My Take

Independent thought always trumps sticking to the party line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 August, 2015, 1:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 3:17pm

It's now part of the conventional wisdom that Hong Kong has become politicised and divided into numerous political tribes. I suppose that's true if you belong to one of those tribes. Certainly, both mainstream and social media outlets increasingly ally themselves with one or another of those political factions. Still I hope that most Hongkongers, with their traditional good sense, have enough intelligence and independence to think outside of ideological straitjackets.

In that rigid universe of discourse, it is possible to predict what people will think about the "breast assault" woman court case from what they think about the University of Hong Kong row over the delayed appointment of an obscure academic to an obscure post, and vice versa. You can guess from someone's opinion of maverick businessman Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television from their stance on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and vice versa. Why should that be when those issues and events are quite unrelated?

The reason is, once you identify with a tribe, group-think takes over. Your independent ability to critically analyse events is impaired as the group's assumptions, biases and narratives take over. If you are a pan-democrat, you are likely to think in a certain way about last year's sacking of Commercial Radio host Li Wei-ling and the knife attack on former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to. But if you are from the establishment side, you will think the opposite. At the very least, one side would be inclined to point to a Beijing connection under the rubric of "threats to press freedom" while the other would think it absurd.

If you just read some newspapers and especially our highly tribal social media these days, opinions are sharply stated with little room for doubt and nuances. But when I actually go out and talk to people at public forums and private gatherings, most people are actually not like that. They may have an opinion about the quality of Wong's HKTV programmes but you can't really guess what they might think about the chief executive. They may say Leung has done well at this but badly at that.

It's this widespread pragmatic intelligence and independence that give me hope about Hong Kong.