If society is dominated by the “every man for himself” mentality, there’s a logical explanation for it. Just as man is inherently capable of both good and evil, he’s also inherently capable of selflessness and selfishness. The path he chooses is dependent upon the context and condition he finds himself in.
The context for the modern Thai society begets a crisis of confidence, and hence the condition society finds itself adheres to is “every man for himself” – and woman too, of course.
The rich pursue wealth and monopolize businesses with vigorous self-righteousness. They bend the law, bribe the government and exploit the poor for the glory of their family name and offshore bank accounts. With no thoughts of “giving back to society” beyond tax breaks and good PR. Already, dear readers, a few famous family names pop into mind.
The poor demand handouts, subsidies and their rights to break and bend the law with vigorous self-righteousness, because life is tough and they are poor. Without the need to elaborate, you, dear readers, already think of a few groups of people who fit this description.
The middle class meanwhile, try their best to join the rich and bask in all the privileges with vigorous self-righteousness, their worst nightmare is to fall down the social ladder and become one of the poor folks.
Here we talk in generality, of course. Theories are made to form an understanding of the big picture, with the recognition that there are exceptions in all forms of social science.
But why have the people adopted an every-man-for-himself mentality? This is because the context of modern Thailand is that we live in a nation, unreliable and untrustworthy.
Here’s an example.
Last week, the National Legislative Assembly approved a budget of over one billion baht for a five-year period as “meeting allowance” for the Thai courts. The chairperson of the meeting would receive 10,000 baht per meeting. Others would receive 8,000 and 6,000, depending on their ranks. Each court has two meetings per month, hence 24 meetings per year. So that’s 240,000 baht annually for the chairperson and at least 144,000 baht annually for everyone else.
The reason for the allowance is cited as (this is my own translation from Thai, not an official translation):
“To guarantee the people the benefit of more meticulous deliberations. So that members of the court of justice would dispense impartial verdicts for the people, with thorough details, careful considerations and utmost fairness.”
Already, dear readers, you feel like sniffing on some vapex.
Of course, the people cried foul over this. Just as they cried foul over the controversial multi-million-baht housing project for judges at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai back some months ago.
The crisis of confidence is this: The people look at the politicians and see corruption. Look at the military and see power-grabs. Look at the police and see ineffectiveness. Look at the bureaucrats and see incompetence. Look at the religious institution and see debauchery. Look at the courts and see lucrative meeting allowances and fancy houses on the edge of a national park.
If the people see all the branches of the government, and the religious institution, as unreliable and untrustworthy, then this is a nation drowning in a crisis of confidence.
Again, here we speak in generality. Surely, there are capable and honorable men and women within all branches of the government, as well as in the monkshood. But if as the saying goes, a few bad apples may spoil the whole bunch, then a few bad durians stink up the entire country. And surely, there are more than just a few bad durians in this country.
Therefore, if the people cannot trust the law, then the people must fend for themselves, and hence the social norm is defined by the “every man for himself” mantra.
There is no quick-fix for a long, lingering disease. However, the first step might come next February. Vote for new people to do new things. Not for old people to do the same old things.
But even more important than voting is this. No one is completely one way or the other, we humans are all walking and talking contradictions. But we need to ask ourselves, on a scale where selflessness is at one end and selfishness is at the other, where does each of us stand?
The government would do nothing for us, unless we demand it from them. But aside from making demands from the government, we should set a better standard of how we conduct ourselves as members of a society.