Seeing Like a Finite State Machine

by Henry on November 25, 2019

Reading this tweet by Maciej Ceglowski makes me want to set down a conjecture that I’ve been entertaining for the last couple of years (in part thanks to having read Maciej’s and Kieran’s previous work as well as talking lots to Marion Fourcade).

The conjecture (and it is no more than a plausible conjecture) is simple, but it straightforwardly contradicts the collective wisdom that is emerging in Washington DC, and other places too. This collective wisdom is that China is becoming a kind of all-efficient Technocratic Leviathan thanks to the combination of machine learning and authoritarianism. Authoritarianism has always been plagued with problems of gathering and collating information and of being sufficiently responsive to its citizens’ needs to remain stable. Now, the story goes, a combination of massive data gathering and machine learning will solve the basic authoritarian dilemma. When every transaction that a citizen engages in is recorded by tiny automatons riding on the devices they carry in their hip pockets, when cameras on every corner collect data on who is going where, who is talking to whom, and uses facial recognition technology to distinguish ethnicity and identify enemies of the state, a new and far more powerful form of authoritarianism will emerge. Authoritarianism then, can emerge as a more efficient competitor that can beat democracy at its home game (some fear this; some welcome it).

The theory behind this is one of strength reinforcing strength – the strengths of ubiquitous data gathering and analysis reinforcing the strengths of authoritarian repression to create an unstoppable juggernaut of nearly perfectly efficient oppression. Yet there is another story to be told – of weakness reinforcing weakness. Authoritarian states were always particularly prone to the deficiencies identified in James Scott’s Seeing Like a State – the desire to make citizens and their doings legible to the state, by standardizing and categorizing them, and reorganizing collective life in simplified ways, for example by remaking cities so that they were not organic structures that emerged from the doings of their citizens, but instead grand chessboards with ordered squares and boulevards, reducing all complexities to a square of planed wood. The grand state bureaucracies that were built to carry out these operations were responsible for multitudes of horrors, but also for the crumbling of the Stalinist state into a Brezhnevian desuetude, where everyone pretended to be carrying on as normal because everyone else was carrying on too. The deficiencies of state action, and its need to reduce the world into something simpler that it could comprehend and act upon created a kind of feedback loop, in which imperfections of vision and action repeatedly reinforced each other.

So what might a similar analysis say about the marriage of authoritarianism and machine learning? Something like the following, I think. There are two notable problems with machine learning. One – that while it can do many extraordinary things, it is not nearly as universally effective as the mythology suggests. The other is that it can serve as a magnifier for already existing biases in the data. The patterns that it identifies may be the product of the problematic data that goes in, which is (to the extent that it is accurate) often the product of biased social processes. When this data is then used to make decisions that may plausibly reinforce those processes (by singling e.g. particular groups that are regarded as problematic out for particular police attention, leading them to be more liable to be arrested and so on), the bias may feed upon itself.

This is a substantial problem in democratic societies, but it is a problem where there are at least some counteracting tendencies. The great advantage of democracy is its openness to contrary opinions and divergent perspectives. This opens up democracy to a specific set of destabilizing attacks but it also means that there are countervailing tendencies to self-reinforcing biases. When there are groups that are victimized by such biases, they may mobilize against it (although they will find it harder to mobilize against algorithms than overt discrimination). When there are obvious inefficiencies or social, political or economic problems that result from biases, then there will be ways for people to point out these inefficiencies or problems.

These correction tendencies will be weaker in authoritarian societies; in extreme versions of authoritarianism, they may barely even exist. Groups that are discriminated against will have no obvious recourse. Major mistakes may go uncorrected: they may be nearly invisible to a state whose data is polluted both by the means employed to observe and classify it, and the policies implemented on the basis of this data. A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster. The flawed ideology of the leader (We must all study Comrade Xi thought to discover the truth!) and of the algorithm (machine learning is magic!) may reinforce each other in highly unfortunate ways.

In short, there is a very plausible set of mechanisms under which machine learning and related techniques may turn out to be a disaster for authoritarianism, reinforcing its weaknesses rather than its strengths, by increasing its tendency to bad decision making, and reducing further the possibility of negative feedback that could help correct against errors. This disaster would unfold in two ways. The first will involve enormous human costs: self-reinforcing bias will likely increase discrimination against out-groups, of the sort that we are seeing against the Uighur today. The second will involve more ordinary self-ramifying errors, that may lead to widespread planning disasters, which will differ from those described in Scott’s account of High Modernism in that they are not as immediately visible, but that may also be more pernicious, and more damaging to the political health and viability of the regime for just that reason.

So in short, this conjecture would suggest that  the conjunction of AI and authoritarianism (has someone coined the term ‘aithoritarianism’ yet? I’d really prefer not to take the blame), will have more or less the opposite effects of what people expect. It will not be Singapore writ large, and perhaps more brutal. Instead, it will be both more radically monstrous and more radically unstable.

Like all monotheoretic accounts, you should treat this post with some skepticism – political reality is always more complex and muddier than any abstraction. There are surely other effects (another, particularly interesting one for big countries such as China, is to relax the assumption that the state is a monolith, and to think about the intersection between machine learning and warring bureaucratic factions within the center, and between the center and periphery).Yet I think that it is plausible that it at least maps one significant set of causal relationships, that may push (in combination with, or against, other structural forces) towards very different outcomes than the conventional wisdom imagines. Comments, elaborations, qualifications and disagreements welcome.

{ 152 comments… read them below or add one }

1

bianca steele 11.25.19 at 5:15 pm

I’m skeptical about AI but suppose it can do a lot of damage. It’s interesting that the current systems essentially implement a Level 1 style of thought. They don’t see people with “the wrong” skin color as human because they don’t generalize to “human” because they’re based on a bet that concepts aren’t worth the effort*. If we think that’s the kind of thought we want to be governed by, it seems fine.

* If recent research has changed this bias, I’d be curious to see a link.

On the other hand, what you see with chaotic styles of management is that they breed both (1) intense effort to discern what the leader will want and not to be seen to fail, (2) intense effort to discern what will and won’t fail, objectively, so as not to be seen to fail. This can plausibly last for a while, I assume, especially if expectations are constantly lowered (so as not to be seen to fail).

2

LFC 11.25.19 at 6:29 pm

One of your links goes to a paper you co-authored w Cosma Shalizi on cognitive democracy; it appears to be a chapter in an edited volume perhaps not yet published. I would be curious to know the title of this edited collection.

3

Ben 11.25.19 at 6:32 pm

This seems to equivocate between two meanings of bias. Bias might mean a flaw that leads to empirically incorrect judgements and so to bad decisions, and it’s true that that type of bias could destabilize an authoritarian state. But what we usually worry about with machine learning is that the system will find very real, but deeply unjust, patterns in the data, and reinforce those pattern. If there’s a particular ethnic group that really does produce a disproportionate number of dissidents, and an algorithm leads to even-more-excessive repression of that group — I’m not sure why an authoritarian state would see a stability threat in that tendency.

More generally, I think AI gets far too much of the billing in authoritarian apocalypse forecasts. Cheap, ubiquitous cameras, microphones, and location trackers are the real issue. If the state can track everyone’s movements and conversations, then it can build a better Stasi even with crude, simple ai.

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Henry 11.25.19 at 7:04 pm

@2 – Henry Farrell and Cosma Shalizi, “Pursuing Cognitive Democracy,” Youth, New Media and Political Participation eds. Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light (Chicago University Press: 2015).

5

LFC 11.25.19 at 7:13 pm

@4: Thanks, rings a bell now, am sure it’s been mentioned here before.

6

MisterMr 11.25.19 at 7:55 pm

It seems to me that many if not most societies of the past were very authoritarian, without the help of big technology.

It is difficult to say what causes authoritarianism in a society and if authoritarianism of the past (e. G. The inquisition) is the same of recent authoritarianism (e. G. Fascism), plus there is private authoritarianism such as the KKK that apparently could be hindered more than helped by AI if the government goes against it.

So I think that the question about authoritarianism is more when and why people accept it and how many people have to accept it to make it work.

7

Moz of Yarramulla 11.25.19 at 8:34 pm

Seems you support the view that AI amplifies human efforts rather than departing from them (especially not radically departing from them). There’s a lot of evidence that AI is often used this way, especially in the obvious areas like “predictive policing” where the goal appears to be to justify existing biases rather than correcting them. “computer says racist things but that’s ok because computers can’t be racist” appears to be the desired outcome.

The flip side is that where AI is used to do “human, but more” tasks, specifically generative design which often produces things quite unlike what a human would turn out. We see similar things occasionally, there’s a recent EEG analysis that is significantly more accurate that doctors at predicting imminent death… but can’t explain what it’s doing and even when told there’s a problem humans can’t see it.

What I’m hoping is that the Chinese will use AI to come up with shocking new ways to run society by stepping past “automate the stupid stuff we do now” and into AI-aided design of social structures. They are likely to be focusing on things like ghost cities, for example, and if they break that one using AI we are likely to get new urban designs that actually work.

8

John Quiggin 11.25.19 at 11:06 pm

Not AI related, but it’s pretty clear that Xi is unable to exert coherent control over the CP apparatus, particularly the provincial governments and SOEs. A couple of examples
* The Belt and Road Initiative, supposedly part of a grand geopolitical strategy, but actually more like a gigantic slush fund which can be diverted to all manner of pet projects
* The reversal of the energy transition to favor coal (in which the provincial governments are heavily overcommitted.
None of this presents a threat to Xi’s position as dictator. It just means that like most dictators he doesn’t have the capacity to do much more, in domestic terms, than hold on to power and knock down anyone who threatens it.

9

Ben Marshall 11.25.19 at 11:24 pm

I take your points about the weaknesses of any authoritarian system, but I feel you miss the point of how effective the CCP’s Social Credit System (SCS) is – not because it’s ‘magic’ or its AI is unique or different or it is all-powerful; it’s not. The brilliance of SCS is that the multiple and constant points of contact between the individual and the State’s new digital panopticon produce equally constant small fears and rewards – training the individual to become their own oppressor. The system doesn’t need to be even remotely perfect – in fact it’s a horrific mess on practically every metric – but the fear it creates is perfect.

Remember too, that it’s still being rolled out and spreading like a virus. Soon, everyone in China – and even the diaspora – will be constantly adjusting behaviour and thoughts to avoid fear and punishment, accept the reassurance from ubiquitous State propaganda, and obtain the rewards of the SCS.

Regardless of the technical flaws, as long as people believe it works perfectly, it works perfectly.

FWIW, I suspect it’s the pinnacle of human autocracy and can only be refined with the same efficiency that now sees over a million Uyghurs in concentration camps. Harvesting organs and cultural genocide is just one step short of extermination factories.

The only way I see the SCS / CCP imploding is as the rest of the world implodes with mass extinctions, nation-state collapses, pollution, global heating and climate catastrophes. Once the digital web holding SCS together is destroyed, the centre will not hold.

10

faustusnotes 11.26.19 at 1:00 am

I’d just like to point out (re: the tweet in the original post) that the “Uighur face-matching AI” idea is bullshit invented by scaremongers, with no basis in fact and traceable to a shoddy reddit thread. The Chinese government is not using facial recognition to identify Uighur, and the facial recognition fears about the Chinese government are vastly overstated. Australia’s border control facial recognition software is far more advanced than China’s, as is the UK’s, and facial recognition is actually pretty common in democracies. See e.g. the iPhone.

The main areas in which China uses facial recognition are in verifying ID for some high cost functions (like buying high speed rail tickets), and it’s quite easy to avoid these functions by joining a queue and paying a human. The real intrusiveness of the Chinese security state is in its constant bag searches and very human-centric abuses of power in everyday life in connection with “security”. Whether you get stopped and searched depends a lot on very arbitrary and error prone judgments by bored security staff at railway stations, in public squares, and on buses, not some evil intrusive state technology.

Conversely, the UK is a world leader in installing and using CCTV cameras, and has been for a long time. Furthermore, these CCTV cameras are a huge boon to law-abiding citizens, since they act as both excellent forms of crime prevention (I have had this experience myself) and for finding serious criminals. The people responsible for the death of those 39 Vietnamese labourers in the ice truck were caught because of CCTV; so was the guy who murdered that woman on the street in Melbourne a few years ago.

Finally to address another point that’s already been raised (sadly): China no longer harvests organs, and the 2019 report that says it does is a sham. The social credit system is also largely a myth, and nobody from China even seems to know wtf it is.

If you’re going to talk about how state’s work, and the relative merits of autocratic vs. democratic states and their interaction with technology, it’s a really good idea to get the basic facts right first.

11

faustusnotes 11.26.19 at 1:08 am

I’ll also point out that Pinboard is an extremely unreliable source of information on China, a Twitter account that routinely believes every bad thing that the Hong Kong demonstrators say about China no matter how ludicrous (including believing claims of police violence that are manifestly untrue and using the theoretically ridiculous chinazi hashtag) while refusing to share any of the voluminous online material showing Hong Kong demonstrators using racist violence against mainland Chinese people, up to and including killing them with bricks and setting them on fire. It’s not an honest reporter on China and you shouldn’t be using it as a serious source on anything.

12

Chetan Murthy 11.26.19 at 1:27 am

Ben Marshall @ 9:

Regardless of the technical flaws, as long as people believe it works perfectly, it works perfectly.

Ben, your comment is spot-on. This is about the “panopticon”, and the point is to get everybody to surveil and control themselves, for fear of being surveiled and controlled by the authorities. And for that goal, heck, an imperfect enforcement mechanism is BETTER than a perfect one: it encourages the people to fear, and to fear irrationally: when you can’t accurately predict what will bring the heavy hand of the state down on you, you can either rebel flamboyantly, or cringe most piteously, right?

13

Henry 11.26.19 at 3:14 am

faustusnotes – I’ll point out that your take on the facts of e.g. facial profile is … idiosyncratic, observe that someone whose take on Hong Kong is that it is all about the violence spawned by a fascist “movement of racist thugs” and that mistreatment of Uighurs isn’t a particularly big deal because whatabout Australia isn’t in a particularly great position to start casting aspersions on other people’s one sided take on the news, and move on and leave you too it, because life is really too short.

14

Ben Marshall 11.26.19 at 4:09 am

faustusnotes. You may not be aware of recent events. https://www.icij.org/investigations/china-cables/exposed-chinas-operating-manuals-for-mass-internment-and-arrest-by-algorithm/

Re. HK police violence, it’s fair to say there is voluminous footage from multiple sources and a very large number of HK witnesses to it. Characterising HK issues with the CCP as ‘racist’ is unwarranted – they are all ethnic Chinese people. Cherry-picking the surprisingly rare instances of violence of pro-democracy HKers toward pro-Beijing HKers and police / military as evidence to back your argument undermines it.

Re. mainland Chinese people’s understanding of the surveillance state they live it, it’s good to remember how many are actively employed in running it. The ’50 cent army’ and Great Firewall come to mind. Dissent is a criminal act – this is explicit in China, and uncontroversial to remark on. The genius of SCS is tying punitive political power to corporate power that anyone au fait with a smart phone or the internet is familiar with. As mentioned, it’s still being rolled out, so understanding within China is growing accordingly.

Re. comparisons between ‘reeducation camps’ in Xinjiang and Nazi concentration camps in WWII, it doesn’t seem unreasonable when somewhere between half a million to two million Chinese died during the Cultural Revolution, which also utilised ‘reeducation camps’. In any event, a million people have been deprived of their liberty and cultural genocide is underway. If that doesn’t raise concerns, I can’t imagine what will.

15

Raven Onthill 11.26.19 at 4:46 am

More Brazil than 1984, but after all Brazil was a pretty thoroughgoing dystopia.

It does seem to me that you are exactly right in pointing out that artificial “intelligence” (more like artificial stupidity, in Vonda McIntyre’s lovely phrase) creates confirmation biases in the people who deploy it, much as propaganda and confessions made under torture do. This is surely part of the Chinese leadership’s shock at the election outcome in Hong Kong – they believed their own propaganda.

I wonder, though, about the psychological impact of such extensive and oppressive surveillance. It seems likely to result in widespread mental illness, and perhaps a population with widespread psychological disabilities. This is a human-subjects experiment on a grand scale, and it is likely to have many unexpected results.

