Uncivil society

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2011, 12:00am


Chief superintendent and acting regional commander of Kowloon West Stephen Cheng Se-lim must be joking when he says there's no data to suggest protests in recent years have become more violent.

And it's not funny. We may be used to seeing protesters being carried off by the police, but that's not the kind of image we have been seeing recently. Sure, we can argue about what constitutes 'violence' and at which point 'rowdy' becomes 'violent'. But, whatever you call it, it's on the rise, and more people are getting things hurled at them, pushed to the ground and hit in the chest. It's almost unbelievable that, only eight years ago, half a million people had the civility to take to the streets without incident.

And, perhaps, it is precisely because we hang desperately onto our memories of summer 2003 that we are somewhat reluctant to recognise that some members of our community have elected to regress to a point of condoning and making excuses for bad behaviour. Moral weakness and a lack of polite restraint are being dressed up as heroic expressions of anger and discontent.

Collective denial is not the answer, and to claim that the situation in Hong Kong 'is not that bad' is just intellectual lethargy. How 'bad' does it have to be for it to become an issue of concern? I refuse to believe that it has to become a full-blown riot, like the chaos in London recently, before we face the music.

It's easy to blame everyone else for our problems, social woes and anger. But abandoning personal and social inhibitions damages the legitimacy of our grievances. And if those of us standing on the sidelines allow some people to take their right to express themselves to the point where the rights of others are disregarded, we become agents of tyranny.

Two 'activists' were acquitted this month by a magistrate for 'disorderly conduct'. And, as expected, one of them proclaimed they would continue to use similar tactics to express their discontent with the government. But what we may have missed, and should be gravely concerned about, is their lawyers' arguments in court. They claimed that it was 'a trivial, rough incident occurring in a moment of animal exuberance'.

Democratic societies are tolerant, but always within limits. There's certainly a nice ring to 'animal exuberance', but it's time to remember what separates humans from animals. The human race needs to head towards progress - not be seen to be regressing.

It's probably hilarious to hear 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung accuse his colleagues and critics of hypocrisy. This, coming from someone who insists on exercising his freedoms and rights, even 'in the heat of the moment' and at the expense of others. Leung is deluding himself - his increasingly nonsensical rhetoric only makes him seem less and less like a defender of freedoms.

The more we allow antagonistic politics that thrive on verbal and physical violence, the more we allow self-righteous bad behaviour to render public discourse meaningless. And our political or democratic process will only degenerate into social and political entropy.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA