“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them”, Immanuel Kant once said, “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
If the heavens above and morality within filled Kant with wonder, so has it been for Thais. The stars have long been used, for example, to divine the future, as countless generations of astrologers peered at the night sky in search of the nation’s destiny. It was and remains common, for example, for astrologers to predict times of crises and chaos in the body politic.
Moral laws, on the other hand, have informed the traditional Thai concept of khon dee — “good people” — who would preside over a nation governed by the rule of the best. Who was qualified to be described with that term is a different question. The current government, of course, makes no secret of the fact that they think they fit the description.
It has, however, unfortunately become increasingly apparent that both the starry heavens and moral laws find themselves in a state of flux. Indeed, five years after the military’s intervention in Thai politics to restore order and bring back “good people” to run the country, we have entered an era of politics more topsy turvy than ever. .
If the heavens truly did determine our state of affairs, as Thailand’s astrologers would argue, then we have found ourselves in a perverse era where what we know to be right is often said to be wrong, and what we feel is wrong is often said to be right. Our moral compasses seem a little lost, to say the least.
Take, for example, the 2019 election, where a party that failed to win anywhere near a majority of seats in parliament emerged victorious due to an unelected senate it had handpicked, only for the government to then claim a democratic mandate.
Or the bungled swearing of the charter oath, when the prime minister failed to recite the oath correctly and omitted a pledge to defend the constitution, only for the government to brush over this error.
Or the discovery that one of the government’s main fixers and cabinet ministers, Thammanat Promphao, had been jailed for drug sales and had a fake Ph.D, only for the government to say this did not disqualify him from being a minister.
This is already a daunting list, but it continued this past week.
Opposition leaders were charged with sedition, a move which the deputy prime minister then endorsed, after appearing at a panel discussion on constitutional amendment. Supposedly the crime was that one of the academics proposed greater devolution of power and higher autonomy to the southern region. This, of course, is despite the fact that we are no longer technically living under NCP rule and the constitution itself guarantees freedom of expression.
As the Bangkok Post writes, “this will likely make many worry that the climate of fear and blatant intimidation, prevalent during the NCPO’s time, are here to stay.”
In short succession, we then had a southern judge shooting himself in court because, he claimed, he was being pressured to change his verdict. Instead of questioning the flaws in Thailand’s justice system and the rule of law, many netizens instead started questioning why he chose to shoot himself in the chest instead of the head if he truly wanted to commit suicide.
Much of politics is complicated, but some things are not. Democracy means the expression of the popular will. Oaths should be sworn properly. Ministers should not have sold drugs or hold fake degrees. Freedom of expression is not sedition. Judges should not feel compelled to shoot themselves in the chest, in the head, or anywhere else.
One can only try to imagine what the outrage would be like if the current opposition parties were in power and appointed a minister who had been jailed in Australia. Think of the outrage!
If this is what being governed by “good people” means, then we must have an extremely warped moral compass. Perhaps we should indeed take Kant’s advice and reflect more on the moral laws within us.
(Cover image credits).