16

Bruce Baugh 11.26.19 at 5:36 am

My friend James Palmer, who writes for Foreign Policy, has much the same kind of take, Henry. Makes a lot of sense to me.

https://twitter.com/BeijingPalmer/status/1198824136988073984

17

faustusnotes 11.26.19 at 5:53 am

Henry, you wrote that the post should be treated with skepticism, but you don’t seem very interested in anyone being skeptical of your sources. I think you know too that I don’t engage with your posts in bad faith. So I hope you’ll humour me and tell me, do you really think that you can trust the New York Times’s reporting on China? At this point in America’s degeneration? By dismissing my “take” (when did opinions become “takes”?) on HK you are choosing to ignore the widespread racist violence (based on, yes, profiling of people as mainland or HK native) at the heart of the HK “democracy” movement. Did you even know about the 70 year old Chinese guy they killed with bricks, the 50-year old building worker they set on fire (he’s recovering in hospital but doesn’t recognize his family), the young woman they beat with iron bars? Are you sure you know the whole truth about what is happening on the other side of the world, when it is filtered for you by people like Pinboard and Paul Mozur?

Look also at John Quiggin’s comments about Xi’s lack of control above. He cites two examples of things that happen in any democratic society (international aid becoming a slush fund, and the reversal of trends to renewable power) as some kind of evidence of a problem with authoritarianism. These things are happening right now in his home country! This is really lazy thinking.

There are specific bad things happening in China, and it has an obvious security state. The problems there are often not about AI, but very normal human failings that are the same as every state everywhere. Meanwhile democracies are doing many of the same things – concentration camps, arbitrary detention, torture, extra-judicial murder and murder in camps – and a lot of our commentators on these issues are ignoring these things while drawing lessons about authoritarianism elsewhere from the same things. If you want to draw particular lessons about the differences between these kinds of state you really have to compare them based on what they are doing – and on the basis of reliable commentators on those countries and their state apparatus – rather than the kind of blatant anti-Chinese people you seem to want to cite, along with wilful ignorance of the crimes of your own states.

(Just for example, look at the scale of the problem cited in the NY Times – 24 police departments in 16 provinces since 2018. That is a drop in the bucket. The link that Pinboard tweets includes a document that is the skeleton of a set of standards for security technology, mainly just a bunch of chapter headings, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions about it, but the inclusion of Uighur/non-Uighur in appendix B – a single item of a multi-page assessment – may well be a response to the kind of scams that the NY Times is reporting on. This is not some centralized program of facial scanning, but a couple of police departments thinking they’re getting ahead of the curve, with the possibility that the national government is reining them in. Meanwhile, every time you pass through passport control in your own country your face is scanned! But Pinboard and some guy in the NY Times who worked at the WSJ until 2014 and is clearly anti-Chinese want to turn it into a nationwide program, and you bite!)

(And furthermore, the NYTimes article you cite as further evidence against me is citing all the same sources as Pinboard – because Pinboard and Mozur get all their information from the same sources, which are murky. This is a common problem in discussion of Chinese authoritarianism, because the information that comes out is almost always facilitated by dodgy right wing groups in the USA. The mosque destruction articles, for example, are often wrong but somehow get into the Guardian regardless. The “organ harvesting” Marshall mentions above stopped in 2014 and the 2019 inquiry presented no new evidence to the contrary, but you could easily cite me 10 newspapers that have published articles based on the same extremely dubious politically motivated inquiry. You need to think about your sources!)

I hope you’ll be a little more skeptical about Pinboard in future. And perhaps a little less willing to accept the western narrative on the fascist street violence that happened in Hong Kong.

18

Nathanael 11.26.19 at 6:03 am

I’ve already stated that this is what is happening in China. Xi is also an idiot — he is so sensitive to dissent that he proactively censors even the faintest criticism, like the Winnie the Pooh memes. This is dumb because it means he will never ever see the revolution coming. Censorship doesn’t change people’s grumbling, it just makes it more amorphous. China has been explicitly trying to prevent it from “gelling” into protests. But that doesn’t stop it from gelling into protests, it just means the protests are *much much larger* when they actually happen.

I don’t know how long Xi will be in power, but the combination of “only tell me what I want to hear”, with lots of “AI” to reinforce that, will put him in the classic out-of-touch autocrat’s bubble. He’ll be completely surprised when the revolution comes. If anyone else in the Central Committee is smarter, it might be a palace coup rather than a revolution. But Xi is dead — he sealed his fate with his intolerance of listening to dissent.

Smart authoritarians are chill and relaxed about dissent — let people blow off steam most of the time, it keeps things from getting out of control… and listen to complaints, and respond to them with actual fixes, before the complaints turn into underground movements to murder the dictator. Xi’s predecessors understood this. Xi does not. He’s a fool and he’ll end up being killed.

19

Nathanael 11.26.19 at 6:10 am

I’ll add that John Quiggin’s point that Xi has already lost control of the provinces is correct — but it DOES threaten his position as dictator. Once the provincial governors know they can act with impunity, it is absolutely standard for the next step to be getting rid of that annoying guy who is pretending to be dictator. It may take a few years but Xi now has dozens of powerful insiders who know that he’s a weakling. They’ll bide their time but when he crosses too many of them they’ll take him out. And if China doesn’t shut down coal, he’s going to look like a weakling internationally too, in a couple of years. This will create a new group of ambitious insiders with a different reason to take him out.

Xi broke the “technocratic consensus” which was present after Deng, of central committee members who strove for competence and fact-based decision-making. That was a surprisingly effective type of junta government which led to lots of thinkpieces about whether authoritarian China would beat the democratic west. But it succumbed to the succession problem, like all authoritarian systems; Xi made himself Premier-for-life and the country is now exhibiting all the usual failures of authoritarian countries.

20

Zamfir 11.26.19 at 7:46 am

@ Ben Marschal, Chetan Murphy:

Are these new systems doing much, that oppressive states could not do before? A stable and determined state can already suppress opposition down to the grassroots level, very effectively. And that works pretty much as you guys describe, even without cameras or computers.

21

SusanC 11.26.19 at 8:28 am

Surely the science fiction writers must have alrwady explored this territory…

Offhand:
Profundis
The Paranoia role playing game
The film Brazil

I think computers just allow us to automate a tendency that was already familar to Kafka.

22

SusanC 11.26.19 at 8:46 am

Another effect sometimes seen with AI is radical “out of the box” solutions.

These are typically solutions of the problem as mathematically described to the computer, but not within the constraints that the human user had (implicitlt) in mind but didn’t bother to write down.

23

Hidari 11.26.19 at 9:08 am

@11 Yes it’s strange that allegations of Chinese use of facial recognition software is gaining so much traction at a time when the Trump regime is deliberately ratcheting up tensions with China to pursue nakedly imperial goals, when the objective facts of Israeli use of similar software, which the Israelis boast about (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/all/why-did-microsoft-fund-israeli-firm-surveils-west-bank-palestinians-n1072116) doesn’t cause so much interest, at a time when the Trump regime has simple decreed that the Israeli invasion/colonisation of Palestine is ‘legal under international law’.

One of life’s little mysteries I guess.

If we must talk about China could we at least bring it back to areas where we are responsible and where, therefore, we can do something about it?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/01/blackwater-founder-erik-prince-to-build-training-camp-in-chinas-xinjiang

24

Tim Worstall 11.26.19 at 10:39 am

One enjoyment of this is that if we cut and substitute “authoritarian” for “planned” and “democracy” for “free market” we get alarmingly close to Hayek’s Nobel Lecture….

25

MFB 11.26.19 at 10:45 am

I read the article by faustusnotes (whom I’ve often violently disagreed with on other subjects) and found it fairly moderate. In case anyone thinks Henry’s response is legitimate, a) faustusnotes doesn’t refer to the entire Hong Kong dissident movement as racist thugs, but to the minority who have been assaulting mainland Chinese and whose attitude is certainly thuggish and appeara rather racist; b) faustusnotes doesn’t mention Uighurs at all in the article, and in his post he simply mentions that the Chinese aren’t creating face recognition software against Uighurs, which appears to be true, and warns against believing bullshit.

If Henry is willing to misrepresent what commenters say so as to rule them out of order, then what is the purpose of having comments?

26

Trader Joe 11.26.19 at 12:32 pm

I’d add to some of the thoughts Ben Marshall noted @9

AI and algorithm trading are ubiquitous in equity market trading, so much so that on most days well over 50% of volume and sometimes as much as 3/4 of all the trades made are made by machines running AI, no humans added. The implication of this is that it distinctly changes the way the actual humans trade….

What you don’t want to do is trade in a way that will trigger an adverse reaction against what you’re trying to do. So for buying, you want to buy in a way that doesn’t encourage other buying that will amplify volume and make it harder to get a good price, the reverse in selling. As a result part of the “power” isn’t specifically what the machines do, but what it makes the humans do to avoid the machines…sort of the dog that didn’t bark effect.

Beyond that I’d note (again from a traders eye) is the strength of the AI depend on the magnitude of the penalty that it produces. I’ve seen many times where the same action can produce starkly different reaction depending on (apparently) other non-obvious conditions. For example selling a large block of shares, say 10000 on one day might produce a 1% expansion of bid ask spread, but maybe on a day of greater market volatility or a day where volumes are high or the market is already weak the same order might enhance spreads by 5% (which is a lot). In laymans terms – the cost of a transaction is both unknown and variable in advance, arguably the very definition of oppression.

If in fact facial recognition of Uighurs results in detention – that’s a pretty harsh reaction relative to the routine task of having ones image captured by a security camera (which virtually all city dwellers face numerous times a day). One imagines that even the Chinese don’t just pull Uighurs out of a line and load them on a rail car but rather uses the scans as a basis for some level of interrogation that results in detention. That’s still entirely authoritarian and wrong, but there are distinctions between rounding people up like the Nazi and policing to profile like quite a fair number of police forces around the world (whether they admit it or not).

27

Bill Benzon 11.26.19 at 1:57 pm

Major mistakes may go uncorrected: they may be nearly invisible to a state whose data is polluted both by the means employed to observe and classify it, and the policies implemented on the basis of this data. A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster. […]

So in short, this conjecture would suggest that the conjunction of AI and authoritarianism (has someone coined the term ‘aithoritarianism’ yet? I’d really prefer not to take the blame), will have more or less the opposite effects of what people expect. It will not be Singapore writ large, and perhaps more brutal. Instead, it will be both more radically monstrous and more radically unstable.

Umm…err… I’m not sure what to make of this, Henry. And I take Ben Marshall’s point about the effectiveness of the Social Credit System, which need not depend AI-as-advertised (I don’t know anything about the underlying tech).

But I have an oblique observation and question. As you know, AI has been plagued with misoverestimation since the beginning (the term was coined in 1956). There have been two major implosions since then, and yet the misoverestimation continues. Why? And might there be a connection, a resonance, between such misjudgment of the technology and authoritarian tendencies?

Setting aside my query about personality, I can think of at least two factors involved in the current state of giddiness over the possibilities. 1) The technological territory is vast and much of it still unexplored, so it’s all too easy to think that the current tech will be super-wonderful one day real soon now. 2) It’s one thing to read about something in a history book, it’s another thing to have lived through it.

On the second point, the first collapse happened in the mid 1960s and was about machine translation (MT). Research on that had begun a decade earlier and was funded by the federal government, which wanted to be able to translate Soviet technical materials. Practical results were not forthcoming so the funding disappeared. I was only in my teens at the time and knew nothing about this. But later in graduate school I studied with the late David Hays, who had been a first generation researcher in MT and so had lived through it. He impressed on me the fact that we really don’t know quite what we’re going or where this technology can go. The second collapse (so-called AI winter) happened in the mid-80s and into the 1990s. I watched it happen, but from a distance as I wasn’t in the field. But I was interested.

Now, take someone who is, say, 50 years old (Elon Musk is 48). MT collapsed before they were born and were only in their teens during AI winter. The collapse of MT is a mere historical event and AI winter was over before they were old enough to be active in the field. So those events aren’t “I’ve seen it with my own two eyes” real and thus are easily discounted.

As for the vastness of the territory, how unexplored it is. Of course we really don’t know. Still, think of Elon Musk. On the one hand he’s going to Mars. On the other hand he thinks that superintelligent AI is around the corner and very dangerous – which is somewhat different from the danger posed by the misuse of shaky-systems. Whatever you may think about the wisdom of venturing to Mars, the basic technology is there. If we want to devote the resources to the effort we can put human beings on Mars. Now, just how their minds and bodies will take it, that’s iffy. Still… But on the AI front, the basic technology really is not there. And no matter how much slack I’m willing to grant these folks based on the newness of it all and the weakness of mere historical memory, I still can’t make sense of their belief that really deep and powerfull tech is around the corner real soon now.

So what’s up? And are authoritarians particularly prone to this delusion?

28

WLGR 11.26.19 at 3:00 pm

I think there’s a much more obvious answer to this question of AI imperfection: the deeper purpose of modern machine-learning-based systems of scientific management isn’t to be perfect as advertised but rather to be presented as perfect, in order to create the false impression that consciously calibrated systems of racial and class domination are actually just the inscrutable inner workings of some perfectly logical and objective algorithm, ideally making it harder to for political resistance to these systems to coalesce around a single clear-cut personal or institutional villain (a quest that’s been central to neoliberal dreams of diffused/marketized social control dating back to Hayek himself). If understanding and manipulating these kinds of networks for devious sociopolitical reasons was actually beyond the ken of ordinary human technocratic managers with ordinary human self-interested biases, none of those managers would be remotely interested in implementing them in the first place!

On that note, faustusnotes is quite justified to call BS on how much of these discussions about modern forms of social control (at least in the West) are troublingly couched in colonial-era Orientalist racial tropes about some alleged categorical distinction between a free and democratic West versus a despotic and authoritarian East. One can observe a similar problem here as the recent years’ hysteria over Russian social media manipulation, where the West gets to produce new cutting-edge institutional/technical innovations in how to keep people repressed and unfree, then gets to “otherize” and distance itself from these innovations as soon as a nefarious foreign “enemy” country picks them up and starts to adopt them in ways that don’t happen to gel with the interests of Western imperialism. And while I do tend to think that Westerners who dismiss criticism of the Hong Kong protests out of hand are tapping into a deep ideological well of reflexive colonial chauvinism, especially given the West’s long history of “waving the bloody shirt” to justify aggression against China in cases like the Boxer Rebellion, one doesn’t necessarily have to plumb the specifics of any one issue too deeply here in order to still appreciate and be troubled by the general Orientalist ideological trend.

29

Alex 11.26.19 at 3:54 pm

I think that China’s social system is inherently unstable because there are no mechanisms to allow genius to flourish without kissing ass to the existing system. Say that you are a super-genius born to a poor peasant family in China. As a super-genius, you don’t take naturally to bowing and fawning over your intellectual inferiors, no matter how wealthy they are or how prominently connected they are to the party. You don’t do well in the Chinese educational system, which emphasizes hierarchy and discipline rather than creativity and knowledge. But you have a desire for power and wealth, because the only reason Life evolves intelligence to to help Life advance its own goals. So what do these “wasted geniuses” do, when they are prevented from advancing within the existing structure of the authoritarian Chinese system? Obviously they turn their considerable talents to sabotaging it from within to benefit themselves. They become rats in the wainscotting, gnawing away at the foundations of order. When there is no way for geniuses to get to the top by following the existing rulebook, they burn the rulebook, the people who wrote the rulebook, and create their own rules.

The number of these people may not be very high from a statistical perspective, but you should never underestimate the damage that even a single disgruntled genius can do. Look at what Steve Bannon was able to achieve – he started the alt-right almost single-handedly, and changed the course of American history. And honestly, I don’t blame him. Why should he turn his considerable talents to help a world full of snobbish inbred elites, who refuse to grant him the privileges and access that are his rightful due by virtue of his intelligence? If you are a smart person who can’t get to the top of an existing structure by playing within their ruleset, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using your intelligence to burn the whole thing down. (Assuming that they survive, this process teaches the rule-writers a valuable lesson about why it’s important to value intelligence.) But imagine a world where our governing elite were not incompetent idiots whose primary skillset was social signalling for their own self-aggrandizement? A world where they devoted considerable resources to recognizing genius and cultivating it for the common good. Steve’s considerable talent could have been harnessed for the benefit of the existing social structure instead of being leveraged against it.

My point is that China’s social system is creating a lot of Chinese Steve Bannons. Extremely smart people who cannot get to the top of the existing system through intelligence (since the system is heavily rigged to favor the rich instead of the competent) and so they end up using their considerable intellect to undermine it from within. That is the cost of a system that favors social stability over progress. China doesn’t recognize this problem yet since anybody smart enough to fall into this category is smart enough to hide their intelligence and intent. But like an undiagnosed cancer, the problem remains and multiplies.

