Readers' Submissions

Comfort Ethics

  • Written by Siam Sam
  • September 9th, 2003
  • 8 min read




>> Burdened with a Culture Ministry like this, we can fast become a one-dimensional society of morally rigid clones.

I found this quote, from a recent issue of Bangkokian (a periodic newsletter about the Bangkok nightlife), quite amusing!

The Thais are far from a society of morally rigid clones. They may seek acceptance like clones, but they are rarely “morally rigid”, which would entail a nation of people with integrity. Instead, they appear for many, if not most, foreigners to be a society of relative morals at best. Morality is relative to if it’s comfortable to do what’s right, if other Thais will see you being good, if it will earn merit for you, and if one can somehow profit from it financially. The moment many Thais see it being worthwhile to lie, steal, cheat, break their marriage vows, steal someone else’s spouse, or “marry up”, they will. They will leave a marriage or relationship, simply because it is uncomfortable (socially, financially, etc.), the excitement is over, or they want to “start a new life” when their present life starts to get too mundane.

In the heat of arguments, Thais are less likely to control their actions or think about the repercussions, and are more likely to act by their passions and tempers. It is not uncommon for them to break up a long-term relationship due to a meaningless fight. When asked why they followed thru on the breakup or failed to make up, the answer is often, “When finished, mean finished.” These are the words of people too shallow to confess to their own empty pride, and a testament to their ability to act stupidly on momentary temper tantrums. We all do it, farangs and Thais. However, if you’ve lived with the Thais for a time, you may understand the Thais have a knack at taking it to a higher level.

I have never been on the heavy receiving end of such “relative morals”. I have, unfortunately, seen too many acquaintances and friends who were farangs get hurt in the process. I have definitely seen the Thais demonstrate their general lack of ethics or ability to follow their owned confessed moral codes, especially among the Thai women.

This is Thailand, after all.

As mentioned, I have managed to avoid being a major victim of this relatively morality. A better word might be “convenience morality”. Relative would insinuate that right and wrong vary by the situation. However, morality for the Thais is a matter of convenience. It ‘s not that they change their moral code in response to the situation. Instead, they simply chose to ignore their morals when it suits them to be evil. Then, they justify their actions with extremely weak arguments such as “earning merit”. If you follow up with an honest Buddhist monk, it becomes clear that merit isn’t earned on the backs of victims. Unfortunately, you may actually find certain Thai Buddhist monks that endorse such unethical behavior. After, we are dealing with a nation where Thai monks cater to the superstitious whims of uneducated bargirls, who pay them Baht earned on their backs (literally) in order to get good luck trinkets they believe are blessed, not by Buddha’s name but by the monk’s own reputation. In a perfect example of this convenience morality, the monks explain they must compromise in order to raise the necessary funds to build new chides (the long, pointy towers all over temples, which point to the sky) and pay their living expenses. These chides are a perfect testament to the madness of Thai logic. In a religion that originally prized simplicity, poverty, and humility, Thai Buddhism has somehow found it acceptable to value these “Towers of Babble” into Heaven.

This is a country where, in the early mornings, the bargirls walk home by the same street vendors that the monks go by in their morning begging ritual. The good and bad move in a perfect circle. For example, a bargirl I knew enjoyed “making her merit” on the way home from paid trysts (with various sex tourists) by giving rice (and Baht) to the monks going the opposite way begging for food. Not only do the Sinners and the Saints pass each other on the streets. They interact. In fact, it is beyond the concept of reaching out to the unwashed, unsaved, and unholy. The monks and the Saints in this country are actually largely fed by the unholy! Literally. While Western religion (with it’s Christian heritage) advocates accepting the Sinner, it seems the Thais take it so far as to actually, if not by word then by action, to actually accept the Sin. Perhaps you might argue that the monks are just very open-minded and liberal in their outreach to the unwashed. Well, consider this. My bargirl friend actually prayed to Buddha daily in the “shrine of Nana Plaza”. That’s right. In Nana Plaza, and in fact in many bars, there are actually small Buddhist shrines. Just walk into Nana Plaza one day, and right there, before your eyes, is a holy Buddhist shrine, in the midst of drunkenness, prostitution, debauchery, and yaba-crazed whores.

Another example of Thai “convenience morality” is the bargirls’ view on loyalty. It is acceptable for bargirls to be with every fat sex tourist in sight, sometimes going on 2-4 sex-encounters daily. Yet, it is unacceptable for one of her paying customers to ever “cheat” on her. If he does, she is greatly offended and hurt (sic). How hypocritical and transparently dumb is this? I am sure I will hear endless sex tourist rants on the face issue, but face is the mechanism that results from this Thai hypocrisy of convenience morality. It is not a justification for such contradictions. The Thai bargirls justify the machinations of their jealousy and need for face, by stating they are doing good (earning merit) because their money is to support family, children, parents, and their extended family of friends. So she must “work” to do this. The customer isn’t working, he’s playing. At a rudimentary level this makes sense. At any other level of human intelligence, it doesn’t.

First, the customer must exist for it to all work. So if she supports a bad action by servicing it, she in fact is bad for being involved and allowing it. That’s rational logic, but Thai convenience morality isn’t based on that. It’s based on using whatever is convenient to justify what feels most comfortable and is most convenient for the Thai in question.

We can break the argument down even farther. Buddhism, in its pure form, often teaches that physical labor, hard work, and perseverance builds character. Most bargirls actively chose an easier form of work, labor wise, in order to avoid labor, perseverance, and hard work. The difficulty they must persevere is that of dealing with uncouth, unseemly, and unattractive customers whom they are more than willing to deal with, in order to avoid the much more difficult yet much more acceptable work of shop girl, street vendor, or farmer. Additionally, most of the money the bargirls make doesn’t even go to their families. It goes to extravagance, relatively speaking, drink, and drugs. These are not things the monks should or do actually approve of.

How about examples of this behavior in normal Thais? Have you ever dealt with the police in Thailand? I have. On a particular year, the Thai government commenced a heavy crackdown on illegal Lao immigrants who were passing thru Issaan to work in undocumented jobs in Bangkok. We were stopped 2-3 times on that trip to Issaan. On one such trip, my wife’s father forgot his Thai ID. The police was obliged to take my father-in-law home to verify his ID, arrest him, or issue a citation. He did none of these things, as instructed by his superiors. Instead, he took a 100 Baht bribe. He tried to do the same with me, intentionally mis-interpreting the dictate that everyone must produce a Thai ID. I am American and a tourist, so obviously a US driver’s license should do. I showed it to him and he played stupid to attempt bribe extraction. Isn’t it just comfortably and convenient how he interprets his police duties based on his desires for Baht? I gave him my driver’s license, spoke English (playing stupid myself), and he gave up. Isn’t it convenient how he gave up because it was no longer comfortable seeking the bribe?

In fact, I am sure there will be some farang Buddhists out there. I’m not a practitioner, but isn’t it true that Thai Buddhism follows a much more “relaxed” interpretation of the stringent Buddhism, as it originated in India, China, and Tibet? I like how the words “relaxed” and “interpretation” are used here. It fits in perfectly with the Thais’ convenience morality. Look at the Thai propensity to interpret things to their benefit and to require less effort of themselves here. It’s even in their religion!

Like I said, Thais act on what feels good and is convenient to them. The good ones are only good until it’s no longer comfortable, and the bad ones are only as evil as their laziness will allow them to be. If sinning were hard work, Thailand would be a nation of saints!

Stickman says:

An absolute masterpiece and in my mind one of the very best submissions I have read, perhaps the best. You absolutely hit the bulls eye and frankly, I am speechless. Brilliant.