As everything fades to black after the death of King Bhumibol, James Taylor examines the link between mourning and micro-fascisms in Thailand.
In the wake of King Bhumbiol Adulaydej’s death on 13 October, Thailand’s people were called upon to wear black to commemorate the late monarch.
Now, people are being attacked because they are not wearing the colour, or wearing enough of it! This is despite the fact that many of the poor, especially since the military coup, cannot afford to buy black t-shirts at Baht 350-600 – let alone enough for a whole year.
The so-called “Justice” Minister (General) Paiboon Khumchaya has indirectly called for socially sanctioned attacks (or “lynch mobs”) against those suspected of being even remotely “anti-monarch”, even if they are living overseas. Meanwhile, gangs attack people not considered to be wearing black, or those who dare not show the mandatory mourning.
Police stand by and do nothing, or worse, comply with the thugs’ demands because their bosses are part of that same reactionary clique.
The current witch-hunts go far beyond customary notions of communal grieving. People have been arrested for innocuous Facebook comments at the instigation of salim or “yellow-shirt” fanatics, who go on harassing people in their homes, or on the street, and elsewhere. This mass hysteria is simply part of the continuing divisiveness and hatred that has been sown into the Thai social fabric by these same self-serving elite interests.
The end is surely a Deleuzian black hole. And, like black holes generally, their nature is obscure, and we are completely shut out; we don’t know what goes on inside, maybe it even forgets its past, or preserves something of its progenitor for the future. At best, we can only speculate in a kind of quantum mechanics of Thai elite power and the charge and spin of its micro-politics.
The late French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) may have interpreted the situation in Thailand today as micro-fascisms that emerge in various segments of social life, connecting themselves into a “primary source” (which in recent years has been the desperate rear-guard action by the ruling classes to protect their interests).
The power of a macro-fascist state generates micro-transformations with the knock on flows suffusing all elements of social and cultural life. Disciplinary societies operate on the principle of moulds and enclosures, such as at schools, workplaces, and barracks, where a set model is imposed upon those who are enclosed within the system.
The rapid growth of Deleuzian micro-fascisms refers to a field of destructive, authoritarian impulses that permeates modern capitalist society. In the case of Thailand, this can be seen in its totalitarian conservatism, and attempts to seal all possible alternative “lines of flight” – or infinitesimal possibility of escape or moment of change.
But, today Thailand is dangerously close to centralised state organised (capital “F”) fascism as a realised nihilism (or the complete denial of all authority and institutions). Using the forces of the “war machine”, which are now constructed on an intense line of flight, it is creating a “line of pure destruction and abolition” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus).
The profound divide in Thai society has been carefully manufactured under the aegis of a royalist military regime solely for its own purposes. Over 60 years, it has created a proliferation of molecular “micro-black holes” that are so entrenched that individuals see only the illusion, which is nourished and fed by its sophisticated propaganda machine that continually articulates present events and inscribes what the future will look like. In Thailand, micro-fascisms permeate and take hold through the military because there was already in place the appropriate micro-organisations (that is, an authoritarian state apparatus and its non-state actors), penetrating every social cell; at times as a cultivated hysteria around the manufactured illusion of a monarchy and of progress, which we call Thai history.
An important question for Thailand (noted in Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia) is in the context of this micro-politics and desiring. It’s related to the way desire then produces the rules, whereby citizens, subject to an all-encompassing and persisting propaganda, feel everyone should follow (for example an all defining statement: “we [must all show] love [for] the king”; “we [must all] wear black”). As a micro-fascism this is an attempt to impose desire on others, where there is no way out — except the mental institution (where the inmate is perpetually judged, threatened, and corrected [see Foucault’s Madness and Civilization]).
This scenario may enable the emergence of a state fascism through an all-embracing political homogeneity and an ultimately “suicidal” condition. In a nutshell, a Deleuzian collective “black hole”, where seemingly all things moral, free and just are obliterated. Here information is not lost, it is just inaccessible. Indeed, I’d say right now Thailand has a lot to grieve.
Dr James L Taylor is Adjunct Associate Professor, Anthropology & Development Studies, University of Adelaide.