A sub jata ceremony is a life-extension event. It usually follows some ominous portent, such as a serious illness or series of potentially life-threatening occurrences that could indicate danger to the person or household (or community [see:www.kendobson.asia/blog/subjata from 3 years ago]). Although the ceremony is often part of a house blessing or major birthday where there has been no cause for alarm. A sub jata is a set of ceremonies that are hoped to satisfy or pacify supernatural forces and to adjust the forces that energize life. This photographic essay is just about the main ceremony in which a chapter of priests is invited to chant while merit from doing that is transferred to the subject(s) in whose behalf the sub jata is being conducted.
Lon and Sri are members of our family, Pramote’s next older brother and his wife. They have two married daughters, and two grandchildren. Lon has been experiencing medical issues and so the family encouraged them to do a sub jata. The ceremony was conducted on Saturday, June 16, 2018; it was at the family home, to be as close to the presumed super-natural cause of the disturbance that has disrupted Lon’s life, as possible.
Northern Thai Buddhism is a complex mix of philosophical Buddhist teaching, re-enactment of the events in which the Lord Buddha dispensed sacred teaching to his disciples and the laity, symbolic divine-human encounter creating sacred time and space in our midst, acknowledgement of the eternal power and reality of nature, and honoring super-natural entities that have influence.
Philosophical Buddhist purists continue to insist that this is an unfortunate and unnecessary mix and that Buddhism would be far better without it. Those academic voices hardly resound in the valley where our villages are nestled. From my perspective as a resident foreigner, however, I believe that insofar as philosophical Buddhism has fertile ground to grow it will be as Buddhist priests continue to respond to the existential concerns and fears of the people. Those concerns are the gateway to anything else, theological or philosophical.
From the perspective of Lon and everyone in our large family and surrounding communities, it is always all about sub jata – the alignment of life forces.
It’s worth thinking about how, in spite of the maximization of educational opportunities, we have gotten into the mess where the least intelligent US President in history is running the country into the abyss with the consent of the Congress, and with a substantial minority of the population in agreement even as their rights and protections are being ravaged. At the same time, something perilously similar is undermining countries as diverse as Great Britain, Italy, Indonesia, Austria, Israel and Columbia. The list is long.
One set of factors is the Massification of Higher Education. The second set of factors is the puerile influence of Post-modernism. The combination has led to an entire span of generations who obsessively believe things which are clearly wrong and are not working.
Misplaced faith in IQ. Hardly anyone under the age of 90 in “developed” countries doubts that intelligence is good. Access to education is based on it. But continuous examples show that bright people in key positions with no conscience are bad for society.
You CAN. Our role model is the stunning individualist who sets off against all odds and does amazing things nobody believed possible. But the message is that whole societies should be composed of this sort of self-directed diva. It’s the merit trickle-down theory that this kind of person benefits those lesser endowed. Still, sooner or later protectionism prevails and the benefits become expensive so the newly wealthy can become more so.
I am what I do. The value of a person is measured by what the person accomplishes. What I do is what should be celebrated. Moral character is devalued in behalf of what is pragmatic. But when there is little value placed on building social harmony, society crumbles.
Institutions are disparaged. The most egregious gift of post-modernism is the conviction that institutions are untrustworthy. We have a public that has withdrawn not only their respect for such institutions as government and corporations, but also their belief that they can relate to those institutions. Without public accountability institutions become what they are imagined to be, greedy and flagrant.
Difference is the goal. We do not need to look far to see what goes wrong when a society refuses to appreciate diversity. But diversity is not the goal. The point must be that different people and their cultural perspectives are important to achieve a common purpose. When the point of being a large society is lost, there are only small exclusive societies left.
I am indebted to David Brooks for his May 28, 2018 opinion column “The Strange Failure of the Educated Elite” in the New York Times for his insights which I have adapted. Brooks identifies with the “Boomer” generation, and acknowledges its failure to have civic consciousness. He advocates, “… a new ethos … to redefine how people are seen, how applicants are selected, how social roles are understood and how we narrate a common national purpose.”
How to get there is the basic question. Surely education is the way to introduce “a new ethos”. But that will take a pedagogical revolution, and if we continue with the social fragmentation brought to us by post-modernism we will never get there. As long as the sole purpose of education is the production of factors of production, even if you call graduates “professionals”, there is little room for character building. For societies composed of individuals without character the downhill trajectory is steep.
