Mandating Virtue

Oddly enough, after recently posting on the significance of the number “12” in making reference to Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay “The Twelve Tones of the Spirit” (“All Roads Lead to Rome”), today I read that the Thai military junta has — controversially — mandated the teaching of “twelve main virtues” in Thai schools.

What’s with that?

It’s not the ten commandments and it’s not the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Nor, for that matter, do the “twelve virtues” entirely correspond to Rosenstock-Huessy’s “twelve tones of the spirit” or the twelve virtues represented by the twelve tent pegs of the aboriginal tipi. Then we also have the twelve spirits (“winds”) of the medieval maps, the twelve disciples, the twelve signs of the zodiac. Yet, the Thai military junta has determined that Thailand’s civic cohesion requires inculcating “twelve virtues”. These ostensible civic virtues are,

1. Love for the nation, religions and monarchy
2. Honesty, patience and good intention for the public
3. Gratitude to parents, guardians and teachers
4. Perseverance in learning
5. Conservation of Thai culture
6. Morality and sharing with others
7. Correctly understanding democracy with the monarchy as head of the state
8. Discipline and respect for the law and elders
9. Awareness in thinking and doing things, and following the guidance of His Majesty the King
10. Living by the sufficiency economy philosophy guided by His Majesty the King
11. Physical and mental strength against greed
12. Concern about the public and national good more than self-interest.

They seem benign enough. However, they could have been equally mandated by the Nazi state. Just substitute “Thai” with “German” and “His Majesty the King” with der Führer and it would amount to the same recipe for the coherence of the German Volksstaat. Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!

These ostensible “twelve virtues” are actually not twelve, but aspects of one — loyalty. Loyalty is a very conservative virtue, and esteemed highly in the military in terms of duty, obedience, following orders, and deference to authority. What looks so benign and civic-minded on the surface is, in fact, quite reactionary. It is designed to subdue critical thinking and potential rebelliousness, and to establish the King as the sole standard of human conduct and the incarnation of perfect virtue. The “twelve virtues” are very political. These “virtues” are, in effect, twelve tones of loyalty.

As a constitution for correct behaviour it begs comparison with the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Thailand is a Buddhist country, and one would think that the Eightfold Path would offer sufficient guidance in the right way to live. I can only assume that increasing secularisation of Thai society is behind this new constitution, as there are indeed distorted echoes of the Eightfold Path in this twelvefold constitution. For example, virtue number 9 mandates “Awareness in thinking and doing things” as an evident concession to the practice of “mindfulness”. But then it immediately undercuts and negates the meaning of mindfulness by mandating “the guidance of His Majesty the King”. In fact, submitting to the “guidance of His Majesty the King” could be said to be the main theme of this constitution.

But why the junta would hit on precisely “12” virtues is a curiosity, and perhaps the subtle influence of increasing “westernisation”?



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