There is a reoccurring term in Thai politics that is simple on its surface but should be more closely scrutinized.
The term “good people” is cited by generals and politicians as (somehow) an objective barometer to measure the mandate of any given government and its ministers.
The Shinawatra governments were filled with “bad people” who were corrupt and did not have the best interest of the country at heart.
Meanwhile, the coup, the PDRC, and the current government are filled with “good people” who care deeply about the country and the institutions that guide them.
Balderdash to be sure.
Other editorials in Thai Enquirer have pointed out the irony of calling a cabinet filled with drug dealers, coupmakers, and corrupt politicians “good.”
But the term “good people” also deserves closer scrutiny. After all, if it going to keep being cited or used as an excuse to carry out the worst excesses of totalitarianism perhaps it is important to break down the term.
To Thai conservatives, what exactly is a good person?
First and foremost, a good person in the Thai context must be loyal to the institutions that make Thailand unique.
The American experience is noted in academia and political circles for its arrogant displays of exceptionalism. America, as its supporters would have you believe, is the ‘shining city on the hill’ for which the world looks to as an example.
Similarly, Thai exceptionalism also exists. And similarly, it is also rooted in ethnocentric arrogance.
Thailand is the ‘never colonized’ kingdom that through the ingenuity and genius of its monarchs avoided the onslaught of western imperialism.
As a result of our independence, Thainess is an ancient manifestation that is not understood easily by all and definitely not by outsiders.
Corrupted by the promises of westernization and enlightenment values, the youth of today do not understand this Thainess and have too easily traded in their history for the false promises of democracy.
Again, hogwash. But nevertheless a critical line of thought for conservative Thais.
Undoubtedly, the Kings of Old Siam (not ancient, Rama I came to power just a few years before the American War for Independence) deftly and capably navigated a treacherous time for countries in the East facing growing Western encroachment.
But fortune played a significant role in our independence.
In 1893, the British government under Archibald Primrose and the French government under Sadi Carnot almost went to war over who should dominate the Kingdom of Siam. War was only averted after both sides agreed that Siam should remain independent, a convenient buffer between the British Raj and French Indochina.
That being said, I am not one who would deny a country its foundation myths if it would unite the population.
But our foundation myths have instead been used as a tool by conservatives to keep a stranglehold on power and to reinforce rhetoric meant to stop our evolution as a country.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than the 12 core values introduced by current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha after he toppled a democratically-government in a military coup.
In the very first rule (commandment), Prayut said Thai people must uphold the three main pillars of society, the nation, the religion and the monarchy.
That is the basis, the bottom line of all good people. As long as you can pledge loyalty to all three, it doesn’t matter that you deal drugs, or are a despot, or are corrupt to your core. As long as you are loyal, you are a “good person.”
There are other commandments within the 12 that reinforce this notion, for example commandment number five would have us cherish Thai traditions. Commandment seven would have Thais learn the essence of “true democracy” with the King as the head of state. Commandment 9 makes sure that Thais must be conscious and mindful of action in line with royal proclamations. Commandment 11 says we must not yield our mental fortitude to “dark forces.”
All of these commandments serve to reinforce traditional notions of statehood and Thainess.
But not all of them create an objectively good person. They just create someone who reinforces, maintains, and defends the status quo.
By Prayut’s definition, the right-wing mobs on the streets of Bangkok during October 6, 1976 where they violently beat to death and lynched university students were good people.
Drug dealing ministers are good people. Corrupt corporate CEOs can be good people. The bar is set so low.
My grandfather once told me that to be a good person, one must be mindful of those around us, respect their desires, and make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Those in a position of strength must always seek to defend those who cannot defend themselves no matter the personal sacrifice.
I would say that the criteria my grandfather passed on to me are much more relevant to being a good person than anything that this government values or cherishes.
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