Meanwhile, authoritarian societies avoid the perils of meritocracy by sticking to aristocracy. In an authoritarian society, like Thailand, upward mobility is grudgingly encouraged as long as everybody rises without dislodging the elite and upsetting their ability to pass their privileges along to the chosen of the next generation. Change is OK, as long as nothing changes about how the rich and powerful stay that way.
Obviously, in authoritarian societies the dangers of post-modern, entitled individualism are prevented. But how they do it is also (as with neo-liberal societies) at the expense of character development. Those are honored who exemplify the duties of their status and designated function. Those who strive to rise are obstructed. Mediocrity is to be preferred to turbulence, even that disturbance which comes from critical thinking and social innovation. It is all about short-term acquisition. An aristocratic, authoritarian society is just as oblivious to the impact of its actions on any future generation as “liberated post-moderns” are.
The mess can be cleaned up. Education can once again involve heart, mind and soul. It can again be about building social harmony and shared well-being. But stake-holders will need to regain power to hold each other accountable. The generators of collective conscience must make this need their focus.
TEMPLE SECRETS 5
One of the rarest ceremonies in Northern Thai Buddhism is the dedication of a new ordination chapel, อุโบสถ or bote (pronounced much like “boat”), sometimes written in English as it is spelled in Thai, Ubosot. The word is used both for the building as well as for the “Buddhist holy day” on the quarters of the moon in which laity participate, and for the observance of the Eight Precepts as well as for the fortnightly recitation of Patimokkha, which are 227 binding rules for priests. Permission for a temple community to undertake construction of such a building must be from the highest authority in Thai Buddhism. Not every temple has a bote. The bote usually resembles a small version of the temple’s large assembly hall. [See picture #1] It faces east with the main image of the Lord Buddha seated in the western end so as to see the rising sun. The bote is used by monks, and only by monks. It is available for ceremonies undertaken exclusively by monks, including ordinations, some funeral rites for monks, fortnightly ceremonies to renew vows, and for meditation. What sets the bote apart, both figuratively and literally, from other temple buildings are 8 boundary stones around the outside of the building, with a ninth serving as a foundation stone in the middle of the floor of the bote. But the familiar sema stones standing upright are merely markers indicating where the main stones lie buried protecting the bote from demonic interference and influence. Burying those stones, called ลูกนิมิต, is the main event of a chapel dedication.
On May 30, 2018 (B.E. 2561) the day after Visaka Bucha Day, there was a dedication ceremony for the new bote at Wat Jom Jaeng, Sanpatong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The official decree attributed to HM King Rama IX and signed by the Supreme Patriarch 7 years ago giving permission to begin construction and setting aside the area upon which the building would stand was read by the District’s Chief Officer, the Nai Amphur as part of the inauguration ceremony. After permission had been granted, then began the project of fund raising which was moved into higher visibility 3 years ago when the 9 sacred stones were put on display and faithful were invited to give them veneration and to make merit by contributing to the construction project. [Picture #2] As I understand, the total anticipated cost of building the bote was divided into ninths, and the 9 stones would represent the entire project. Some temple projects take up collections for such things as individual roof tiles.
The bote for Wat Jom Jaeng was made of aged golden teak using traditional construction methods for the rafters and walls. Various stages of construction were observed over the years. The Buddha image was moved in before the walls were finished, and there was little ceremony since that figure had not yet been “awakened.” [Picture #3] One of the most important preliminary ceremonies was to raise the chofah [picture #4] and umbrellas to the roof peak. [Picture #5] The “eye-opening ceremony” for the Buddha image inside the bote was held throughout the night before the chapel dedication. Chanting lasted all night, ending just before dawn with removal of a hood and wax covering the eyes of the Buddha image. Then faithful brought offerings of rice to symbolically feed the Buddha, newly awakened and brought to life.
The actual, final ceremony was divided into three parts.
For the first part, priests came from all over the area including a delegation from the office of the Supreme Patriarch in Bangkok. [Picture #6] Laity took their places according to rank. The service was chanting. Most temple services are led in an antiphonal fashion by a lay leader and presiding priest, but this service had no such chanting and response. The priests inside the new bote took both parts. The leader was a very specially prepared monk who chanted non-stop for three quarters of an hour, leading all the monks in unison.
