Intellectuals think they have special insight into politics. But guess what? They don’t

There is quite a distance from what’s produced in ivory towers to the realities on the ground. That’s why those with street smarts usually make better politicians

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 12:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 12:02am

Many intellectuals fancy themselves as philosopher-kings. Most end up making a complete mess.

Horace Chin Wan-kan, aka godfather of localism, is quitting politics after losing at the polls with three of his localist colleagues in Sunday’s polls. Before leaving the stage, he sent some bitter words to the people of Hong Kong who he claims have failed him.

“Hongkongers rejected Chin’s salvation plan,” he wrote, referring to himself in the third person. “But it could be a good thing after all that I have lost, because they hated good people’s noble plans. They do not deserve to own a country ... because they’d be too arrogant to govern.” For the author of several influential books advocating Hong Kong’s independence, though, perhaps nothing is more revealing about his character and calibre than those words he wrote.

Meanwhile, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the university law don of Occupy Central fame, has been roundly criticised – by pan-democratic candidates – for misleading voters about who to vote for with his instant polling survey app called Thunder Go. Sorry, it wasn’t a Pokemon game but supposedly an app to instantly update voters on picking candidates strategically.

Hong Kong ‘godfather of localism’ announces retirement from online media after Legco loss

The polling app has been criticised as unscientific, inaccurate, even manipulative and biased. For sure, it’s not statistical randomised sampling, as those who downloaded it were a self-selecting group, most likely with political views that tended towards the more extreme.

Tai is full of clever academic theories. His plan about “occupying Central with peace and love” was inspired by negotiation tactics and game theory. It finally ended in Mong Kok on Lunar New Year’s day with the worst riot since 1967.

Politics is not physics. It’s where common sense and experience trump specialised knowledge. But in possession of advanced degrees in which many have invested half or a third of their lifetime, many academics think they have special insights into political affairs.

Add to that is the traditional Chinese awe for “scholars”, nowadays people with “professor” or PhD in their job titles, and an uncritical and lazy news media that treats anyone with an academic position as a quotable expert.

There is quite a distance from theory to practice; from what’s produced in ivory towers to the realities on the ground.

That’s why those with street smarts usually make better politicians than intellectuals who play at politics.