Who’s To Blame? Not “The State”

I’ve been having an interesting “discussion” on Twitter regarding the recent uproar over Indigenous kids representing a ridiculously high proportion of children in care being kept from their parents for long periods of time.

At issue in my end of the discussion is the tendency of people upset by this situation to want to blame it on “the state”.

As someone who spent 7 years working with kids and who sat in on various meetings related to child placement in foster care, returning kids to their families, and assessing progress in ‘treatment’ and thereby justifying continued residential care, I find the notion that this is somehow “the state” behaving badly as “the state” somewhat ridiculous.

To begin with I admit my take may be somewhat biased because of my Ontario-centric point of view. Indigenous kids are not as overwhelmingly predominant in Ontario foster care as they are in other provinces- 30% vs 80-90% according to the Macleans article I linked to above. Not only that, but child protection services in Ontario are the purview of Children’s Aid Societies, legally designated NGOs, so not what we normally associate with “the state”.

I have a very clear memory of a series of meetings my agency had with social workers from Children’s Aid as part of the process of having one of our children adopted after years in our care. The CAS people came with profiles and analyses of potential families and we discussed the appropriateness or inappropriateness thereof. There was a lot of disagreement and argumentative discussion about two of the families, the characters of the would-be “moms”, the jobs and attitudes toward child-rearing of the wannabe “dads”.

The third family, however, offered the possibility of a “kumbaya moment” for the two sides in these meetings. Dad was a politician, a sitting provincial MP if I recall correctly, and both the “hippies” from our children’s mental health center and the “bureaucratic authoritarians” from the CAS agreed wholeheartedly that there was no way this child was going to be given over to the sleazoid hypocrisy of a politician for a dad.

I remember leaving that particular meeting feeling vaguely dirty. I was probably the most “hippoid hippy” on our team- and so more or less hated politicians and government and “the state” as a reflex- and yet when I really thought about it, I couldn’t help wondering whether our shared prejudice was what determined the outcome of that discussion rather than any sense of what was actually best for the child. After all, the family was well-off, well-educated and mom was at home to give the kind of time and attention that our soon-to-be former “patient” would doubtlessly need over the next few years.

Our center served a large area of the province because we were viewed as the “last resort” for kids who either couldn’t be cared for by other agencies or who other agencies wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole: too violent, too crazy, too little likelihood of progress. I loved most of the people I worked with and respected their attempts to do their best for the children that we worked with. I also loved the kids. It was a rich time for me in many ways and I have been permanently affected by my experiences with the people I met and worked with, children and adults alike.

But by the time I left I was disappointed in how we worked with our kids and their families.

ADHD was in the process of “being invented” and so more and more our kids were being medicated. I entered the field in the dying days of psychoanalytic influence in treatment modalities. We read Erikson and Anna Freud, attempted to generate a treatment approach based on a combination of Erikson and Piaget, and most of us believed that the Browndale approach to retrogression therapy, while flawed and potentially dangerous, was nevertheless essentially correct in its understanding of how our kids had been damaged by toxic relationships. Using Ritalin and antipsychotics to mask symptoms and suppress behaviour was chemical imprisonment, not therapy.

I spent years campaigning to put an end to “therapeutic holding”, first in my unit and finally in the agency. Around the time I left, the ministry issued guidelines that therapeutic holding was to be avoided. I have no idea how consistently that has been upheld or whether in fact another change in the weather has led to holding making a comeback in therapeutic spaces. I hope not. The line between ‘therapeutic holding’ and corporal punishment is one that is too fine to be left up to the momentary judgement of an adult who has just been spat upon and is being told to go fuck his mother.

But perhaps most significant was my recognition that all of our jobs- CCWs, social workers, psychiatrists, pediatricians- were dependent on kids remaining in treatment. I can’t recall the number of times I or someone else asked at an assessment meeting when we were going to finally acknowledge that one or another of our kids was “done” and ought to go home. Occasionally someone would joke that if we let them all go we’d all be out of work.

