• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 3:43pm
PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 3:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 3:01am

No place for hateful finger-pointing in a truly civil society

Alice Wu is troubled by the incivility on display of late in Hong Kong, which has less to do with a peeing toddler than the reactions to it

The call of nature has been too much on our minds in Hong Kong. Almost everyone has weighed in and pent-up emotions have been gushing out over the now infamous video of a mainland couple allowing their child to urinate in a busy Mong Kok street.

The cultural divide between Hongkongers and mainlanders is already dangerously wide, and continues to grow.

Previously deemed too unsavory a topic for the dinner table, details of this latest incident of our culture clash have broken down the walls of etiquette. While discussion of current events may be necessary, there's a difference between being socially engaged and perpetuating animosity.

Finger-pointing resolves nothing, nor does dwelling on the distasteful details. Retaliation and aggression perpetuate hate; and hate, of course, begets hate. It's unfortunate that some commentators, be they media figures themselves or those quoted in the news, have not only exacerbated the problem, but helped to create new ones.

Resolving this culture clash once and for all will take every ounce of our political wisdom, dexterity and magnanimity. In the meantime, humanity does have a choice. We can continue to obsess, or we can channel our thoughts elsewhere.

It's not so much an issue of "when nature calls" any more; it wasn't entirely that to begin with. It's now up to us to decide what we do "when humanity calls".

Ponder what Martin Luther King Jnr said at his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964: "Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation."

Ponder, also, the themes of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, because we in today's Hong Kong are living through a modern version of his masterpiece: confronting the conflicting human impulses towards civilisation and barbarity; right and wrong; and individualism and the collective good.

And what do we make of the so-called tolerance paradox? When a person who values tolerance responds antagonistically to intolerance, the person stands accused of being intolerant himself.

More troubling still, "tolerance" is sometimes misconstrued as condoning unlawful, unhygienic and inconsiderate behaviour in public.

Must we tolerate the intolerant? John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, concludes that a just society must tolerate intolerance, for otherwise the society would itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. But Rawls also sees that society has a reasonable right of self-preservation that takes precedence over tolerance.

We have laws against relieving oneself in public, so that is our society's rejection of such an act. We don't have laws against perpetuating hate. Does that mean we tolerate it? In a tolerant society, do we have the moral right to be intolerant? We can't outlaw bad taste or rudeness. Does that mean we're encouraging these despicable traits?

The true test of civility is whether we can stand our ground, say our piece, then rise above it without resorting to aggression and retaliation, regardless of what others do to provoke us.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

You miss the point a little. A fair-minded observer would feel sorry for the unfortunate peeing child, and see local overreaction. Through no fault of his own he is a manifestation of the bigger underlying frustrations in HK caused by a corrupt, unaccountable and incompetent Gov. Mainland arrivals are blamed for over crowded streets, local businesses squeezed out by mainland tourist arrivals (eg a Prada in Ap Lei Chau?), no places at kindergartens, schools, hospitals, assaults on journalists, interventions by Beijing officials, land policy, housing etc. The child peeing is a lighting rod for all these problems and so the protests are about all of this, not just pee. Absence of representative Government will continue to cause these apparent over-reactions. The US didn't revolt against the British out over just tea, there were more serious underlying issues at play, in particular no taxation without representation, a lesson we could learn from.
Dai Muff
First, why persist in this myth that it was only urination? Second, civility is a a two-way atreet. Many years ago I saw a woman change a baby's fully loaded diaper on a table in a Maxium's dim-sum restaurant. Would most consider this civil behaviour if they were at the next table? And if not, why would it be fine for our streets to become public toilets? It is less uncivil to reprimand people for using the streets as a toilet than it is to use the streets and public areas as a toilet. Triads routinely use this as a lever to force tenants out of their buildings after all.
Dai Muff
Lack of toilet training is not an act of God. And yes, accidents happen sometimes. But I see no evolutionary reason why one cultural group has weaker bladders and sphincters than others. Social mores DO have a role here.
Dai Muff
I'd care if I were in Manila, but at least it would be their home. Believe it or not, defecating on the street is not a mark of sovereignty.
A Kuro
Filipinos pee and ****$ everywhere on the streets in manila and nobody cares.
It was a simple case of force majeure, the same if someone vomited on the street. Move on.
Though or through mixing perspectives
AW presents inspiring arguments
See how readers turn Rawls` original position
into biogeopolico positions


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