Much has been made of the National Council for Peace and Order’s attempts at political reconciliation and its voting down its own draft constitution in an act of political theater. In fact, everyone in ‘Amazing Thailand’ right now is engaged in a giant ‘democratic thought experiment’ – trapped in a giant, country-size military camp. As no one except General Prayut, the NCPO, and the National Legislative Assembly has any power in these ‘special circumstances’, the whole country has an ideal opportunity to collectively consider the nature of power and the absence of it – nautonomy.
Nautonomy is a concept popularized by David Held at the Open University in the UK and is the opposite of autonomy.
Nautonomy can be seen in the form of a thought experiment on democracy and a girl called Manee, who is with us in Camp Thailand. Specifically, the following thought experiment also considers the nature of attendant Contact Ghosts in the Shell, as introduced here in my article on Contact Theory. In the following case, Quasi-Imperialism, the Advanced Police State, and Neo-Colonialism are the main Contact Ghosts, which act as a form of social virus or meme and which can manifest themselves in aspects of, for example, the official and public spheres[i] and create a cumulative effect similar to Ur-fascism. Contact Ghosts result in social injustice.
For example, Manee is a fourteen-year old Karen girl from a Thai border camp along the Western border. She has a six-month old baby from when she was raped, and because she was found wandering outside the camp foraging for food, she is now in a state detention center in Mae Hong Son together with her baby. The immigration police there are threatening her with deportation to Myanmar as she lost her papers while she was being arrested. As she was born in the camp herself, she is not officially a Thai citizen and neither is her daughter. The food in the detention center is poor, the conditions are cramped, and she is suffering from depression as she has not been able to get a message to her family in the camp. The police are insisting she pay for the processing costs for her detention, but she has no money.
In Manee’s example, Quasi-Imperialism has resulted in an intractable border problem with implications for sovereignty as well as exclusivity in the citizenship granted within the Thai Sovereign Entity Culture (SEC). The Advanced Police State has resulted in an arbitrary detention with little transparency, and the Neo-Colonialism wishes to exploit the resources of the Western frontier without the complication of providing citizenship to refugees semi-native to the area. The overall effect is unfortunately, and probably quite unintentionally, one of an Ur-fascist state. In addition, a very specific Contact Ghost may act as a ‘mesh virus’ in the Thai SEC Shell, causing many Thai people to look down on Karen people like Manee, as well as on other minorities. This Contact Ghost is called ‘Advanced Thai Subordinate Race Theory’.[ii]
Returning to Manee, can you imagine how she feels in that detention center? The answer is probably that you can – but only a little. Most human beings, the exceptions being psychopaths or those infected by Contact Ghosts who blank out the situation and persecution of others, are able to empathize to some extent with the suffering of other people. However, if you are yourself a migrant, you may be able to empathize with Manee more than others. If you are a woman, especially one with a baby, you may be able to empathize with Manee more than others. If you are from another ethnic minority, such as the Thai Lao or Khon Mueang of the North, you may be able to empathize with Manee more than others. And so on.
But, even if you are an urban, Central Thai urban-based millionaire who has never gone upcountry due to ethnocentric insularity and who drives an imported luxury car, you may be able to empathize with Manee because you have read the newspapers, watched a documentary, perhaps work with an NGO or an embassy – or simply remember what it was like to have no power when one party or another dominated Thai politics. Or, you may just understand the whole point of Contact Theory – the viable application of (mutually beneficial) altruism to solve entrenched problems in the official and public spheres.
In other words, right now, because of the totalitarian nature of the regime, everyone should be able to empathize with Manee to some extent.[iii] No Thai citizen would want a democratic public law which created Manee’s situation of helplessness. Hence, Manee is our definition of nautonomy.
Our Manee has few rights. She has no bodily rights because she is in a detention center and is sick, and after she was raped, she had no way of obtaining an abortion. When she was in the camp, she had no social rights in terms of access to a decent standard of education because only temporary schools, often without electricity, are permitted. Moreover, there are few community services in the Western border camps, mainly only those provided by NGOs. Moreover, while Manee is both an animist and a Buddhist, like many Thai, she has no access to a decent temple, and celebrations of Karen identity like cultural festivals are frowned on because they may harm the camp’s inmates’ chances of becoming naturalized Thai citizens.
Our Manee is not able to join civic associations of Karen outside the camps, nor is she able to access information as there is no internet. She has no right to work in the camp. Therefore she has no guaranteed income, no property, and no money with which to consume – no economic rights. Often portrayed as ‘unclean’ or ‘diseased’ drug smugglers and timber traffickers, the Karen of the western border cannot enjoy peaceful co-existence with the state as they are occasionally disappeared and often threatened. They have few political rights, though under-powered organizations such as IMPECT do exist for those mountain peoples searching for self-determination and justice. Overall, they have few agenda-setting rights, and our Manee has none.