The second part of the ceremony was called a tawn (extraction) ritual. The participating monks formed two lines shoulder to shoulder with no gaps around both sides of the holes outside the bote. [Picture #7] Chanting was conducted at each of the four corners and inside the chapel. [Picture #8] An announcer explained that this was to remove any previous influences that may have been part of that sacred precinct in the forgotten past. The implication is that there may have been other supernatural or religious events there that would negate those for which the bote was about to be used. The overlap of doctrinal Buddhism with pre-Buddhist roots and supernaturalism is most obvious in the traditions which surround the bote. (I am not alone in thinking there is irony involved in the facts that having a bote is one of the highest honors a temple community can have, while a bote is probably the temple construction that the temple can most do without.)
The third part of the ceremony was releasing the sacred stones to fall into holes prepared for them. [Picture #9] These round stones, I have been told, are just conglomerate material (cement and sand presumably) but it is hard to imagine that they did not have other arcane ingredients. Certainly they were coated with gold foil and naam-mon – holy water which set them apart from ordinary use. The ลูกนิมิต were arranged according to number with the first being inside the bote and number 2 in front of the front gate. Numbers 3 to 9 were around the perimeter in clockwise/auspicious order. The word ลูกนิมิต means an omen or augury, as well as a sign. It can be in the form of a vision that portends the future. The scaffold for each of the stones contained an explanation. For example, posters informed us:
AUGURY STONE 7 In the northwest direction (Payap) the stone at the back of the left side of the bote is in honor of Phra Kawambatitern, a disciple of outstanding good fortune and good looks. He was the tenth arahant (enlightened disciple) and 1 in 4 of Phra Yasakul, as well as the son of Nang Suchada, who donated rice to Gautama before he declaimed the way of enlightenment. And it is in worship of Phra Rahu who is the divinity in this direction.
STONE 9 In the northeast direction (Isan) the augury stone buried in the front on the left side of the bote is a sign of affinity, affecting the spirit. It is the final direction to venerate Phra Rahu who is the Prince of Prince Sittapa the disciple who was praised as exemplary in education. It invites worship of the Sun God who presides in this direction.
Notice that each informational poster mentioned both the pre-Buddhist divinity who presides in a particular direction as well as a connection with saints from the first set of disciples who received instruction and ordination as disciples directly from the Buddha, himself.
Each of the 8 border stones was suspended in place and held in a wicker harness with other wicker strands needing to be cut as well. This job was performed by donors who contributed major shares of the cost of construction. Each donor was given a ceremonial knife and sent to an assigned place. [Picture #10] The highest honor was given to those assigned to cut bindings of the foundation stone inside the chapel. After a brief bit of chanting, fireworks and a large gong accompanied the donors as they chopped the wicker strands binding the stones. [Picture #11] The knives, being more ceremonial than functionally sharp, required a lot of hacking to release the stones. The stones dropped into the holes, but those nearby got pieces of the wicker for good luck. [Picture #12] Then the donors and laity moved outside the retaining wall behind where their stone was now sunk. The presiding cleric approached each group and asked in Pali if they had buried the stone in the hole and they responded in Pali that they had done so. He made specific mention of each stone by its position, “This Western Stone …,” or “This Northeastern Stone.” [Picture 13] Meanwhile the other monks re-entered the chapel to be formally presented the edifice in the name of the people, and to receive it ceremonially. With that, the chapel was dedicated and the service ended. [Picture #14]
After the formal service, participants and patrons were awarded souvenirs including 80 specially made Buddha images.
This week we heard that Pope Francis expressed his pastoral love for a Chilean sex abuse victim who is gay. The fellow said that the Pope told him, “God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.” This has electrified a segment of LGBT Christianity who think of it as a reversal of the Roman Catholic Church’s stand.
“God made you the way you are.” Will this declaration resonate and become the mantra that pulses with the heartbeat of the church? Will the theologians, those doctors of things divine, find the will to affirm that “Christ redeems you and loves you the way you are”? Then we shall have the freedom to do great and loving things, for that is what we are made for.
Almost those very words liberated me a couple of decades ago, after four decades of hearing nothing really accurate or helpful from the church or its scholars. “God made you like THIS” and not like some other people that are not like this. THIS will not change. Some things are subject to change, but not THIS. The moment I heard that liberating affirmation, I began to try to find out what THIS is and gave up years of fruitless efforts to be otherwise. That was the moment I embarked on becoming happy with “who I am”.
