Be brave, be water, be ready

The motto of the resistance in Hong Kong is on my lips much lately, though often I am not applying it to Hong Kong. Nor am I not. I look at this “Oriental entrep├┤t” (as we used to say before political correctness), where once I lived for a couple of months, from a great and widening distance. The people there are quite another generation from that which I remember; of course they seem much younger. The idea of the inhabitants of Hong Kong nearly closing the city with demonstrations, week after week, was not formerly possible to imagine. But their enthusiasm for the personal freedom they once enjoyed (under the aegis of British imperialism and colonialism, descending from opium wars), hardly surprises me.

The British approach was finally, live and let live; but it had an administrative basis. From the 1950s, Hong Kong was an experiment. What would happen if they deregulated almost everything, and cut taxes to match? If they consciously┬áde-politicized the colonial administration? If they shrank police functions to what was needed only to direct traffic, and defeat crime? The result was, as ever, unprecedented prosperity, but more: a people who forgot the habit even of kow-towing to men “dress’d in a little brief authority.”

People were transformed, from indifferent parts in a rusting machine, to free agents. (Unfortunately, in a broader view, prosperity also kills, as people use their freedom only for material gain, and a new jackboot state grows around the need to protect against the consequences.)

Hong Kong is a city now of seven million souls. It has, as it had, economic and social classes — plenty of them — yet the present “troubles” have nought to do with class. Opposition to the Communist government is as broad as it was in all ex-Soviet states, as we discovered when the Berlin Wall fell, and nearly discovered across China in the moment of Tiananmen. Rebellion, to start, is an urban phenomenon; it begins with a sudden collective sense that “we have the numbers.” The fear, upon which all tyrannical regimes depend, evaporates. What happens next is anyone’s guess, except, we can know the regime is doomed.

I doubt even a high-tech “surveillance state,” as Red China now is, or countries throughout the West are becoming, can survive a general uprising. This is not merely a question of numbers. The surveillance state must necessarily depend on data processing and artificial intelligence; human beings (“citizens”) do not. They think conceptually. At this level, machines cannot “think” at all, and will never.

This is important to grasp, tactically and strategically. While the obscene, glassy-eyed technocrats who rule Red China can, as Xi Jinping boasts, “crush bodies and shatter bones,” they can only give orders. The orders, however, must go to people, which is why the tyrants, also, live in fear. If they had only automatons to rule, there could be quick fixes.

We forget this, partly because we are no longer Christian. I mean this very seriously. For two thousand years, people have been “conditioned,” directly and also indirectly, to realize that death, pain, poverty and all other distresses, need not rule them; that one may “know the truth, and be freed.” Few have the courage to step forward at the start, but those few can be tremendously effective, because they are surrounded by others who know that this courage is good. From the tyrant’s view, it is like the plague: in remission for a long time, but suddenly, explosively contagious.

Restricting the contagion to the streets of Hong Kong is Xi’s current mission. This will require him to isolate the Territory, with radical measures. His only other option is a general massacre, on a scale to re-instil fear, but that might not work either. He can be feared; he can never be respected. He will never be voluntarily obeyed. And his slaves — more than a billion of them — have had a chance to see the fear in him, too.