Not what we need, but what we deserve

July 07, 2021 09:10
Photo: Reuters

Virtue signalling keyboard warriors – these are folks that we probably don’t need (unless we, like Big Tech subscribers and users, admire and fawn over those who spend their lives hunting for followers and fishing for likes); yet they’re certainly folks that we deserve.

Consider the following proposition – the more vocally morally self-righteous, unctuous, and pious an individual is on social media, the more there is that they have to hide/conceal behind their façade. I know plenty of folks who take after this career – they’d write elongated Facebook posts extolling the virtues of a colonial regime, then spend the afterthought between a beer and their daily commute in some faraway city, grand-standing about the fate of a city they neither have served nor to which they belong.

These are individuals who’d spend more hours in the day fussing over how they look to their Facebook followers and fans – who thrive on the basis of the number of likes and clicks on their statuses, and who enjoy self-serving, unctuous rhetoric… without getting their hands dirty. The past year and half of being in Hong Kong has opened my eyes to these incredible individuals – activists, advocates, writers who have done little beyond bashing those who stay and build, and who take pride at outdoing one another in sanctimony.

The activist, or the “writer” remains shackled to the masses. The masses are, in turn, pace Katy Perry, chained to the rhythm of mass media and mainstream news sources. These media entities are then monopolised by powerful moguls, corporate interests, and political cliques who manufacture the consent of individuals through foisting upon them values, beliefs, and preferences that are fundamentally not their own – yet framed as voluntarily taken-up by them. In International Relations theory, we call this reflexive control. In common parlance, we call this “brainwashing”.

The KOLs you see… the “woke” commentators you follow… the “popular icons” who mold and shape public discourse you adore – these are all merely cogs in the machine, who adhere rigidly, like decapitated, asphyxiated puppets, to the following logic: “Likes = Profit = Sole Objective in Life”.

Look, PR-fuelled self-aggrandisers – you’re not what we need, frankly, at times of crises. There are pressing, burning problems that require tackling with expediency and competency, and writing poignant, poetic, yet vacuous pieces from faraway corners may land you the compliments from your friendship circles… yet would do very little in persuading stakeholders and actors with power to act with precision and promptness. What’s instead needed is a substantial degree of moral and tactical flexibility – the willingness to compromise, to bargain, to convince, to lobby. We don’t need more priests when the altar is in ruins. We need builders, doers, and practitioners.

But to be fair – it’s probably what we deserve. We’ve built this culture from scratch. From a digital media landscape where “influencers” enjoy and lust for the adrenaline derived from adulating praise manifesting in the form of likes, retweets, shares, and “Love” reacts (almost as transient as romantic love at large), to changes to our education systems all over the world – prizing quick soundbites and eye-catching slogans, to the precipitation of political polarisation and echo chambers (in which the loyal and the “dogmatic” are rewarded, in juxtaposition to those who eschew ideological dogma; cf. Cass Sunstein) by contemporary politicians… these are all phenomena that are, whilst by no means nascent, certainly promulgated and reinforced by the past two decades of developments in human society and “civilisation”.

Looking back at the crises that have rocked this city over the past two years, there’s a rather critical and crucial stakeholder group that – frankly, in my honest opinion – has been unduly let off the hook. These are individuals who, whilst tucked away in a pleasant corner of a pub thousands of miles from Hong Kong, fan the incandescent rage of the masses, instigating them to partake in frankly abominable, destructive acts much akin to self-immolation.

These are ostensible intellectuals who bat very clearly for one side, whilst accusing those who defend reason, logic, and commonsense of being “shills”, “puppets”, and “machines”. Then there are intellectuals who capitulate and bow to those in positions of power, engaging in obsequious lamentation and apologeticism for the sake of it (or their own careers!). These “public opinion leaders” would fan the fire till it spirals out of control, then swiftly leave their cults, their “fans”, their “students” to bear the brunt of the impact and whiplash. They are, for the lack of a better word, pathetic, unscrupulous, vile – a perfect indictment and reflection of the times that we’re in, no?

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HKEJ contributor