I hope the guy from Chile found the sort of exoneration I did.
“God loves you like this and I … love you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.” I hope this expression from Pope Francis is accurate and we will not be hearing a rebuttal. I hope this fatherly wish will not be obscured behind walls of interpretation that mean he did not mean to mean it so simply. Alas, just one day later we heard that the pope instructed bishops to be on the lookout for gay guys applying to enter seminaries, and if there is any suspicion at all, to keep them out.
The church has more than one voice, even if the voice is the Pope’s. The church always has and always will have collective thoughts about this, as well as dissenting opinions. We have not heard the last of this. Angry objectors are biding their time.
But on THIS matter, time’s up. The time has come for the church to shift.
The shift will not be into universal consensus, which we are led to believe would be a complete reversal of the church’s previous consensus that sodomy is sin, the worst sin of all, the abomination that is so bad it’s name cannot be spoken and that needs to be cut from the body with a red-hot knife so the hideous tumor can be cast aside and the wound be cauterized. There always was a minority in the church who opposed the inquisition and who knew that being made like THIS was neither God’s mistake nor ours. The shift we seek is toward inclusive love, just enough, for now, to tip the balance. These numbers are rising, and may now include one more relieved soul from Chile.
[Credit for this 2013 cartoon goes to Angelo Lopez of the Philippines.]
My friend Dr. Lora Friedrich, Professor Emeritus of Simpson College, observed, “Students these days DECIDE what is true rather than DISCOVER what is true. This is what’s basically wrong with the American Educational system.” What Lora and many other educators have found is that students nowadays think they have the right to make all the decisions about what they do in school and what they are entitled to get out of it. And institutions have yielded to this commercial pressure.
However, the cause is deeper than student entitlement. It is cultural, as mentioned in a famous critique by Isaac Asimov: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’.”
It is unnecessary to belabor the notion that we have reached the point where the balance may have tipped in the USA away from education, science, and knowledge toward options, entitlement and protection. Nobody is saying that ignorance is good. Not in so many words. The words being used sound more like common sense. I hear people saying, “There is no such thing as scientific facts because there are only theories that will be disproven sooner or later.” “There is a conspiracy by liberals to impose immoral values on the public.” “There is a conspiracy by conservatives to impose Christianity as a political system.” “Every family should have the right to say what their children learn.” There are tropes on-line for every point of view, including, “I have the right to be protected from offensive ideas.” “In order to defend our liberties and our religious convictions we need the right to at least ignore opposing systems of thought.”
Education is being bent to conform to this post-modern skepticism about the motivations of those who press for comparative studies. More and more educational systems are adopting single points of view curricula. Students are not taught how to assess knowledge but only what is right. Time is valuable. Life is short. Young minds are vulnerable. Tell the new generation what they need to know to function in our culture and then give them skills to fill roles that are needed.
Here I feel I should post a caveat. A better educational system does not pose conflicting points of view merely to show how flawed one of them is. The purpose of comparative religion courses, for example, is neither to show how one religion is obviously superior nor to show that all religions are basically the same. Nor does a valid educational system waste time and resources suggesting specious and indefensible propositions just to “be fair”. There is no point to spend much time on a flat earth theory, or that the Nazi Holocaust is just a hypothesis, or that vaccination for diseases is a conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies, or that people (being deported) are “not people, they’re animals”. A better educational system teaches people how to think, how to subject ideas to critical review, and how to prove and dispute arguments based on verifiable evidence and logic.
Much has been said about how expensive such an educational system is. What I want to suggest is how expensive it is to be without a consensus that such a system is preferable. A blog essay needs to be short enough to fit on a page and a half, so I will just give 3 examples of what our anti-intellectual bias is costing.
Consider the cost of climate change denial, which is essentially US government policy for the time being. This has caused the USA to be a pariah among nations, which are going ahead without us. Meanwhile, fossil fuel costs are rising and resources are dwindling while better and cheaper power sources are being subjected to obstacles other nations have avoided.
Consider the cost of wholly privatized health care, which is how it is working out as a result of political deals made by the US Congress. US health care in this system has slipped out of the ranks for developed nations. The number of personal bankruptcies due to unmet medical costs has skyrocketed. And the cost of medicine is higher than anywhere on earth.
