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!