Urging Cambodians To Critique Their Culture

Brandon has recently referred to my comment that the Cambodian culture is ‘backward’ in this post. In response to that, I would like to share some more thoughts about the Cambodian culture and why I would urge all Cambodians (and all others) to critique their own culture.

I notice that some Cambodian people romantically adore their Khmer culture. Some people’s adoration stretches to the extent that they cannot accept any critiques about their culture as if critiquing the culture equals criticizing the person. Their adoration takes levels that are frightening me – examples are sentiments of supreme nationalism, the gullible belief in distorted histories that have pushed Cambodians into a victimized position that they gladly exploit in political and personal relations, and their willingness to fight and die for the country. To them, the excessive love of one’s culture or nation is noble, but to me it is ridiculous. It doesn’t require heart to love something, it requires more heart to critique the thing you love.

Several aspects of the Khmer culture that I find absolutely deplorable:

  • the hierarchical structure of its social life. Cambodian children are raised to respect and to be obedient toward their elders and toward Buddhist monks. Instilled with strict social rules, the Cambodians are unable to properly reflect on social values and social norms. Children are not encouraged to think for themselves, and to oppose their elders as the elders are always considered right. It should be no surprise that they grow up lacking self-reflective skills;
  • the people´s highly status oriented attitude and their low demeanor toward those who are more wealthy. Cambodian people are extremely status oriented and excessively adore those who enjoy a higher status. It is considered impolite to make eye contact with someone of higher status. In return, empowered by a feeling of superiority despite their plain stupidity, those of higher status look down on the lower classes;
  • their idleness and slowness, which seems to be common among most native South-East-Asians and which may be attributed to their tropical climate. Cambodian people are lazy and like to spend their time gazing around mind-numbingly;
  • its false and pretentious intelligentsia. The Cambodian intelligentsia are like dogs: they bark so much, but they know absolutely nothing! Equipped with beautiful words and eloquent expressions, their words are often empty of substance. They are good at doubtlessly regurgitating any knowledge or wisdom that they have read, but are incapable of critical thinking and of constructing their own ideas;
  • and worst of all its culture of self-pity. Cambodians like to pity their own existence and it is in this self-pity that their suffering is multiplied and their extreme egoism is revealed. This most self-destructive emotion which drowns them in a sea of depression is often used as a weapon to manipulate others, and is sometimes expressed through hysterical lamentations. See here and here for some examples of their miserable cries.

Although I know that my harsh critique of Cambodian culture does not please some Cambodians, they should know that in criticism there is often a desire to improve the people’s situation and to elevate them. It requires effort and energy to care enough about something to speak freely about it. I would urge all Cambodians who would like to improve their nation to gather the strength to stand above their culture so that they can look down on it, reflect on it, and critique it – even better, make fun of it and eventually transcend it.

Hence, Cambodian, go and indulge yourself in some self-mockery!

4 thoughts on “Urging Cambodians To Critique Their Culture

  1. Excellent post, Chhay Lin!

    I wholeheartedly agree that more Cambodians should be critiquing the hell out of their culture.

    Here is my (minor) issue, though: I am unsure of where you stand when it comes to non-Cambodians critiquing Cambodian culture. Actually, I’m pretty sure you’re okay with it, but Leftists and some anti-imperialists on the Right would argue that such cross-cultural critiques are culturally chauvinist and could lead to drastic consequences when it comes to the relationship between liberty and power.

    Consider, for example, Jacques’ critiques of Arab and Islamic culture here at NOL. On the surface of it, these critiques can serve to gain a better, mutual understanding between (at least) two cultures. Thus I support cross-cultural critiques.

    On the other hand, Jacques’ critiques lead him to call for global Holy Wars against Islamic cultures wherever they don’t mesh with his own beliefs about Western culture. Because the West has more guns, more wealth, more freedom, and more integrated institutions, Jacques’ cross-cultural critiques become a tool for wielding power over others. This is not an issue that solely pertains to Westerners. The Han do it all the time. So, too, do the Arabs. My minor point is simply that cross-cultural critiques have to be approached delicately, even though as individualists (and therefore internationalists) we chafe at such Politically Correct conventionality.

    • I am concerned with the flourishing of all human individuals. It should not matter whether you’re Cambodian or non-Cambodian critiquing Cambodian culture – anything that suppresses the human spirit should be critiqued. It seems to me that especially cross-cultural critique is important, because those who are outsiders can often offer fresh perspectives on Cambodian culture.

      I have never understood why people would be culturally chauvinistic in the first place since all cultures are, in my opinion, oppressive and should therefore be transcended if we would truly like to gain spiritual freedom. To overcome the culturally chauvinistic cross-cultural critiques means that we should overcome our detachment with our own culture and finally see who we really are – just an individual that is trapped within the nets of our own culture like everyone else. Having said that, it sounds quite silly to me to bomb other nations just because their culture is ‘inferior’ when we might as well spend our time and energy to improve our own (despicable) culture and our (despicable) selves. I had written about several deplorable aspects of Cambodian culture, but I might as well have written about deplorable aspects of the Dutch culture. I notice a deplorable delusion among the Dutch that their culture is so much superior: Americans are dumb and fat mindless idiots, the Chinese are tranquil and passionless beings foolish enough to accept their oppressive government’s rule, and the Arabs are violent people who cannot control their own sexual passions, whereas we the Dutch are open-minded and more liberal. Many say that Syrians or other foreigners should not be allowed to enter the country in order to protect our ‘Judeo-Christian’ culture, but no one seems to know what this culture holds. It seems like they are trapped within a self-delusional pride of their heritage, but are unable to locate its fundamentals. I dislike Dutch impatience in conversations. I prefer being around Cambodian people, because even if they do not agree with your views they have the courtesy to listen and ponder over what you have said. Next to that, Cambodian people are much more childlike, warm and less stinchy. In being more generous, the Cambodian people are more willing to give trust to others without having received any benefits in return (yet). This is a sign of courage within human relations, whereas the Dutch in this respect are extremely cowardly.

      Cross-cultural critique is wonderful, but we should beware of viewing our culture as superior and it is outright evil if we would force other cultures to adapt to ours by means of bombs. It seems to me that peacefully introducing new ideas and opening dialogue with people of other cultures are much more effective in transforming their (and our own) cultures.

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