Consider the cost of limited access to justice, which results from irrational and inconsistent application of sentences. A high percentage of legal cases and imprisonment comes from prosecution for drug offences, which are treated as medical cases in enlightened countries that are not trying to suppress populations. The cost of incarceration is far greater than the cost of treatment for the condition, and the results of incarceration are far less positive.
This I think is the bottom line: the cost of our devaluation of valid education is that the USA is being relegated to the second tier among nations. We have lost the moral authority to be an advocate for international cooperation and mutual welfare, much less the mentor for democracy. We have jeopardized the financial safety of a third of our population now and the entire generation to come.
And we are not even getting short-term benefits such as living wages for laborers, value for cost for government services, or better neighborhood environments. We are producing the first generation in American history that will not have it better than their parents
This is the 70th year since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. Shortly before his death Gandhi gave his grandson Arun a list of the acts of violence that people perpetrate on one another. He called them the “Seven Blunders of the World” (a pun on other lists including especially “7 Wonders of the World”). In June 2013, Arun wrote, “This list grew from Gandhi’s search for the roots of violence. He called these acts of passive violence. Preventing these is the best way to prevent oneself or one’s society from reaching a point of violence, he would say.” They have also been called “Seven Social Sins” that if not resisted can destroy both persons and countries.
My question this weekend at the start of the season of college and university commencements during which wise addresses abound is, “Have we learned nothing?”
But first, Gandhi’s list of universal blunders that effect violence on those who espouse them:
1.Wealth without work.
2.Pleasure without conscience.
3.Knowledge without character.
4.Commerce without morality.
5.Science without humanity.
6.Worship without sacrifice.
7.Politics without principles.
Arun added an eighth: Rights without responsibilities.
I submit this list as a possible summer sermon series for colleagues looking for alternatives to another trip down lectionary lane. It is tempting to develop a commentary on how each of those blunders has persisted and metamorphosed in our time. Take “politics without principles” for instance.
Today, I simply want to recommend this list and reflect on it as a whole.
Gandhi was known as a political activist, in which role he is credited with accomplishing the impossible, defying the British Empire and bringing it to an end, starting with the most precious jewel in the Emperor’s crown, India. Moreover, this was done without the kind of violence such defiance usually provokes. Perhaps it was just time for the Empire to end since its usefulness to Great Britain was ended.
But Gandhi was also a philosopher. It was a time in which philosophers were treated as popular figures and accorded attention now reserved for entertainment stars and royalty about to be married. One of the largest crowds in modern France thronged to the funeral of John Paul Sartre. Irascible Bertrand Russell was better known in Great Britain that most movie stars. And revolutionaries were philosophers before their revolutions got out of hand. I’m thinking of Marx, Mao, Ho and Che, but there were others, like Bergson, whose philosophy was poetic and just as effective in transforming the human condition. Philosophers in those days could get heard.
Gandhi was not railing against tyrants who do violence in order to perpetuate their tyranny. His list was reflective. He was warning that attempting those blunders is counter-productive. The first victims are those who blunder. They are temptations that lure the unwary with false hope. They are lies that destroy the liars and prevent the very things they promise to provide. They are “the easy way”.
What’s more they are the modern way, our way, and feel-good natural.
It is shocking also that we who love to pick and choose, do not do that with items on Gandhi’s lift of blunders. We embrace the lot. We do that when we are not paying attention. It’s like our racism and tribalism, it operates when we are not talking about it. When we talk we can be nuanced and erudite. We can make sense. But when we are on to other issues like buying a car, or deciding to vote, or intent on sex, we blunder.
Gandhi’s list includes professional references when he mentions such things as commerce, science, politics and worship. Educators, medical researchers, members of legislatures, pastors, and people on welfare and on hospice-care … all occupations are covered. But everything on the list is also a universal human endeavor. It’s not just pastors who blunder into worship without sacrifice, and may not even primarily be pastors. Nor are most who blunder into politics without principles on the public payroll, so do those who refuse to vote responsibly. We all blunder.
If we have made any progress in the past 70 years it may be toward understanding that these blunders are not merely sources of potential violence. “Passive violence” is violence. It is permissive and dismissive, permitting systems to operate in these blundering ways leading to devastating consequences, and dismissive of complicated objections in behalf of entitlement and exceptionalism.
