For almost four months I have refrained from uttering a word on current affairs. The reason is simple: Frustration.
I am frustrated because I no longer feel like part of the city where I was born and bred. I don't agree with what many people think, do and say, as seen in the press and social media. I find it harder than ever to agree with many other people on how any given issue should be defined and understood. Rarely can I see good analyses of any given problem, let alone viable solutions. All I come across is parodies, mockeries, bullying and meaningless war of words. I am never shy to voice out what I truly believe, but I have become more hesitant than ever to do so. This is because I don't want to invite arguments that will lead to nowhere. There is an increasing tendency here to force people to agree with what one thinks is right. If you don't agree, even with a good reason, you will become a target of attack. You can hardly get off the hook until you give up and surrender.
I have run into these situations not only on current affairs, but at work too. Complainants are always demanding "justice" in their own terms, laying down deadlines for response (implying apology and compensation, if applicable) and specific actions. Failure to follow is deemed to trigger off complaints to the media or endless harassment. Having worked in the communications industry for more than 15 years, I am never afraid of dealing with the media for issues and even crises. In the case of harassment, there is every legitimate reason for us to report to the police for assistance. But any sensible person can imagine how time-consuming and unpleasant it is to deal with situations like these. It also requires courage and determination to stand by your own principles, despite all the possible assaults and accusations. Worse still, it has now become a routine for many companies and organisations in Hong Kong. Once you are portrayed and perceived as morally bad – be it insincere, merciless, dishonest, corrupt, pro-establishment, pro-Beijing, you name it, then you are doomed. No one is going to listen to you, even if you clarify with sound evidence. The media and many others will continue to find counter-evidence to support their unfair accusations and show that you are lying to cover up the mess.
But the point is, is what someone think right is genuinely so? Even what most people think right is not necessarily the case. If quantity matters, how many do we need in any given case? What about the reasoning flaws, embedded biases, prejudice and other variables that also exert some influence in the thinking process?
In reality, however, what is right or wrong is extremely difficult to tell. Our human world is full of complications, mostly entangled conflicts of interests and clash of values. Any given issue is never a simple question of "yes" or "no", "good" or "bad", "like" or "dislike". In many cases, the right intentions may produce wrong actions or unacceptable results. There are also situations in which questionable goals may generate some positive, though unexpected, effects. It is, therefore, extremely dangerous to justify the means with the ends, and vice versa. For example, can you tell whether Edward Snowden is absolutely right by leaking details of the US and British mass surveillance programmes? Do you think they are evil devices that are prone to abuse and thus should never exist whatsoever? How about the US government’s claim that such programmes have successfully helped the intelligent and national security departments to pre-empt terrorist attacks in various locations? In my opinion, this is not a question of right or wrong. It is a question of how to reconcile the protection of personal data privacy and national security. Mass surveillance is undoubtedly effective, but is there any other option that does not compromise individual privacy? If not, how much are we willing to concede our rights for the security and well-being of all? Labelling Mr Snowden a hero or a villain is by no means helpful. But people love doing it, because it is simple and easy. No questions asked. No responsibility involved. They don't need to use their brain and search their soul. It also gives them power to attack Mr Snowden or the US administration as they please.
If everything in human life can be reduced to a simple dichotomy, then we don't have to spend so many years learning how to think critically and logically. Logical analysis and reasoning will be worthless. All we need to do is to remember a few examples of what is right or wrong and we can apply them in virtually all situations. This is what I regard as anti-intellectualism, and Hong Kong has shown signs of being anti-intellectual for too long. Sadly, there seems no hope of remedy in the foreseeable future.