18 November 2012

The Insertion of Capitalism and its Clash with Community Rights

Many of the villages that we have visited throughout the semester have shared their respect and aspiration of community rights. They emphasize the importance of community within their daily life and cultural traditions. 

Large institutions have altered their way of life and have even displaced many of them, which has had many negative affects on their culture and traditions. These institutions have an apparent relation to the insertion of capitalism within the Kingdom of Thailand.

This has been true for the village of Rasi Salai. They have been greatly affected by the construction and implementation of the Rasi Salai Dam. The dam has now been in place for many years and the people of Rasi Salai have begun the process of coping with the reality of the dam.

The creation of the dam represents capitalism within Thailand because it has benefited many large corporations through its construction and upkeep. The dam cost millions of Baht to construct and many manufacturing companies were able to benefit from this production. Large-scale companies and wealthy business owners were able to profit from this dam project and have subsequently contributed to the corruption and oppression of local villagers. Those who have been able to benefit from the dam are largely those who do not live in the affected area and many of them have much more capital then those who live in Rasi Salai village. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence among capitalistic conditions. Those who have more money often have more influence in critical projects and decisions, and they also happen to be the ones who benefit the most. 

The dam was also constructed for the purpose of avoiding major flooding in Bangkok and industries near by. The importance that has been placed upon Bangkok and creating industries has a large connection with Thailand’s yearn for development and capitalism. This has had many affects on the rural villagers of Thailand, which make up majority of the country’s population. For the Rasi Salai community, it has affected them through the creation of the dam and its affect of permanent flooding in their village. On behalf of the villagers, this has meant their farmland being flooded, years of protesting, changes to their traditional way of life and much financial uncertainty. The value and significance placed on capitalism has directly affected this people and their culture.

The villagers have opposing views to the principles of capitalism. The villagers of Rasi Salai made it clear that they greatly value community rights and a desire to be self-sufficient. They have stayed together through their fight against the dam and continue to support each other just like they have for generations. They fear that they may loose parts of their tradition and culture if they to let go of their emphasis and value on community rights. Their lives are dependent on each other and they are content with the culture that their ancestors have been practicing for hundreds of years. They do not value capitalism in the same way as many people with wealth and many of those who come from western societies.

Rasi Salai is currently considering the implementation of a co-op. They are very interested in working together as a community and creating optimal use of the compensation that they will receive from the government. By doing this they would be able to resourcefully support the community ideals and values of their culture.

The Rasi Salai villagers are fighting for more than just their flooded farmland. They are fighting to uphold their culture, to preserve community rights and to give a voice to those who are not financially wealthy. 

Ryan Kammerman
Occidental College 


April DesCombes said...

It has been a theme throughout Thailand, and also in the US, that those who are negatively affected by government projects are marginalized groups. The people who benefit most are large corporations and the government itself, not the people. It was a good point you brought up about the dam saving Bangkok from floods, showing Thailand’s need to put more importance on industry and the economy. The economy and GDP is often used as a reference point for the prosperity of a country. Yet as GDP goes up, seen as a positive, the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer is over looked. This importance in capitalism and the economy is negatively affecting these villagers’ lives and culture.

CDobrez said...

Ryan and April bring up great points, but the question no one seems to asking is: who SHOULD get prioritized? While it is clear that the villagers of Rasi Sali have been marginalized and have lost most of their land and livelihood, the dam has brought development, foreign investments and perhaps even saved Bangkok from flooding. It (and several other development projects) has raised the standard of living for many Thai, by increasing GDP. It So while the government is clearly prioritizing industry and development over villagers within the Northeast, is that wrong?

Sydney said...

Something that has continuously come up this semester is the criticism of capitalism. I have struggled with this because while I too have my own criticisms of this economic system, I have found that often the blame is misplaced. For starters, there is no society or nation on earth that practices true capitalism. Each state has their own form of capitalism combined with other economic systems fueled by whatever philosophy is found appropriate. Take America, a country we are all familiar with, we are defined as a capitalist society however, we are more than that; America’s economic system is just as much a melting pot as our country is. Capitalism has taken its own form in Thailand, but seems to also be confused with urbanization, globalization, modernization, and progress. Will dams support interests of major corporations? Sure, this is a large possibility. But this is not the sole purpose behind them. There are many factors involved in large projects like this, and I doubt that capitalism is the foundation driving them.