As I go through the process of pruning my book manuscript in order to deliver to the publisher, I will occasionally post a few sections that I had to cut, but which for reasons obvious, obscure, or inane I have decided to somehow preserve.
Today’s excision is a note about the ways in which scholars of Theravada Buddhism have talked about ‘syncretism’ in Buddhism in Southeast Asia:
Kitiarsa offers an excellent review of the literature on the ‘problem’ of Southeast Asian Buddhism (Kitiarsa 2012). Instead of syncretism, Kitiarsa describes Thai Buddhism as a ‘vigorous hybrid,’ a genetic metaphor, and adds in the notion that it is the widespread commodification of everyday life, and the transformation of perceived needs, that drives modernizing religious difference (Kitiarsa 2012, 2, 31-33, 19). Peter Skilling has also adopted the word hybrid, though in a linguistic mode, specifically to avoid the notion of ‘syncretic,’ emphasizing the creative agency involved in the creation of such hybrids (Skilling 2007, 208 n.2). While I prefer the linguistic metaphor to the genetic one, both appear to suffer from the assumption that we might somehow access an originally pure and non-hybridized tradition.
Kitiarsa, Pattana. 2012. Mediums, monks, and amulets: Thai Popular Buddhism. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Skilling, Peter, Jason A. Carbine, Claudio Cicuzza, and Santi Pakdeekham, eds. 2012. How Theravada is Theravada?: Exploring Buddhist identities. Bangkok: Silkworm Books.
So the elections are finally over. The CPP retained enough seats to form a majority government on its own, though it lost so much ground to the CNRP that some are calling the results a “wake up call” for the CPP [Phnom Penh Post, 2].
All in all, given the (different types of) threats of violence, this may be the best possible outcome. The next 5 years will provide evidence one way or the other. Meanwhile, I expect the nastiness from folks who do literally nothing but complain in private, but scream nastily at everyone they know (and lots of strangers) during election season, to drop off.
Which is part of the problem, actually. Not the absence of nastiness, which is rarely useful, but the absence of real engagement. More than anything else, representational politics encourage disengagement, punctuated by shrieking madness around every election. When political parties seem like the only possible route for change, more substantial and positive ways of improving the world are ignored. I’ve heard that Facebook is ‘the’ place to be for the Cambodian election, but I left Facebook during the last American election, when people who hadn’t done a lick of organizing or work to improve society in four years suddenly started accusing all their friends of being on the wrong side of history. Then, a week afterwards, they were back to watching sitcoms and guzzling diet soda. This version of politics is entertainment. Distraction. Not change.