Published on September 5, 2007
As the multi-billion-baht bubble is about to burst, we could foresee using cosmic dust as a key component in new amulets, as well as making them candy-coloured and conducting blessings at zero gravity. But dead infants' ashes?
Religious authorities initial reaction to this latest Jatukam innovation was predictable: they said there's "nothing illegal" about it. It may not have occurred to these officials, though, that mixing infants' ashes in amulets is not unlawful probably because no lawmakers in the past, here or anywhere else on earth, had anticipated something that bizarre. In other words, just because there's no law prohibiting people from crossing the street on their hands does not necessarily mean you have the right to try it.
The Jatukam phenomenon and Thai politics are giving us great food for thought, with the superstitious craze in Thailand going a long way in explaining our political predicament. Matters sound familiar indeed: first there was a little hype, then it turned into something pervasive, and once the "masses" are hooked, a semblance of legitimacy begins to build. Instead of strengthening principles, this "legitimacy" weakens them.
One may be tempted to think that ardent Jatukam believers are operating on blind faith, but they are not much different from people adoring a politician or political party. In a society that is supposed to value simplicity and modesty but has gone wild with amulets, which its producers boast will deliver unimaginable wealth and invincibility to the wearer, a distorted political system is anything but a surprise.
Anyone who has studied the Jatukam boom closely should be able to write a manual on "How to Win Elections". Go overboard with promises and full-blown marketing efforts because people will love them. And the names of the different types of Jatukam amulets teach us that there ought to be no sense of shame when it comes to bluffing your opponents. After an "Incredibly Rich" model was issued, rival versions popped up including the "Immediately Rich" model, the "Rich Without Reason" model, and the "Exploding Sky Rich" model, to name just a few.
More importantly, only cowards and losers stop at the line. You cross it, back and forth, until it's no longer there. Jatukam makers have managed to get the best of both worlds through this strategy. On one hand, they successfully sell the amulets as spiritual recourse; on the other hand, they tell their customers that being ridiculously rich is life's main purpose. And don't forget to claim credit by saying that you're doing it for the poor, like the producers of the baby ashes model did when they argued that some of the proceeds from the amulets would go to building a crematorium for the destitute.
Once you step over the line, you not only help yourself, but also both your customers and competitors. Putting babies' ashes in amulets in a Buddhist nation may be hardly acceptable initially, but it will only take like two days. If your ends win over the masses, they won't question your means that much. It's even easier for your competition, whose hypocritical side can't wait to rear its head. They will embrace your initiative, but hate you for getting there first.
Once you manage to make everyone believe that dead infants' ashes can be the essence of something spiritual and sacred, everything else is all yours. You can even proclaim that you truly represent the religion. After all, it's "you" who bring millions of people back to the temples like nobody had ever done before. How good will it feel to associate your name with the highest and most valuable doctrine, which you actually smear, and have those who question your means labelled heretics?
Just be careful about the bubble. You will be thriving on a shaky foundation that you yourself undermine. When it crumbles, you may feel like blaming your enemies, who force you to come up with weirder and weirder plans like the baby ashes in order to stay afloat, but remember it's you who crossed the line first. Now you may want to redraw the line, to get back to the principles that you once showed contempt for, but it's already gone forever.
No, making dead babies' ashes a component of amulets for people to worship is not illegal. A lot of your "customers" may still love it and you may argue that some of your competitors have even done nastier things. But the point is Jatukam is big and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Just because there is no law specifically against it doesn't mean that such a practice cannot bring the whole industry down.