Each to his own, and no changing course

opinion February 22, 2012 00:00

By Tulsathit Taptim

6,296 Viewed

When everyone is speaking at the same time, there can only be one result: nobody will be listening.

I think I understand Dr Somkiat Onwimon’s frustration, but hey, “Welcome to Thailand”. Although the “Lightning Rod” programme on the Blue Sky Channel is having politically-correct watchers fuming, and upsetting the likes of Somkiat so much, let’s not forget the big picture. It’s freedom of expression, baby.

Nobody said “absolute freedom” was going to be pretty. Expect a male prime minister to be called gay, to be accused of having his nails manicured by another man when street protests are engulfing his administration. Expect a female prime minister to trigger all sorts of rumours if she shows up unscheduled at a hotel when Parliament is debating national affairs. Expect the very people who demanded unequivocal rights to speak up to decry “hate” messages. Expect “hate” message disseminators to fight tooth and nail for total liberty.
Thais are like kids with a new toy. The three Democrat musketeers on “Lightning Rod” are no exception. Even Somkiat himself is no exception. Everybody thinks it’s easier now to be heard, so everybody wants to be heard. If you have a Facebook account and the skill to provoke, there’s a good chance that your content will find the way. It took just a few hours for Somkiat’s Facebook threat to disown the Democrat Party to show up on a national news website.
The problem is not who gets to speak. Even former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari acknowledged last weekend that Thailand has no shortage of people willing to offer their opinions. What he did not say during his visit as a guest of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand, is whether he suspected we have a severe shortage of listeners.
The three Democrats – Sirichoke Sopha, Thepthai Senpong and Chavanond Intarakomalyasut – are a product of chaotic politics in which “freedom of expression” is an ideal only when it benefits the speaker. This is not to say that what they said of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was appropriate or acceptable. This is to say that if she’s a “victim” of mudslinging, she’s by no means the only one. In asking the trio to stop, and calling on Yingluck to clarify what she did at the Four Seasons Hotel, Somkiat wants the best of both worlds. In Thai circumstances, that’s nearly impossible.
If Somkiat is worried that Yingluck is being subjected to ungentlemanly attacks, he can rest assured that the number of her admirers and haters will never change no matter how “low” the Democrat trio can sink. If his real concern was the image of a political party he supports, it’s the same deal. The number of the party’s supporters and enemies won’t change no matter how “polite” or “rude” its members are in dealing with Yingluck.
The good news for Somkiat is that most Thais have lost the ability to listen. To be more exact, Thais have lost the ability to absorb opposing opinions. We are a brimming glass that will immediately overflow with just a few drops of new water. The Four Seasons Hotel episode is best summed up by a quote on the Manager web board: “Never explain. Your friends don’t need it, and your enemies won’t believe it anyway.”
The Democrats may just be giving their rivals a taste of their own medicine. Blue Sky Channel, which Somkiat has inadvertently helped promote, is becoming a carbon copy of cable or satellite TV stations that glorified the pouring of blood in front of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s house, or propagandised a doctored audio clip featuring his alleged order that red shirts be framed and destroyed. And just as “red” channels and the Pheu Thai Party tried to distance themselves from each other, despite the fact that it was some Pheu Thai members who did the most damaging talking, the Democrat Party and Blue Sky Channel are denying financial links.
Somkiat is deploring a slippery slope that nobody can do anything about. We have become a society that condemns some action and then goes ahead to do exactly what it condemns. To be fair to the red shirts, they followed in the footsteps of their enemies, the yellow shirts, and even outdid them. The Democrats, to Somkiat’s great dismay, are apparently keen to join the street fights, too. (We call this kind of imitation of the enemy “an eye for an eye”, largely to fool ourselves that we are not becoming like those we loathe.)  
My only advice to Somkiat is, take it easy. When everyone is speaking at once, everyone will do whatever is necessary to be heard. That’s the fun part, watching people trying to be heard while in fact there is no one left to listen. This is the story of Thailand, as the former Finnish president may have noticed.