In response to my last post, one of my facebook friends posted this to my wall:
“The pub brews revolution more than the tea house. Just a thought.” Dude, if this were true, the amerindians would’ve all joined AIM [American Indian Movement]! Grievance-sharing, sure, but grievance construction is quite another thing!! The Green Dragon Tavern where revolution was brewed in Boston still doesnt sport TVs, but that is the exception to USer bars these days. the causes and dis-causes of revolutionary activity, or even plain political involvment in general, far outstrip the pint-factor, true though it may be.
He also mentioned the use of alcohol as a tool of distraction and repression. And I generally agree, so let me clarify myself. Alcohol can be useful in getting people to open up and express sentiments they wouldn’t otherwise express. But what’s more important are gathering places. The pub is more potent than the pint.
Big Beijing knows this. In Mainland China, gathering places, whether physical or virtual, are rare and monitored. Pubs aren’t a major concern because Chinese people don’t drink much, and when they go to bars it’s usually more about status than sitting and talking. In HK, foreigners sit in the bars and drink; Chinese people take pictures of each other outside the bars. This is such a familiar scene in all the high-status nightlife areas of the city, that it makes my local pub very special to me. It’s a rare place in HK where people gather to just have a few pints and discuss what interests them.
The Hong Kong Basic Law protects freedom of expression and assembly, and those protections are actually pretty robust, similar to the US. What’s also similar to the US is the way the rulers use commercialism and other distractions (like beer and sports) to keep people from engaging in politics. In both places, there is a small minority of citizens who actually use their freedoms of expression and assembly to try to gain a voice in the political process. In both, citizens are still working to get a voice, not using that voice to effect change directly.
An example of this is the current “debate” over Hong Kong’s proposed construction of a high speed rail link with Beijing. But what this debate is really about is democracy: the protesters want universal suffrage. What universal suffrage means in Hong Kong (where all adult permanent residents can vote already) is the elimination of the functional constituencies which effectively give corporations and Big Beijing direct representation in the Legislative Council (This council is appropriately called “LegCo” and the head of the executive branch is Chief Executive. Hong Kong is basically a Chinese corporation, and the people are its consumers.) So while the government builds infrastructure that will probably benefit a majority of citizens, those citizens protest because they weren’t consulted. In the US, the health care debate is stalled because of a corporate sponsored backlash masquerading as populism. In the end, the people are manipulated into fighting against their own interests because they feel manipulated; the real issues are forgotten, and the protests prove paranoid.
Because Americans and HongKongers lack real power to influence policy, they rebel against “big government spending” even when that spending is arguably in their interests. Fed up with a political system dominated by corporate interests and a government that doesn’t listen to their demands, Americans fight the government’s attempt to provide better health care and HongKongers fight the government’s attempt to provide more efficient infrastructure. When people are this manipulated by the media and this frustrated by their own inefficacy, no amount of conversation, no matter how honest, will do them much good.