It seemed that someone, often the designated case worker, was always arguing that either the child or the family were just not ready. If the kid seemed to no longer need our support, then it was noticed that on return from home visits he was antsy or depressed. If mom was back in a stable relationship and no one was drinking to excess in the new family home, then there was a fear that everything would fall apart if our kid was sent back to live in that environment. The child would ruin the family’s progress or the family would ruin the child’s.

Most of the children I worked with from 1974 till 1980 stayed in treatment for at least 3 or 4 years, some longer. When we opened up an adolescent unit some of our kids just “graduated” from our center to the other unit. Saying goodbye to the majority of kids we had had in care for most of the workers was always a wrenching experience. It seems that being kicked in the shins almost daily for years on end can be a stimulus for a kind of love that I can still feel at a distance of ten thousand miles and almost forty years.

Some of our kids we tried to place in foster homes, but were rarely successful for the same reasons other treatment centers and agencies had passed on the kids we treated. I can honestly say I never met a foster parent I liked. Often they were moralistic Christians who you just knew were going to be into “spare the rod”, even if the “rod” in question was just going to be harsh words and time outs and constant criticism and preaching. It was also obvious to me that financial supplement to family income was often the real motive behind fostering and I don’t care how small the stipend is or was. I have never been a fan of “good intentions” and I doubt my view of foster parents would change much if I were to get back involved in the system now.

At one point after I left the agency and was studying at university, I ran into financial difficulties and tried working in a group home for adolescents. I lasted about two weeks if I recall and was just about ready to start a movement to have the private company running the chain of homes shut down. It was so much not what I expected from my years as what I came to realize had been spent as a prima donna CCW in a well-funded treatment center that I was in a state of outrage for months. The kids were no problem but my coworkers, my “supervisor”, and the corporation itself were a travesty. All of them. Talk about systemic abuse, here was the very definition.

The center that I worked at for six years from ’74 to ’80 was located in my hometown. I noticed at one point that out of the 18 boys we had in residence, roughly 70% of them came from the neighborhood that I grew up in. None of the other workers had grown up there and I often felt that my distinctly working-class background set me apart from my coworkers, especially where judging the appropriateness of certain behaviours was concerned. What was normal and necessary for my brother and I and all of our friends growing up and living on the streets of our neighborhood was nothing more or less than pathological for my coworkers and especially for the solid bourgeoise who came in as consulting psychiatrists and pediatricians at regular intervals.

So, yes. The state. We were established and funded under the Ministry of Health when I started and had been moved under the Ministry of Community and Social Services by the time I left. Every year we had to shop like madmen to spend our budget on new canoes and tents and backpacks because we couldn’t afford to lose funding for the next year. At some point we started having problems with getting our kids out of our in-house classrooms and into regular classes at local schools because a funding battle was looming with Boards of Education making moves to take over responsibility for all special ed service provision. Some kids died on a canoe trip organized by some agency so word came down from the Ministry that we had to start cutting back and reconsidering our focus on outdoor programs.

When they started closing “reform schools” in Ontario we were more or less commanded to hire one or two people from those facilities but the philosophy and approach of people in corrections could not have been a worse fit with an agency built on treatment approaches. One of the people we hired was let go within a year because I had initiated a campaign to have him fired for abusing one or two of the kids. “The state” made us hire him and we decided to fire him. And that is a paradigm case for the relation between our agency and this “state” that so many people want to blame for Indigenous kids being taken and kept away from their parents. “The state” mandates that children be protected and sanctions certain powers to be exercised by those working in agencies established to enact that protection, but the individual agencies and workers make all the decisions within that broadly established mandate.

