Sincerity


Last night, I read this in Paul St John Mackintosh’s introduction to Kenzaburo Oe’s Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids:

“Nothing could be further from the traditional limpidity of Japanese style exemplified by a writer like Shiga Naoya, whose mellifluous clarity obscures a desperately suspect literary ideology of ‘sincerity’ and ‘purity of spirit’ espoused by many Japanese, especially of the pre-war generations.”

The predilection of so many Thai people to talk wistfully about ‘sincerity’ seems to be a similar phenomenon. It has often vaguely puzzled me why Thais so often consider this to be important and I had assumed that it related to corrupt or dishonest politicians and officials. However, perhaps there is something more to it – perhaps it relates to a feeling that there is a form of discourse which is, presumably simple, straight from the heart and entirely truthful in a spiritual kind of way. Is this what monks teach to young children and it is supported by various cultural productions in later life?

Needless to say, the concept is alien to me, not just in terms of being something that ever impinged on my life but also because it seems undesirable, even if it were possible (perhaps it is part of a western education or perhaps it is just me). It seems to me that no discourse is neutral or non-ideological because so much meaning is embedded in the non-verbal portions of the communication (i.e. status denoted by position and clothing, body language and so forth).

Slavoj Zizek provides an explanation in his Violence (p.36):

“We live in a society where a kind of Hegelian speculative identity of opposites exists. Certain features, attitudes, and norms of life are no longer perceived as ideologically marked. They appear to be neutral, non-ideological, natural, commonsensical. We designate as ideology that which stands out from this background: extreme religious zeal or dedication to a particular political orientation. The Hegelian point here would be that it is precisely the neutralisation of some features into a spontaneously accepted background that marks out ideology at its purest and at its most effective. This is the dialectical ‘coincidence of opposites’: the actualisation of a notion or an ideology at its purest coincides with, or, more precisely, appears as its opposite, as non-ideology.”

I’m in Vung Tau as I write this and I was pleased to note yesterday that there are books on Hegel translated into Vietnamese (or perhaps written in Vietnamese) in the bookshop on the first floor of the Coop Market plaza.

Violence?


The strike at Suvarnabhumi Airport is apparently over – good news for me, since I due to be there in a couple of hours. Apparently some 300 workers who were responsible for providing baggage and x-ray machine services were striking to receive the 3,000 baht per person bonus they were promised for working without time off throughout December and January. The bonus has not been paid but executives have promised to take their requests into consideration – so that perhaps means that further industrial action is possible.

Industrial action is of course an important right for workers and it is likely to be a significant feature of the rest of the year, since there will surely be many more job losses and company closures (Olarn Chaiparavart, once of this parish of course, is talking about a contraction of the economy by as much as 4%) and not every company is likely to pay strict attention to its obligations re compensation payments and the ethical shedding of jobs. Given the power that the military now holds in society, together with the expansion of the sinister Internal Security measures, it is likely that any physical confrontation featuring striking workers runs the risk of meeting deadly force – this would be the expression of obvious, explicit violence by the state. Slavoj Zizek, in his new book Violence, draws distinctions between this explicit expression of violence and the implicit, non-expressed forms of violence used by state agencies to control an unwilling (section of the) population – some readers might recall Arthur Scargill justifying the actions of striking miners using the same terms.

Here, the ICT is continuing with policies which use the implicit violence approach: it is claimed that more than 50,000 websites are now being blocked in Thailand – supposedly for containing pornography, pro-terrorist articles or political dissidence in certain particular ways. The fact that I am wary of even mentioning the reasons why this website ban exists and will not try to find out for myself whether certain sites are being blocked or not indicates the efficacy of this policy.