Hong Kong et al
It is difficult to cry about Hong Kong – and almost impossible not to. The last Governor couldn’t hide his tears when the former British Colony was handed over to China in a perfectly orderly and rational way. The transitional agreement seemed to be fit for purpose to transfer British Rule to Chinese Ownership. Hong Kong’s stormy but energising past was obviously going to contrast sharply with its new regime – but everywhere in the world is seeing such changes.
My own memories of The Pen and Gaddis, of the Hongs looking after our business so well, of the sensational food and exciting shops, of negotiating prices with professional barrow-boys, of the discovery of ‘Flosspicks’ and days out on the Sir Cecil Clementi, all remind of a different, not always admirable, time. The fortitude of the HongKongers was a shining example in those days. Whether fairly or not, they worked hard to maintain their identities, even supporting the position of Comprador to liaise between the different languages and cultures. Compradors became rich and powerful people in their own right. And rightly so – they stopped riots.
Then Hong Kong reverted to China and the new era began with Deng Xiaoping’s catchphrase ‘one country, two systems’. As is often the way with compromise between two powerful factions, both heard what they wanted to. Increasingly, since then, the truth has come home, leading to the tragedy we now see. As several commentators have said, it is a matter of identity. ‘Who I am’ is so closely bound up with what society, organisation, club I belong to. In particular, what country, tribe, village I come from. Street parties are an affirmation of who is my neighbour.
In the rush to form big alliances, little voices get overwhelmed. But independence is first and foremost an economic matter, surely? Far from it. The bird that isn’t free must be caged and the process of integration is essentially one of caging. Ask any business man whose company has been taken over. The Merger wasn’t so much Murder as Manacled. That, after all, is what owners and politicians do. Hence, “If you don’t acknowledge me I will shout until you do”.
In a world of giants, minnows must cooperate or expect to get trampled on. Cooperation means centralisation, which has seldom been a workable policy in business or any other social organisation. That is why the military deprives its members of personal choice other than to quit. By doing so it guarantees essential obedience, the ultimate cooperation. The processes that accompany cohesion are counter-productive to trusting human relationships. People who wouldn’t dream of cheating their neighbour rob a system without compunction.
Brexit is a classic consequence of clumsy cooperation. Who gives a rat’s whisker if a German Sausage and a British Sausage are the same? But the cooperation process carried to what I would call its extreme and others might call its logical conclusion creates such absurdities. For all that, the concept of cooperation of nations in a geographical area is right in today’s world. Accompanying stupidities can be rooted out of it by those in political control. The commonsense of humankind hasn’t degenerated so much that we cannot say ‘no’.
Great leaders compromise honestly. Where there are two opposing inalienable rights a middle way has to be found. Interconnectivity of the sort and speed we now have at our disposal makes this more urgent than when a carrier pigeon told us other peoples’ points of view. Just as markets are working faster, so must mediation. And if you want democracy you must educate voters about what it means. In the absence of such education, they will riot. If you don’t want it, you’d better explain what you do want – more cogently than is being done at present.
The world’s identity crisis is as big as its climate crisis, and may be just as urgent. When the political objective is only to get a bigger share of the cake for my constituents there will be trouble. When sense determines that expanding the size of the cake is the rational route there will focus.
Destruction is a silly, if understandable, response to frustration. You change the culture of an organisation from inside not from outside. The changes we have had to make so far to adapt to this new world are infinitesimal by comparison with those to come in the next decade or two.
Humankind can be sensible.
Now is the time to try harder to be.