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Sunday September 22, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 22, 2013 MYT 7:06:23 AM
by pornimpol kanchanalak from the nation
BANGKOK: Thailand’s “smart lady” has emerged, and her name is Aum Neko. She is an undergraduate at Thammasat University. She once posed in a mini skirt with the statue of Dr Pridi Banomyong, founder of the university, wrapping one hand around the neck of the statue, partly sat on the base with one leg lifted high.
The message she wanted to send was to tell her peers and the public that the statue was not for worshipping. Dr Pridi, she said, established the university with the objective of teaching students to “love and cherish democracy”.
Thus, it was a betrayal to treat his statue as a sacred object where students came to light incense and ask for better grades, all the while forgetting the raison d’etre of the university itself.
So far, so good.
Then last week, she gave a shock to people who support the policy of a mandatory student uniform. She put up posters around the campus that made the front pages of many newspapers, as well as social media – four photographs showing students in uniform having sex, man with man, man with woman, in several positions. Her reason, again in her own words, was to say that a uniform that everybody thinks is “proper and sacrosanct” cannot stop students who wear it from engaging in sacrilegious conduct.
I thought at that point, “Voila, our very own Lady Gaga is born.”
In interviews thereafter, she repeatedly said our freedom must not, can not, be curtailed; everybody has the right to do what they want – and that, she said, is the heart of democracy. Uniforms, according to her, are nothing but the symbol of Big Brother’s attempt to infringe upon students’ rights.
She looked smart and sounded extremely articulate. Her arguments were syllogistically sound, as long as one could agree with all her contentions. She could be the winner of the government’s “Smart Lady Project”. She could be appointed “Smart Lady” ambassador who dares to think, and dares to act, no-holds-barred.
To her, nothing and no one is sacred; they all can be trashed. That, in her view, is democracy.
She has almost 10,000 followers on Facebook. It won’t be a surprise if, sooner or later, she decides to enter politics. However, upon closer examination, the Aum Neko phenomenon epitomises the sickness that plagues our society.
First, while she doesn’t hesitate to tear apart any institution, or anything whatsoever, she guards everything about herself religiously.
She refuses to reveal her real name, saying that the pseudonym she uses is enough. If such a boundary must be observed and respected, especially when it comes to “trash-all Neko”, then the assumption in her argument that nothing and no one can be held sacred and nothing is off-limits, is false.
More important, and most dangerous, is her flawed and blind belief that freedom is boundless and total. She does not recognise that there is no such thing as unlimited freedom, if we are to remain social animals. Even the “father of the modern liberal democracy”, Baruch Spinoza, would say that we are bound, and hence our freedom is to be confined by the rule of law. Otherwise, what follows is anarchy.
Absolute freedom is not the same thing as human rights and protection of civil liberties for all citizens under a liberal democracy. And freedom and rights, as stipulated and exercised under the rule of law, written or uncodified, is not incompatible with the concept of an open and free society. That is Political Science 101, in which Aum Neko must have failed.
To look at and beyond Aum Neko, we can see the sickness of our failed society. In the latest Global Competitiveness Report for 2010-2013 compiled by the World Economic Forum, we have flunked in almost all categories. Starting from our primary education, we rank 82nd among 144 countries, with 3.5 points, while the median score is 3.8.
In this category, we fare worse than Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Cameroon. When it comes to the quality of our education, we rank 78th, while Cambodia and Vietnam rank 58th and 72nd, respectively.
In the category of public trust in the ethical standards of our politicians, we fail miserably. We score 2.2 while the median is 3, and rank 107th.
As to the enforcement of law and order, we score 3.6, well below the 4.3 median, and rank 101st, below Ethiopia, Gabon and Columbia.
In the Thai language we have an equivalent of the term “disgrace” – it is ngam na, or literally “beautiful face”. We cannot totally condemn Aum Neko for her fallacious thinking and reasoning. She and her warped ideas are only the product of a failed society like ours. All she knows is how to tear everything apart, not how to build something better for society. The dimwit narrowness of her focus is the accepted and prevalent behaviour and practice in our land.
While Aum Neko repeats her senseless mantra of absolute freedom, our leaders fall asleep at the wheel and are incapable of feeling disgrace at all our national failings. Like Neko, we are running in circles, thinking we are going somewhere, while in fact, we are going nowhere.
In a nation where one TV channel put up a picture of Meryl Streep from the film The Iron Lady when announcing the passing of Margaret Thatcher, Aum Neko is qualified to win the Smart Lady Project because we, collectively and sadly, “Ain’t got no game.”
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