Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The King and I

I still don't know for sure whether Thailand's erratic new King, Maha Vajiralongkorn, is a genuine kook, or just a sufficiently advanced troll.

What I do know for sure is that it's risky to even ask the question, as Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, the first person to be arrested for lèse-majesté under the new monarch, has recently discovered. So we won't be spending 2017's big family holiday on the beaches of Phuket (a cynic would point out that we couldn't afford it anyway, but it's way cooler to say that we can't go because my subversive comments about the head of state put me in danger of arrest).

Those of us who live in countries which still enjoy free speech can joke about it now, but for Mr Boonpattararaksa and many other Thais, life under a thin-skinned authoritarian elite is no joke.

With the USA's erratic new president threatening his critics with financially crippling lawfare, street-level authoritarian buffoons agitating to criminalise dissent and massively intrusive surveillance networks tirelessly watching us all for signs of subversion and deviancy, those of us in the formerly free(ish) world may soon find that the joke's on us. If authoritarianism becomes the new normal, the question of whether our masters are kooks or trolls will have become academic - whichever it is, you won't be able to say it out loud, at least if you know what's good for you.