There is a series of tweets from @DepencyLaw that I think get at exactly why it is absurd and vaguely infantile to identify “the state” and the currently popular “systemic racism” as the ultimate cause of the problems experienced by Indigenous families in this regard:thread

It seems to me impossible to read that series of tweets, which corresponds to what I observed very closely, and see it as confirmation that it is somehow “the state” which is responsible. Workers and their agencies are empowered by the state but not directed by the state to behave in the way that series of tweets suggests is common. You don’t blame automobiles for the accidents their drivers cause and this is not a case of “the state” somehow mistreating citizens. It is citizens of one race and class mistreating citizens of another race and class.

It is very far from fashionable to point to “classism” in a discussion of “racism” in the contemporary environment, just as it is anathema to point to individual responsibility and moral/ethical failings when a handy “state” can be blamed for “systemic racism”.

But fashion and genuine understanding are far from the same thing.

As long as there is such a thing as Child Protective Services mandated by Child Protection Legislation there is going to be discrimination based on race and class, not because the state embodies systemic racism or classism but because the definitions involved in establishing what constitutes a “safe” environment, “potential for harm” and “nurturance and care” are always and inevitably going to be expressions of class and culture.

In the end, the only way to avoid the horror of a mother and her children being kept apart for a decade by “well-intentioned” social workers is to dismantle any and all legal systems backed by state power that permit such things to happen with state sanction. There is no “tweaking” these agencies so that race and class will no longer matter as long as they are staffed by human beings.

Just as there is no chance that children are not going to be abused and neglected by their parents as long as their parents are recognized as sovereign within the family structure.


Send in the Clown: Trump and American Credibility

With all the knicker-twisting going on about how the big baby with the brain of a reptile and his own transplanted anus for a mouth is dribbling the world toward the brink of a possibly nuclear exchange with North Korea, it might be wise to try to remember at least one previous American approach to war even though it’s not really a part of anyone’s Twitter stream or the all-revealing/all-disappearing news cycle.

According to David Halberstam, in his monumental pre-Twitter takedown of the notion of meritocracy, the ironically titled “The Best and The Brightest”, the sainted John F Kennedy remarked to James Reston, apropos of having had his ass taken to the woodshed over American imperialism by Nikita Kruschev, that he needed to beat up on some little 3rd world country that couldn’t be expected to fight back because

“…now we have a problem in trying to make our power credible, and Vietnam looks like the place.”

look ma no hands

Let that sink in while others of our kind are reveling in Ken Burns proto-fascist contention that the Vietnam War was entered into in “good faith”. One does not normally associate the brutal slaughter of millions and the near-total destruction of 3 small countries in order to make a nation’s power “credible” with anything like “good faith” but, you know, American.

Halberstam’s book makes a hash of the currently popular notion that intelligence and an Ivy League education make for better political decisions than knuckle-dragging racist morons like Trump are capable of making. And given that Kennedy and his circle of really smart white men were also profoundly racist, a lot of what passes for “insight” in the era of Trump versus all the smart people is obviously profoundly a-historical and as dumb as the proverbial sackful of hammers.

But I digress.

The bottom line is this: American Presidents and their co-conspirators in the security and defense establishments go to war on a regular basis. And those wars are pretty much always aimed at killing lots of people who aren’t white and not part of “The West”.

It is also the case they they are often entered into to establish the “credibility of American power”, an ever-shifting notion that is, apparently, regularly in need of reconfirmation. And nothing confirms power better than images of little mountains of dead men, women and children of a colour other than American white or black.

You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would question the observation that American power is perceived to be at a very low ebb at the moment; the wailing and the gnashing of teeth over the end of the “liberal global order” can even be heard over the sounds of the record-breaking seven wars that Obama-the-Intelligent conducted during his graceful and educated sojourn in the White House.

It is not so commonly noted but equally clear that yet another invasion of yet another military non-entity like Iraq is not likely to impress anyone the American establishment thinks needs to be impressed with “the credibility of American power”. Now that Russia is back on the military intervention circuit and China is transmitting images of its ultra-modern hi-tech weaponry and building military bases in the South China Sea, establishing the “credibility” of American power might take something more along the lines of a limited nuclear exchange with a feisty little rabbit like North Korea.