30

roger gathmann 11.26.19 at 4:08 pm

Henry, I think this is a good meditation that goes a little to quickly to the abstract level of “authoritarianism” without remaining a big longer on the fact that the locus of that authoritarism in the discourse is China. I think this is not accidental. I’ve been reading Julia Lovell’s Maoism, which briefly notes that the fear of devilish mind techniques developed by the communist Chinese, particularly “brainwashing”, were a big influence on U.S. policymakers and the intelligence communities of the 1950s. They were convinced that the Soviets and the Chinese had excellent mind control programs that they were going to use to field robot-like armies and create a sort of horde of obedient slaves. This notion about China in particular has bubbled beneath the surface of western policymaking towards China for a long time. It would be interesting to compare the AI talk with that previous brainwashing talk. I see similarities.

31

Jim Harrison 11.26.19 at 5:10 pm

People skeptical of the power of the Social Credit System should reflect on the effects the like/dislike button on websites has on what they write or don’t write in comment threads.

32

hix 11.26.19 at 5:36 pm

Not quite sure at which point the distinction is made between AI and run the mill Algorithms is made in this or any other context. Either way it seems unlikely policy towards Uigures can still be made any worse by any computer use.

The social credit system on the other hand sounds very scary without any paritcular high tech automation of decission makeing.

My progrnosis regarding the first nation to apply more complicated automated decission makeing is that it will be the US. Since the typical US surveilance staate decissions (on which marriage celebretation of poor muslims somwhere arround the world to drop a drone on or whom to torture a couple of years in Guantanamo) seem also hard to make any worse that should not change much either. Lots of money will change hands of course. There will be less overpaid useless secret service people sitting in offices doing technical complicated analysis without a shred of basline knowledge about the societies they are applying those techniques to. Instead a smaller crowd of very overpaid AI programers and capitalists will replace them.

33

Raven Onthill 11.26.19 at 8:45 pm

A fictional account of a social credit system can be found in L X Beckett’s Gamechanger. It’s a fun book, and besides there are good political reasons to read it.

“Decolonization” ought not mean swapping foreign-imposed democracy for native-imposed authoritarians; that is just swapping one group of colonizers for another.

34

faustusnotes 11.27.19 at 5:31 am

There’s a lot of vague and unsupported supposition going on here and some very non-socialist thinking being applied to some important social problems. Some points about the things discussed above.

On Social Credit Scores (SCS):
1. if you want to see a social credit score in action, watch the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Every society has informal social networks and power relations, and it is a given of socialist thought (dating back to the 1970s) that we should find ways to weaken these or make them explicit. Putting a credit score on these social relations serves to bring them into the light of day and to make them modifiable. It is a socialist act to undermine these informal power networks. The fact that it (apparently!) is being done with a scoring system might be an interesting insight into the technocratic nature of Chinese communism, but given the ease with which east Asian cultures attach names to and formulate social relations explicitly, it could just be an Asian thing. It’s certainly not on its face a bad thing.
2. To follow this up, all western societies have credit scoring systems that are invidious and extremely hard for poor people to avoid or beat. They’re also formalized and scored. It’s much easier for a poor person to have a good SCS than a good financial credit score, of which poor people run afoul all the time. China also has financial credit scores. It could be interesting to ask questions about why a communist country has extended this to social credit, but again it could be reflective of a genuine commitment to socialist ideals. No one here seems to have thought about whether SCS is socialist or authoritarian.
3. If you live in a poor community in Australia or the UK you are almost certainly crying out for implementation of some form of SCS. Poverty-stricken areas in the west are riddled with minor forms of anti-social crime that are inimical to the enjoyment of ordinary social life and potentially dangerous (nuisance fires and traffic interference in particular). The much-maligned system of ASBOs in the UK (which was not so much maligned by people who lived on housing estates around anti-social behavior) is a good example of a nascent SCS in the west. One could ask whether China’s SCS is inferior or superior to slapping criminal orders on people, but to do so one would need to be bearing in mind that the west should be treated as a comparator to the east, not a superior model of development (which you guys are doing). Also, most of you have never been near a poor neighbourhood and don’t know what happens in them, or what the lives of poor westerners are like, so probably the need for a SCS, and the similarities with (or even existence of) ASBOs and “broken windows” policing probably escaped you.
4. I have never met a Chinese person who even knows what a SCS is, or cares about their own, and I think it’s all vapourware bullshit being floated by anti-China wankers in think tanks. I’ve heard extensive complaints about Xi’s red app but nothing about SCS.

On Hong Kong:
1. Ben Marshall talks of police violence and very carefully avoids reference to the explicit examples I give of anti-chinese violence (and makes the facile point that HK and mainland Chinese are the same race so it can’t be racism anyway). There is ample evidence of the violence and racism of this movement. They call mainlanders cockroaches (and have done since 2014), they set one on fire for disagreeing with them, and then sent video of the event to his wife with gloating messages. They killed a mainland Chinese man with a brick. There are many videos of them attacking young mainland Chinese women. When you see a video of a group of demonstrators beating a young woman with iron bars, or slapping a girl repeatedly in the face because she refuses to reject the One China Policy on film, do you think “oh these are definitely people whose politics I can get behind”? This would be the first movement in history that people support having seen (or I guess in most people’s case here, been told of) this kind of violence. What are you thinking? Is this socialism?
2. The original goal of the antiElab movement was to maintain HK’s position as a haven for criminals and tax evaders. The law they originally objected to was passed to enable extradition of a man who murdered his girlfriend. The movement explicitly rejects holding murderers to account, and wants to ensure that HK remains a tax haven. When it won that fight it moved on to open street violence against mainland Chinese, to the extent that students had to be evacuated by boat. If you don’t think that’s fascist – a movement to maintain a criminal tax haven where people from a different country can be violently attacked and murdered in the streets with impunity – you either know nothing about this movement or you have no socialist or left wing ideals in you at all.
3. If the same movement had been active in any western city the police would have killed many by now. We can test this though, can’t we! Because about a score of gilet jaunes have been killed by French police in the same time frame. The gilet jaunes are much loved around here but strangely we don’t see a comparison of police violence in “authoritarian” China with “free” France, because you aren’t treating the west as a comparator to Asia, but as its moral superior.

Regarding Uighur and Face recognition:
1. I don’t think anyone commenting here can read Chinese, let alone speak it. I can’t but I can read Japanese, which was enough to do a search for 民族 in the documents Pinboard linked to and see exactly how prominent the Uighur are in them (not very), and to identify a few text chunks to translate. I would have thought given the geopolitical circumstances it might be a good idea to check the sources used by a guy called “Pinboard” who today tweeted that there is no party in the UK opposing Brexit (a real deep thinker, eh?) This is an academic blog, people should check sources and know when they’re out of their depth.
2. I haven’t, contra Ben Marshall, been denying the internment of Uighurs. I have been denying certain claims about the process of oppression there, in particular the role of facial recognition software and the technology used. Most technology used to support the security state in China is human beings doing boring leg work. You would know this if you had spent any time there. If you had visited China you would know that they don’t use facial recognition for border security the way Oz and the UK do. If you had bothered to investigate any of the lies and smears being spread by “china experts” in the past few years you might also know that the “organ harvesting” thing is completely being misrepresented.
3. On my blog I didn’t do any whataboutery on Uighur vs. Australia (thank you MFB). I simply responded to a commenter saying China is “particularly tyrannical and cruel”. The blogpost that Henry refers to was about a vision for a left-wing, independent Hong Kong but was derailed by exactly this kind of discussion.

About Xi losing control of the provinces:
I have already pointed out that John Quiggin’s evidence for this is happening in his own country. This idea that China is in decay or falling apart, that the provinces are out of control – it’s utterly fanciful bullshit.

Also, Steve Bannon is rich and has always been rich, and the idea that he brought down American politics to get back at the people he’s been mates with for 50 years is just so stupid that I can’t even. I just can’t even.

Henry wants to make some points about the role of technology, AI and machine learning in authoritarian states, and I think it’s reasonable to point out that when you do this you need to:
a) Know something about what tech is actually being used in those states, and how their security system works, and
b) Be actually willing to compare them with democratic states, rather than just assuming (as almost everyone here is doing) that the democratic states don’t do concentration camps, extra-judicial murder, tech-based surveillance, arbitrary detention, and social management systems.

So again I ask people to have some suspicion about sources, respect the limits of your own knowledge, and stop treating China as some monolithic monster and the west as a paragon of freedom. I would bet no one commenting here has met a Uighur person, or indeed any Chinese minority; hasn’t ever met someone from the party; hasn’t worked with mainland Chinese on the mainland; has never lived in China; has never dealt with government officials; doesn’t know much about east Asian cultures; can’t read or speak any language from the region; and doesn’t have friends from that country. My god I bet none of you even have a Tik Tok account! You might want to bear in mind that it’s just possible that you don’t know much.

You need to decolonize your minds. You need to stop treating low-income countries and Asian countries as inferior shitholes that have to look up to us, and you need to stop thinking that the west is a paragon of freedom or some morally superior place that Asians need to look to for freedom and a better life. Once you have done that you might start to understand that there are alternative systems growing out here in Asia, one-party states and authoritarian states, and you need to deal with them, because the future is over here, and either you learn to think about it clearly or you get left behind by it. And more importantly, you’re dropping your left wing principles and turning into right wing nutjobs and fascists every time you try to talk about a country you clearly know nothing about. This is an academic blog for left wing people, and when China gets invoked you become right wing non-academics. It’s time, as Mao might say, for a little critical self-reflection!

35

Raven Onthill 11.27.19 at 7:14 am

“[social credit] is certainly not on its face a bad thing.”

We have two decades of experience with such systems in online environments. They have proven to be enormously problematic. It is simply madness to implement such a thing on a grand scale and bespeaks a leadership deeply out of touch with reality. (Though that is hardly limited to China.)

The accounts of Chinese conduct, from trustworthy people who do know the language and are in many cases Chinese, confirm many of the concerns cited here. There are many bilingual and bicultural people who report in English; they are unlikely to all be wrong.

Do not defend the indefensible.

36

Dipper 11.27.19 at 8:57 am

@ faustusnotes “You need to decolonize your minds. You need to stop treating low-income countries and Asian countries as inferior shitholes that have to look up to us, and you need to stop thinking that the west is a paragon of freedom or some morally superior place that Asians need to look to for freedom and a better life. Once you have done that you might start to understand that there are alternative systems growing out here in Asia, one-party states and authoritarian states, and you need to deal with them, because the future is over here, and either you learn to think about it clearly or you get left behind by it.”

Well this is great, given your previous postings on B****t. Because this sums up one big reason why many”low income” B****teers voted to leave the EU – because the future is out there not navel gazing in Europe. But I for one look forward to your continued Posts From The Future.

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J-D 11.27.19 at 10:48 am

I simply responded to a commenter saying China is “particularly tyrannical and cruel”.

That was a misunderstanding. I admitted that it was my choice of words that naturally laid me open to misunderstanding, but I didn’t use the exact phrasing you have now quoted, and once I became aware of the misunderstanding I explained how the meaning I intended differed from the one I had inadvertently conveyed to you.

Once you have done that you might start to understand that there are alternative systems growing out here in Asia, one-party states and authoritarian states, and you need to deal with them, because the future is over here, and either you learn to think about it clearly or you get left behind by it.

The world in which we all have to live is one in which tyranny and despotism exist, just as it is one in which many other abuses and misdeeds take place: slavery, torture, and so on. We can’t make tyranny and despotism cease to exist by pretending that they don’t exist, and we also can’t make them cease to exist by condemnation or excoriation. That doesn’t mean we should think or say that tyranny and despotism are morally acceptable, or no worse than the alternatives. (They aren’t new growths, either, although it wouldn’t make any difference to the point here if they were.) The performance of many multi-party systems is deplorable, but an authoritarian one-party system is still a worse alternative.

38

LFC 11.27.19 at 1:36 pm

Haven’t said anything about China in this thread, b/c I don’t know all that much about contemporary China.

While some of faustusnotes’ points are probably well-taken, I would caution him against implying, as he seems to — though it’s admittedly left somewhat ambiguous — that any particular political systems represent “the future.”

Lastly, a propos faustusnotes’ closing remarks @34, I think it would be well to remember that while this is an “academic blog” in some sense, not every commenter works at a university. Indeed, if one adds up the retired academics and the non-academics here, my guess is that one probably gets to about half the commentariat and perhaps half the readership. Obviously that’s just a guess, though I think it’s a reasonable one (and it may underestimate the extent of the nonacademic readership).

39

WLGR 11.27.19 at 3:21 pm

In these kinds of discussions, I think it’s worth perpetually re-upping this excellent paper on the colonialist (and specifically Orientalist) underpinnings of the ideological concept of “totalitarianism,” as a way of artificially engineering a clear categorical distinction between liberal/democratic societies and totalitarian/authoritarian ones, which coincidentally happens to map onto the classical Orientalist ideological distinction between West and East. Aside from the obvious implications as far as racialized Cold War discourse against countries like Russia and China, the other major helpful result from a liberal perspective is to absolve Western capitalist modernity of any possible responsibility for the atrocities of Nazism, by characterizing it as a kind of civilizational “relapse” into barbaric premodern Oriental despotism as opposed to a perfectly logical culmination of the “progressive” colonialist racial ideology of early 20th century capitalist imperialism.

Bearing critiques like these in mind makes it harder and harder to take anyone particularly seriously once they start lapsing into that throwback midcentury Anglo-American poli-sci mindset, where one just assumes a priori that there’s a certain type of political society called “authoritarian society” that works one way, and another type called “democratic society” that works a different way, and oh, lookie here, somehow those two objectively-existing sociopolitical types just happen to correspond to the most favorable possible ideological frame of reference for Global Northern imperialist geopolitical interests. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that nothing worthwhile can possibly be salvaged from any analysis that leans on these tropes at all — after all, Marx himself blew a lot of hot air in his day about the “Asiatic mode of production” — but at the very least, these are thought-terminating cliches that make one’s analysis less and less robust the more one leans into them, and as faustusnotes is pointing out, even the “left”-leaning sectors of left-liberal intelligentsia in the Global North are still highly susceptible to such lapses.

40

LFC 11.27.19 at 3:34 pm

There’s also a question of scale here. Western countries’ detention of migrants, while not excusable at all (plus high incarceration rates in the U.S.), is different from e.g. North Korea’s extensive system of detention camps — and also, I’d hazard, from China’s, though China’s is, afaik, considerably less extensive, in terms of percentage of its population, than NK’s, and also more “targeted” at particular groups, e.g. Uighurs.

41

notGoodenough 11.27.19 at 6:54 pm

Faustusnotes @31

On SCS:

Addressing (1)
“It’s certainly not on its face a bad thing.”

I agree – many things are not bad on the face of it. However,

”Putting a credit score on these social relations serves to bring them into the light of day and to make them modifiable”

Indeed, and that is rather the point. Modifiable by whom? Personally, I have considerable qualms about anyone (be they a company like Facebook, any government, or anyone else) collecting information regarding who I am friends with, where I go, what I say, what I´ve done, etc. I certainly would have great concerns if they are a mandatory platform, and are part of an organisation which has great control over where I am allowed to go, what I am allowed to do, etc. This doesn’t mean it is inherently bad – just that potential for abuse exists. And, given that it is very hard to put the genie back in the bottle, I don’t think it is unreasonable to be sceptical (not cynical) regarding how it will be implemented and used.

Addressing (2)

Given that you point out, rather neatly, that there are considerable problems with the way credit scores are used (and the resulting effects) in western civilisation, I don´t quite follow why you seem to think it therefore will be great to extend a similar approach to monitoring to social interactions as well. I do not see any reason why such a system could not also be used to buttress the powerful, exacerbating disparity further. Indeed, given that those with less power are, by definition, less likely to have the say over how such systems are used, it seems to me that that risk is not inconsiderable. Again, I am not claiming that such systems (including SCS) are used like that – merely that I don’t see why they couldn’t be. Again, this doesn’t mean “no, don’t do that”, more “hmm, this should be thought about carefully”.

Addressing (3)

“If you live in a poor community in Australia or the UK you are almost certainly crying out for implementation of some form of SCS.” and “The much-maligned system of ASBOs in the UK (which was not so much maligned by people who lived on housing estates around anti-social behavior) is a good example of a nascent SCS in the west.”

