I started writing political and social commentary for the Bangkok Post in 2008 up until 2014, around the time of the coup d’Etat. To this day, with Thisrupt,13 years later, I still get asked this question.
Would Thailand be better off today if it was colonized in centuries past?
The question is not just from foreigners, but also from Thais. In fact, mostly from Thais.
My answer then and now is no, and it will always be no.
But the question is valid, so let’s analyze it.
First, what does “better off” mean?
The answer is easy. It means “more freedom.” We live in a world where freedom is a good thing, the opposite of which is slavery, in varying degrees.
We live in a world where the freest societies are the most developed societies with the best quality of life.
That’s what everyone wants, am I right?
Second, what explains the belief that to have been colonized in centuries past means Thailand would be better off today?
And vice versa, what explains the belief that to not have been colonized in centuries past means Thailand is worse off today?
Those who raise the question often points to Singapore and Malaysia, citing the benefits of British education and legal framework.
But then again, other former British colonies, such as Myanmar and many countries in Africa aren’t exactly doing well.
Many factors contribute to how each society evolves, but the “pro-colony” argument is simply this: you benefit from the education and legal systems, most importantly, cultural transformation.
The key concept here is “cultural transformation.” After all, society’s education and legal systems are but expressions of the cultural mindset, or cultural DNA, of that society.
For a society to develop, the culture has to evolve. And colonialism can accomplish that by simply destroying the traditional cultural system.
You see, we live in a world that over the past centuries has transformed from monarchism to the modern nation-state.
Whether it be fascism, communism, or democracy.
Now, these are not just political systems. They are cultural beliefs—the heart and mind of a society or a people.
For the rulers to get away with it, the people have to believe in it. Otherwise, the people would rise against the rulers. See Myanmar for example.
Who we are and what we do is dictated by cultural mindset.
To let go of the old and to embrace the new requires cultural transformation, which can be done in two ways.
First, war and destruction. Which explains colonization. Colonies are more flexible in embracing new values because traditional values were defeated and even destroyed in many cases. And then, you are forced to embrace new values.
Monarchism in other Southeast Asian nations is not nearly as strong as in Thailand, is it? Why? Because they were defeated and colonized.
Gods revealed as humans, flawed and can be defeated.
Look at Western European history. The road to democracy was paved by wars and destructions that brought down kings and emperors.
Also, the deaths and destruction of World War 2 shaped the evolution of modern Japan. Traditions defeated. Cultural transformation forced upon.
Therefore, it is a good thing that Thailand didn’t have to suffer through such tragedy.
What I call “destructive disruption.”
Second, education. We have a wealth of world history to learn from. But the problem is, do we have the cultural mindset to learn?
In the context of Thailand, our history was never truly disrupted in a sense that necessitated cultural transformation.
The 1932 Revolution was a political change without a cultural transformation.
Therefore, in 2021, Thailand’s official core value still is monarchism, not democracy.
In practical terms, we today stand as a nation ruled by a tribrid, not a hybrid, but a tribrid of monarchism, militarism, with a little bit of democracy.
Hence, we are sort of stuck, stricken by a diseased called tripolar disorder.
And the truth of the matter is, Thailand will neither become a developed country nor have a high standard of life quality under the current system.
We are also a culture divided.
The older generation is ruled by the cultural DNA of holding on to traditions that were never defeated, colonized, or destroyed.
While the newer generation embraces new cultural values learned from books, films, and the internet.
Learning is the key to the future. Nothing has to be destroyed, not even traditions. Thailand can function wonderfully as a democracy that has a monarchy.
One as a working political system, the other as a respected traditional value. While the core cultural value should be human rights and freedom.
And we don’t have to be colonized for this to happen. We just have to be educated.
Disrupted by education, rather than disrupted by destruction.
Which means we have to open up our culture.
You see, society evolves in two ways:
Destructive disruption, destroying the old to build something new.
Disruption through education, learning from the world and evolve from what was to what is and what will be.
Choose the latter.
Music : https://bit.ly/38WoEf9