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March 11, 2012


Your notion about easy-going/passionate is supported by the description in Dan Everett's splendid _Don't Sleep: There are Snakes_. He's spent about half his time each year for the last 25 years among the Pirinha people; he observes that there is a strong cultural taboo against expressing anger and very strong emotion, because the likelihood of violence then becomes very high.

It seems logical at the same time it seems odd, that it would seem to suggest that more shouty cultures in other parts would have a less dangerous threshold . . . .

All nations and communities have their "Totems and Taboos", their ritual and irrational sacrifices to Leviathan.

Just read that the Federal compensation for 9/11 families was proportionately parceled out according to the income of the original victim, so that the janitor's kin got 1/300 as much as the family of the commodities broker, $10,000 versus $3.5 million, and very few ever publicly questioned that reasoning.

Modernism has triumphed by internalizing its taboos, like "property" and "democracy", and making them seem scientific and almost physically necessary rather than socially convenient. Post-modernism is trying to extend this reification to the chosen "identity."

When there are no taboos left, when anything can be said yet nobody bothers or even entertains thoughts of anti-sociality...then you will know that Leviathan has totally triumphed and freedom has been self-sacrificed to order and the panopticon is us. But no, we really won't know, will

Too complicated. I'm so glad I'm only a Beta.

I have seen the same connection between apparent serenity and underlying potential violence asserted for Gandhi's non-violence strategies, presumptively (in this view) on the grounds not that Indians were inherently non-violent - an opinion some outsiders have ("Sure, Gandhi succeeded in India, where people are Like That, but he never would have in China/USA, wherever") - but precisely because they were so dangerous when aroused that it was vital not to arouse them at all.

There is a fair amount of scholarly literature about the "cult" of the monarchy in Thailand, which is by no means a direct carryover from the traditional Siamese monarchy. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, the institution was drifting toward a symbolic state more like that of the UK, and might have wound up there save for deliberate political campaigns, beginning in the 1950s, to re-invigorate it as a national(ist) symbol and thus deflect attention from other possible meanings and sources of legitimacy. In that (ongoing) campaign, it has been helped enormously by the current king, now ruling 60+ years in a style that attracts far more praise than blame. Lese majeste legislation is just one more way of using the crown to further the interests of the ruling elite. (Or so it is said)

Thammasat U, it should be noted, was founded long ago by none other than Nai Pridi Phanomyong, by far the most radical Thai leader to date (eventually exiled to the PRC), and has always been the place young Thais who want to change the world aspire to go. The events of 1974 noted (correctly) above are merely the most visible manifestation of Thammasat's distinctive role.

Those who want instead to fit into the existing system prefer Chulalongkorn U, which grew out of the royal palace itself, and has groomed generations of faithful civil servants. (FWIW, both are excellent, the cream of the crop in Thai higher education.)

@JakeB: I remember someone back in the 1990s claiming that drivers honked much more on the East Coast than on the West Coast, because on the West Coast, there was more of a fear that someone who leaned on the horn would get shot.

I have no idea if this was true. But, today, in my East Coast town, I did see a guy in an enormous pickup in line for a gas pump at BJ's fly into a five-minute long obscenity-screaming tirade that was audible in the next line over just because the minivan in front of him was taking its sweet time to get out of the way. And presumably he wasn't feeling much fear of retaliation.

Small world, JakeB. Dan Everett came to my linguistics department a couple of times as we had a folks working on various SA indigenous languages. He talked about the linguistics of Pirahã, but I didn't realize that he had written a book about his times there.

dr ngo, the Kanthoop interview mentioned some other unis that she had applied to. It was interesting, because it seemed like there was an entrance exam followed by an interview. I'm wondering if you could place those unis in relation to Thammasat and Chulalongkorn and if you know anything else about how uni entrance works. The other unis were Silapakorn, Kasetsart,and Srinakharinwirot—Prasanmitr

I wonder, but admit that I'm talking out of my ass here, if it is related to being such a small country surrounded by so many powerful countries for so long in its history. I'm thinking of an analogy with Switzerland, which ends up getting a hyper-distinct national identity because of the empire dynamics swirling around it. That type of national identity might be enforced in odd ways.

(A not as flattering comparison might be North Korea).

LJ: Can't really help, I fear. T&C are the two top; I *suspect* the others are second tier (equivalent, perhaps, to good state universities vs. Ivy League, in perception?), but I don't really know. And the combination of an entrance exam + an interview is common to many societies; I would look at the British (Oxbridge) model if I had to guess at the precedent.

Sebastian: For most of its history, Siam (= Thailand) was actually bigger than its immediate neighbors (Cambodia, Luang Prabang, Trengganu, etc.), about the same size as those just beyond (Burma, Vietnam), and seriously overshadowed only by more distant China, which never threatened it. (Unlike Vietnam, frequently invaded and ALWAYS threatened by China, which developed the strongest national identity in the region.)

The arrival of the French in Indochina and the British in Burma shifted the balance of power around Siam for a half-century or so, but then since 1940 it's been back to a more-or-less level local playing field. Of course in the postwar Global Game the effective proximity of great powers like the USA and China is increased, but Thailand has never been under direct military threat since the French steamed up the Chaophraya River in the 1890s.

Thai nationalism seems to be a product of the 20th century, even though at times it is stirred up by reference to past wrongs (e.g., Burmese invasions in the 16th and 18th centuries). It's real enough, but there's nothing natural about it, IMHO. The early "nationalists," led by the king himself (Vajiravudh - Rama VI - 1910-25) had to do all they could to get any kind of "national" consciousness going. (As opposed to "We obey our king, and so when he says fight, we fight. Whatever.")

The hypernationalism we're seeing now is essentially a product of the past 75 years at most, particularly (I fear) the last couple of decades, when new media make the spread of propaganda more effective than of old.

I have a feeling that a lot of nationalism in Asia at least was helped along a good bit by the cold war. While the US made the huge mistake of blowing off Vietnamese nationalism, and the US was never very happy about the notion of the non-aligned movement, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan and Thai nationalists all got a big boost from the US, I suppose on the theory that encouraging nationalism would prevent them from falling under the sway of communism.

True dat, at least in part. In the 1950s it was US-backed military regimes in Thailand that started to pump up the "cult" of the monarchy as a way of stimulating non-communist (anti-communist) "nationalist" sentiment.

OTOH, where nationalism was directed *against* the USA - in Indonesia (where Sukarno practically invented the concept), the Philippines, Vietnam (as noted), etc. - America had no hesitation in branding it as atavistic fringe radicalism, etc.

"...presumptively (in this view) on the grounds not that Indians were inherently non-violent - an opinion some outsiders have ("Sure, Gandhi succeeded in India, where people are Like That, but he never would have in China/USA, wherever")...."

Ah, yes, the extremely non-violent subcontinent.

Presumably such folks never noticed that the Mahatma did not die peacefully in his sleep of old age.

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