All the areas of power which Manee lacks can be seen in the table in this article. This lack of power and rights – nautonomy – can be examined in the light of recent independent reports from agencies such as the United Nations Committee of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the US 2014 Human Rights Report. These reports highlight long-standing, systemic problems, not all of which are the ‘fault’ of the military – instead, they are, generally speaking, the result of the cumulative effect of Contact Ghosts on the Thai pre-Contact SEC and so the responsibility of both Visiting Cultures and the Thai SEC (all of ‘Thai society’). As we are all now similar in ways to Manee, all Thai peoples, to some extent, lack autonomy as regards these foci of power.
Through engagement and dialogue on websites and in the social media, in the face of a military Praetorianism which seems to be implementing totalitarianism due to a series of Contact Ghosts in the Thai SEC Shell, Thai people may come together in order to create an alternative to nautonomy and therefore start a project for a better Thailand.
This can be done not through charity for Manee but by creating Contact Solutions to the Ghosts in the Shell, founded on equality and liberty expressed in ‘Empowering Rights’ and ‘Entitlement Capacities’, with the aim being self-determination and autonomy.[iv] Contact Solutions can also be prioritized by ideal, attainable, and urgent classifications as well as tests of extensiveness, intensity, and comparative efficiency.
Contact Solutions require a two-step approach, analyzing and then exorcising, which can be accomplished using the perspective of Leverage Theory[v] in combination with peace studies. Together, and over time, Bangkokians as well as Thai minorities such as ethnic peoples, women, and religious minorities, can exorcise Contact Ghosts and create a better Thailand. In addition, this project should involve both Visiting Cultures as governments and individual representatives who want to assist, especially those with a direct stake in Thailand such as the mothers and fathers of Thai citizens, based on the principle of Thailand being a hospitable cosmopolitan democracy. In fact, arranging for groups from different cultural backgrounds to come into contact situations (the ‘Contact Hypothesis’) in order to work on common goals is one of the best ways to overcome prejudice.
To sum up, the military may be succeeding in reconciling Thai people, though perhaps in a way that was not intended, by systematically denying autonomy to all Thais – and at the same time opening up the clear need for a humanistic ‘great project’[vi] for people to exorcise Thailand’s Contact Ghosts, take the democratic reform of Thailand into their hands and thereby create the necessary conditions for true autonomy. The need for such a project is even greater given that the UN will be creating its 2017-2021 Country Framework Partnership with Thailand this year, and at a global level, 2015 has been declared the ‘Year of Evaluation’ due to the updating of the Millennium Development Goals to the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’.
But at the moment, Welcome to Camp Thailand (to be sung to the tune of ‘Hotel California’) to our two new ambassadors, Mr. Brian Davidson (UK, China specialist) and Mr. Glyn Davies (US, North Korea specialist).
Held, D. (1995). Democracy and the global order: From the modern state to cosmopolitan democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
[i] Following Streckfuss, D. (2011). Truth on trial in Thailand: Defamation, treason, and lèse majesté. New York: Routledge, pp.26-30.
[ii] This virus, though nascent in the pre-Contact Thai Sovereign Entity Culture, was intensified by multiple Outside Context Problems and Contact with Advanced French Subordinate Race Theory from the 1890’s, Advanced German Subordinate Race Theory from the 1930’s, and Advanced Japanese Subordinate Race Theory from 1939 to 1945. Thai Subordinate Race Theory therefore developed through basic and medium stages from the 1900’s to 1945 into the advanced Thai form during the Cold War Excession Series, especially as regards the Khmer (the Khmer Rouge Excession), the Thai Lao, and the mountain peoples, most notably the Hmong, and the Thai Superstructure and Shell are still infected
[iii] In other words, we need to rescue Manee and people like her not just from hyper-nationalism but from the banal forms which allow social injustices to occur even in ‘Normal Times’. See Billig, M. (1995). Banal nationalism. London: Sage.
[iv] The author is aware that this is an egalitarian, libertarian and social utopian approach. However, elements of the Thai superstructure and belief systems are utopian, and a utopia provides ideal goals and principles from which to work down from until one reaches attainability and comparative efficiency.
[v] For leverage theory, see Meadows, D. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system. Hartland, VT: Sustainability Institute. Available from: http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-interve....
[vi] Following Sartre, J-P. (1948) (tr. Philip Mairet, 1973), Existentialism and humanism. Methuen: London.