|  February 28, 2014

Where’s the love?

There is so much hate-talk espoused in and by the media these days, both traditional and social. Only this week, I had someone send a message to me and all of her Facebook ‘friends’ saying, “If you don’t declare yourself a red or a PDRC (anti-government movement) then you are nothing and have no opinion, so I will delete you as a friend.” I preempted her and we are now officially strangers in cyberspace.

And that was one of the milder interactions I have witnessed regarding the intermingling of the personal and the political.

In politics there will always be conflict; it is in its nature. Conflict should be a good thing; it should lead to discourse, to sharing and changing of opinions, to innovation and creativity, to scrutiny and accountability. But when strong and violent emotions enter the political stage, and with the power of money, media, populism, nationalism and the cult of personality murkeying the waters, conflict can, and it has, become vile and redundant…in spite of both sides laying claim to democracy (a massive common ground if there ever was one).

I am not here to talk politics (I am as befuddled by it as the next person) but rather, to talk rhetoric. My mother – my mild, gentle, ladylike mother – (slightly) raised her voice at me for the first time in decades a few days ago over politics. She was frustrated at my so called wishy-washy stance. “Why can’t you support our country?” she (nearly) shouted at me when I refused to join her “side.”

Well, I do. I just refuse to support any group which uses the fight for democracy as an excuse for bad behaviour. It seems as though each side gives itself blanket amnesty for shenanigans just because they claim to be the side of legitimacy.

There are the daily threats, misogynistic slurs, incendiary balderdash, bloated propaganda, personal attacks and of course outright lies we have to wade through daily to try to find any piece of information which can help us to actually make sense of it all. In fact, we are so inundated by the morass of hyperbole that truth, were it to present itself, wouldn’t be recognisable, and if it were, it wouldn’t be accepted so long as it doesn’t further our blinkered agendas.

What’s truth got to do with it when The Other has been so demonised?

It gets worse. There is a Thai word, sa jai (?) whose only English equivalent is schadenfreude, an OED-approved adoption from German – the satisfaction one receives from the misfortune of others. Biased media (most of us are to some degrees, after all we are as vulnerable to our own opinions as the next person), interest groups and those on both sides of the political chess game gleefully express their sa jai feelings when a court case is filed against an opposing politician, when desperate rice farmers begin to switch political allegiances, when a pair of flip-flops featuring the Shinawatra siblings’ faces is manufactured, when protest numbers dwindle, when an online meme zings a hated politician, when the prime minister makes a world-stage snafu, when the election is in shambles…when Thailand crumbles.

Really? Savouring schadenfreude is as non-Buddhist as you can get, but it all seems to be permissible, even encouraged, when it comes to this game where winners refuse to take anything less than all.

Because of such conflict, it is now quite normal to abstain from discussing politics. In fact I have been shushed a few times in social gatherings when I have brought up the topic. It seems that people are afraid that they can’t discuss the topic without ensuing unpleasantness, so they don’t talk about it at all. And those who do, tend to do so with like minded people, naturally congratularily reaffirming and hardening one another’s beliefs and positions. How on earth are we going to doggy-paddle out of this bog if we can’t even have a civil discussion with one another? Talk about self muzzling. Our own outrage is silencing us.

There are good people out there with good things to say, even if, and especially if, it goes against our own ideas. Perhaps if we manage to cull the “noise” being spewed forth by haters, there will be a compromise, if not a solution, to be found.

This is not a time to unite behind a rotten political party or a hate-driven movement; this is in fact a time to rationalise, step away from the collective, find our own voices and try to get them heard, strongly…but politely.

Stop hating, people; it doesn’t become us.

Citylife this month:

To that end we spend time with both a PDRC and a red shirt local leader this month, sitting down and letting them have their say. There is a surprising amount of potential for common ground, but again, the stubborn rhetoric and the entrenched positions are impediments to finding it. And Po Garden adds a voice of reason by representing the “No Vote.”

Enough of pesky politics, we have loads of other things for you to read as well. Adrian Fleur takes a smelly journey through Chiang Mai’s rubbish dumps to try to encourage us all to be more responsible with our waste, Hilary Cadigan spends time talking to Ryan Libre, founder of the very active Documentary Arts Asia, intern Nicolas Gantois braves blood, gore, guts and veins in the teeth to report on the city’s first cage fight, Anita Gilmore interviews famous Bangkok based writer Christopher G. Moore, intern Kyle Getz seduces you with the verdant green treasures of Chiang Mai and our photo editor Tinnakorn Nukul takes a press junket to Japan, courtesy of Hong Kong Express Airlines.

And me? I wrote an editorial!