In mine, praise was not being sung about ASBOS. Now, this is purely anecdotal (so take with a pinch of salt), but given how effective ASBOs were (not very), their implementation (confused), and enforcement (highly variable), these were seen as something of a joke at best (in my area). We do, as a society, have regulations dealing with behaviour deemed to be antisocial – these are called “laws”. Do you think these are applied fairly and equally? Do think a SCS system would inherently be different, and if so why?

On Hong Kong:

First, a caveat. My knowledge and experience of China is very limited (I would say near non-existant, and highly coloured by its sources), and certainly I don’t want to make pronouncements about this. However, a few things ring a little odd about what you said – perhaps, if you are comfortable doing so, you would care to expand on this further?

Regarding (1) and (2)

To me (in my ignorance) it seems odd that you point out (rightly so) that China is not a monolithic organisation (and should, therefore, be considered with some degree of nuance) but also feel comfortable making very sweeping generalisations about an ostensibly leaderless movement. It seems particularly odd that you would do so by pointing to specific cases (a tactic often used by people to dismiss protests – e.g. inaugural day protestors in US, IWW, etc. etc.) and saying those who criticise the Chinese government must, therefore, be sympathetic to such bad behaviour. It is especially, particularly odd that you do so often using the dehumanising language often used to justify extra-judicial killings (e.g. “violent thugs”). Now, perhaps the HK protestors are indeed all terrible people – maybe they have a membership requirement that you must hate Chinese people to be part of the protests – certainly my knowledge doesn’t extend that far, but it doesn’t seem that your examples (however reprehensible) necessarily supports that being the general case. I am perhaps a little oversensitive to this, as I have frequently seen many people with legitimate protests being dismissed in this way – and that is without going into the instances of “agents provocateur” (environmental movement in the UK anyone?). Again, I would make no claims regarding China-HK as it is outside my knowledge, but this is something I am inherently very cautious about.

You also say that originally people objected to the extradition of a murderer, and then say this means they don’t want murderers held to account. I am not familiar with the particulars, and maybe you can offer some helpful links so I can educate myself, but simply as a matter of logic I am not sure that follows because 1) extradition to China does not, in and of itself, seem to be a necessary prerequisite for justice (could the person not be tried in HK?) and 2) it could be possible to object to extradition for people as a matter of principle, even if you don’t sympathise with this specific person (for example, someone in the UK might object to extradition of a murderer to the US when it leads to the death penalty because they object to sending someone to be killed – but that does not mean they think that the hypothetical murderer is a great person and should get off free of punishment). Now perhaps the HK protestors do think that no HK citizen should be punished for murdering a Chinese citizen – but I think I would require a little more than this assertion as evidence (I do not, to be clear, assert the opposite claim).

Regarding (3)

This is, to me at least, a very problematic framing. If people shouldn’t criticise China because they haven’t killed as many people as France, then this is exactly the same reasoning that people use to say “well, you can’t criticize the US government because it isn’t as bad as ISIS”. To me, at least, it seems possible to criticize things individually (perhaps I am misremembering, but I seem to recall that CT has made critical remarks regarding the handling of the protests in France – I could be wrong on that though). While I am sure it is in no way your intention, often it is easy for things to get side-tracked if you insist people have to contextualise all of their criticisms (for example, people in bad faith (not you!) have attempted to derail feminist critiques of the European patriarchy by demanding that they first address Saudi Arabia).

Regarding your general remarks.

“you might start to understand that there are alternative systems growing out here in Asia, one-party states and authoritarian states, and you need to deal with them, because the future is over here, and either you learn to think about it clearly or you get left behind by it.”

Where the future lies is, with respect, probably with the heat death of the universe. Everywhere in the world has a long, rich, and varied history – they will (should our species survive the oncoming issues regarding climate change, etc.) have futures. I’m not sure I feel confident enough to say that one will inherently be superior to all others, but clearly you do.

It may surprise you to learn that Asia is not the only place with one-party and authoritarian states – Spain, for example, had one for a time, and so too did Germany, and these have not generally been thought of as bastions of the future. For myself, I am always dubious about concentrating power in the hands of a few people – it does seem, historically, to lead to abuse and corruption. Perhaps Asia is different from Europe and this will never happen. For myself, I’m not sure I would bet my life on that – but perhaps that is just me.

I would bet no one commenting here has met a Uighur person, or indeed any Chinese minority; hasn’t ever met someone from the party; hasn’t worked with mainland Chinese on the mainland; has never lived in China; has never dealt with government officials; doesn’t know much about east Asian cultures; can’t read or speak any language from the region; and doesn’t have friends from that country.

You owe me some money….

More seriously though, while I think it is perfectly fair to caution people to be careful of their biases and lack of information, you do seem to have made some pretty broad and sweeping statements without sufficient supporting evidence. Perhaps these things are common knowledge to you (I seem to recall you live in Asia, so perhaps you have access to far better information), but I think it is not unreasonable to be sceptical of claims until people provide the evidence supporting it (and with links, please!).

I hope you will read this comment with the same generosity of spirit in which it is intended – as I have said before, I am happy to learn from anyone who is willing to teach (but don’t expect or demand it!).

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notGoodenough 11.27.19 at 7:16 pm

Personally I tend to adopt a wait-and-see approach to claims regarding the benefits and advances of AI. I seem to recall some addendum to Clarke’s 3rd law along the lines of:

any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic and will introduce new and unexpected problems

Machine learning has become something of the new hotness, but success seems variable (ask me about synthetic predictions using DFT sometime, or rather don’t if you don’t have several hours to spare). I suspect we don’t know enough to know what we can or can’t know (if that makes sense), and while I doubt AI will be a magic cure-all I also suspect the limitations and advances will be quite interesting to discover.

(apologies for the link, but I had in mind a comic about the human behavioural studies and their implications regarding the oncoming robopocalypse which might be found here: http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=2033)

43

Doctor Science 11.27.19 at 7:25 pm

@Bill Benzon:

Yes, I think authoritarian leaders (including corporate ones) *are* particularly susceptible to AI snake oil, because it appears to offer a solution to their severe principal-agent problem. I recently read Glahn’s “Economic History of China” (an excellent roller-skate tour) which helped me understand how much this problem has shaped China’s exceptionally long history as a very large autocracy.

I suggest autocracy *always* has a bad principal-agent problem, because by definition the rules (laws, etc.) are not the same for the autocrat as they are for everyone else, which automatically misaligns their interests. So there are extra incentives for the agents to keep info (and money!) from moving up toward the principal.

44

Jack Curtis 11.28.19 at 3:24 am

As stated, authoritarian regimes contain the seeds of their own destruction. And all governments tend toward stasis, authoritarian regimes especially. The impact of current technology reinforces that stasis like the shell of a hand grenade , initially restricting but ultimately reinforcing the explosion, also as suggested. But until that explosion builds up enough to overcome the restraint, the cost of the wait is high and the cost of the explosion is reinforced along with its magnitude, seems to me.The tools are more advanced, but the behavior of the species involved remains unchanged …

45

Hidari 11.28.19 at 6:56 am

@39
That’s a very interesting paper thanks.

It made me think of the reflexive cliche used intensively when Western ‘democracies’ fail to live up to their proclaimed ideals: ‘it’s just like living in North Korea!’ or ‘It’s just like living in a banana republic!’ or whatever. Just imagine people in Colombia or Bolivia using, habitually, the cliche: ‘This is awful! It’s like living in the United States!’.

46

Faustusnotes 11.28.19 at 6:59 am

To continue litigating my blogpost here, j-d tells it right when he says I misunderstood him but then a right wing commenter turned up to make explicitly the case that Australia’s system of arbitrary detention, torture and imprisonment doesn’t count, which is where Henry’s misunderstandings spring from. Again, I’m not doing whataboutery here, the issue in this post includes comparing totalitarian and democratic systems (which again means eg i am not defending SCS I am pointing out how it should actually be compared)

Notgoodenough, the extradition law was not a law to extradite to China. This is an example of how ignorant westerners are on this topic. The murderer in question was to be extradited to Taiwa. The law allowed the legislature to consider an extradition request from any country iff a) it was also a crime in hk, b) it had a minimum sentence of 7 years and c) it was requested. The “any country” part included China, hence the rebellion, but the effect was the retention of hk’s status as a crime and tax haven.

As for blanket condemnation of the demonstrations: when you’re in a demo and people start doing things in your name that you don’t like (like stoning people or setting them alight on the basis of their race, or beating young women for not speaking your language) you have three choices: stop them, condemn them or abandon them. The demonstrators chose none of these options, although about a million people who protested peacefully in June abandoned them. The people left in the movement were choosing to endorse its excesses. And these weren’t isolated incidents, they were constant. And you don’t need to speak Chinese to see them – lots of foreigners living in hk were tweeting this shit out for months but you would only see it if you follow pro China twitter users – and even this appears to be too much for Henry to do (for example), leaving him vulnerable to lies from people like pinboard.

(You can learn more about the extradition law by googling it and trading the smcp explainer)

None of this shit is a mystery – it’s just a question of how you judge and trust sources.

47

Maciej Ceglowski 11.28.19 at 8:06 am

Thank you for making this argument, and for your kind citation of a tweet-sized thought! There are two small points I would make:

1. It’s not clear to me that planning disasters or other failures of AI would imperil the regime. The regime has survived some pretty epic self-inflicted disasters in the past. I would be interested in seeing the argument that machine learning failures would weaken the CCP’s hold on power fleshed out. Maybe they would, in a context where they must operate in a global market economy! But it’s not obvious to me that it’s true.

2. All the big data techniques we know are very vulnerable to adversarial inputs. In a country as big and inventive as China, it strikes me that people will find ways to create those inputs to whatever big data models are used, either intentionally or by stumbling across them. Research has shown that it takes very little to change a “natural” input into an adversarial one—for example, manipulating a few hundred pixel values on a picture of a panda makes an image ID algorithm see a horseshoe. How this vulnerability of machine learning models to adversarial inputs would play out in a society that uses AI for social control is a fascinating question.

48

Maciej Ceglowski 11.28.19 at 8:11 am

faustusnotes, please at least do a Twitter search before you accuse me of using some hashtag you deplore. You gotta get these little details right if you’re going to persuade people that I’m the unreliable one.

49

Tm 11.28.19 at 1:24 pm

My understanding of the HK extradition issue: at issue was a murder committed in Taiwan by a HK person. HK cannot extradite to Taiwan and cannot prosecute a crime committed abroad. The government then proposed to change the extradition law to allo extradition, including to mainland China. Protesters opposed the latter part.

Germany does not extradite citizens to most countries. To my knowledge that doesn’t prevent the German justice system from prosecuting crimes committed abroad by German citizens.

50

Darryl R Taylor 11.28.19 at 1:42 pm

That particular weakness is why the strength of AI coupled with narrow visions is worrisome: there is the possibility of a defective ideology taking absolute King of the Hill” control over what is currently a closed environment (this planet), and in the process winnowing out human characteristics that might otherwise allow for needed growth and innovation, etc, and thus having it’s flaws magnify and lead to our extinction.

This would be the case even if the society thus achieved were perfect from the perspective of it’s inhabitants, perhaps even more so than if it were a horrible totalitarian regime. Without any discomfitting elements within their reality subjects would not be likely to seek out unpleasant experiences for the sake of personal development, that is not part of the human animal’s nature.

We make crappy panda bears, and should never have limitless eucalyptus to dine upon.

Therein lies the real Hell of a successful authoritarian regime utilizing the level and types of technology that we are already developing, if life under such were less than idyllic by our standards, it would take little more than a generation to engineer the population to believe themselves to be in the best of possible worlds.

Lacking any options for comparison, much as with the aims of the fictional language Newspeakin George Orwell’s ‘1984’, it would be impossible to feel discontent (or at least difficult to identify it as such).

“Bread & Circuses” would truly have come into it’s own, and the continuance of all human legacies would be rising on a single, flawed contender.

The fact of the matter is that there are certain axiomatic aspects of life that apply at all levels of resolution.

One is that absolute order or absolute chaos is death.

In the same way that individuals recombine their genetic sequences with others while a gradual randomization of genetic and epigenetic sequences serve to prevent needless repetition and create maximal opportunities for non- malignant variability, cultures require other cultures even if only as a contrast against which to define themselves negatively (“We are the people of Y, and are not X….”).

Hopefully it can be mostly peaceful (conflict is not absolutely mandatory in order to have dynamic contrast), but there must always be multiple distinct cultures if any are to have a good chance of surviving in whole or in part until whatever fluke circumstance “does” for our species or it’s descendants (or we find ourselves in the ultimate “Big Bad Guy” scrap against the reigning thermodynamic Champion, Entropy).

This is “cultural mutualism”.

This aspect of continually dancing along between a minimum of two possibilities is integral to anything that we can consider to be alive, and no absolutist ideology is likely to account for in the instructions that they issue to any AI.

The nature of Life itself is anathema to Authoritarianism.

51

Cian 11.28.19 at 2:03 pm

NoGoodEnough,

I’m not sure I’d go as far as FaustusNotes on the HK protests and China, but I think he makes a number of good points. I’m also not an expert on China by any means, but there’s enough information out there to suggest that the reality is a lot more complicated than what we’re seeing in the west.

On the protestors. It was indeed provoked by the proposed extradition of a murder suspect (who’s probably guilty – I haven’t seen anything to suggest otherwise). I think there are good reasons why HK protestors might still object to this (Chinese legal system is not particularly great, and usually these kinds of issues are used to push through more regressive issues), but nonetheless it’s not a particularly good cause on it’s own merits.

Secondly, while I wouldn’t claim that all protestors are natvists, there is a strong nativist element among the protestors (basically loathing of mainlanders – who are fairly easy for people in Hong Kong to identify) and which has resulted in a fair bit of violence. That has included attacks on areas with a lot of mainlanders in them, and some astonishingly awful attacks on individuals (there’s a video of a guy being set on fire if you really want to see it). Also while people have attacked the police for being violent, and there has been some, there have also been a lot of violent attacks on the police. And some of the police violence you have seen (some, but not all), has been preceeded by a LOT of protestor violence against the police. Also, compared to say US police (or even British police), the HK police do not seem to have been particularly violent. If you want to see an example of fairly extreme unprovoked violence – look at Barcelona, something which has received a fraction of the the coverage of Hong Kong. Or indeed the Chile protests. The HK protests are getting this amount of coverage because it’s against an official enemy (China), rather than a colony (Chile/Bolivia post-coup), or ally (Turkey which just flat out murders problematic ethnicities).

Thirdly, the principal instigator of the protestors (providing funding and resources) is a fairly dodgy HK billionare, Jimmy Lai. Who to put it mildly has an agenda. While obviously most of the protestors are independent of him, he has had a major hand in shaping the tone/structure of the protests, and has an agenda that is not particularly progressive.

Whenever you see coverage of a country that is a US enemy in US papers, you have to be fairly skeptical of what you’re reading. US foreign coverage tends to be pretty rubbish at the best of times (correspondants mostly don’t speak the local language, are discourage from going native and only spend a few years in the countries they’re covering – and tend to hang out with locals from similar socio economic backgrounds, who are rarely very representative of the country they’re covering), but when it’s covering a US enemy it will be heavily influenced by their biases (China is authoritarian and bad), so they will tend to believe stories that confirm those biases (and ignore stories that don’t). In addition a lot of their background information will come from US thinktanks that treat China as a rival/enemy. TLDR – NYT coverage of China is pretty rubbish.

I suspect there is some truth to the Uighyar stuff and that it’s bad, but that it’s also been very exagerated for both the reasons I outline above, but also because a lot of the information is coming from Uighyar opposition groups, and they tend to exaggerate/lie. Not because they’re bad, but because they’re trying to get help/aid. Already a number of their claims have been demonstrated to be false, or exaggerations. Not every story you read about it will be true. Many will be thinly sourced, or total propaganda. Others will be 100% true – sorting through this is hard, but at the very least be skeptical of anything you read, particularly if it’s in the NYT. Doubly so if it’s in the comment section. Also, it’s worth noting the amount of coverage this is getting compared to say – Turkey (long and ongoing history of ethnic cleansing and murder), Saudi Arabia (murderous persecution of Shiites), Bolivia (a pro-US coup has led to a racist government getting in and persecuting the local indians), India (the government is openly fascist and anti Muslim). That doesn’t make Uighyar right, but the reason we’re seeing so much about it is for political reasons. it undermines a US enemy – it has nothing to do with human rights.

