Lopsided sorrow is a crying shame

opinion January 04, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

Our political divide is becoming warlike - we feel less pain for the loss of one Thai life than we do for another

In politics, death is probably more “precious” than life. That is because human beings have evolved far beyond the days when the mighty conquered and won all, when firepower was the only certain way to “greatness”. In today’s world where “democracy” is the name of the game, “sympathy” is more important than guns and bombs. You try to win the hearts, and power will follow.
The way both sides of the Thai political conflict treat deaths and injuries reflects how today’s political wars are fought and won or lost. There are people who are genuinely saddened by casualties on both sides, but they might not be in the majority. The government highlighted the death of a police officer and injuries to his peers. The protesters mourned their losses. Divisive attitudes on the social media were telltale. We can smell sympathisers of Yingluck Shinawatra or Suthep Thaugusban from a mile away.
Reading some social media posts, you could be forgiven for questioning whether the posters are truly sad. Some comments are meant to demonise rather than sympathise. It’s more like, “See? Because of her (or him) people got hurt and died”. Deaths and injuries are being used to advance one political cause or weaken another.
It has been this way for some time now. Rulers or leaders “responsible” for political casualties must start the countdown to their own doom. This is not to say that every fallen politician has been a victim of a false “bloodlust” claim – some politicians are genuinely bloodthirsty. This is to say that we must not let the concept of “violence is good because it wins us political power” establish a firm grip on all of us.
Casualties inspire a rallying cry. They justify a crusade to end the “injustice”. They make eye-for-an-eye measures look all right. There is only one problem here: We can never really know who are responsible for the casualties. Is it those who pull the trigger? Or is it those who give the order? Or is it the provocateurs?
If Suthep Thaugsuban was responsible for the end-of-the-year casualties, who was responsible for the 2010 bloody political carnage? If Chamlong Srimuang “brought people to their deaths” in 1992, was the much-maligned Suchinda government a victim and not a murderer? In past times, the causalities of war did not get to ask these questions. Today, we must.
In our cut-throat politics, life is played down but death is played up, all for the wrong reasons. Even sadder, virtually everyone has turned into a hypocrite. Divisive politics like ours make one death look more glaring or unacceptable than another. It is not supposed to be this way. Every political death should be equally glaring and unacceptable, and if we are to leave no stone unturned in scrutinising one death, we should do the same for all casualties.
Thais have become much involved in the political conflict. It’s arguably all right if that involvement is limited to ideological debate. For example, we can argue whether we should let democracy deal with corruption, or whether our democracy is too immature and is being consumed and dictated by graft. Thais’ political involvement, however, must not take away something in our soul that is supposed to transcend such questions as whether democracy is the only way to go.
In war, we couldn’t care less what happens on the other side. Should Pearl Harbor victims shed tears for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki demolitions, and vice versa? If the lopsided sorrow is the answer we find, keep in mind that the question has to do with a war between countries. When we feel less pain for the loss of one Thai life than we do for another, the crying shame is far more damning.