JAILING FALSE PROPHETS
A prediction for 2012
It is claimed the Mayans left behind a prophecy that the world is doomed to end in 2012. But, like many prophecies, hundreds if not thousands of years separate the prophet from his prediction. When the prophet is long dead, we shrug it off when the event doesn’t come to pass.
Most of us are surrounded by prophets of one sort, predicting stock markets, the collapse of the euro, that you will meet that bright, attractive, hot counterpart if you show up at high noon at Little Harry’s Bar and sit on the third seat from the door. What prophets have in common is that they claim to have a direct mystical pipeline to the future. In other words, it ain’t science.
I had a look at my horoscope in the Bangkok Post for Wednesday, 4 January 2012, and was told, “Indulge in industriousness. Put the finishing touches on projects, but don’t initiate anything new. A small delay with a check or a contract could cause worry, but everything will turn out fine.”
A long-time journalist friend once told me that, when he worked for one of the wires, he was given the task of writing the horoscopes. He made them up. He gave his sign all kinds of positive, upbeat and uplifting predictions, while handing out dire predictions of life in the gutter, neck and shoulder pus-filled boils and inoperative hernias under the zodiac signs of his enemies.
Religious texts, including The Bible are riddled with stories of prophets who predicted all matter of things. Believers take those predictions to heart, particularly the ones about the afterlife. Prophets prove that you can’t have even a half-baked religion unless you have a good recipe that blends supernatural, superstition, and woo-woo in general.
The problem starts when a prophet starts spouting off predictions about specific events to specific public structures. He then has crossed an invisible line, at least, it seems, in Thailand where there is a high ratio of fortunetellers to population. A partial list of clients would include office workers, politicians, military, police, housewives, husbands, boyfriends, maids, CEOs, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, school teachers and street vendors. Some Thai fortunetellers have legendary followings.
Recently, in Tak province, a 73-year-old fortuneteller got himself in hot water over a failed prediction about a dam bursting. Thongbai Khamsi predicted that a large provincial dam in Tak would crumple on New Year’s Eve. After dawn arose on New Year’s Day in Tak, it didn’t take long for the locals to figure out that the dam, despite Thongbai’s prophecy, was still working just like a dam should, by holding back the water and generating electricity.
That apparently upset some of the local authorities. A number of people complained that they had sold their land at fire sale prices to get what they could before the dam burst. And even more damaging, tourism to Tak dropped by ninety percent. leaving a 400-million-baht hole in the local economy. If you made a bad real estate decision and your tourist numbers are down, all of this bad luck has to be laid off on someone. Why not Thongbai, the false prophet? The authorities, seeing which way the local wind was blowing, decided that Tongbai got the nomination as a false prophet, the man who had caused substantial public damage.
It would be unfair to say this kind of magical thinking followed by an angry populace howling for blood only happens in Thailand. Deuteronomy 13:1–5 counsels: “Prophets and dreamers are to be executed if they say or dream the wrong things.” I’ve never heard of anything comparable said in Buddhism. In this case, it seems the Thai local authorities are acting quite Christian-like in their zeal.
Tongbai has his own explanation of how he came about this prophecy. It came from his son, Pla Bu, before his son died. That son had quite a track record in the prophecy game, having predicted his own death 15 days before he died, along with having predicted both 9.11 before it happened in 2001 and the tsunami prior to 26 December 2004. He was channeling a dead son and that could be part of the problem. It is better to stick with talking to God. Like Pat Robertson who says God has already told him who the next President of the United States will be. If it all goes wrong, the come back is: “God is testing our faith.”
There is a hint that the charges by the authorities resulted as much from a loss of face as anything. They held a big New Year Countdown Party at the dam.
There is no word on whether Tongbai has predicted whether he will be convicted, and, if convicted, sent to the big house to serve time with murderers, rapists, arsonist, and armed robbers. He might teach a course in astrology to inmates or tell the guards’ and warden’s fortunes in order to get time off for good behavior. Just a piece of advice: he should avoid predictions about the durability of prison walls and stay on the more vague, abstract side, following the example of the newspaper astrologers.
Alternatively. he might switch to doomsday predictions because there is far less risk as long as sufficiently projected in the future, and, as predictions go, these ones are much more fun. No one ever thinks of charging a doomsday prophet with a crime. Perhaps what makes their false prophesies more acceptable to authorities is, unlike the dam, if the whole world is going to disappear, then there’s no possible buyer for all of that real estate anyway and what’s the point of going on holiday? No one really loses, and when the all-clear signal is given to celebrate and everyone who was terrified can turn around and laugh at what a fool the prophet was, he, if history is any guide, simply kicks the ball into the future again.
What worries authorities and has them reaching for the handcuffs are dire predictions of doom that cause large public panic. In 1669, a group of Russians, called “The Old Believers” convinced themselves the world would end that year. Rather than hanging around to see if that happened, about twenty thousand of these believers set themselves on fire to protect themselves against the Antichrist. I’ve not found a record of any prophet taking the rap for that failed prophesy. He might have gone up in smoke.
I have a few prophecies of my own to make in this first essay of the year. In the short term, the charges against Tongbai (who has yet to turn himself in to the police) will chill the prophecy business in Thailand well into February 2012; afterwards, it will be totally forgotten to ever have happened. If using criminal law is found effective against this false prophet, I predict it will be vastly expanded to round up many more of this ilk. In that case, I recommend you buy into companies that maintain a connection to the jail-building business in Thailand, as these companies will enter boom times. Look for promotion of government officials who meet their quotas in identifying and exposing gurus, prophets, seers, fortunetellers, and pundits. The era of hunting terrorists has run its course.
As we enter the new dawn of finding, charging, trying and punishing the false prophets, all of us can take pride is working together to weed them out before their false prediction overrun the garden of our common humanity (and makes us sell our houses at stupid prices).
Let this be the year of visiting Thailand, where no bad prophet goes unpunished. And to be on the safe side, leave your predictions about the future at home.