Similarly on the social reputation control stuff, I haven’t seen any sources on this in what I would call a reliable place. And certainly no attempts to contextualize it. Maybe it’s all true, maybe none of it’s true. A lot of the information is coming from sources that I wouldn’t trust to tell me the weather in Shanghai, so I think there is some cause for skepticism. I think the truth is that we don’t really know enough currently, but my guess is that the Chinese probably are running trials, and beyond that who knows.

Also I think it’s a bit rich for Americans to obsess over possible dystopias in China, when the US is turning into one for much of the population. I mean you don’t hear much discussion of gang profiling for example, or the ways in which cops are using social media profiling. Or that AI is being used in the states (probably poorly – machine learning rarely lives up to the hype) to do criminal profiling.

In mine, praise was not being sung about ASBOS. Now, this is purely anecdotal (so take with a pinch of salt), but given how effective ASBOs were (not very), their implementation (confused), and enforcement (highly variable), these were seen as something of a joke at best (in my area). We do, as a society, have regulations dealing with behaviour deemed to be antisocial – these are called “laws”. Do you think these are applied fairly and equally? Do think a SCS system would inherently be different, and if so why?

Yeah, I think Asbos is a bad hill to die on. I had a friend who was doing legal advice work in one council estate, and ASBOs were used by the local council as a way to try and criminalize social problems. Your kid’s truant, here have an ASBO. Your kid hanging out on a corner too much – have an ASBO. Anecdotally, she had the impression that they were just seen as another arbitrary shitty thing that people had to navigate in order to go about their lives.

It may surprise you to learn that Asia is not the only place with one-party and authoritarian states – Spain, for example, had one for a time, and so too did Germany, and these have not generally been thought of as bastions of the future. For myself, I am always dubious about concentrating power in the hands of a few people – it does seem, historically, to lead to abuse and corruption. Perhaps Asia is different from Europe and this will never happen. For myself, I’m not sure I would bet my life on that – but perhaps that is just me.

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this argument either, though claims that China will somehow collapse always strike me as funny. China’s social and political structure has basically remained fairly constant for thousands of years. Whatever it’s flaws, it’s surprisingly robust. America is what 200 years old and looking fairly shaky if we’re being honest with ourselves.

52

Cian 11.28.19 at 2:09 pm

Also think any critique of China’s political system, which contrasts it with the US is a bit of a non-starter. The US is not a very democratic country (as demonstrated by the gulf between public opinion, and the laws that are enacted), and by western standards it’s a pretty corrupt place. You might want to pick a better example.

Equally if you want to defend Chinese one party technocratic systems, Singapore might be a stronger example. Or even Japan, god help us. I mean I know it’s nominally a democracy…

53

Bill Benzon 11.28.19 at 3:33 pm

@Doctor Science:

Very interesting.

This – susceptibility to AI snake oil – is something I’ve thought about a bit over the years. As someone with some technical expertise in some AI, the now eclipsed symbolic AI, and in psychology and neuroscience as well, and who is also skeptical about AI, I would like to believe that people who know the technology and/or psychology/neuroscience don’t buy the snake oil while those who don’t are more susceptible. But that won’t stand up to the evidence. Many knowledgeable people swallow it hook line and sinker.

At the moment I’m imagining a 2 by 2 by 2 cube thus: 1) technical knowledge, yes or no; 2) principal-agent problem, yes or no; 3) authoritarian proclivities, yes or no.

How is belief in AI snake oil distributed in that cube?

Elon Musk: 1) yes, 2) yes, 3) ?, but perhaps yes?
Nick Bostrom: 1) yes, 2) no (he runs a research group, but that’s relatively small), 3) ?
Ray Kurzweil: 1) yes, 2) yes, 3) ?
Steve Pinker: 1) yes, 2) no, 3) I’ll say no. And he doesn’t buy the snake oil at all.
Joe Rogan: 1) no, 2) no, 3) I’ll say no. But he seems to buy the snake oil, at least when Musk is selling it.
And so on.

54

William S Berry 11.28.19 at 6:58 pm

@faustusnotes’

because the future is over here, and either you learn to think about it clearly or you get left behind by it

reminded me immediately of Lincoln Steffens: “I have been over into the future, and it works [in one variation]”, he is supposed to have said of the early Soviet Russia, then in the middle of civil war.

Excuse my pessimism, but that future didn’t work all that well and I doubt this one will either.

55

Stephen 11.28.19 at 8:01 pm

Two points I don’t understand in this very interesting discussion.

Faustusnotes@17 says, re China: “Meanwhile democracies are doing many of the same things – concentration camps, arbitrary detention, torture, extra-judicial murder and murder in camps.”

Well, about western European democracies which I do know, I’ve not noticed any of these. About Australia or north America, I don’t know enough to be certain these have ever happened anything like recently: examples, please?

Faustusnotes@34: “about a score of gilet jaunes have been killed by French police in the same time frame”. I don’t nowadays read the French press, but going from those well-known authoritarian sources the BBC and the Guardian, I had no idea that was true, Sources, please?

56

Hidari 11.28.19 at 8:30 pm

Well the Trump regime has passed two bills promoting ‘democracy’ in Hong Kong so I’m sure that will solve the problem.

Perhaps the Chinese will retaliate by promoting democracy in the American colony of Puerto Rico, perhaps by encouraging protesters holding Chinese language signs, * holding Chinese flags, and openly pledging their allegiance to Xi Jinpin, the equivalents of which have taken place regularly in the ex-British colony.

Or perhaps the boot is slightly different when it’s on the other foot.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/27/us/politics/trump-hong-kong.html

*or let’s go all out and imagine the signs were in Russian and the flag was the Russian flag.

57

notGoodenough 11.28.19 at 9:06 pm

Faustusnotes@ 41

Thank you for your reply – as I said, I wasn’t sure which case you meant, and didn’t want to start talking at cross purposes!

I appreciate your clarification – I tend to be a bit reflexively concerned when people point to specific bad behaviour, as this sort of argument has so often in the past been used to dismiss protests before. But, as I say, I don’t know anything about the specific instance you are talking about, and so will spend some time reading up before saying anything else (along the lines of “better to be silent and thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt”!).

Once again, your response is much appreciated!

58

notGoodenough 11.28.19 at 9:14 pm

Cian @ 51

And thank you for your comments! I certainly agree that Faustusnotes raises some food for thought (I don’t think I’d spend as much time reading CT if I didn’t appreciate the many interesting and thought-provoking positions taken by the hosts and many of the commentators!). I hope you’ll forgive the general rambling that follows…

I also take the point regarding poor coverage. I know just enough to know I don’t know very much (if you follow me!), so don’t want to comment too much re HK specifically. More just making general observations regarding the world.

For me, I am always concerned by attempts to extract more data from people – whoever it comes from. All too often it can be used in unexpected and unpleasant ways (or even just misplaced in the back of a taxi). I think something was once said along the lines of “Orwell thought all information would be curated so we’d be told what to believe, Huxley thought there would be so much we couldn’t discern the truth, we seem to have somehow ended up with the worst of both”. A friend of a friend once got put on a no-fly list for not being sufficiently overwhelmingly deferential in the opinion of the agent in charge, and as a result is in a bit of a pickle with no way to reverse it. So, to try and form a coherent thought, I’m always a little sceptical when people seem to assume that improved tech will benefit the huddled masses – traditionally the less powerful get the fuzzy end of the pineapple whatever happens (because it is the powerful who make the decisions), and I am not convinced that it will change purely because someone has invented a new tpye of Facebook (to indulge in a little snark).

My experience of ASBOs was pretty similar to your friend’s. Anecdotally, it seemed another hoop for people to jump through, another way to control people. Round my way it was said that ASBOs were handed out just for going to shopping centres with friends – so (to me at the time) it seemed as though it was incentivising teenagers to avoid socialising and going into public. Of course that led to bored, miserable, hormonal teens being cooped up all the time – which generally didn’t seem to go well. Still, this is just my impression from years ago…

I’d agree that the US doesn’t live up to its self-image (I suspect no country does). My general thoughts (which I have no evidence for!) are that people are pretty much people around the world, and though cultures may differ (which we should acknowledge), it would be a mistake to think that there is something unique regarding any area which makes it somehow special and superior compared to everywhere else (whoever it comes from). I’m probably not expressing it well, but hopefully you can extract some meaning from my ramblings (basically claims that X or Y are so inherently superior as to not require justification are pretty suspect – as vitorian British demonstrated)… I think all people like myself can do is hope to find somewhere to live where the pros outweigh the cons, and try and do what we can (in our own ways) to try and keep the world ticking along for a little while longer.

TL;DR: It may be a funny old world, but it seems that most people aren’t laughing…

59

Tm 11.28.19 at 9:17 pm

Fn 46: would you kindly explain how Germany‘s constitutional prohibition of extraditing citizens turned the country into an international crime haven.

The claim that hundreds of thousands of HK people took to the streets, taking personal risks, in order to protect some random murderer seems a bit much. Why are all these people so eager to live in a crime haven?

60

hix 11.28.19 at 9:44 pm

My impression is that even something as straightforward as a Uber Rateing does not work at all (indpendent of how dysfuncational a company Uber is in many other ways).
Frankly, i dont even think its worth trying to debate this in seriousness, thats just bad for the mood, it is however great comeday material:
For example the Orvill Episode: Majority Rule
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Orville_(season_1)
Also more absurd over the top: Qualityland
https://www.amazon.de/QualityLand-Roman-dunkle-Marc-Uwe-Kling/dp/3550050151
Which to my suprise since his kind of humor did not travel well to English speaking nations so far, seems to be on a good track to becom an US TV Series:
https://www.dw.com/en/hbo-to-adapt-german-satirical-novel-qualityland-into-a-tv-series/a-47886160

61

DBake 11.28.19 at 11:42 pm

I never comment, but I would just like to let anyone who thinks that Mr. Faustusnotes might be right about Hong Kong know that there are English-language news sources in Hong Kong. I’d encourage people to read them. I live in Hong Kong. I’ve lived here over 10 years. I’ve been following what’s been going on extensively. I have friends in the protest movement and friends who are against it and friends who are mainland Chinese–who have a variety of opinions about the protest movement themselves. The story I’m hearing from faustusnotes bares so little resemblance to anything I’m familiar with that it is like seeing messages beamed in from another dimension. He is taking a few isolated instances–which were certainly terrible–in the course of *six months* of protesting, to be representative of the whole movement.

People should read:

South China Morning post (scmp.com)
Hong Kong Free Press (hongkongfp.com)
RTHK (news.rthk.hk)

EJ Insight (ejinsight.com) is also a pretty good news aggregator for HK-related news.

Of these, SCMP is owned by Jack Ma, a mainland billionaire and member of the Communist Party. So naturally it is the most pro-government and the most critical of the protesters. However, as its primary audience is people who actually live in Hong Kong, and live in reality-land, even its depiction of the protests is considerably more nuanced than faustusnotes’. One would have to solely read their most unhinged opinion columnist to get a picture like that.

A few other points:

The original case that led the government to propose the extradition bill was the case of a Hong Kong man who murdered his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan. I don’t think anyone thinks he is innocent, and in fact he has more or less admitted his guilt and, after pressure from his family, has been trying to arrange to fly back to Taiwan to voluntarily surrender himself to the authorities. There is some sort of diplomatic standoff about this.

But he didn’t try to surrender himself until after the protests had been going on for a while. The proposed bill was before all of that, and it would allow the Chief Executive to extradite criminals to countries with whom there was no extradition treaty on a case by case basis. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except Taiwan said that it would not accept the fugitive if he were extradited under the proposed bill, as, for political reasons, HK would have to define Taiwan as a province of the People’s Republic. See here: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Hong_Kong_extradition_bill#Taiwan_authorities).

But the gov’t kept pushing the proposal, citing this fugitive as the reason, even after it became clear to everyone that the proposed law would not help with his case. So people naturally suspected that the reason being given was a clumsy pretext, and what this was really about was putting people in Hong Kong under the jurisdiction of mainland Chinese criminal law. Given that the Chief Executive is effectively picked by Beijing, and that she would have sole discretion over whom to extradite, the idea that she would turn down any extradition requests from mainland authorities was laughable. That’s why people started protesting. And, it’s worth noting, the gov’t kept pushing this bill even though it was clear that pretty much everyone in Hong Kong hated it.

Even after the pan-democrats won 87 percent of the seats in the local elections in a protest vote last week, the gov’t still refuses to negotiate. In fact, the HK populace is now being threatened that if it doesn’t vote the way Beijing likes, the city may lose its autonomy.

See here: (https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3039643/hong-kong-voters-risked-their-autonomy-voting-against-pro)

I’ll finally add that, in order to tie this back to the original post, the victory of the pan-democrats seems to have been a surprise to the leadership in Beijing. From my perspective, living here, a large part of the problem in Hong Kong seems to be that Beijing wants to micromanage affairs in the city, not even delegating much decision-making discretion to the gov’t it appoints, even though it seems to have no idea of what’s actually going on.

See here: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/11/25/hong-kong-election-beijing-media-delusions-victory/?fbclid=IwAR34aZioBU0idZcBh8XHPw3I8k2HRFkcfT64ZsYHrR3R527kCzQWQHYtbpg

And here: https://www.politico.com/story/2019/08/16/china-hong-kong-protests-1466353

62

faustusnotes 11.29.19 at 1:12 am

Regarding social credit systems, I wasn’t trying to present ASBOs as some ideal form of social control, just trying to point out that every society has something. Let us consider an example of a form of social control: dogshit. Suppose you let your dog shit on the local streets and don’t clean it up, in contravention of local ideals of a clean neighbourhood. In the UK your neighbours would call the council and you might have your dog killed; in Japan they would put up increasingly large signs with pictures of cute embarrassed dogs, and maybe you’d get a visit from the local Obachan Enforcement Unit (yabai!); in America you’d get a SWAT team or a seat on the supreme court depending on your race; in China’s (putative, probably non-existent) social credit system you would lose points until your ability to do certain things (like buy tickets on a bullet train) was affected.

The correct way to analyze this is to accept that all societies have a form of social control and to reflect on the ways they differ between the states, and to what extent this is due to authoritarianism, Asian culture, or communism. It is not to yell “oh look China is authoritarian but we are freeeee”. And a left-wing analysis would involve the well-established left wing idea that informal social networks and control mechanisms can create significant inequality and should, where possible, be confronted, made clear, and reformed so as to reduce inequality. This is the point I’m trying to make here, but it is consistently misinterpreted as a defense of whatever example or counter-example I’m presenting.

Maciej Ceglowski, you have been signal-boosting a violent racist movement for months, with no critical faculties whatsoever. The correct response to being called out for that is not “I didn’t use a hashtag”. Is that the best you’ve got?

When I referenced “one-party systems” up above I was thinking of Japan, not China. Sorry I didn’t make that clear.

Tm, most countries I think don’t have laws in place to prosecute people for crimes overseas – they rely on extradition. Passing such laws can be contoversial or limited (I think Oz has them for sex tourism, for example, but not all crimes). The HK protesters never presented that as an alternative to extradition, because (as Cian observes) they’re a vehicle for some billionaires whose real goal is not to make HK a better place, but to preserve their monopoly power and ensure they don’t get done for any of their corruption and tax evasion overseas. A couple of people have become very rich gaming the system in that very small territory, and they do not want the locals to get any rabble-rousing commie ideas about breaking monopolies or letting in mainland competition or forcing the local rich people to share their ill-gotten gains.

My blogpost was about a left-wing vision for an independent Hong Kong, precisely because the protesters are a front for some dodgy capitalists and if HK were to achieve independence on their terms it would become basically a gangster city-state causing disruption in SE Asia. That’s not a left-wing ideal, now is it? With continuing reform China can become a good model for a successful communist state. We should be looking at how to help the Chinese people achieve that, not helping gangsters carve off chunks of their nation to form criminal enterprises in the middle of Asia!

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Raven Onthill 11.29.19 at 5:48 am

@faustusnotes: you sound like a Trump supporter, only you are defending Chinese policy. When you talk about how disruptive the demonstrators are – that is exactly what we hear from our white supremacists, complaining about counter-protesters.

Dissent offers an interview with with Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats in Hong Kong. at https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-lefts-role-in-the-hong-kong-uprising. This may perhaps add some information to this discussion.

Cian: as far as I can tell from English-language sources, the suppression of the Uighur is as bad as reported, possibly worse. It is ethnic cleansing on a vast scale, with a million people involved.

64

notGoodenough 11.29.19 at 9:35 am

[this isn´t a comment regarding AI in particular, so please don´t read this as a critique of that particular area]

As a general thought regarding snake-oil susceptibility:

I don´t know much about psychology, etc., but I wonder if this is perhaps inevitable – I´m vaguely reminded of Theranos, amongst others.

