Don't let politics shut friendship down

opinion January 15, 2014 00:00

By Tulsathit Taptim

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There must be other "perfect" pro-Suthep or pro-election people out there, but I'll stick to the ones I really know. My former colleagues - Patcharee and Daeng - care deeply about each other. Before the latter resigned from work recently, they literally a

But ideologically, they go separate ways. Both are hardcore political animals. Who isn’t, nowadays? you may argue. Well, Patcharee and Daeng don’t bite each other. That’s the best we can hope for at the moment, especially after events this week, when the political strife must have cut far deeper into family ties and friendship.
That politics is cruel is an understatement. Politics is evil. It makes people who have never even met Thaksin Shinawatra or Suthep Thaugsuban become so devoted to them that they are willing to abandon close acquaintances and friends.
Human progress has not changed an ancient fact, which is that politics thrives on hatred. Perhaps the more civilised we are, the more hatred is required for politics’ winning formula. In politics, you can’t really be loved without making people hate your opponents. That’s arguably the way the game should be played, but here in Thailand the hatred has spilled over dangerously.
One thing is certain: those benefiting from the hatred and those doing the hating are not the same people. The latter are the casualties of a war initiated by the former. All the warmongers did was plant opposing ideologies that both seemed right, and the rest took care of itself.
Why is the spectre of civil war being raised when, taking off our ideological hats, all Thais want pretty much the same thing? The country wants democracy, a clean and transparent one. We all want to have our say in Thailand’s political course. We all want politicians to be honest and serve the country’s best interests. Why would people craving the same things want to kill each other?
That is in fact a political question. A simpler one is this: Why are Thais hating one another for things that they don’t really know about? It’s one thing to argue over whether we need a high-speed train or an entirely-elected Senate; it’s another to hate the guts of people who disagree with us.
Disagreement and hatred are different things, as Patcharee and Daeng have shown. The line is largely blurred in Thailand, and it’s difficult to bring it back into sharp focus. Politics and hatred are feeding off each other more than ever before. And that’s the crux of Thailand’s problem at the moment, not the issue of whether we need a new Constitution or when an election should be held.
Politics is threatening to turn any minor disagreement into a stimulus for hatred. It’s a sad situation. Disagreement is supposed to forge an alternative, give new ideas or at least make one “wonder” if there’s the slightest chance that the other could be right. Hatred makes everyone retreat into his own shell, feel foolishly “certain” and shut out the possibility of a compromise. Hatred fools people into thinking that they must win at all costs, while in fact they have already lost.
If it’s difficult not to shoot the messenger, it’s harder not to dislike those embracing the messages we don’t agree with. Yet it might be true that that there’s really no such thing as “right” or “wrong”, but only things we like or do not like. And worse still, politics can make “right” seem “wrong” and vice versa.
We can take a stand, of course. We can go and blow the whistles or wear a white dress and light candles. We have the right to think that we are right. But it’s wrong to assume that the others are definitely wrong. And it’s far more wrong to hate the other side.
If we can’t rein in the hatred, we must at least try to prevent it from escalating into something worse. Wars are often masked by “ideologies” which in fact do little more than make innocent people hate one another. Truth is, nothing’s more noble than compassion. When we are hungry and someone gives us food, that’s the ultimate ideological act, and it should transcend the question of whether he or she is a whistle-blower or dressed in white to support the election.
We share food all the time, even with strangers, some may argue. That’s the thing. Sometimes the simplest thing to do is the hardest thing to idealise. Politics, surely, has the power to make the common goodness inside people become anything but.