Staring into the eye of savagery

opinion March 27, 2014 00:00

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak

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Some anthropologists believe that there was a time when all human beings were savages. Then, as human history progresses, some reach the culturally elevated of "barbarians".

Barbarianism has three levels – lower, middle and upper. Only after having passing through all three levels are humans deemed to have crossed the threshold into civilisation.
The beating of a Buddhist monk by members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), aka the red shirts, proved clearly that such ascension to civilisation can be reversed. The brutal beating of a Buddhist monk, who was not involved in any protest on either side, fits the definition of savagery. A savage is what a savage does.
The monk was from Kalasin and was visiting Bangkok to attend the funeral of a relative. After the cremation, he stopped by at the home of a relative in Nonthaburi before returning to his temple in the Northeast the same evening. The house was near the site of a confrontation between supporters of the UDD and their PDRC (People’s Democratic Reform Council) counterparts, which occurred after the UDD drove through a police barricade. The monk tried to do the right thing, intervening to remind them all to return to their senses and calm down. That was when the red shirts jumped in. A large group began raining down blows on a defenceless monk who was shielded by nothing more than his robe and saffron bag. They snatched the bag and emptied its contents, before women joined the fray in a deliberate violation of the taboo against touching monks. The monk fell to the ground. But the livid assailants did not stop, continuing to kick and trample him where he lay. Someone intervened and tried to pull him up, begging the bloodthirsty red shirts to stop the beating. The monk finally got up and began calmly adjusting his robes, not a flicker of anger or fear showing on his face. A shopkeeper nearby who witnessed the incident ushered him into her shop, locked it and shooed away the attackers.
If you think this was merely an isolated incident with no special significance, you are wrong. Similar extremist violence has been employed by red-shirt supporters all over the place over the years. Ask the nurses and doctors at Chulalongkorn University Hospital and you will receive an earful of reports of intimidation, robbery, vulgarity and physical harm inflicted upon them by the red shirts during the months the UDD was camped out near the hospital. In Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and many other Northeast provinces, the red shirts’ sense of empowerment is such that that they do not feel they have to obey any law or tolerate anything not to their liking. This gangster mentality has been encouraged by certain politicians for their own personal gain.  
These demagogues have been indoctrinating the vulnerable masses through community radio while at the same time buying off local politicians or threatening to evict them from office or take away their stipends. Day and night, the community radio stations spew warped information about injustice, double standards, exploitation and the unsavoury conduct of the so-called ammart, or elites. Listeners mind’s are nurtured on a spoon-fed diet of hatred. They become the victims and then agents of Thailand’s dirty politics.  
If you ask them why they believe everything they hear, they will have no answer, simply saying it “ain’t false”. Then they might turn angry at you. And after that? Well, you simply do not want to go there.
Lost in the propaganda is the fact that none of the red shirt leaders are poor. They have managed to gobble up massive sums of cash, our tax money, from under the table.  They are the real elites, because the law cannot touch them. They are the upholders of the double standards, as they believe no set of rules could apply indiscriminately across the board. They are the exception to many rules – and in their own minds, deservingly so.
Hatred has been carefully cultivated in the minds of UDD followers for so long that it will be hard for Thailand to become whole again. The result of the growing hatred is evident in the type of savagery on full display with the beating of the monk.
Democracy is not possible without two conditions. First is the rule of law, which applies universally, not tribally nor arbitrarily. Second is the need for quality education that enables citizens to fully understand fully what the representatives who they elect to run the country are really doing. With proper education, people have a better chance of distinguishing between truth and the lies and rhetoric that are pumped out everywhere in this information age. It is the rule of law and education that have the power to tame the savage in us.  
Alas, the brutal and unconscionable beating of an innocent monk, unarmed and apolitical, tells a tale of our own failure on the ladder to civilisation. But hey, we can take pride in being a front-runner, well ahead of the pack, in the reverse evolution process described by Charles Darwin. “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”
How noble of the UDD to show us the alternative way.