Blink­ered po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment only skews democ­racy

Jon Lowe writes that from Wash­ing­ton to HK, me­dia and po­lit­i­cal bub­bles are caus­ing peo­ple to stub­bornly ig­nore re­al­ity and de­mand the im­pos­si­ble

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - JON LOWE

The pre­dic­tion of a Chi­nese mon­key was borne out on Nov 9 when Don­ald J. Trump romped to vic­tory in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. If the re­sult could be in­tu­ited by a seem­ingly psy­chic simian in Hu­nan, how could the world’s me­dia have got it so wrong? One pos­si­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that the me­dia, dom­i­nated by so­cial pro­gres­sives and Clin­ton sup­port­ers, had come to ex­ist in a bub­ble. Trump, with his mix of “home-speak” or ban­ter, wit, strong mes­sages, griev­ances, and sheer drive, se­duced a lot of peo­ple. But the me­dia didn’t seem to re­al­ize just how many peo­ple were sus­cep­ti­ble to Trump’s rhetoric. Ac­cord­ing to an ex-Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist I spoke to re­cently, the US main­stream me­dia’s big prob­lem these days is there are no longer writ­ers/ed­i­tors with work­ing-class or mid­dleAmer­i­can roots on the big six news­pa­pers, while those same pa­pers have closed down most of their na­tional bu­reaus and so have lost touch with the ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic. Adding to the main­stream me­dia’s prob­lem is that many peo­ple see their cov­er­age as par­ti­san and have been de­sert­ing in droves to al­ter­na­tive on­line news me­dia, thus cre­at­ing yet an­other me­dia bub­ble. The re­sults of these com­pet­ing bub­bles are be­ing seen now in the war over “fake news” in the world­wide me­dia, in which so­cial me­dia news feeds es­pe­cially are be­ing scru­ti­nized both for in­ac­cu­racy and the way they fil­ter out in­for­ma­tion ac­cord­ing to users’ ex­ist­ing tastes.

We see the prob­lem of “bub­ble-think” in Hong Kong as well, where so­cial me­dia bub­bles could be said to be even worse than in the US. The two young politi­cians at the cen­ter of the oath-tak­ing furor were un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced ex­clu­sively by their sep­a­ratist co­horts and their so­cial me­dia bub­ble to think it was a good idea to in­sult the en­tire Chi­nese peo­ple in pur­suit of their aims. And many of the “pan-democrats”, evidently starved of the oxy­gen of com­mon sense in their own po­lit­i­cal bub­ble, lost sight of pub­lic opin­ion when they egged on the two sep­a­ratist would-be law­mak­ers — be­fore the pair were barred from en­ter­ing the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil, that is. With blink­ers donned, the “pan-democrats” were only too will­ing to court the forces of chaos at a time when the LegCo needs fo­cus and con­sen­sus to ad­vance liveli­hood is­sues.

Bub­ble-bound pro-in­de­pen­dence ac­tors in Hong Kong stub­bornly ig­nore the re­al­ity that their im­pos­si­ble de­mands are doomed to fail­ure, and their ac­tions only risk bring­ing about or ex­pe­dit­ing the very things they claim to be so afraid of, such as greater over­sight by the na­tional par­lia­ment. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that more mod­er­ate ac­tors or ob­servers, such as for­mer gov­er­nor Chris Pat­ten or mil­lions of Hong Kong peo­ple, are irked by them. But this doesn’t stop these

It is time for the pub­lic, the politi­cians and the me­dia to open their minds and look be­yond the sti­fling dogma of their re­spec­tive bub­bles.”

young rad­i­cals bang­ing their heads against the prover­bial brick wall — which of course will only re­sult in sore heads, while their need to get a job per­sists. In this re­gard they are like the “but­thurt” pro­gres­sives in the US who are re­fus­ing to ac­cept Trump as their head of state and protest­ing in the streets while scream­ing ob­scen­i­ties or scrawl­ing “Not my pres­i­dent” across their body parts, and who have con­vinced them­selves in their bub­ble that Trump is the new Hitler and is set to gas large sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion.

It could be said that sec­tions of Hong Kong’s pop­u­la­tion share sim­i­larly hys­ter­i­cal fears about the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in re­gard to the SAR. Un­for­tu­nately, many mil­len­ni­als in Hong Kong seem to be sym­pa­thetic to the ide­ol­ogy of sep­a­ratism, a brand of pol­i­tics that can­not rec­on­cile with others in so­ci­ety. Of course, just as in the US, many of those en­gag­ing in the protest cul­ture are stu­dents, so their ac­tions should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. Yet de­spite their ex­pen­sive ed­u­ca­tion, none can ex­plain how Hong Kong might peel away from the na­tion which con­trols its de­fense, water sup­ply and other re­sources, not to men­tion has a rock­solid ba­sis for sovereignty — the le­gal, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural as­pects of which have been com­pre­hen­sively out­lined in this news­pa­per. But the screen­ing out of ra­tional ar­gu­ments that con­tra­dict emo­tional be­liefs is one of the hall­marks of bub­ble-think.

Peo­ple in Hong Kong would do well to re­mem­ber that its “One Coun­try, Two Sys­tems” frame­work is an ex­per­i­ment, and their ac­tions will have even greater reper­cus­sions when the re­sults of that ex­per­i­ment are an­a­lyzed and con­clu­sions reached on it. This is one rea­son why Pat­ten called sup­port for pro-in­de­pen­dence “reck­less”. Young peo­ple, es­pe­cially, should en­gage their ra­tional minds more and re­mem­ber that though they have a pen­chant for scorched-earth pol­i­tics now, we will not see the real con­se­quences of this un­til the “no change for 50 years” pe­riod elapses and they them­selves are “old” and have largely aban­doned their rad­i­cal pos­tur­ing. It is time for the pub­lic, the politi­cians and the me­dia to open their minds and look be­yond the sti­fling dogma of their re­spec­tive bub­bles.

The au­thor is a sea­soned jour­nal­ist who has worked in many places in the world.

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