And who better to establish the innocence of Ken Burns and all those American tax-payers who can’t stand being held responsible for the actions of their democratically-elected leaders than Donald “Not My President” Trump, “progressive” America’s very own Hitler?

I mean, think about it, once the smoke clears (not the radiation mind you or the global fear and trembling), all Good Americans will be able to blame the war on Evil Clown Trump and most of the dead will be non-white foreigners anyway.

Just the way they like it in the land of the free and home of the brave.

Just the way they blame Bush-Cheney for Iraq and Johnson-Nixon for Vietnam. And hell, they’ve already forgotten what they did to Korea last time around.

As George Carlin once sagely noted:

What did we do wrong in Vietnam? We pulled out! Huh? Not a very manly thing to do is it? When you’re fucking people, you gotta stay in there and fuck ’em good. Fuck ‘em all the way, fuck ‘em ‘til the end, stay in there and keep fucking ’em until they’re all dead. We left a few women and children alive in Vietnam and we haven’t felt good about ourselves since!



A Touch of Class

*Originally published January 28. 2014

Just Another Case of History Repeating

When the Coup Group of 1947 introduced the interlocking notions of Nation, Religion, and King as the fundamental elements of the Thai state (which only the Army could defend and uphold), they set the predominant  pattern and tone of Thai politics down to the present day. The constitution they issued returned most of the powers and privileges that had been taken from the monarchy in 1932, and this in turn cemented the relationship between royalists and the military that also continues to this day.

The rationale they offered for their coup has also provided a template that shapes, with modifications due to the passing of the cold war, not just post-coup rationalization statements, but much of what passes for political discourse in contemporary Thailand. They justified their intervention on the twin grounds of eliminating both communism and corruption.

“Communism”, in this case, really meant Pridi Banomyong and his followers and allies, and any remaining influence they might have had in either the government or the military.

“Corruption”, on the other hand, is harder to define at this distance in time, and in that sense is the most salient “ideological” gift that Choonhavan et al passed on to those who intend to seize power by non-democratic means in 21st century Thailand.

When the generals of the Ratchakhru Group settled into power, they also settled into seats on the boards of directors of the major business concerns of the country, seats vacated by the “corrupt” administrators of the previous government of course. In other words, “rooting out corruption” essentially involved cutting the strings connecting the old governing faction to Thai capitalists and establishing new ones that replaced Khana Ratsadon people with Generals from the Group.

Seni Pramoj, one of the early leaders of today’s Democrat Party, was awarded a cabinet post in the junta for his cooperation in the coup. Thus was another precedent set that, outside of a few years when military rule became very unfashionable with Bangkok’s “civilian” middle and upper-middle classes, has remained relevant until today, with the Democrats essentially operating as the “political wing” of the royalist-military anti-democratic faction.

And so it is that when corrupt “former” Democrat party leader Suthep Thaugsuban leads a movement calling for the overthrow of a democratically elected government on the grounds of corruption, and the head of the Thai military suggests that the “door” is neither open nor closed to a coup, and a member of the royal family uses Instagram to post photos of herself adorned in the paraphernalia associated with Kamnan Suthep’s insurrection, no one should be fooled into thinking that we are witnessing something “new” in Thai politics, nor that the consistent refrain of “Thaksin, Thaksin, Thaksin” means that these past 8 years of turmoil has been caused primarily by the man from Dubai.

On the contrary, the current round of protests is simply the latest expression of the network of individuals and groups that have coalesced at times of crisis over the past eight decades to ensure that “democracy” never takes root in Thailand.

Democracy: U and non-U versus the Great Unwashed?

But what about the protestors themselves? Aren’t many of them the same people who agitated against military government in 1992? Have some of them not been involved in pro-democracy movements as far back as 1973?

