False Dichotomies

dichotomy is a splitting into exactly two non-overlapping parts.  Those two parts must be mutually exclusive (nothing can be in both) and exhaustive (nothing can be in neither).  A false dichotomy is a seeming dichotomy that fails one or both of those criteria.  Hong Kong is full of ’em.  Here’s a quick list.  It’s far from exhaustive.

East vs. West: HK is mostly a Chinese city, but it has considerable Western, Indian, Malyasian, and Filipino influences.  The culture is Chinese, but the economic and political systems are Western.  What’s interesting is how naturally they seem to go together.

New World vs. Old World: China and everything Chinese is about as Old World as you can get.  But HK is a very new city, much newer than NYC.  The architecture is New World, but the culture is very old.

Big vs. Small: people often talk about how HK is a very small big city.  This is particularly true if you’re an expat.  I randomly run into people I know in this city of 7 million much more often than I did in Boulder (population 100,000 or so).

Left vs. Right: except on the streets, where everyone faithfully keeps to the wrong side, HK lacks a left/right convention, and it’s really annoying.  Sometimes you’re expected to keep left, other times right.  The lack of an established convention in this area makes walking considerably more chaotic and difficult than it needs to be.

Freedom vs. Authority: The political system here has some superficial democratic elements, but at the end of the day the only real power players are Big Beijing and big corporations. Mussolini would approve.  On the other hand, freedoms of speech, assembly and religion are protected.  J.S. Mill would approve.

Wasteful vs. Efficient: The amount of trash this city produces is insane, and I think it’s higher per capita than even the extreme wastefulness of a US city.  And recycling bins are so rare that I often find myself throwing plastic bottles away.  But those bottles, along with much of the reusable garbage, gets recycled anyway.  If something has value, Chinese people are loathe to waste it.  There’s a huge array of small businesses and individual poor people who make sure that much less gets wasted here than in HK.  More on this later.


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