TELL IT AS IT IS

Searching for the fourth monkey in a corrupted world


Mahatma Gandhi made a token exception to his principle of a possession-free lifestyle by keeping a small statue of the three monkeys. In the traditional sense the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" proverbial tenets embodied by the three monkeys represent the Buddha-like attributes of not allowing evil thoughts to occupy the mind.

Nowadays, the maxim is generally about turning a blind eye, either because of empathy, wariness or weariness. It has also become the code of silence adopted by members of street gangs and organised crime bodies.

There is another school of thought that espouses a fourth monkey who embodies "do no evil". This monkey sits with his arms crossed. However, this belief has not gained widespread acceptance as the three monkeys have.

With our globalised cultural and moral decadence, we perhaps should look again at the merits of the fourth monkey. This one can also cover his nose - as in "smell no filth".

It is not difficult to understand the public outcry over the topless teenagers dancing suggestively on top of a vehicle on Silom Road during the Songkran festival. Public indecency is not something that society wants to condone.

But the incident should hardly come as a surprise. Our most infamous red-light district is in the area, just around the corner from where the incident took place. It has been there for more than five decades. In fact, it is the place whose name jumps off the lips of a significant number of foreigners when they hear the name Thailand back in their homelands. Few can recall the name of Hualampong Temple, which is located just a few blocks away on the same road.

In fact, one adjective used to describe Thailand by many foreigners is "duplicitous".

We have a rich cultural heritage that preaches good manners, aptness, decency and beauty - both physical and spiritual. We also are top of the list in the number of people professing to be practising Buddhists, and who by definition are in search of a virtuous and tranquil state of mind.

But we also have the world's raunchiest go-go bars and meat markets (not referring to livestock or poultry). If one goes to certain streets and areas that remain more lively after midnight and are frequented by teenagers, younger adults, celebrities, the well-healed and not so-well-healed, one must maintain a very open-mind, and resist falling into deep despair about the future of the country. The world has changed and decadent Western norms are the only globalised behaviour that has gained real admiration and following. In this case, one has no choice but to adopt the three moneys' dictum when it comes to the emerging way of life.

However, such a lifestyle is only the tip of the iceberg. There are far more serious issues over which we should agonise.

Drugs and corruption are the twin evils that most Thais have tried to turn a blind eye to. For whatever reasons, both evils have become more ubiquitous and more alluring.

The two bare-breasted girls at Silom were arrested and reprimanded with so much ado, but we rarely see drug pushers being paraded around for chastisement, or their pictures circulated widely on Twitter or Facebook for defaming pleasure. Ask at any police station and the officers there will unanimously tell you that the most dreadful social disease nowadays, worse than easy sex, is drugs. Some law enforcement officials and even teachers have decided to enter the market. It is the material perks they cannot otherwise afford that make the risks worth it.

We have never seen society put a (figurative) tattoo on the forehead of any corrupt politician saying "unwanted" so they never again get elected and legitimately return to steal more. We have never seen any of them repent after getting caught. They just get away with all the booty, and there are people who willingly continue to kowtow in front of them and call them "sir" as if they were honourable people.

We saw the government put an inordinate effort into erecting all those beautiful signs of "amazing Thailand" for all the world to see - and of course, every sign has a price tag much larger than the cost of raw materials and labour - but never even a tiny billboard to espouse an effective anti-drug and anti-corruption campaign. We have a gigantic elephant in the room, and it is still invisible to many.

Some wise and weary Thais express their delight that life is not permanent, so they do not have to live forever with tangential social values that are made precious, while the core and truly worthy conduct code - of honesty, decency, knowledge, hard work, prudence and civility - is fast losing its place.

Many are in search of an additional member of the monkey family, one that covers his nose. As the gargantuan elephant is becoming more monstrous and filthy, covering the eyes, the ears, and the mouth will not be enough. We need to hold our nose so we can get on with our life, to cover up the stench.

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