The thing about anthropology, like economics, or any discipline for that matter, is it can be applied to anything. When I was searching for a college major, a family friend suggested I take an anthropology class, so I did. This coincided with a World Religion class I was also taking by an archaeologist turned community college professor.
The idea of studying cultures like lab animals and digging up forgotten gravesites sounded mighty appealing. There was something controversial and a little unethical about the whole discipline. I took a psychology class in high school but it didn’t hold the same kind of interest like history did. And when I took a sociology class I sat there smug knowing I had made the right choice. My professor was such a do-goody liberal that I assumed all sociologists were liberals.
When I took a Philosophy of Religion class I was mesmerized. My professor even wanted me to change majors. In his office he tried to convinince me but this was in my senior year in college and the idea of starting over when I wanted to just graduate felt like another year + in academic hell. I was flattered, of course but it took me years to appreciate the interest and potiential he saw in me.
In Cultural Anthropology we had to write a paper on what anthropology is. Our professor enjoyed our papers so much that she wanted to published them all. My friend Rachel wrote her paper under the influence of pakalolo (which I always thought was a Hawaiian word but I recently learned it is Thai). Her paper started like this: Anthropology! Anthropology. Anthropology. Anthropology. What is Anthropology?
My paper didn’t start off so swimmingly. I’ve kept it though but it is in a brown envelope somewhere in a barn in Northern Alabama along with my other college papers. A rarity since I am neither sentimental nor a pack animal. But I remember writing about my experiences in Thailand.
When I was 16 my family and I visited. And rather than get into my adventure in teenage angst and clash, clang and clank of cultures, I’d like to share what my college paper was about: time. In particular, the time I was sitting on a plane next to some bloke who had also been to the Land of Smiles. He said he felt like Thailand was behind the United States, politically, mentally, socially, etc.
We’ve heard this before. I mean I hear this a lot and maybe you do too? Thailand is what the West was like 10 years ago, I feel like I have gone back in time, kind of thing. I told the man sitting beside me that he should try not to look at it that way, you know, Thailand is just different, not behind. Later when he asked what my college major was and I said Anthropology/Archaeology he said, “Oh! That’s why you said what you did about Thailand. I thought that was a rather strange thing to say.”
He seemed pleased with himself and I sat there confused.
I still sit here confused that many expats and visitors believe that Thailand is behind. I see how the West is Winning and I’m not sure any country should want to follow. Sure there are some convieniences that I have taken for granted but – behind? Has government made our lives that much better? Do we want Thailand to follow? What the hell are we doing here then?
If we apply this same principle to aboriginies or native peoples this denotes that modernity in its shiny form is the pinnicle of beautiful success. You should be here, not over there. This is how a society progresses. We are more evolved than you. Yeah and that doesn’t digest well with me. It’s not like I’m trying to be politically correct or something, it’s just…really? Sounds like ethnic cleasing without the truth bomb.
I think the next time someone says Thailand is behind, I’ll ask behind who? And if they say some Western country like Australia I’ll ask, Do you really think they should follow? Or maybe I’ll be a pussy cat and say nothing at all but wonder why we still live in a world where people think they know what other people should do.