As has been pointed out time and time again over the past few months, the educated Bangkok middle classes are providing both money and bodies to keep this movement alive, and they themselves deny that they are anti-democratic, insisting instead that their intention is to “restart” the democratic process that has been hijacked by the “parliamentary dictatorship” of the Thaksin “regime”. It is difficult, not to say churlish, to flatly deny that these people believe themselves to be acting out of a desire to uproot corruption and install an improved democratic system in Thailand.

However that may be, “parliamentary dictatorship” is an interesting term to be bandied about by people claiming to support democratic governance, not least because the very notion of dictatorship is a hard one to correlate with the 650 members of the mostly elected Thai houses of parliament. “Tyranny of the majority” might be the more cogent choice, or even “dictatorship of the proletariat”, were it not so firmly associated with an ideology that is even harder to hang on Thaksin than “democrat”.

But like so many elements of the struggle for power that has marked the past 8 years of Thai politics, “parliamentary dictatorship” is a term drawn from tradition.

When the Chatchai government was removed from office by military coup in 1991, one of the charges leveled by the generals as justification for the coup, besides the classic “corruption”, was “parliamentary dictatorship”. It is easy enough to read this particular charge as meaning little more than “insufficiently grateful” to the bureaucrats and generals who permitted the politicians to kin pathet at the buffet; the Chatchai government, like the Thaksin regime, tried to establish civilian control over the military and legislative control over the bureaucracy, but worse than either of those, also like the Thaksin administration, it failed to share the spoils. Thus has “corruption” come to be understood at the highest levels of Thai society.

As was the case in 2006, there was a general sense of relief when the Chatchai government was removed from power, even if there was also unease at the return of military government. By appointing a “good person” like Anand as interim Prime Minister, the coup group managed to allay much of the initial resistance they would otherwise have met, particularly from the media and the international community. Nevertheless, when an election was held roughly one year after the coup and a military-controlled government was elected, the stage was set for the “mobile phone mob”, the Bangkok middle class, to come out and demonstrate for a return to “real” democracy.

What that constituency meant by “democracy” may be best understood by looking at the oft-lamented 1997 Constitution, the “People’s Constitution” as it is sometimes known.

Just as Suthep and the PDRC of today demand a “time-out” for a group of “good people” to formulate a constitution that will ensure a “genuinely” democratic Thailand free of corruption, the framers of the ’97 Constitution, “good people” all, aimed the bulk of their effort at the same goal.

Most strikingly perhaps, the People’s Constitution eliminated the opportunity for roughly 90% of Thai adults (95% in rural areas) to run for election in the national government by requiring a candidate to have at least a BA or equivalent. This was done apparently in the belief that having a university education would somehow prevent a candidate from indulging in vote-buying during elections and other forms of corruption once installed in parliament. The suggestion is clear: “educated” equals “good”, or at least more likely to be so.

There was also a provision insisting that the government provide education to “instil right awareness with regard to politics and a democratic regime of government with the King as Head of the State”, presumably in order to correct the tendency of less-educated people to misunderstand what the middle-class framers understood by “democracy”.

In order to avoid politicians actually chosen by voters gaining too much power or access to graft, constituency candidates could not sit in cabinet unless they resigned their seats and funded the resulting by-election. The purpose of this was obviously to keep people involved in electoral politics out of the cabinet, hardly an endorsement of democratic procedure to say the least. By restricting cabinet membership to party-list MPs, it was hoped that only “good people” would have access to the juiciest spoils in the trough.

The document also created the much-celebrated “independent bodies” that were to provide the “checks and balances” necessary for the operation of an honest and fair democracy. In practice, however, these bodies, made up as they are of “good people” and “experts”,  have simply meant, for example, that the 5 members of the Election Commission could overturn the decision of thousands of voters by disqualifying a member of parliament, or indeed negate the votes of millions by the simple expedient of disbanding a political party. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the “one man, one vote” principle that many would argue is fundamental to democratic structures, even if not sufficient to their maintenance.

