A healthy dose of scepticism is badly needed
The growing nostalgia among some Thais for the "golden age" hasn't gone unnoticed by the foreign media.
Last week, the Weekend Journal of the Wall Street Journal wrote about the "dreams of simpler times" that have "spurred the popularity of all things vintage".
While the article, written by Newley Purnell, primarily dwells on material objects of nostalgia roughly from the 1930s to the 1970s, nostalgia for an imagined golden age of Thai politics may also exist.
I have at times heard people say how much they would love to have Thai politics return to the era of strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in the 1960s. They say things were "orderly", predictable and the "rule of law" was "swiftly" maintained.
Perhaps what they meant was the "rule by law" and not the rule of law. During Sarit's time, anyone accused of being an arsonist would be summarily executed by shooting.
Perhaps the distance of years allows us to selectively pick and choose periods from the past and idealise them. The present, however, is too "real", too stark, complicated and unsettling. The present is more like a painting or a meal that is always in progress but never finished. With an imagined past, people can neatly edit it, frame it, and indulge in nostalgia. You can like Sarit because Sarit is no more - you won't be executed if found standing near a building that has just caught fire and are suspected of having lit the blaze.
Many do dwell in that supposed golden era of the 1960s and 70s, but they should also remember how Thailand allowed the United States to use the Kingdom as a springboard to kill and maim millions in Vietnam and Laos.
Other more recent imagined "glorious years" include those of Thaksin Shinawatra, with the good economy sans extra-judicial killings, nepotism, the Tak Bai and Krue Se incidents, threats against the mainstream mass media who disagreed with his policies and the forced disappearance of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit. That half-a-decade era, which ended with the coup in 2006, is selectively remembered by both Thaksin supporters, as well as his opponents.
That we can always select and edit the past makes the past so attractive. It's much easier to remember the past selectively. But knowing that the past always plays tricks on one's perception due to our limited ability or willingness to grasp its totality, one should learn about its constraints in terms of helping to deal with the present.
We can learn from selective memory of the past and use it to remind us not to treat the present in the same fashion. It offers us an instructive caveat not to idealise things or people too readily. The trend towards idealising either red shirts, yellow shirts, or supporters of the Democrat Party, and being "absolutely righteous", as opposed to their opponents, is easily noticed. One has to only look at their respective media and see how they seek to present themselves.
A healthy dose of scepticism is what Thailand needs. Our society is also already filled with excessive idealising and idolisation of some public figures, so we definitely do not need more of the same one-sidedness.
People will have to learn to live with contradiction, irony and complexity, and abandon the self-created idealising of things and human beings that only leaves them detached from the multiple facets of reality. It's good and noble to try to live up to our ideals. But we ought not to lose touch with the complexities and ironic realities of life and society.
The last thing we need is a society dwelling in a nostalgic past that didn't ever truly exist or living with a one-sided view of the present that doesn't correlate with the complex realities of today.
For some, I'm afraid, they may prefer to continue to believe in an idealised past, or idealised people - as it's the only way for them to comfort themselves amid the cruelty of life.