Why we cheat: the unbearable lightness of being Thai

Living in Thailand is very much the survival of the fittest (or the richest). Whenever something has to be done, especially in dealing with government bureaucracies, we pull connections.

We cut queues and corners. We slip “envelopes” under the table and pass “gift baskets” over the table.

A racist would say we Thais are somehow genetically predisposed to cheating. That it’s in our DNA. In truth, however, it’s social conditioning. The system that subjugates us is designed to allow the art and science of cheating to blossom.

We have to resort to cheating for two reasons.

First, the system is designed for people to make money through kickbacks.

Second, the kingdom is run by incompetent people who find comfort and safety under mountains of paperwork and layers of bureaucracies that spell senseless rules and ridiculous procedures.

Put the two together, and the inequality gap widens because rich folks can get away with cheating better than poor folks while corruption flourishes.

Simply put, it takes forever to get anything done, and things might never get done at all if we don’t cheat. Therefore, we do everything that needs to be done to avoid rules and procedures. Such is the case in accessing the COVID-19 vaccines.

Many of us know somebody who knows somebody who received the jab by hurdling over or tunneling under proper channels. The news has several stories of “VIP treatments.” It’s just the way things are done, and rich folks are better at it because they have the resources and connections.

What happens when we follow the rules and procedures? Chaos and anarchy. Delay upon delays. Failure and disappointment.

Last weekend, those who went through the proper channels for the 14 to 20 June vaccination were brokenhearted. Those who went through the improper channels got their jabs.

But it’s not just during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is simply how we have always done things. We cheat because life has to go on, and things need to get done. Even driving in the streets, we make illegal turns and u-turns because street and urban planning make no sense.

The 21st century demands progressive leadership that champions humanism, globalism, technology, and good governance.

But whether from behind the curtain or upfront and in our face, for the past many decades, Thailand toils under Cold War-era warlords with Third-World mentality who also carry the feudal patronage baggage of centuries past like a badge of honor.

Hence, this is the only system they understand.

Therefore, cheating isn’t just in the culture. It’s an industry.

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