While it would be foolish to deny that there were at least some good intentions behind the various provisions of the ’97 Constitution, it would be delusional to ignore the emphasis on “good people” and the equating of “educated” with “good” that established an essentially anti-democratic tilt to the People’s Constitution. The “people” in that formulation are essentially the Bangkok middle class and its outliers in the provinces, and definitely not the vast majority of the Thai electorate.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Truth

So there is a certain truth to the Suthep mob’s insistence that they are not “anti-democratic”; it’s just that the “democracy” they long for is one that requires a great deal of at least partial disenfranchisement of the Thai electorate, most of whom do not belong to the Bangkok middle class. And that, to be blunt, is really not democracy at all.

For anyone with a sense of Thai political history, it should not really be all that surprising to find the old “mobile phone mob” and its contemporary descendants out shouting for the very things that the military juntas of past Thai political crises have claimed to represent.

In 1973, the middle class supported the students in their demand for democracy. In 1976, that same middle class supported the return to military dictatorship because they were shocked to find that democracy actually involved the active participation of trade unions and farmers and coalitions of poor people, none of whom fell under the self-regarding definition of “good people” as “people like us”.

When it came time for the military government to start killing protestors in 1992, the educated middle classes were essentially nowhere to be found. Not one of those killed in Black May had a university degree. It would seem that “dying for democracy” is something the servants can do for the Thai middle class.

When the Thaksin government was removed from power in 2006, the Bangkok middle class repeated its performance of 1991, relieved that the corrupt regime was ended, if a little uncomfortable with the way it was done, and eager to see a return to “real” democracy.

By “real” democracy of course was meant one that would not be overly influenced by “the people”, who had somehow managed to circumvent the restrictions on their participation enshrined in the People’s Constitution.

This typically middle-class equivocation led to the adoption of the long-since-discredited song mai ao position that in one form or another still characterizes much of middle-class discourse in both the mainstream and social media; “good” Thais are all for democracy but against Thaksin and against the return of military government. What this means in reality is that they reject the options the real world offers and prefer to “talk” as if something else were possible, thereby retaining their self-concept as “good people”. But it hardly matters in any democratic sense because the Thai electorate has evolved its own understanding of what democracy means and has voted its understanding and its preference consistently now for over a decade and through four national elections.

And that, not Thaksin, and not the “anti-democratic” tilt of the middle class protestors, is the “new thing” in the present repeat of all the old patterns in Thai politics.

It remains to be seen whether the majority of Thai voters will finally be integrated into the democratic system or whether the pretense of “democracy” is to be abandoned altogether, in favor of some system that will reinforce the sense of Bangkok’s middle class as part of the “good people” without their having to kill too many of those who will undoubtedly lack the understanding of “democracy” that would see them yet again disenfranchised and oppressed by their betters in the City of Angels.


Ten Things to Remember When Thinking About Thai Politics (cont’d)

4. It is not the case that significant numbers of the protestors on either side of the vast divide are “pawns”. It is a commonly held view that the “ordinary” Thais who make up the bulk of the street protestors in both movements are neither acting out of rational self-interest nor principle. Somehow or other they have been bamboozled, brainwashed or bought.

The corollary to this is of course the oft-stated belief that the protracted crisis in Thai governance over the past 8 or 9 years is nothing more nor less than an intra-elite conflict. Disagreement exists over just exactly who makes up the “sides”, but that they are members of the elite and it is they who are driving the conflict is generally accepted. There are also disagreements about what is really at stake, with opinions ranging from the purely financial, the “it’s about the graft” position, to the belief that this is and has always been primarily about controlling the upcoming succession in the monarchy.

5. The simple fact of the matter is that at its root this is a class struggle. As distasteful as it has become in these neo-liberal times to refer to anything as a class struggle or a battle of rich against poor, it has to be acknowledged that without the vast divide that exists between rich and poor in Thailand there would be nothing to catch fire when the elite rhetoric courts and sparks.

