|  August 31, 2009

It used to be, and it wasn’t long ago, that Thai society was firmly structured. One knew where one stood and with it what prerogatives and limitations one could expect in life. Those fortunate enough to be on the higher levels of this sturdy yet complex structure knew what privileges they were entitled to and those at the bottom, knew what burdens they had to bear. It was clean cut, it was concise, and it was (mostly) accepted.

It was also untenable.

Like it or not, the recent social upheavals are a reality. Leaving politics aside, the past decade has seen this structure eroding, if not crumbling. Those at the top with inherited and inherent privileges have exposed themselves as being the flawed humans which we all are, their actions highlighted and misdeeds exacerbated by the digital and information age. Those at the bottom are realising that the yoke is not necessarily theirs to carry. Social mobility has turned many elite into paupers and numerous plebs into financial tycoons. It has been a time of great change.

These are indeed dangerous times, they are also exciting times, times of opportunity: it all depends on how willing you are to accept that all of us deserve to be treated as equals and how able you are to accept, and adapt to, change. Many of the elite, with their sense of entitlement intact, are reluctant to concede. They have been taught that they are special, that their actions do not merit scrutiny and that their lofty club is exclusive to their ilk. While the poor, who have long toiled in society’s basement, with their new access to information and to a certain extent education, are finding and voicing their self worth, as well as seeing the blatant hypocrisy and injustice within society. It is increasingly hard to hide the fact that justice, on the most part, still ekes out punishment to the wealthy while meting it out to the poor. And all the while society is still attempting to maintain this fragile – and doomed – equilibrium.

Twenty years ago the story of a politician’s son shooting to death a man in a night club, or a socialite road raging his way to murder would not have been more than hi-so gossip. Twenty years ago families of those shot at a mosque or boat people being pushed out to their death would most likely have had to suffer in silence (sadly, that much hasn’t changed, though at least, their plight is broadcast world wide). Today actions beget coverage, coverage begs questions and unanswered questions lead to outrage. This must be bewildering to the many guilty elite who have always enjoyed respect if not adulation, emulation, and of course fear, from the poor.

But how to allow for these changes to manifest themselves without social antagonism?

While more and more of us want change, most of us do not want to see our structure completely collapse. But what will be the new pillars and frameworks for our new society? Class-structured society is no longer viable. It is clear that the majority of Thai people will no longer tolerate the behaviour, and standards, of the privileged. It is also clear that the poor can not simply revolt or use violence to further their cause, as it erodes any legitimacy they have.

Thai society has some tough questions to ask itself in the coming years. We are living in interesting times…

Citylife this month:

Our theme this month is Health & Beauty, and since Citylife’s editorial team is expert at neither, we have sought out those who are. Shaun Alison goes all cloak and dagger and visits plastic surgeons and all manner of doctors to find out how we can artificially enhance what we see in the mirror. Hakan Jacob Kosar, our new intern from Denmark, pumps it up at many of the city’s gyms, as well as visits Phu Klon Resort in Mae Hong Son to wallow in the glories of mud with Chindanut Anuwong. I interview tai chi mistress extraordinaire and local expat Julie Hastings, and James Austin Farrell visits a hoo doo voo doo healer in Hang Dong for some very alternative, and intriguing, treatments. Off topic, I also interview DJ Aom, spokesperson for the (in)famous Rak Chiang Mai 51 group.

I also want to thank Nice Nails for allowing our team to invade their sanctuary of nails for the photo below.