May 22

Armed conflicts are hard to process. Subconsciously they remind us of our own mortality and trigger a strong impulse to sympathize with either the aggressor’s or the victim’s side. After that, the position taken will rarely be corrected. A headwind will often amplify this, sometimes by suppressing or distorting new perceptions and information. The Swiss psychoanalyst Arno Gruen analyzed the causes for human destructiveness in a remarkable way in his publications.

This momentum explains why so many individuals as well as international media and organizations had such obvious difficulties to name the violent aspects of the political protests that took place. An openly signaled sympathy for the proponents of democratic values by individual reporters would be justifiable – but having to read and hear terms like ‘defense’ or ‘justifiable anger’ even after arson and attacks against civilians took place, many of us were stunned by the noticeable partisanship and rationalization of the damage caused.

A dynamic we saw in the camp of UDD was just as disturbing. Many people inside the camp as well as many supporters outside were so emotionalized by the passionate speeches (which constantly alleged the government of having an intent to kill them), that when their leaders finally called to immediately stop the radicalization at the time of their arrest, it did not help anymore because the train was already at full speed. Not least because revolutionary movements often attract elements who join them not from political belief but rather for the pleasure of destruction and violence – a drive just waiting for the appropriate opportunity to unleash.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2010)

Tourists walking through one of the destroyed districts of Bangkok (Image: ZEIT Online)

Arno Gruen – books dealign with
Bangkok iReport CNN
This is no peasant’s revolt (The Nation)
Put an end to this rebellion (Bangkok Post)
The Shame of the UDD (Bangkok Post)
Two “protest leaders” – two interpretations of ‘peaceful opposition’
What would your government do about this (Bangkok Post guest comment)

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