These posts by Bangkok Pundit, http://tinyurl.com/lbq4cqg & http://tinyurl.com/kqnaqrg, provide a little more substance to what should be obvious to anyone observing the protests over the past 5 years.

Neither movement is “pure” in terms of class membership. Pointing out that Thaksin and the leadership of the UDD are not from the lower classes is the usual “argument” presented by those whose anti-democratic impulse feels the need to hide its face while spewing vile classist and racist imprecations regarding the “ordinary Thais” who make up the bulk of the Redshirt/UDD movement. There are also the large numbers of “ordinary” Thais who attend the PDRC rallies who come in for their fair share of classist jibes from the more “liberal” side of the commentariat.

I suppose this could mean that the number of middle class whites who worked and fought for the Civil Rights movement in the USA meant that that movement was not primarily about race. Or that because Lyndon Johnson was a racist pig who married a woman who made millions for the couple while Lyndon was still in the military, his successful promulgation of Civil Rights and Great Society legislation somehow didn’t count. LBJ was motivated by a drive for power more than any notion of justice or racial equality; does that mean that people supporting him were tools?

As the first Thaksin administration aptly demonstrated, voters can gain advantages from electing governments that feel constrained to follow through on promises they made to get their votes. These people, who no one before Thaksin ever bothered to welcome into “Thai-style” democratic politics, learned fast, and the result is what has been happening in the political arena over the past 5 years.

6. Thaksin, for all his wealth and “political” savvy, unlike his opponents, is 100% dependent on the democratic system and the votes he has attracted from huge numbers of Thailand’s less privileged citizens. He is “using” his supporters, particularly those attached to the UDD, to gain power and wealth; they are “using” him to gain and retain enfranchisement in the country’s flawed democratic system. Thaksin, then, is a traitor to his class and has earned their undying emnity; his supporters are representing their class and using Thaksin’s money and organization to do so.

7. Bangkok’s middle classes are not in the main all that interested in democracy. They have nothing to gain from a genuine democratic system: they can afford the bribes they offer to get a “good” education for their children from kindergarden up; they are not victimized by the police checkpoints that pull over motorcycles and taxis and extract the 1 or 200 baht fines that help them put their children into the same schools; at work, obsequiousness and ass-kissing are much easier to achieve than the hard work, skill and intelligence that would be demanded in a more meritocratic system. And so they align themselves with the asses they’ve been raised to kiss since birth.

8. The southern Thais, who have provided loyal and unquestioning support for the non-democratic Democrat party for over two decades, have their own reasons for preferring the old system over any move toward more genuine democracy. Bottom line in the south is that graft and influence have paid better for all concerned than real democracy might, so it’s better to stick to the laughable faith in “clean politics” that supporters of the Democrats tell themselves is what Abhisit and Chuan Leekphai represent (while mafioso like Suthep keep things running in the background).

You have to wonder how long this blatant self-deception can continue to operate now that Kamnan Suthep, king of Palm Oil and Land Distribution, is actually the most public face of southern politics.

9. This most recent round of yellow fascist insurrection should put paid to the mythical notion that the southern electorate is somehow more “sophisticated” than their poorer, less-educated brethren in the north and north-east of the country.

In interview after interview with northern and north-eastern Thai supporters of the Redshirts, these less educated folks admit to Thaksin’s corruption and the imperfections of his “regimes” before going on to give reasons for their support of such a “bad” man.

The reasons always fall into two categories. Self-interest is invoked when talking about the “populist” policies that go back to the initial TRT victory at the beginning of the millennium. And the principles of democracy and equality, however “imperfectly” understood, are invoked when vilifying the military and judicial coups which have repeatedly disenfranchised  voters who have repeatedly supported Thaksin over the past 13 years.

