, P. (2015a) Mass surveillance and the militarization of cyber space in post-coup Thailand. Paper prepared for conference on “Human Rights and Every Day Governance”, Harvard University, 6 March and (2015b) Surveillance by the masses and the rise of the right wing movement in Thailand. Paper prepared for “Thailand Update Conference”, Columbia University, 1 May.

[xix] The Thai ‘imperial imaginary’ is referred to in Denes, A. (2006). Recovering Khmer ethnic identity from the Thai national past: An ethnography of the localism movement in Surin Province. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.

[xx] This is a deliberate reference to the Star Trek episode Patterns of Force -

[xxi] For Wicked Problem and Social Mess theory, see

[xxii] See Held, D. (1995). Democracy and the global order: From the modern state to cosmopolitan governance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p.206.

John Draper possesses a BA in Modern History from Oxford and an MA in Applied Linguistics from USQ. He conducts research and is published in the areas of language policy and planning, multilingualism and sociolinguistics. He is a project officer at KKU with the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalization Project and is the father of three Thai Lao / English citizens. “For never can a fair or just policy be expected of the citizen who does not, like his fellows, bring to the decision the interests and apprehensions of a father.”


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