Apologies for the rambling, but…

…once, a long time ago and at the insistence of a libertarian who lived in the same dorms, I tried ploughing my way through Atlas Shrugged. I had to skim in the end because I found it both tediously dull and bizarrely weird – as if 50 shades of grey had been written by someone who´s entire understanding of human interaction was derived by reading poorly translated soviet boiler repair manuals.

One of the things that really got me was there seemed to be underlying assumption that people who are good at X should also be good at Y and Z. By contrast, my personal experience is that someone who is a great researcher is unlikely to be a great entrepreneur – to use a nerdy analogy, the skill sets are different, and someone who is min-maxing for research probably is poorly optimized for business skills). However, people who are successful can often be prone to thinking they can easily move between areas, and because they are smart and successful they can´t be wrong.

[there is a bit of a long-running joke about how scientists (often physicists) of a certain age having a tendency to go to other disciplines they perceive to be softer (e.g. humanities, biology, etc) and making firm pronouncements (which are usually faulty) and generally condescendingly trying to explain the topic to people who have studied it in depth]

I think there is also some truth to the idea that smart people are able to easily deceive themselves because they can come up with more plausible explanations. And, as another observation, people in the business communities can fall into a trap of assuming any problem can be fixed if you throw enough money at it, which isn´t necessarily always true.

In short, if you take something which sounds plausible and appeals to the biases of the successful (e.g. tech-bros love simple sounding tech-solutions to problems), and once they have been convinced they are very unlikely to change their minds and will help climb aboard the hype-wagon. Sort of: “imagine if you could clean your nose…using an app! “ [TED crowd goes wild].

Given the boom-and-bust, frontier natures of these things, it generally speaking surprises me we don´t see more of this (or perhaps there is, but people involved have enough money to cover up their embarrassing follies).

Or maybe I should just drink another coffee…

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R.A.P. 11.29.19 at 1:16 pm

1. I guess what this post really implies is not “don’t worry, AI + authoritarianism will be just another tragic USSR”, but “we won last time, because democracies are more robust, so we will probably win again” – which does not imply “don’t worry”, and even less “we won’t have to compete”. Yeah, communist countries were lame, but they actually had some chance of taking the rest of Europe and Asia, plus many countries in the South, if the West hadn’t played the game – often in stupid ways, but at least with economic superiority. However, that’s where the game has changed: China has really surprised almost everyone here – their GDP in PPP is already higher than in US (of course, they are still way behind in market value).
2. I don’t think the real risk is China developing a super-efficient stasis, but that powerful democracies become increasingly authoritarian. I mean, I know of no mention of a chinese mind control project like the one in The Manchurian Candidate… but there’s a lot of material on MK-Ultra. I believe we probably agree on that.
3. On Scott’s criticism to the artificial legibility of states : yeah, centralized states are really inefficient… but they dominate the whole world today, and are responsible for the most impressive collective projects in the history. Besides, I don’t think the issue here is effectiveness, but competitiveness: according to the data from the last century, I’m inclined to think representative democracies are usually more robust than authoritarian regimes; but all it takes is just one authoritarian regime that is highly efficient (even if just for the right moment)… all you need is an exception that persists. So I don’t believe (= credence > .5) an “aithoritarian regime” will surpass everyone elese, but the odds are high enough (even if low). I do believe, however, that disagreementss would be more productive if people tried to express their thoughts mentioning some kind of credence function / value.
4. I hate the tech hype more than most people… but I don’t know any example of an ML system worsening the decision-making process, and I know some examples of improvements – maybe because decision-making is often so bad that just having someone caring about metrics (even if it’s often misleading, like when people mention accuracy in artificial datasets) has positive consequences. ML still can’t compete with human stupidity, though, and possibly that’s what will doom us all.
I think about the toll of authoritarian regimes in the last century: millions killed by Stalin, Mao and the one we should not mention (see Godwin’s Law), a legacy of distrust among nations, the threat of nuclear war; then I add the conclusion above that the next “will be both more radically monstrous and more radically unstable”. If that’s true, we should really do something to avoid it (and I’m not thinking only about China); but then, politicians (and people in general) are less listen to “hey, we have to prevent a human tragedy, invest in tech and make the world safer” than to “we have to do it before x does it to dominate the world”.

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Niall McAuley 11.29.19 at 2:16 pm

SF treatments:

In Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine, Babbage builds better computers which start to change the world by the Victorian era. An epilogue suggests this is not good news by the 1990s with authoritarian AIs in charge.

In A Deepness in the Sky true AI is impossible, but Vinge notes that a Total Surveillance Society is one of the many ways that civilizations die. Another way is a perfectly optimized economy, which eventually crashes hard because it contains no slack to handle unusual events (not clear how much automation contributes to this in novel).

Our Hero meets Space Nazis who have built a sort of AI by making human slaves part of the machine, and dreams of using this semi-AI to stop the cycles of collapse above.

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steven t johnson 11.29.19 at 4:30 pm

The stuff about AI, machine learning etc. is largely a way of reviving “totalitarianism” as a charge. That was always nonsense created to justify the Cold War and it’s nonsense with transistors added now.

As to the general approach to China, given that we should expect our enemies to do bad things and that’s why they’re enemies and being enemies they aren’t going to pay any attention to us, it is unclear to me what anyone really expects. The Indian government turning Kashmir into a giant prison camp was done by a friend, a democracy and an advanced nation. Not caring about that says everything, I think.

It may be protested that some people want democracy for China. What they mean most of all is they want capitalism, because that’s liberal freedom and equality. The problem is that is Xi who is the primary architect of economic freedom and capitalist roading. It is Xi who fights corruption while promoting the China Dream. I say it is the China Dream, which everyone else prefers to communist internationalism, that is ultimately the greater threat to the Uighurs.

The US has always supported jihadis when convenient. Its support for Uighurs after it has established links with them while they fought for the US against Assad is sinister.

As to Hong Kong, the neo-colonialist concession, its democracy movement stands for the worst excesses of capitalism in China. Democracy in Hong Kong is about establishing a state that can defend capitalist property, which means first against other states, such as China. There is no program whatsoever in the democracy movement for moderating the untrammeled rule of capital. The idea that democracy means tearing up China means endorsing war. And if it means the restoration of the untrammeled rule of capital in China it means untold numbers of death and untold deprivation inflicted on the mass of the Chinese people in the name of profit.

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Raven Onthill 11.29.19 at 8:08 pm

We have this article: TikTok is accused of censoring anti-Chinese government content, again.

There’s no way to spin this positively, unless the accusations are simply false. Twitter doesn’t do that, Facebook doesn’t do that. The Chinese-owned TikTok does.

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Edward Gregson 11.30.19 at 8:45 am

This is a pretty vague anecdote, but I seem to remember hearing about the findings from examining the records of a European secret police force (it was either the Nazis or the Stasi). Apparently it turned out that the secret police had vastly fewer officers per capita than had been believed, and those officers spent almost all their time reviewing and sorting the enormous amount of (largely unimportant) denunciations and accusations sent to them every week by regular citizens about their neighbors, friends, etc.

The point being that the most sophisticated, context-sensitive intelligent entity that can be deployed at scale to keep tabs on each person in the country is each person’s neighbor. Revolution requires cooperation, which requires trust in co-conspirators, so the goal of totalitarian regimes is to make sure that such trust can’t exist. Technology can be useful for this goal, but the most important thing is to set up a situation where each person is too afraid of a neighbor reporting them for not reporting someone to not report a neighbor. The bugs, cameras, searches and checkpoints are almost more intended to just get the citizenry accustomed to eating shit all the time. I seem to recall Orwell’s 1984 reflected this idea.

The negative effects of AI may be less that they will allow stable autocracies as that they will be very destabilizing to all social systems, as they add a bunch of positive feedback loops that didn’t use to exist. Filter bubbles, self-reinforcing algorithmic bias, millions of formerly isolated crackpots getting wired together so some website can monetize their traffic; those are the negative effects we’ve seen from information technology so far.

The FBI has been accused of arresting people in terrorism stings who wouldn’t have posed a threat if the FBI hadn’t approached them. One can imagine a future autocracy debuting a machine-learning based dissident detection tool which, due to badly tuned reward parameters in the code or unforeseen bad tuning of the interaction between the tool and the bureaucracy using it, stops hunting dissidents and starts farming them.

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Hidari 11.30.19 at 9:49 am

There is a paper to be written about differing Western coverage of the situation in Kashmir (a whole province of a gigantic country which is essentially under lockdown by the Indian Government, and has been for weeks) and the Uighur situation. One might compare and contrast the amount of newsprint that has been spent on both of these events by Western newspapers/magazines although they seem to be more or less comparable, ‘ontologically speaking’. The difference of course is that India (under the leadership of the aspiring fascist, Modi) is ‘aligned with the West’, to use a euphemism, whereas in 30 or 40 years China might be in a situation to challenge the global hegemony of the United States (successive Indian Governments have indicated that they have no such intentions). Other context is Obama’s and now Trump’s ‘pivot to Asia’, American provocations in the South China Sea (the ownership of which might be inferred from the name), Trump’s trade wars with China, the large and growing number of American military bases attempting to surround China, and so on.

One might also wish to compare Western news media’s coverage of Russia and China in the 1990s (when their internal affairs were conducted in more or less precisely the same way they are now) when both of those countries were ‘doing what they were told’ (i.e. by the Americans and the West generally) and Western media’s news coverage of them now, when they are being ‘uppity’ (despite the fact that, as mentioned, both of these states’ behaviour* has essentially not changed).

(The key difference in terms of China being of course throughout most of the 1990s, Hong Kong was a colony of the British Empire, and was therefore run by and for British business interests, with no internal democracy. Mysteriously, despite frequent protests by the Hong Kong people since WW2 (yes including protests and riots) there was little enthusiasm in the Western media for ‘pro-democracy movements’ then).

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J-D 11.30.19 at 9:59 am

For the sake of returning to the subject of AI, I note that it was mentioned in a Newsradio report this morning as a feature of new camera technology being introduced in New South Wales (as, the report said, a world first) to detect illegal use of mobile phones while driving.

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ph 11.30.19 at 12:30 pm

Hi Henry, the most sensible comments I’ve read on the thread are those that state clearly words to the effect of “I don’t really understand what’s taking place.” We’ve finally had someone who actually lives in Hong Kong chime in and I’m sure we’re all very grateful for that. There’s a great deal to understand and considering most of the best stuff is written in two dialects of Chinese that perhaps only one person here can fairly claim to grasp, caution seems the best approach. Comparing China today with China of 50 years ago is about as fair as comparing any nation the same way. Constants are present, but nothing that’s happening in China today compares with what was happening from 1968 to 1980. That said. China is regarded by Viet Nam, the Philippines, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, and Hong Kong as a regional threat. China does have a legitimate case to make for controlling Hong Kong, given that the original deal was made literally at gunpoint.

Do I support the efforts of the people of Hong Kong in their efforts to obtain some form of self-determination? Absolutely. Is China a one-party totalitarian quasi-slave state? Yes.

Regarding the numbers of dead, these are very small compared with, say, the violence visited every week on the people of Central America unlucky enough to live in conduits to the wonderful community of North Americans, Australians, and Europeans etc., entirely cool with buying dope from people who cut the heads of journalists, massacre villages, and murder members of the press, the police, civil servants, and political leaders.

As for the gilets jaunes – the number of dead by most accounts is 11, seven of whom were drivers trying to move through obstructions according to one account, two died of heart attacks, one from getting too close to smoke grenade. Something like four thousand plus were beaten. The movement has largely fizzled out. The French police are experts with the baton and are well-practiced in inflicting pain and non-life-threatening injury. I was in Paris one Saturday in 2018 (trying to avoid) a demonstration and pretty much every policeman I encountered was over 6 feet. They came to play. But, the French police are not shooting people in the street. Nor are the Hong Kong police from what I can tell. But with large numbers of people ready and willing to engage in violence, we can expect a few unplanned deaths.

It’s odd that the practices of the most successful protesters, by whom I mean MLK and company and Gandhi and his followers, peaceful protesters are regarded as insufficient to the tasks of the time. As long as the Hong Kong protesters remain peaceful, they win.

Good luck to them!

https://www.lepoint.fr/societe/gilets-jaunes-11-morts-des-recuperations-et-beaucoup-d-incomprehension-16-05-2019-2312928_23.php

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DBake 11.30.19 at 1:50 pm

“Maciej Ceglowski, you have been signal-boosting a violent racist movement for months, with no critical faculties whatsoever.”

I live in Hong Kong, and it is not a violent racist movement. Calling it such is about as accurate as calling movements critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine violent antisemitic movements. Yes, anti-mainland racists are attracted to this movement, but acting as though this makes up a majority or that it is any way central to what is going on is absurdly dishonest.

Anyone inclined to mistake faustusnotes’ self-importance and condescension for actual knowledge should please look at the actual demands the protesters have been making:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49317695

Notice, they are trying to get electoral reform and investigation into police abuse. They are not demanding the expulsion of mainlanders.

The other stuff in his post is equally insane. If people would like a point by point description of just how divorced from reality on any level what he’s writing is, I’m happy to provide it. The short version is, yeah, the billionaires in HK have a monopoly on power. That’s because they allied themselves with Beijing and Beijing keeps the insanely oligarchical electoral system in place to make sure things are governed in its favor. The idea that the protesters are a front to keep the undemocratic system here in place is basically on the level of saying that Lincoln was trying to preserve slavery.

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bianca steele 11.30.19 at 2:35 pm

The shopcraft as soulcraft guy, Matthew Crawford, has a piece looking at AI in conjunction with the administrative state, which seems convincing as far as it goes. Which is about a quarter of the way into the piece, well before “rule by experts is totalitarianism,” and we’ll before whining about vaccines starts.

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steven t johnson 11.30.19 at 3:24 pm

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William S Berry 11.30.19 at 4:17 pm

@Niall McAuley:

ADITS is a fascinating novel, with lots of interesting ideas.

Vinge is one of a tiny handful of libertarian sf writers that I can tolerate. His political philosophy is often not particularly central to his frequently very inventive story-telling; when it is, he even manages to make it seem fairly benign (e.g., the Qeng Ho are a race whose enterprising spirit is, for the most part, quite admirable).

Inevitably, the libertarian creepiness does manage to get in on occasion: In the short story/ novella, “The Ungoverned”, it is private ownership and use of nuclear weapons that saves the day! In the novel in question (ADITS), the “hero” of the story, Pham Nuwen, harbors some fairly questionable ideas himself.

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faustusnotes 12.01.19 at 1:56 am

DBake suggests that calling the movement violent and racist is

about as accurate as calling movements critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine violent antisemitic movements

I wonder DBake, does the anti-occupation movement set Jewish people on fire, or kill them with bricks? Does it beat up young Jewish women with iron bars, or attack Jewish men on the subway with hammers? If it did, I think people might be predisposed to call it a violent antisemitic movement.

Dbake also suggests that the movement doesn’t want to expel mainlanders. This is both false (there is much anti-mainlander propaganda focused on expeling them) and irrelevant, since I never claimed it was the movement’s stated goals: I simply observed that it repeatedly attacks them and calls them cockroaches (and has done since 2014). Everyone who lives in Hong Kong knows that there is a big groundswell of anti-mainlander opinion amongst HKers. The question is to what extent this would affect the movement if it got political power.

What do you think this movement, which murders people on the basis of their nationality, would do if it gained political power?

DBake also suggests that the billionaires who own HK are Beijing’s fault. This is an example of exactly the fever-dream that has gripped this movement, and why it cannot be allowed to achieve independence. The billionaires didn’t have to become monopoly masters of Hong Kong commerce, and they don’t have to for example use their control of real estate to drive competing supermarket franchises out of business, but they do. How is that Beijing’s fault? And how come it only happens in HK? Is it a left wing position to blame the behavior of rapacious billionaires on the government?

So far two people have come on here to defend the movement explicitly and to say I’m wrong. One has defended their entire oeuvre with the single point that they didn’t use a hashtag; the other one has not denied anything I wrote, but says it all doesn’t matter because you can trust these people who murder people on the basis of the language they speak.

Has anyone here been involved in a left wing movement that referred to people of another nationality as cockroaches, attacked them in the streets, set them on fire, stoned them, destroyed public goods like metro stations, stole people’s mobile phones if they are filming the riot, tore up their local neighborhoods, published lists of businesses to attack, attempted to derail trains, and attacked people going about their ordinary business lives if they even so much as attempt to clean up the mess? Would you be comfortable being part of that movement? Would you attempt to change its course and if it continued to do this for months and indeed seemed intent only on escalating the attacks, would you stay involved?