But I hear voices objecting to those who insist it is their right to be protected from the impact of other people suffering. People with pink pussy caps and rainbow flags are standing up and speaking out. Those voices are a little more audible than they used to be. That might pass for progress. Meanwhile there is bloody violence on every hand, unabated and unrepentant.
Arun was redundant, I think, in adding an eighth blunder to the list. The seven blunders his grandfather listed are explicatives. They are aspects of rights without responsibilities. What’s more, they are a comprehensive list for our post-modern era, as one would expect such a list to be from a wise philosopher who concentrated on universal truth while spinning thread.
This week we probably lost another LGBT leader. What makes it unusual is that he abdicated, in effect. He felt compelled to proclaim that he thinks his life-long conservative political convictions are falsely understood by “the LGBT community” in such a way that he has to choose between being an LGBT advocate and a supporter of US President Donald Trump. In other words he feels obligated to choose between being consistent with his beliefs and being an advocate for LGBT rights being held by a community that he thinks insists he stand for a whole list of “liberal” issues. Since he cannot pick and choose the issues he wants to advocate, he feels forced to choose between being head of an LGBT advocacy network and being a political conservative “in the Trump era”.
These are key passages from his long message posted this week:
I do not support Black Lives Matter; I do not believe in systemic racism, white privilege, safe spaces, intersectionality, reparations or the third wave of feminism. I do not believe in sanctuary cities.
I support Brexit, school voucher, nationalism, boarders, equality of opportunity not equality of outcome, rule of law, small government, gun ownership, pro-life, and separation of church and state (rightly understood).
I cannot be in the closet [about his political conservatism] any longer simply because I am a gay "activist" and simply because identity politics dictates that I must be liberal or be ostracized from the LGBT group. I choose to be ostracized from the LGBT community, if that's my only choice.
He is choosing ostracism, a type of social martyrdom. He is marching bravely into the Internet coliseum singing “Nearer My God to Thee”.
What we have here is another gay person who voted for Trump and now wants to ignore the things Trump is doing and defend his vote as from his heart of hearts. One question is how can any gay people willingly vote against their best interests, but the other question is what do they think their best interests are?
My first thought was that he is confused and his list of things he supports is quite inconsistent and incompatible with actual issues LGBT groups advocate. But on second thought he may be right, just unclear about how he is right, that he has to choose between “us and them.” I propose the following as thoughts as to what is going on between Liberals and Conservatives in the USA and elsewhere:
In many countries (perhaps every country) there is a struggle going on to promote human rights and opportunities for LGBT persons. This has initially been divisive before finding areas and strategies for rapprochement, in those places where that has been accomplished. Particular campaigns have included same-sex marriage and the rights of transsexuals and transgender persons to have their sex identity changed on official documents, as well as the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. Often churches and other religious organizations have been active opponents of these efforts, citing beliefs that the sexual binary is an inviolable law of nature or that males are created superior to females. LGBT rights groups have sought linkages to other human rights groups whenever possible. It is a strategy to produce strength through numbers. Opponents have tried to discredit these groups by focusing on a particular issue in order to divide and defeat them more easily. The divisions between “liberals and conservatives” have basically been about these linkages.
My “Ah Ha!” is a realization that we often fail to differentiate between principles and strategies. For example, LGBT advocacy groups have often sought to align themselves with other groups advocating different forms of human rights. Feminist rights, racial rights, sexual rights, immigration rights, healthcare rights – they have a lot in common and advocates can learn from and assist each other. We can march together in a Pride parade or #Me Too rally. But opponents of one of the issues can highlight that and seek to discredit “the whole agenda,” tarring everyone with the same brush. Church groups, having become convinced that abortion is not a human right but a grievous sin, find it easy to lump anyone favoring abortion with those who favor other issues as well. Zionist groups excoriate anyone who advocates human rights for Palestinians and call all with whom they associate anti-Semites. Racists in the USA, feeling threatened by increases in numbers of people of color, have chosen “Confederate Monuments” and battle flags, as a symbolic issue to be used against a wider swath of “dangerous ideas” including controls of any kind on firearms, or homeschooling. The idea is to unhitch one issue from the package the opposition is presumed to advocate in order to quash the opposition.
