Many people have called for more dialogue to end the political impasse in Hong Kong. But I wonder how that’s possible when people on opposing sides are talking past each other; worse, they are busy shutting up each other. To talk and negotiate, there needs to be at least some common ground and shared values. At the moment, it’s hard to see a resolution through dialogue. This is what deep divisions within a society mean. People look at the same things but can’t agree on what they see and mean. That’s because there are no shared sympathies and assumptions any more. The rules and conventions we all used to follow and take for granted no longer hold. That’s how violence on both sides is tolerated and justified, so long as it’s committed by their own side. Protesters and their supporters see only police committing brutality and crimes against the public. Police and their sympathisers see terrorists hard at work with their bombs and weapons, and wonder why so many Hong Kong people aren’t outraged. Society is split, but government can’t fix it, say majority in poll A yellow-ribbon supporter may excuse his side beating up bystanders, yet is outraged when he sees police assault one of their own. I did an experiment the other day. I showed two friends the same video clip of several policemen arresting and beating the living daylights out of a black-clad person, presumably a protester, with their batons. My yellow-ribbon friend was outraged. My blue-ribbon friend cheered and said the protester deserved a beating. For one, the police were committing a brutal crime. For the other, they were just doing their job. We don’t see and then decide and conclude. We have made up our mind long before we see. What we see subsequently is then rationalised to justify what we have already decided and concluded is the case. So, it’s hopeless to argue with your opponent. If your “facts” and arguments get the better of his, he is far more likely to double down on his own position and conviction. What you take to be true only strengthens your opponent’s conviction against you. I believe that’s why over the years, I always have a handful of hate readers who despise and can’t stand my column yet come back every day for more. What I have learned in the past six months is that it’s useless to argue with people who seriously disagree with you. I am pigheaded, and they are, too.