My Take

Let's put 'civil' back into public discourse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2015, 1:04am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 May, 2015, 1:04am

In many busy spots across Hong Kong, stands have been put up to collect signatures for people to support the government's electoral reform package. They also carry large banners against the alleged violence of those who oppose the package.

I ended up not signing after being approached by a campaigner in Central yesterday. While I generally think it's better to have a flawed universal suffrage than not at all, it's a mischaracterisation to label the pan-democratic movement as violent. It is not. The proper word is incivility, which is a far cry from real violence.

The courts have let off several young Occupy protesters charged with assaulting police officers. It's becoming a pattern. Being violent is a criminal offence, but being uncivil is not. This doesn't make it any less problematic, though, morally speaking. While incivility is no crime, it does serve as a good barometer of the terrible state of our public discourse in which obscenities are now encouraged.

It all started many years ago when lawmakers such as "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and "Mad Dog" Wong Yuk-man started cursing and throwing objects at officials. Monkey see, monkey do.

It's now acceptable for young protesters who pose as democracy lovers to speak and behave without the least regard for basic decorum.

You have students from the Academy for Performing Arts, Chinese University and Baptist University disrupting their own graduation ceremonies and those from Lingnan University organising a concert for a band to scream obscenities against police.

You have students from Scholarism berating top officials for ignoring public opinion while blocking them from talking to people at public forums. The irony seems to escape them every time.

Being uncivil means you completely disrespect other people and the social settings such as official graduation in which they find themselves. This likely stems from their youthful arrogance and certainty that they alone know the answers so their opponents are either fools or knaves.

Yes, there are many fools and knaves in the pro-Beijing camp. But the opposing camp has no shortage of fools and fanatics either. No one has ever become less wise by being more humble and less certain of themselves.