The fallacy, of course, is the failure to notice that advocacy groups try to form alliances without necessarily subscribing to all items on every list some other marchers are hoping to accomplish. When we collapse all those distinct aspirations into a lump with a libelous label other aspects of our logic and rationale begin to collapse, too. Then it is easier to feel like a victim. When we succumb to paranoia, we are lost to our cause.
Thailand’s health services are among the best in the region. This improvement over the past 50 years is astounding. Any medical procedure that is standard elsewhere is available in this country, including the most advanced. Thailand is trying to become a “medical hub” and for 15 years has been striving to promote “medical tourism” where travelers come to Thailand for elective surgery as well as advanced treatment. These developments have promoted Thailand as a top-level retirement location as well.
In this essay I would like to ruminate on a lesser known aspect of health services development in Thailand, namely the spread of health care into the “hinterland.” My comments are personal observations, subject to review.
1.Primary medical care is now available to 80% of the population from where they live.
2.Every one of Thailand’s 77 provinces has (or will soon have) a general hospital and most of the 900 districts () have a hospital open 24 hours with in-patient facilities and a doctor on site round the clock. Specialists come on rotation.
3.There are international-class medical centers in every region of the country.
4.The development of clinics with scheduled emergency health services in populated sub-districts is proceeding with extensive local support.
5.Preventive health care and education about health risks are expanding to the point that average village residents are conversant about these topics.
VILLAGE HEALTH VOLUNTEERS (referred to by the initials อสม) are organized by the staffs of village clinics. The work of each volunteer organization receives directives from the district health department and financial support from the central government to give the volunteers a small monthly stipend. A local organization might have about 20 volunteers.
The volunteers meet monthly for strategy planning and health training. They are called on to assist in health campaigns such as the current, annual “deadly mosquito crusade” (my translation of the phrase). If an epidemic breaks out the volunteers’ first duty is to collect data and to spread the word about measures to be taken. If the epidemic is severe, as was the case with dengue fever in our village last year, the volunteers help provide back-up services for medical teams to descend. Any rise in health risks is probably first noted by volunteers. Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are the 3 leading medical health issues in our village. The volunteers keep track of persons with elevated risk factors.
Over all, the health level of village residents has risen dramatically. Life expectancy has risen from 50 to 75 years in the last 50 years. Infant and early childhood mortality rates have dropped almost to zero.
I would argue that the most important contribution made by Village Health Volunteers is health awareness and neighborly concern. It would be hard to measure the effect of having 20 people in most every village know that blood sugar levels over 120 are dangerous, that blood pressure for older people ought to be about 130 over 90, and that stagnant water is where mosquitoes proliferate. Nutrition is the leading contributor to poor health for people in our village now that public sanitation is vastly improved.
Village Health Volunteers are on the front line helping to expand health services to every village.
I attended an event the other night that reminded me how complicated gender is, and yet how simply it can be handled. As I looked around I saw every point on the gender spectrum represented by people at this village gathering to celebrate a fellow’s graduation from university. There would be no way to accurately place anybody on the continua without listening to their stories over time. But it is tempting to jump to conclusions at a glance. “Here is a farmer and his wife,” we might think. “That singer is a kathoey, for sure.” “Obviously, she is a Trans.” But, if we become acquainted with these people (as Pramote and I have done) it becomes clear all is not always as it first appears, and maybe nothing is.
That raised the question for me, “Knowing as little as we tend to do, and much of what we know being wrong, how can society function?” Some societies become dysfunctional, as a matter of fact, when they become overloaded with mystery or ambiguity as when new people move in. But our village commencement party went along and village life in that village functions placidly by applying the simple principle of “mai pen rai.” (“Never mind” is the standard translation. “Let it go” is often what it really means. “Never mind” is dismissive. “Let it go” is a more plaintive exhortation or instruction.)
“Never mind” works most of the time. But in writing things take on sharper shapes. A lot of writing is being done these days, perhaps more than ever in the history of humankind. Several billion people write every day and post it on the Internet. After being aggravated for a while yesterday by seeing still another announcement on-line about “ladyboys” I decided it is still important to try to straighten out our gay discourse so we can be careful about applying it to ourselves and others.