Would you support BDS if it started to be infiltrated by violent fascist anti-semites who marched down the streets of historically Jewish areas under the BDS flag, stoning Jews and attacking young Jewish women with iron bars? I think you would withdraw from that movement very quickly, and you would look askance on anyone who supported it. Don’t apply a different standard to Hong Kong just because the victims are communists.

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faustusnotes 12.01.19 at 2:15 am

In response to a few other comments and points here.

Tm, you made the point yourself that although Germany doesn’t have an extradition system, it punishes people domestically for crimes committed abroad. HK doesn’t – the infamous murderer whose case sparked the extradition law is able to walk the streets of HK freely. I trust you can see the difference between Germany and HK? And I wonder if you are trying to make the case here that extradition laws are unnecessary for the smooth functioning of international social order?

I would ask everyone here: do you think China should not be able to seek the extradition of someone who committed a crime on Chinese soil that is also a crime in your home country, and has a potential sentence in your home country of 7 years in prison? Or do you think any Australian (for example) should be able to go to China, commit murder, fraud and robbery and return to Australia free of any punishment? Is this a particular left wing principle?

Raven Onthill, unlike a Trump supporter I’m speaking only facts. I haven’t spoken much about the disruption the demonstrations cause. I have mostly spoken about the racist violence. Is this only “disruption” when it happens to Chinese people?

Raven Onthill linked to a dissent article that interviews a movement leader, Avery Ng, who says about themselves:

Before I joined the LSD in 2009, I was a corporate strategy consultant and actually specialized in mergers and acquisitions

I wonder what Raven Onthill (or many of the other regulars on here) would say about this same person if they were running in the Democratic presidential primary? Would they accept their every utterance as a genuine left wing aspiration for freedom, or would they see them as a sellout to corporate power trying to take over the party? Why the different standard for Hong Kong?

Also Raven, Twitter has censored many Chinese accounts. It has a blanket ban on Chinese state media, while allowing Fox, BBC, Sky News, and all western political parties to continue broadcasting on its platform. The Republican party (whose senile Russian bootlicker holds the keys to the nukes) wanted to ban TikTok pretty much as soon as it landed on American shores. It is literally the case that we have gone from “Twitter is banned in China” to “China is banned on Twitter.” Did you know any of this and ignore it, or did you not know it but just assumed the west never censors things? And given what you have now discovered you don’t know, do you think it’s a good idea for you to be opining on the treatment of Uighur in a remote western province of China, given you don’t even know the filters that are applied to your own information sources?

Hidari, I would dispute your characterization of Russian and Chinese behavior as unchanged. Since the west supported the euromaidan movement in Ukraine (a fascist movement with very similar properties to what is going on in HK, incidentally) I think the Russian government has become much more aggressive in defense of its interests. This is why Russian election interference happened in 2016, not 2012. And China has become much more powerful and assertive since the 1990s, with a large change in its international assertiveness under Xi. This is why you suddenly see every left wing criticism of foreign aid that was dismissed by the press in the 1990s being reheated and thrown at One Belt One Road – they really don’t like to see a non-western power grow. It’s not like this is new – it happened to Japan in the 1920s, and look how that ended.

A lot of the long-time readers of CT supported or at least grudgingly accepted the Iraq war in 2003, often on the basis of lies that were presented to them as fact by western media. You got burned by that, quite badly. I think some headline posters (JQ and Dan Davies spring to mind – I don’t know about Henry) supported the Iraq war on the basis of good faith acceptance of the information they were given, and they regret it. Now we live under another republican leadership that has made a clear decision to single out China as its enemy. Just as until 2003 we had sanctions on Iraq as a prelude to war, now we see trade war against China and attempts to strangle its economy using the might of US international financial and trade ties. This could also be the prelude to war, or at least to a serious escalation in confrontation between two nuclear-armed powers. This is all being sold to you by the same lying scumbags who brought you the Iraq war, and they’re attempting to sway the left to their cause with the same human rights lies. You were lied to then, clearly and obviously, and you’re being lied to now. Don’t fall for it. Don’t let the US do this to you again. You have no reason to believe anything the western media tells you about China, and every reason to assume that they’re lying. This is especially true given how little information you have about this country. You have been lied to over and over again by these people, and now you believe them on this? Don’t be so naive.

And when you analyze aspects of Asian political culture, don’t do so from the assumption that the same thing couldn’t be happening in the west, in its own way or worse. Don’t ever look at a concentration camp in a foreign country until you have absolute clarity about the abuses going on in your own.

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David J. Littleboy 12.01.19 at 9:11 am

“For the sake of returning to the subject of AI, I note that it was mentioned in a Newsradio report this morning as a feature of new camera technology being introduced in New South Wales (as, the report said, a world first) to detect illegal use of mobile phones while driving.”

Ha! There was an article today in the local (Tokyo) newspaper to the effect that they are doubling and tripling the penalties for using a cell phone while driving. How one detects driving while talking is another question, of course, but it would be a good thing if it were done. A very good thing. But it wouldn’t have anything to do with AI.

As someone with an all-but-thesis in AI, allow me to chime in. Current AI is nothing more than a bunch of cheap parlor tricks that don’t work combined with some statistical stuff that’s useful but boring. It’s embarrassing. It’s going to be very ugly when people figure out how bad it is, and how inane the hype has been.

The main parlor trick is a thing called the DNN (deep neural net), and it turns out that these things, while advertised as doing “object recognition”, don’t do that: all they do is recognize textures. Which is why they’re easily fooled. It took a while for people to figure out that they were doing texture recognition, but we’re beginning to see more and more articles on DNN object recognition limitations, failures, and how to fool them. These things don’t do symbolic reasoning, they don’t/can’t do commonsense reasoning, they can’t do anything other than tell you how close an image shown to it is to one of the images it was “trained” on. By a metric it computes itself and can’t be queried on.

The AI folks are getting away with the hype for the nonce for an interesting reason. Some of us doing AI in the 1970s and 1980s actually tried to do the simple things the way it seems people do them. Very basic language/story understanding at a common sense sort of level. We failed miserably. Our programs would generate stories in which “gravity drowned” (the program was trying to generate a story about walking by the river, and it had some rules about falling in the water and drowning). Just getting the very basic things down was beyond us. So we gave up. The other half of the AI field has always been about getting computers to do hard things without concern for how human intelligence works. Anything that works is fine. For things like Chess and Go. Those guys did pretty well. But they did it by techniques which have nothing to do with human intelligence, and everything to do with computation, mathematics, and the games themselves. Fascinating fun stuff. But of no intellectual or philosophical value or meaning whatsoever.

But folks who don’t program don’t understand how completely ad hoc these things are. So AI gets credit for doing lots of really hard things, and no one notices that it can’t do the easy things like basic commonsense reasoning. Again, since it’s so good at these hard things, anyone looking from the outside can’t conceive of how bad it is at the simple things.

Gary Marcus discusses this at length in his book “Rebooting AI”. He gets it right. (Although he pulls his punches regarding the inane stupidity of the DNN game.)

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Gareth Wilson 12.01.19 at 9:37 am

“So AI gets credit for doing lots of really hard things, and no one notices that it can’t do the easy things like basic commonsense reasoning. “

The best example is that computers can beat any human at chess, but can’t look into a box of chess pieces and pick up a knight.

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J-D 12.01.19 at 10:31 am

“For the sake of returning to the subject of AI, I note that it was mentioned in a Newsradio report this morning as a feature of new camera technology being introduced in New South Wales (as, the report said, a world first) to detect illegal use of mobile phones while driving.”

Ha! There was an article today in the local (Tokyo) newspaper to the effect that they are doubling and tripling the penalties for using a cell phone while driving. How one detects driving while talking is another question, of course, but it would be a good thing if it were done. A very good thing. But it wouldn’t have anything to do with AI.

Under New South Wales law it’s unnecessary for the technology to be able to determine whether I’m talking on the phone. In New South Wales, while driving, what I can legally do is:
(a) use a securely mounted phone for voice calls or audio play functions;
(b) use a phone for voice calls or audio play functions without touching any part of it, for example by using Bluetooth;
(c) hand the phone to somebody else in the car.
In my case, I don’t have a mount for my phone in my car, nor do I have any way of using it without touching it, although I have in fact handed it to my daughter when it rang and she was in the car, confident that I was not breaking the law by doing so. If the new technology can detect that I am touching my phone (while driving) and that there’s nobody else in the car, it makes no difference whether I’m talking. Whether it will actually be making use of AI for that purpose, I don’t know. That’s just what I heard on the radio.

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HK Resident 12.01.19 at 12:05 pm

Like DBake, I am a HK resident and long-time CT lurker who will be happy to comment on the problems with faustusnotes’ misrepresentations of the HK protest movement if other people here want that. (I am broadly in agreement with DBake’s comment above, although we may have slightly different perspectives on the details. I don’t foresee any productive conversations emerging from direct engagement with faustusnotes on this topic.)

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DBake 12.01.19 at 1:11 pm

@faustusnotes

Where did you get the idea that I didn’t deny anything you wrote? I thought I made pretty clear that I deny the overwhelming majority of it. Unless your emails have fallen through some tear in the fabric of space-time and you’re actually us writing from the universe in which Spock has a beard, the disconnect between your words and reality is so vast that in many cases I’m stumped where to begin. I guess I can point to a few howlers:

I wonder DBake, does the anti-occupation movement set Jewish people on fire, or kill them with bricks? Does it beat up young Jewish women with iron bars, or attack Jewish men on the subway with hammers? If it did, I think people might be predisposed to call it a violent antisemitic movement.

Sorry, are you claiming that opponents of Israeli occupation have never killed Jewish civilians? I mean, I’m pretty sure there have been a few cases. Admittedly I’m not an expert on this, but there was this Spielberg movie, Munich, and people tell me it’s based on a true story.

Dbake also suggests that the movement doesn’t want to expel mainlanders. This is both false (there is much anti-mainlander propaganda focused on expeling them) and irrelevant, since I never claimed it was the movement’s stated goals:

Yeah, why would we care about the movement’s stated goals?

I simply observed that it repeatedly attacks them and calls them cockroaches (and has done since 2014).

“Cockroaches” is the term of abuse that the police, their supporters, and pro-PRC trolls use for the protesters, actually. But nice try. (See the link below for reference)

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/3026410/why-hong-kong-police-groups-use-word-cockroach-condemn

Everyone who lives in Hong Kong knows that there is a big groundswell of anti-mainlander opinion amongst HKers. The question is to what extent this would affect the movement if it got political power.

Sorry, are you saying that the people of Hong Kong are too racist to have democracy?

Actually, I’m totally baffled what you are saying. What do you have in mind by this movement getting political power? Are you suggesting Beijing might appoint one of them to the position of Chief Executive? You are presenting yourself as an expert here, but your suggestion–that the protesters could take over the government– makes no sense within the context of Hong Kong politics.

What do you think this movement, which murders people on the basis of their nationality, would do if it gained political power?

There is one person who was killed by a protester. After six months of unrest. So describing this as a movement that murders people is pretty dishonest. And again, I have no idea what you mean by gaining political power in the context of Hong Kong politics.

DBake also suggests that the billionaires who own HK are Beijing’s fault. This is an example of exactly the fever-dream that has gripped this movement, and why it cannot be allowed to achieve independence.

First, achieve independence? Since the movement is not trying to get independence, that’s maybe not something to worry about. But maybe you should find sources for what’s going on besides CCP propaganda.

Also, the fever dream that has gripped this movement? What I stated was a basic description of Hong Kong politics. No one who has lived here would deny it. There are two camps, the pro-Beijing camp and the pan-Democrats. The pro-Beijing camp is largely made up of conservative business interests. Everyone knows this.

Here is from an interview with the former Chief Executive, whom Beijing supported, and who is rumored to be a Party member. He doesn’t even try to hide his total contempt for the poor:

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/world/asia/leung-chun-ying-hong-kong-china-protests.html

And whether or not he is a Party member, since retirement he has worked for a pro-Beijing think tank. Here’s his wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leung_Chun-ying

The billionaires didn’t have to become monopoly masters of Hong Kong commerce, and they don’t have to for example use their control of real estate to drive competing supermarket franchises out of business, but they do. How is that Beijing’s fault?

Wait, you don’t know about the functional constituencies? You’ve been going on and on about how familiar you are with the political situation, and you don’t know about the functional constituencies?

Okay, from wikipedia, my friend: “Currently, only 40 of the 70 Legislative Council seats are directly elected by the majority of people (35 through geographical constituencies and 5 through District Council (Second) functional constituency), with the rest of 30 elected by 28 traditional functional constituencies.”

And what are the functional constituencies? (And why doesn’t faustusnotes already know? He knows so much about Hong Kong!) Well, a few represent labor interests, but the overwhelming majority represent large business interests. Like, the insurance industry is one. It’s basically as if the insurance industry were to appoint its own congressman or MP. And over 40% of the legislature is selected in this manner. And Beijing has consistently opposed democratic reform. That’s how Beijing is responsible.

Not to mention the selection of the Chief Executive, which is even more inegalitarian, and in which Beijing supports guys like Mr. C.Y. Leung, described above. Beijing opposes reforms that would remove the stranglehold the tycoon class holds on politics here. They run the city through the oligarchs, and the cost of that is letting the oligarchs eliminate competition.

Is it a left wing position to blame the behavior of rapacious billionaires on the government?

Are you trolling everyone? I’m pretty sure a few leftists here and there have thought that maybe sometimes on occasion the government is responsible for putting the interests of the rich first or of helping them exploit others. I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere.

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David J. Littleboy 12.01.19 at 1:38 pm

“(a) use a securely mounted phone for voice calls or audio play functions;”

FWIW, talking on a hands-free phone is just as bad as using any other phone while driving. The evidence indicates that it’s probably worse.

http://evidencebasedliving.human.cornell.edu/2013/06/17/the-evidence-on-hands-free-cell-phone-devices-while-driving/

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Vivian 张 12.01.19 at 3:04 pm

To add to what others have said, faustusnotes has no clue what he is talking about. Not even a little bit. He admits he can’t he even speak or read Chinese. I will give him a little lesson though, he should learn this 成语, which is 卑躬屈节,which describes his behavior toward authority.

“No one knows what the social credit system is”

Oh they know, they just don’t what to talk politics to some weirdo fanatic with an unknown background. They will probably tell you they don’t what the Tiananmen Square massacre is either. Politics is a very dicey topic in China, and there is little upside to making your positions known.

“China no longer harvests organs”

And you believe the government? The CCP lies about everything, including the weather. They also claimed they were going to stabilize CO emissions, and now they are building a lot more coal plants than they admitted.

” I would bet no one commenting here has met a Uighur person, or indeed any Chinese minority; hasn’t ever met someone from the party; hasn’t worked with mainland Chinese on the mainland; has never lived in China; has never dealt with government officials; doesn’t know much about east Asian cultures; can’t read or speak any language from the region; and doesn’t have friends from that country. “

Have met many Uighur people. Easy enough to find grilling on the street. Ate at a Uighur noodle restaurant in Shenzhen for a month. Unlike you, I can talk to them, since I also speak Uzbek, which is close enough to Uighur to communicate. The internment camps are real. And yes, have lived on the mainland, worked there, have family there.

In short, stop talking about China. Go play video games and paint your little miniatures.

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steven t johnson 12.01.19 at 3:56 pm

Dbake, HK Resident may be in Hong Kong as claimed, but the issue is whether they are both honest and competent. Dbake makes a big deal of the functional constituencies as puppets of Chinese Communism. But the functional constituencies were a British creation. Further, the whole notion of one country, two systems means that political arrangements like functional constituencies that preserve capitalism in Hong Kong abides by that principle, instead of subverting it.

Additionally, Dbake apologizes for setting a man on fire by invoking…the burden of six months protesting? Setting police on fire a la Tian An Men is one thing. But not even Dbake dares venture an excuse for targeting a civilian. This was merely an extreme outcome of the protesters’ policy of attacking the civil population by flash violent disruptions of civilian traffic. The murder is either glorified or excused because it is not an inexplicable tragedy that has nothing to do with the protests. The people who aren’t opposed to the national government are the target.

Additionally, there is the issue of competence. The Dbakes and the HK Residents may be like ph and the many co-thinkers who believe democracy is capitalist free markets and tyranny is everything else. Instead, democracy is how everyone gets to vote but elections don’t change policy. Instead, democracy is how individuals get to compete, but making sure the struggle doesn’t threaten the class system. Instead, democracy is how “we” are united to fight the foreigners.

