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November 2012
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Are you free?

November 11, 2012

A friend of mine, living in Japan, posted on Facebook recently a warning to his friends there.

The Japanese government is cracking down hard on illegal downloading of movies and music. They have introduced new laws which can carry up to a two year sentence for anyone found guilty of illegal downloading. 

There was a long debate on his page; mainly about how the government intend to enforce these new laws, the likelihood of being caught and ways to avoid detection. 

An interesting point to me was that no-one mentioned the morality of file sharing. I think I am correct in assuming from the comments that no-one involved believed they were doing anything wrong. 

Freedom of exchange of information via the internet is just one of the freedoms we currently take for granted and it is under threat. Not just in Japan but all over the world. 

Search ‘internet freedom’ on your browser and you’ll get numerous articles about UK and US legislation restricting and censoring internet usage. You’ll also get lots of helpful websites dedicated to fighting against this legislation and providing software to help you remain free. 

The internet however is just the latest of our freedoms to be restricted or removed by overzealous politicians in the name of security. 

Our freedoms are being eroded by successive, security obsessed governments in the attempt, yes, you’ve guessed it, to keep us free. 

Its classic double speak that would make George Orwell spin in his grave, if they didn’t already have his corpse under surveillance as a potentially dangerous dissident.  

Benjamin Franklin put it most eloquently when he said: 

“People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both” 

The expats I’ve met here in Thailand don’t tend to talk much about historic politicians but personal freedom is a frequently recurring topic. 

I know it’s going to sound like hippy nonsense to my scientifically minded friends, because it does to me, but in Thailand I feel freer than I do back in the UK. Many Americans, Europeans and others I’ve spoken to feel the same way. 

I’d be interested to know if any serious Psychologists have done studies into freedom being a tangible factor in our personal well being.

Obviously if you take the extreme examples it definitely is. If you are locked in a box then your freedom is probably the only thing that occupies your mind.  Unless you’re a vampire, perhaps. 

If you live in an oppressive dictatorship then you might be more aware of a lack of freedom on a daily basis.

In a modern democracy, where I am guessing most people believe themselves to be free, it is a lot harder to quantify.

So why do I feel more free here in Thailand? 

When I jump on my moped and roar off the beach with the wind on my scalp and the sun scorching my pasty hide I feel free in a way I don’t get to experience at home. It isn’t the weather or the holiday town atmosphere that makes me feel this way, it’s more than that.

When I see children playing at the beach with no supervision in sight it makes me remember my own safe and carefree childhood. It also makes me think of the British media that see paedophiles lurking behind every garden fence and children being mown down by speeding drunks on every street. It reminds me that I used to walk to school, a thing I rarely see back home anymore; kids in macs crowding the footpaths have been replaced by family friendly cars clogging the roads. The exuberant screams and laughter of children playing or riding their bikes in the streets has been replaced by a safe, secure silence. I also don’t think we can just blame it on video games. Parents’ paranoid concern for their kids safety keep them locked in the house as often as the latest big game release. 

It’s not that there’s no-one watching them in Thailand. It’s quite the opposite. Parents feel safe in the knowledge that if they are not watching their kids someone else is. Child-minding is an inclusive enterprise shared by the community. It’s much easier for a working parent and much more fun for the kids. Your grandparents probably remember the same method from their childhood. 

Of course there are dangers here. There is a terrifying amount of child sex tourism in Thailand. We see it on the news all the time. However, children are still not snatched off the street. If you allow your kid out to play with his friends he’s not going to disappear. Not with, as I said before, the whole neighbourhood watching. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that organised criminals intimidate or coerce poverty stricken parents into selling their own children. I am not trying to claim Thailand as a paradise, although it is to many people, I just feel more free here. 

Thailand is a fantastically tolerant culture. I love to see the eccentric characters, this city in particular attracts, strolling unconcerned down the packed sois or enjoying the bars. No-one cares if you are a man in a dress with a full beard or if you drive a motorbike festooned with neon lights. No-one cares if you are homosexual, transsexual or like to dress up as a baby. It’s your life you can do what you want.  Lady-boys often work in offices or other non-nightclub jobs without any feelings of self-consciousness or worries about social acceptance. 

Can we say the same about our so-called tolerant western culture? We might pass laws like the legalization of gay marriage and a bloke in a dress might be welcome in many bars in London but would he feel just as safe and comfortable in your small town local?

I still remember the reaction I got from a gang of frothing Chelsea supporters the day I walked past them, in Fulham, in my trendy pink jeans. I was never so glad of the presence of a large contingent of police officers. 

I’ve written in my previous blog about the many hassles and impediments to a foreigner starting a business here in Thailand but for the locals it is the opposite experience. 

My girlfriend wanted to start selling ladies fashions at a nearby market. She spoke to the market’s administrator for the first time two days ago, went to Bangkok wholesale market yesterday, bought her stock and her business is up and running today. 

The tax man isn’t going to turn up and bust her. There will be no council health and safety inspector giving her hassles about her extension cords or the step up into her small stall. Our governments’ (I’m including other developed nations here) incentives for small businesses do nothing compared to the Thai government’s lack of impediment to small businesses.

Then there’s the law, which just seems simpler and more straightforward than ours; except for drugs offences where it is much harsher than home. That’s one area where we win in freedom terms. 

Every time I hear of new oppressive laws being passed at home I feel a little bit happier that I am here. 

For example the upcoming “Communications data bill” which is intended to pave the way to the government recording all the internet and mobile phone activity of every British citizen. 

This might not concern most people. Perhaps you think the government will have no reason to read your emails? What happens if they decide you are a terror suspect? You can currently be locked up without trial and Britain has been criticized by human rights organizations for having the longest period of pre-charge detention in a comparable democracy. A lesson they obviously haven’t learned since the darkest days of the Northern Ireland conflict when terror suspects could be legally held without trial on the word of a senior police officer. 

Britain has the most video surveillance, per head of population, of any country in the world.You are being watched, probably right now.

I use Britain throughout this blog as an example because that’s where I am from but please don’t think it’s only us. Ask any sensible American about the so called ‘Patriot Act’ and see what kind of response you get. 

In Thailand the government does not have the resources or the power to watch us with video cameras and read our emails. 

When the police stop you here, they don’t do a background check or ask you intrusive questions. If your paperwork’s in order they wave you on and if it’s not they fine you on the spot; approximately 400 Baht or £8 and off you go. If you’ve been speeding it might be more expensive but I’m yet to get caught for that.

I complained about the process of obtaining my Thai motorcycle licence in my personal blog. Then I thought back on the process and expense of obtaining a drivers licence in the UK the Thai process suddenly seemed laughably easy. Find out how it works here:   

I’ve tried my best to explain the feeling of increased freedom here as best I can and given some possible factors that influence this feeling.

I’ll leave it to more dedicated, scientifically minded folks than myself to do the studies and find the real answers if there are any.

Until then, if you want to find out for yourself then just hop on a plane. Thailand will make you very welcome. 

by Paddy Pattaya. Find out more about Paddy Pattaya here.

Categories: Thai life