Sunday, November 11, 2012

The future now

There’s been talk in government circles of turning ChiangRai into a “Green City”. Right now it seems more likely to turn into just another mean city. ChiangRai has been an unusually successful mix of cultures, with a minimum of hatred and violence. Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother Somdet Ya “MaeFahLuang” contributed greatly to this success. Now new guidance is needed, but lacking. ChiangRai’s roads can’t handle the increased traffic they now try to bear, smoke from burned refuse can no longer dissipate, and sustainable traditional ways of life have almost completely given way to the murderous greed killing modern human society and our oceans, if not the entire planet. While the lessons of history and the wise teachings of Thailand’s revered King are all too commonly ignored, bad habits become increasingly the norm. While there are now more prisoners than space for them, desperate hot hearts are becoming increasingly common. Once again, the only way many residents of the border hills see to get money they feel need for is through trafficking in drugs. But as that traffic is controlled by institutionalized (often uniformed) powers, such hopes are little more than illusion. The prisons, like the roads, and also the rivers, can no longer bear all that is being pushed into them. In this, perhaps ChiangRai is a good metaphor for the whole country. Thailand avoided the curse of colonization by diplomatically offering the appearance of adherence to norms developed in a newly industrialized “West”. But much of what was put in place is now proving to have become inoperative. Thailand must choose between acting as a staging base for the rape of its neighbor with the longest common border, Myanmar, by soulless business, or caring for her people. The alternatives are clear. That there is the political will to choose them is not. But unless rot is cut from the system, there will soon be no system, not even an alternate one. Why perpetrate the misconception that sitting in an oversized pickup truck is happiness? Thailand needs to be proving to itself and the world that its traditional values of community sharing, respect for elders, Buddhist non-materialism and willingness to absorb from elsewhere while staying independent still have meaning and merit. The path to self-immolation most of the modern world is clearly on need not be the way here. There’s a better way than to believe in business acumen as a guiding light. If it seems cliché to tout the benefits hemp could bring, perhaps that’s because of the obvious truth involved. Southeast Asians have been loath to follow the absurd Western copyright dictates - why, after so long, need Mickey and Minnie Mouse receive the forceful, impositional “protection” they do? Only because Western business interests remain in a colonial mindset. Thais need to think for themselves! And perhaps first by asking, what new ideas has Nai Taksin provided in the last couple of years? Mega-projects for flood control? Clearly hemp to replace lost forests would do much more, much better. More solar panel utilization would be beneficial too, as would less reliance on plastics. Can’t government help, instead of manipulate, coerce and toady to foreign interests? We all love having gas-powered vehicles, but we’re going to have to pay more to use them. We like convenience, but must accept that we can’t have everything. If we don’t do more to protect nature and biodiversity, well, again, that it sounds cliché is because it’s so true – we lose the good things we have through selfish short-sightedness. One way or another, the days of rampant self-indulgence are ending. Thailand, and ASEAN, can lead, or follow into the grave.