Escaping the Present For a Misremembered Past

Thai tourists in traditional costumes at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Photo: Travel @ Manager / Facebook
Thai tourists in traditional costumes at Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Photo: Travel @ Manager / Facebook

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukInterest in the historic capital of Ayutthaya has been revived by a recent soap opera, leading thousands to visit the site.

But as fans of “Bupphesaniwat” revel in dressing retro, it’s an opportune time to rethink nostalgia and the risks of idealizing the past.

Nostalgia for the “good old days,” particularly those in the more distant past, is potent. People want to remember something more glorious, ideal and undisturbed by inconvenient truths.

Idealization of the past means its negative aspects are often omitted. Like an edited photograph, unpleasant and inconvenient aspects are deliberately excluded. So in the ideal kingdom of Ayutthaya, many people only want to see its positive side, bereft of its class oppression, inequality autocratic cruelty and exploitation of the weak.

These negative aspects challenge our fantasies about the past. Because the present is obviously less than ideal for most people, they opt to romanticize the past.

History is defenseless against those who want to see what they want to see in it.

The past is like a photo – there’s always something outside the frame.

Some may argue similar things could be said about the present. People have a habit of wanting to only see what suits their thinking.

We tend to edit and leave what’s inconvenient and unpleasant out. Moving from the analogy of a picture to a seeing eye. A seeing eye has to focus on something and what’s not focus tends to be blurred or forgotten.

These are inherent deficiencies in human sight.

Politics and even private life can be handled in a much more sympathetic and amicable way if we are able, if not willing, to acknowledge different ways of looking at things. Could it be the deeply entrenched mentality induced by the Thai education system that until recently was mostly based on mulitiple-choice questions and rote memorization?

Too many people think there’s only one right answer and conflate belief in having the right answers with being virtuous or a good people. Sooner rather than later, it boils down to a mortal struggle between good and evil.

Thailand has been stuck in political impasse for too long. It’s been a dozen years now and many still can’t acknowledge the very simple fact none of us has a monopoly on how we see the past, the present and the realities of both.

The sooner more Thais realize this, the better. For we have been stuck in a political quagmire for too long. Major problems facing Thailand are not just clashes between pro-democracy and pro-junta forces, there are more political spectrums in the struggle. Some who oppose Thaksin are not necessarily pro-junta. The belief that only one’s views are right has become too costly for us.

As for glories of Ayutthaya, let us put the past into a richer and more complete perspective.