The free world seems to be going through an unusual phase of intolerance for dissent. Even Thailand, once one of Asia's democratic leading lights, is succumbing to scary self-anointed political, cultural and moral guardians. One year ago, our military set out to destroy democracy in order to save it, though now it is clear that the baby was not only thrown out with the bathwater but landed in a vat of acid. At the societal level, movies and works of art are censored for daring to portray aspects of reality that differ from the postcard-perfect picture that exists only in these people's heads. Dissenters are demonized and castigated as if they were the devil's own spawn.
This climate of intolerance, in my view, has its roots in the perversion of truth and universal ideals committed by the George W. Bush administration. If America, that great defender and promoter of democracy and justice, can use pretzel logic to justify torture and other practices that by all rights should be abhorrent to any democratic society, surely we poor developing countries can take a page from the American playbook.
Still, it was a bit disconcerting to realize that destroying freedom in the name of protecting freedom is not a new phenomenon. What is most worrying is that it might take decades for the process to exhaust itself and for things to be set right. America, even with its strong tradition of freedom, has proven susceptible to demagoguery and groupthink but will probably recover thanks to its solid institutions. I shudder, however, to think how Thailand will fare if the current wave of intolerance in our society keeps up.
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