My contribution this weekend is a simplified word list:
Gender behavioral and psychological aspects of one’s identity
Gender identity a person’s perception of their gender as male or female or something else
Sex biological aspects of one’s identity
Sex assignment an infant’s sex noted at birth by medical professionals on official records
Cisgender conforming to one’s sex assignment, also “cis” versus “trans”
Transgender not conforming to one’s sex assignment, also one who is using medical intervention to change gender identity, including reassignment surgery to alter physical organs
Intersex one with confusing or ambiguous biological sex indicators at birth
Binary the concept that there are 2 distinct sexes but also that one is either gay or straight
Non-binary gender identity outside the 2 binary categories; also “gender-fluid”
Gender Dysphoria anxiety over one’s gender; distress or unhappiness caused when a person’s gender identity does not map their physical attributes
THAI TERMS IN ENGLISH
Gay a male who prefers sex and romance with males
Kathoey a male who exhibits feminine characteristics
Third sex a female personality born in a male body as karmic punishment, a subset of kathoey
Tom a female who exhibits male characteristics
Trans short for transgender but exclusively one who is transitioning from male to female
Ladyboy a pejorative, insulting term for a “trans”
For previous blog-essays on similar themes see:
Taking Over from a Failed Generation
News this morning is that a trial date has been set for October 29 in Eugene, Oregon for a suit brought by a group of young people against the US government for its efforts to stop strategies to address climate change and global warming. The suit, in brief, says these efforts are going to have a disastrous impact on coming generations. The Trump administration, of course, has tried to block the court case.
Following the Parkland, Florida high school shooting that left 17 persons dead and 16 injured, surviving students launched a campaign to bring about a few measures of gun control, including a ban on public sales of the type of automatic, rapid-fire guns used in several of the recent mass shootings. The first rally by students at the Florida state capitol was followed by a nationwide day of rallies at 800 locations including nearly a million gathered in Washington DC. The students are now working toward voter registration to get new voters to elect legislators to bring the changes in the law that the current law-makers are afraid to make. Even though the National Rifle Association has apparently backed a smear campaign against the students, including an Internet challenge that certain student leaders be shot dead and the Trump administration has been utterly silent about this form of terrorist intimidation, the students are making amazing progress and getting results.
Across the Atlantic young adults are also becoming aroused at the actions of their elders. It seems that the younger generation is not as happy with Brexit as the older generation who voted for Great Britain to exit the European Union. It remains to be seen whether they will become a voting block to replace enough of those sitting on the green benches of power (i.e. in the House of Commons) to reverse some of the trends toward isolationism and protectionism if not the whole neo-liberal game plan.
In Spain, Italy, Greece, Israel and Turkey as well as in France, Switzerland, Germany and Austria it is not the oldest who are being contested by the youngest, but those in the middle age bracket. My generation, 75 and above in age, has already largely shifted out of power. World leaders are in their upper 50s and 60s on average. (Of course there’s Trump and the Pope pushing the average up.) The voters who have won battles recently are 45 to 75. These are the ones hanging onto conservative outrage at things which cost money and might change the way the world has run to their benefit.
Meanwhile, here in Thailand and South East Asia, the young adult generation is also not as docile as the power-wielders would like. There is little evidence that the generation aged 18-38 (to pick an arbitrary spread) is as enthusiastic to raise challenges as are those in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but whenever a choice target comes they are the ones to make waves. Despite threats of imprisonment and worse (far worse), it is this generation that uses graffiti, Internet, and sneakers to let the world know their elders are plundering the planet and expect to get away with it.
Two examples have drawn world attention. When a rich and powerful mogul was caught poaching in a national forest, the hunter was protected from prosecution by colleagues in the government. All over the city of Bangkok graffiti of the black cat began to call attention to this crime and the injustice that is following. Shortly afterward, pictures began to appear on-line of a posh housing development for retired judges that has encroached on the slopes of Doi Sutape, a mountain with semi-sacred resonance that overshadows the city of Chiang Mai. A young adult protest has succeeded in (temporarily) stopping the construction and has embarrassed the military and District 5 of the Judicial Department who colluded to bend the law so these houses could be built. “They are legal,” the officials insist. “They are wrong,” the young people responded, and set out on a 700 kilometer march from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to protest the housing development, and coincidentally to protest the law and those who made the law.
These timid voices here and bolder ones around the world are thinking in terms of regime change. It is hard to believe they will pull it off, and peripheral consequences are even harder to imagine, but what is inevitable is that the young generation is finding its voice and that voice is going to be heard. Those in power in this generation are not going to last, not only because getting old is inevitable, but because what they are doing is devastating and they are failures.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.