Society’s general permission to act darkly
We live in a society and under a leadership that gives liberal, general permission for individuals – both Khmers and foreigners – to engage and act from our darker human side, the part of our psyche where the seven deadly vices – pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth – agitate and fester, reigning supreme. Whereas a healthy society celebrates personal achievements and virtues, our current Khmer society encourages individual and state actors – again, both us Khmers and foreigners alike – to trample upon a Khmer person’s rights and successes, impede individual excellence, and pride functioning at the lowest common denominator. We have implicitly, as a society, foregone our rights and dignity – unconsciously and gradually.
This social construct affronts and is devastating to personal growth, societal development and national integrity and honor. Why? Because Khmer individuals form the collective society (i.e., nation), and a nation that is comprised of mediocre individuals cannot be said to be a nation of greatness, integrity and valor.
We, Khmers, are socially conditioned, through gradual cultural transmutation passed on through the decades – most emphatically during the Khmer Rouge years – to think of ourselves as less than others; we possessed a collective low self-esteem. We have traded in our high culture for the low culture of meanness, banality, pettiness, materialism, counterfeits and violence, as manifested in the pervasive human rights abuses from trafficking to land-grabbing to impunity to constant fear.
We are no longer in control of our individual and collective lives; we are no longer the owner of our destiny; we are not the opinion-makers of our society. Rather, in this sea of lightning-paced, swirling changes, we are insecure, lost and drowning by a globalized, porous world of 2008, while our mentality is still one of feudalism or more generously, the bipolar Cold War world.
We, Khmers, are not the only ones being socially conditioned. Foreigners – the guests of our country – are also being conditioned, being further ingrained (oftentimes unconsciously, thus the nature of social conditioning) to think of themselves as superior. But remember, we have given them general, liberal permission – ‘Yes, you can grope our women in public and call them all manner of names, for we do the same’ – for we have accepted our inferior status. The problem is not them; it is us.
One of the more devastating social patterns of this sociological phenomenon, which is homogenizing us Khmers into a distinctive mold, is our sense of victimization and victimhood.
I find Karpman Drama Triangle useful in helping to frame and contextualize the state of victimhood. Steven Karpman gives the following definitions:
A “Victim” is generally someone who believes in increasing personal vulnerability, has difficulty finding meaning and comprehension in the world, feels powerless, and views him/herself in a negative light. Therefore, a Victim looks for a rescuer to take care of them.
(As an aside, a legal victim, more narrowly, has been harmed directly by an individual or perpetrator – has suffered a “legal injury” that is physical/material and/or psychological – not just by society in general.)
A ‘Rescuer’ is someone who often does not own their own vulnerability and seeks instead to ‘rescue’ those whom they see as vulnerable” and in the process may feel “‘hard done’ or resentful, used or unappreciated in some way.”
The “Persecutor” is unaware of his/her power and uses the power negatively, often destructively.
The Karpman Drama Triangle works at both the social level of observable behavior and at the internal dynamic level of a person’s feelings and perceptions.
Related, I find transactional analysis – in understanding the ego states of an individual alone, in relationships, in social constructs and places like Cambodia – of immense interest.
Taking all the above ideas together – social conditioning, Drama Triangle, transactional analysis – and binding the individuals addressed by these ideas into a larger grouping of society or nation (i.e., Cambodia), we observe the current dark social pattern of Khmer collective vulnerability and powerlessness – the ‘beggar’s mentality’ – in constant need of rescue.
Here, I am not talking about legal victim or the fact of having suffered; what I am concerned about is the mentality of victimhood – a state of being – which is oppressive, regressive, destructive.
Breaking the mold
We need to break this mold of intangible expectations and pressures – which are mostly negative, us as victims (adopted by us and foreigners) – for us Khmers to look and act a certain way. In this social construct, a Khmer cannot be audacious or tenacious or liberating. A Khmer should not be seen enjoying him/herself at the Elephant Bar; a Khmer should not be dressing too smart or sassy. To be so, to do so, is to go against the grain of the established, dark norms of inferiority, and to arouse the ire of our unreflecting, fellow Khmers and to challenge the unprocessed superiority of the foreign guests.
If we are to drown in our victimhood, we cannot glory in our successes as a victim but then not feel the smart when we are victimized. We need to learn to temper both our wins and losses with sobriety; both, when taken to an extreme high or an extreme low, are fabricated fictions. We need to be free; freedom requires that we erase from our mind victimhood mentality.
For related matters, please visit: www.csdcambodia.org“Voice of Justice Program – ‘Love for Sale’; ‘What is Success’; ‘A Soulless Nation’.
Theary C. SENG