Southerners, on the other hand, while even more eager to label Thaksin as an evil and corrupt man, then turn around to explain their support for the Democrats and the “good people” who will  no doubt find a way to put the Democrats back in power by invoking the “goodness” of “good” people like Kamnan Suthep. No doubt their “sophistication” would extend to include Newin Chidchob in the “good” column if their Democrat masters told them it would be a “good” idea. After all, to sophisticates and “educate” people like these, “goodness” means whatever the “good people” say it does.

King Lear would have understood the meaning of this sort of “sophistication”.


Ten Things to Remember When Thinking About Thai Politics

1. Thailand is not now and has never been a fully functional liberal-democratic state. Pretty much everyone acknowledges this but then many conveniently forget it when criticizing various political actors for not behaving like people working within a liberal-democracy. This is a problem for both “sides”, both in the actual arena and in the various boxes and cheapseats that make up the popcorn gallery.

So, for example, when people question the wisdom and/or courage of Yingluck and her administration for not cracking down on Suthep, or for not taking a stand on LM laws and their abuse, or for not doing more for UDD political prisoners, they are assuming that the “government” of Thailand has the power to do so. They don’t. There are powerful forces in the miltary, the bureaucracy, and the palace circles that can call out the yellow dogs any time they wish. This is also why it was a blunder of epic proportions for Thaksin to have attempted to initiate his return from exile with the amnesty bill fiasco that provoked this most recent round of realpolitik-in-action.

2. The Puea Thai government, aka The Thaksin Regime, was elected in an election that is acknowledged to have been free and fair by all but those who hate Thaksin and all his works. This makes it different from the previous Democrat-dominated coalition government of Abhisit and Kamnan Suthep.

When disingenuous supporters of the status quo, like Voranai at the Bangkok Post, prate about the “moral equivalence” of Suthep and Yinglak, many foreign heads nod at the wisdom expressed therein (thus disproving the oft-claimed superiority of western education). One is a proto-fascist agitator for the dismantling of what democracy exists in Thailand and the other is the head of an elected government; only a halfwit or a slimy propagandist would suggest that these are somehow equivalent in the context of the Thai political drama unfolding recently.

3. There is nothing particularly “educated” about the Thai middle classes. In fact, an argument could be made that the longer one has spent in Thai schools and universities –learning to grovel rather than think, to parrot nationalist and royalist nonsense rather than express opinions, and at best to tune out the drone of  “teachers” rather than listen carefully and critically to what is being said– the less likely one is to have the capacity to think, speak or behave like a rational citizen in a democratic system.

The same goes for those whose wealth and privilege has enabled them to get the much-vaunted “western education”, although not for the same reasons obviously.

The cost of study in countries like the US and UK is, relative to average incomes in a country like Thailand, astronomical. At minimum, Thai students studying abroad are spending in one month what many Thai families live on for six. The likelihood of someone receiving this sort of bounty from the operation of the Thai political and economic system genuinely finding fault with it is not great; at best, you get “hip” young adults who talk a good game while out with friends in the fashionable restaurants and night-clubs of Bangkok but go home and abuse the servants, while at worst you get the lying, manipulative, corrupt “ajarns” and journalists that proliferate like bacteria in a sewer in Thailand.

And anyone who has worked in or around western universities catering to foreign students knows that it is unspoken policy that “you pays your money and you gets your degree”, not to mention the outright cheating, the papers written by “tutors” in the guise of “proofreading”, and the simple fact that instructors have all but given up trying to maintain any sort of standards in the classroom. As is evident from the lack of critical thinking on the part of ex-pats who go on and on about the lack of critical thinking amongst Thais, a “western education” guarantees absolutely nothing.

For the few whose English is proficient when they leave Thailand and enter “good” universities abroad, of course a real education is possible. Abhisit Vejajjiva is the perfect example of what you get in this case: someone who talks like a liberal democrat and impresses foreigners while relying on backroom deals with generals and thugs to have any sort of “political” career at all.

*More to come as time allows.