Sunday, October 05, 2014

A brief note on the protests in Hong Kong, a.k.a. Occupy Central; that late last week there were reports of counter protesters inciting violence and sowing confusion. Stories such as this one in the New York Times and this one in the LA Times were typical of the stories published by large media outlets on Thursday and Friday, the headline in the Times article reading: "Some Hong Kong Residents, Weary of Disruptions, Find Fault With Protesters’ Methods." To say nothing of their cause, the reports of violence initiated by other residents are revealed later in the articles to be suspected paid agitators. And so, when it comes to big, wide open protests such as the ones taking place in Hong Kong, it is remarkably easy for a few "bad apples" to break some noses or windows and give those who are watching events unfold reason to turn away. In my own experience during Occupy Oakland  this was indeed the case, as these instigators often got much of the media attention, or as they say, "if it bleeds, it ledes."

Civil disobedience is not a new tactic, and it has been used in the past to varying degrees of success i.e. the Civil Rights movement or India's independence from Britain. Sympathy for a cause, which in turn translates into policy, can be won when the cause is presented in a way that moves the public. In more recent history, Donald Sterling's sale of the Los Angeles Clippers and Ray Rice's banishment from pro-football are clear examples of how quickly things change when put under intense public scrutiny. That said, it's much easier to judge the rightness or wrongness of an event captured on video rather than the complexity of a massive political protest. My point in making this comparison is that the powers that be are well aware of how quickly opinions move and how easily these opinions can be swayed. Insert a few trouble makers and people quickly find a reason to no longer pay attention to this or that. More bluntly: it is much easier for federal, state, and local governments to encourage trouble, infiltrate movements, and destroy them from within than it is to negotiate.

Divide and conquer tactics like these were developed to topple enemy governments and are now being used domestically just as the weapons developed to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending up in the hands of local police forces (see Ferguson or the West Lafayette Police Department's armored troop carrier and its recently acquired collection of M16 rifles). The tear gas being shot at the protestors in Hong Kong is the same tear gas being used in Missouri and Oakland (Literally. Like, it's the same brand). And while I could dive further down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole, the reason I bring all this up is to underline the danger in believing the muddied truths of contemporary journalism, especially when it comes to representing the motives of those who don't have PR people to write their statements for them. Thus, I read the reports from Hong Kong that speak of confusion and a disagreement amongst protestors with a grain of salt, and I wonder what movements like these can do better to steel themselves against these inevitable divide and conquer tactics and the unsympathetic media coverage they will attract.


I could go on but I'll stop here. Chances are that if you agree with me you already did, if you don't then whatever I write is not going to change your mind, and if you have no idea what I'm talking about you already stopped reading by the middle of the second paragraph. Over the weekend I went down to Kentucky to visit my uncle who had major heart surgery a couple months ago. On the four+ hour drive there I was listening to the Daniel Kahneman book Thinking, fast and slow and he talked about the findings of a study in psychology that found that even if we know better, statistically or factually, we don't change our beliefs. But, the study found, we change our beliefs when we're genuinely surprised in a real life situation, such as when we see somebody do something totally "out of character," or at least, our idea of their character. But anyway, I digress. Have a lovely week,