There is no abstract “democracy” incarnating virtue. Hong Kong democracy is either about fighting the rest of China, no matter what Dbake says. Or it could be about remaking China in Hong Kong’s image. At best, these people don’t understand what massive death and destruction they are calling for. There’s no reason t0 listen to stupid people.

Even worse for any claim to understanding is, Hong Kong is one of the worst places in China. It’s not an accident, it’s due to the colonial legacy. Hong Kong essentially is today a neo-colonial concession. Only the open colonial arrangement has been changed. No decent person wants China to be like Hong Kong.

The pan-democrats touted by Dbake and others don’t want a democracy that improves the lives of the masses. And the protesters who want democracy do not have the slightest interest in the welfare of the masses. There are no banners for rent control, none for welfare programs, none for progressive taxation, none for public control of banking. The protesters are a right-wing movement.

Also there is simply no way that an extradition law is a fundamental human right. A democratic extradition law that refuses to extradite on political offenses or to injustice like capital punishment is useful to democracy. But as the Julian Assange case shows, nobody who counts supports even that. The only reason for the fixation on the extradition law is protecting billionaires in Hong Kong from corruption charges from Beijing. They sold it as protecting people from the national government, feeding on the rife prejudices against the mainland Chinese. But the true mass support for the protests vanished long ago.

Also, whether Dbake understood it or not, the protest leadership, insofar as it exists, has all along claimed not to support the pandemocrats. The pandemocrats have had a bad reputation (concealed or unkown?) as mere rivals, with not significant differences with the “pro-Beijing” people.

General conclusion? The assumption that it is responsible to believe the national media reporting on enemies of the US government and other defenders of international capitalism (aka imperialism) is known to be wrong. It is in itself deeply dishonest.

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Orange Watch 12.01.19 at 5:23 pm

notGoodenough@64:

[there is a bit of a long-running joke about how scientists (often physicists) of a certain age having a tendency to go to other disciplines they perceive to be softer (e.g. humanities, biology, etc) and making firm pronouncements (which are usually faulty) and generally condescendingly trying to explain the topic to people who have studied it in depth]

This feels not dissimilar to what FN is doing in this very thread, tbh… although ofc there’s also some of their longstanding sympathy for authoritarian technocracy in play.

The other meta-commentary I’d be inclined to add is that they seem to be suffering from the very Orientalist distortions they’re decrying in those they disagree with. One would do well to recall that Orientalism is not simply revulsion for the savage other, it’s also fetishization of the mystical/enlightened/noble/exotic other. The latter form of bias is something expats are particularly susceptible to, which is only made worse if they’re standpoint epistemology affectionados.

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Orange Watch 12.01.19 at 5:46 pm

On the desirability of formal vs. informal social credit for community norm policing, I’m a bit surprised no one’s mentioned HOAs. Alongside reputation systems on social media, those should be enough to induce pointed skepticism in the idea that making communal social norms explicit and handing enforcement of them to a governing body is anything but extremely fraught.

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Hidari 12.01.19 at 6:14 pm

‘Hong Kong “pro”-democracy protesters are celebrating President Donald Trump as their new hero. Their admiration for Trump overflowed during the “Thanksgiving Rally” Thursday night as they praised the American President for signing two bills backing “human rights” in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong protesters held aloft print outs of Trump’s shirtless picture that appeared on the Wednesday tweet showing Trump’s head on Rocky Balboa’s muscular body.

“Fight for “freedom”, stand with Hong Kong,” thousands of protesters chanted in a public square waving American flags and held up copies of the photo.

Joshua Wong, top pro “democracy” activist lauded Trump and said the next goal is to win over more Western leaders to put pressure on the Chinese government to accept their demands.’

https://www.hongkongfp.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/chrome_2019-07-14_15-51-02-Copy.jpg

https://nypost.com/2019/11/28/rocky-shock-for-china-makes-trump-hong-kong-hero/

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Raven Onthill 12.01.19 at 9:27 pm

China introduces mandatory face scans for phone users

“China will require telecom operators to collect face scans when registering new phone users at offline outlets starting Sunday, according to the country’s information technology authority, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls. […] Oversight of social media has ramped up in recent years as part of the Chinese government’s push to ‘promote the healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security and public interest.'”

How similar the rhetoric of Chinese censors is to that of western censors! Always “health,” “order,” “security,” “public interest.”

About Faustusnotes, but not in response to them, since they appear to be entirely bought into the mainland government account of matters. Social change often radicalizes people. It is also common to use the punishment of crimes as an excuse for repressive measures. Authoritarianism, unfortunately, is apparently pan-human.

In answer to another of FN’s claims: it is perhaps repetitive, but let me point out that there are plenty of US conservatives who cite facts as excuses for fascism – skillful propaganda contains enough truth to justify its deceptions.

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Orange Watch 12.01.19 at 10:52 pm

stj@86:

Additionally, Dbake apologizes for setting a man on fire by invoking…the burden of six months protesting? […] This was merely an extreme outcome of the protesters’ policy of attacking the civil population by flash violent disruptions of civilian traffic. […] The people who aren’t opposed to the national government are the target.

We’re talking about a protest movement that has included millions of people and spanned six months. If your proof that the HK protests as a movement are targeting mainland civilians for expulsion and/or violence, you should be able to cite far more deaths than either you or FN seem able or willing to do. Millions – or even hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands, or even hundreds – of “racist street thugs” could have and presumably would have killed hundreds or thousands of a minority comprising 12% of the population. And yet that’s not been reported nor is it even what you and FN have claimed.

So yes, the timeframe versus the small number of incidents is absolutely a reasonable rebuttal to your vague, sweeping generalizations.

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DBake 12.02.19 at 12:01 am

I’m getting pretty amazed that none of the bold pronouncements of the tankie-division here get backed up with, you know, links or evidence or anything.

Okay, let’s see.

Dbake, HK Resident may be in Hong Kong as claimed, but the issue is whether they are both honest and competent.

You’re defending the guy who said that opponents of the Israeli occupation have never murdered Jewish civilians.

Dbake makes a big deal of the functional constituencies as puppets of Chinese Communism. But the functional constituencies were a British creation.

Sorry, it’s okay for Beijing to keep colonial systems for governing HK in place, because the British did it first?

Further, the whole notion of one country, two systems means that political arrangements like functional constituencies that preserve capitalism in Hong Kong abides by that principle, instead of subverting it.

I’m pretty sure there have been capitalist countries that don’t have functional constituencies.

Also, anyone can look at Hong Kong’s Basic Law, agreed to by the PRC, online. It specifically says in articles 45 and 68 that Hong Kong will eventually transition to a system of universal suffrage. So no, political reform in the direction of more democracy wouldn’t be inconsistent with One Country Two Systems. In fact, according to basic law, failing to take steps towards reform subverts the system.

https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_4.html

How did you not know any of this, given how competent and honest you are?

Additionally, Dbake apologizes for setting a man on fire by invoking…the burden of six months protesting? Setting police on fire a la Tian An Men is one thing. But not even Dbake dares venture an excuse for targeting a civilian.

I’m confused, I’m guilty of both apologizing for setting a man on fire and of not even trying to excuse it? Okay, how about you pick a consistent line of criticism, and stick to it, and then I’ll try to respond to that.

In any case, setting a man on fire was awful. Who would want to defend it? My point was that you are grabbing a few isolated cases in the course of six-months of protesting to dismiss the entire movement. You are also being incredibly selective in which violent incidents you talk about. No one is mentioning the Yuen Long MTR attacks, or the attempted assassination of Jimmy Shan, or the police officer who repeatedly attempted to ram fleeing protesters with his motor bike.

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3019524/least-10-injured-baton-wielding-mob-suspected-triad

I’d really like to hear about why that was okay.

This was merely an extreme outcome of the protesters’ policy of attacking the civil population by flash violent disruptions of civilian traffic.

And yet, despite all of these attacks on the civilian population, the civilian population gave them a huge electoral victory in the only democratically representative elections in the territory, in an election with high turnout.

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3039151/hong-kong-elections-tsunami-disaffection-washes-over-city

… democracy is how everyone gets to vote but elections don’t change policy. Instead, democracy is how individuals get to compete, but making sure the struggle doesn’t threaten the class system.

So that’s one opinion. On the other hand, the former Chief Executive of Hong Kong, whom Beijing selected, said in an interview that we couldn’t have democracy in Hong Kong because such a government would favor the interests of the poor. And I suspect he knows more about Hong Kong than you do.

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/world/asia/leung-chun-ying-hong-kong-china-protests.html

Hong Kong democracy is either about fighting the rest of China, no matter what Dbake says. Or it could be about remaking China in Hong Kong’s image.

If there are any non-tankies still following this thread, did you all catch that? No democracy in Hong Kong because it is incompatible with the Chinese system of government.

There’s no reason t0 listen to stupid people.

Indeed.

Even worse for any claim to understanding is, Hong Kong is one of the worst places in China.

What in holy hell are you talking about? You need to provide a link here because I have no idea what you are basing this on. Admittedly, we pay more for good Chinese food than people on the mainland. But on the other hand, no forced confessions, and we get to compare Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh without consequences. So it’s at least a wash.

No decent person wants China to be like Hong Kong.

It’s true. Hong Kong has no reeducation camps! How could a decent person accept that?

The pan-democrats touted by Dbake and others don’t want a democracy that improves the lives of the masses.

Well, Beijing’s appointed leader from 2012-2017 disagrees with you.

And the protesters who want democracy do not have the slightest interest in the welfare of the masses.

And yet the masses voted for them. Must be false consciousness.

But the true mass support for the protests vanished long ago.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/11/25/hong-kong-district-council-election-democrats-take-control-17-18-councils-landslide-victory/

Also, whether Dbake understood it or not, the protest leadership, insofar as it exists, has all along claimed not to support the pandemocrats.

Sure, that’s why Jimmy Shan ran as a pan-democrat.

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faustusnotes 12.02.19 at 12:26 am

In one comment Dbake suggests it would be wrong to compare protesters against Israel with terrorists, then in the next comment compares protesters against Israel with the munich terrorists – did you learn those rhetorical skills from the demonstrators, DBake?

Now we have 3 people from HK defending the rioters, and yet still not one of them is willing to talk directly about the violence and racism they cause. So far the only defense we have heard is “they’ve only killed one person.” After all, the guy they set alight was put in a coma for a week and has burns on a large part of his body but he’s alive so that’s okay, right? Same for the guy they whacked with a drain cover while he was cleaning the street last night – seriously injured so no harm no foul amirite?

But Dbake is correct about one thing – On reflection I realize that the demonstrators don’t call mainlanders cockroaches, they call them locusts. My mistake! I confused racist insect-based slurs.

The demonstrators also call mainlanders 支那, which you can see graffitied on a wall in the link above. I guess Dbake and HK resident don’t know about this, but I suspect Vivian does and is okay with it. Well Vivian, are you comfortable with the use of that particular racist slur by the demonstrators, and do you have any insights into what it means about their political motivation? For those who aren’t aware, 支那 (shina in Japanese) is an imperialist Japanese slur for Chinese, basically the Chinese equivalent of calling someone “chink.” You can’t get away with using this slur in Japanese public life, and it is a despicable word associated with the worst excesses of the Japanese imperialist era. It can be seen on banners at demonstrations in HK and as graffiti on walls and buildings. It’s a red rag to a bull for Chinese people and absolutely insulting to them, especially when it’s coupled with waving the colonial-era British flag. It’s hardly a coincidence that Trump would love these people, is it?

But DBake says it’s not a racist movement, and then goes on to say that the demonstrators can’t achieve power – even though their aim is universal suffrage – so as to carefully avoid the question “what will these racist murderers do when they win power”?

Once again DBake, HK Resident, Vivian – if anything I’m saying is not true you’re welcome to dispute it. But just ignoring and refusing to talk about this widespread anti-mainlander violence, the destruction of public property, and the shady origins of this movement is not good enough.

For the rest of you – you talk a lot about color revolutions being wrong because they’re fomented from outside and anti-democratic. What’s going on in HK will never lead to goals that left wing people can support. Don’t be fooled by this racist movement.

Orange Watch finally, argues not against any fact I have put forward, but based entirely on my identity (how ironic!) as an “orientalist expat” because Orange Watch doesn’t know what words mean.

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J-D 12.02.19 at 12:33 am

FWIW, talking on a hands-free phone is just as bad as using any other phone while driving.

Yes, I’ve heard that. I wasn’t defending New South Wales law, only describing it.

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Bill Benzon 12.02.19 at 3:49 am

Gary Marcus recently published a good article on the limitations of AI: https://thegradient.pub/an-epidemic-of-ai-misinformation/

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HK Resident 12.02.19 at 5:25 am

I don’t make any special claim to competence, but I do try to be honest.

faustusnotes and steven t johnson are both correct to point out that the HK protests are not a left-wing movement and do not aim to establish socialism in HK. They have never claimed to be, and I am baffled that anyone should think this is a point worth grandstanding about.

But anyone tempted to think the pro-Beijing HK establishment represents a more viable path towards socialism in HK than democratic reform is strongly encouraged to read the remarks of the former Chief Executive quoted in the NYT article linked by DBake above (“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies.” Does this sound like someone who wants to move HK in a socialist direction?)

Since the full withdrawal of the extradition bill (September 4), the main political goal of the protests has been the establishment of an independent inquiry into police actions. (I would argue that the shift in emphasis had already taken place after the July 21 attacks at Yuen Long, though this is more debatable.) If commenters here think it is a left wing principle that a police force should establish and maintain its own standards of conduct independent of outside scrutiny, they should say so explicitly.

Regarding the more extreme cases of protestor violence: I don’t believe anybody here is seeking to excuse murder. The killing of Luo Changqing and the setting on fire of Lee Chi-Cheung were strategically counterproductive as well as morally reprehensible. There will always be people willing to defend the indefensible, but everyone I know condemns these actions in the strongest terms. To say that they came after six months of protesting is not to excuse them, but to note that they took place in the context of a social breakdown that has left people fighting futile political battles in the streets. It’s a terrible situation and it never should have been allowed to degenerate this far. It is perfectly possible to condemn this sort of violence while also criticizing the government actions and police tactics that have inflamed the situation rather than resolving it.

I will also note that the reported facts do not seem to support faustusnotes’ characterization of these incidents as “racist attacks on mainlanders.” (steven t johnson comes closer to the truth in saying that “people who aren’t opposed to the national government are the target.”) Is Lee Chi-Cheung a “mainlander”? Perhaps, but I haven’t seen any reporting to this effect. His name is spelled in Cantonese and he seems to be speaking in Cantonese in the video where he is attacked, both of which point towards local rather than mainland identity. (My Cantonese isn’t good enough to distinguish a Guangdong from a HK accent.) Luo Changqing’s name is spelled in Mandarin, but the protestors who killed him probably weren’t targeting him at all, let alone because he was a mainlander: he seems to have been an unfortunate bystander to a violent clash between protestors and people who were trying to remove protestor roadblocks. In both cases, protestors were murderously reckless or worse, but they don’t seem to have been targeting mainlanders.

(I acknowledge the deep-seated problem of racist anti-mainlander sentiments in HK, and I’m fully prepared to revise my understanding of these two incidents if anyone can provide relevant information. I’m also unfamiliar with the incident faustusnotes keeps referring to where a young woman was beaten with iron bars: it sounds like a terrible incident that I ought to know about, so I would be grateful if anyone can provide relevant links.)

As for waving American and British flags and pictures of Trump — yeah, that’s pretty stupid, in a number of ways (although this SCMP reporter talked to some flag wavers back in August, and their motivations were more complex than you might think). But international media coverage of the flag and Trump wavers is probably out of proportion to their actual presence at the protests. Joshua Wong is also much less important than the international media make him out to be.

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Sam Tobin-Hochstadt 12.02.19 at 11:46 am

Suggesting that John Quiggin and Daniel Davies supported the Iraq War is a pretty impressive innovation in cluelessness.

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Z 12.02.19 at 12:43 pm

I agree with the substance of the post, and with WLGR. Anyone that has been managed by a preferably proprietary and confidential algorithm knows that the great virtue of algorithmic process for the ruling élite, whether in China or in the West, is that it offers plausible deniability. Yes, your unemployment benefits have been cut, your high-school or university application has been rejected, but no-one can do anything about it, you have been subjected to the same process as anyone else and the algorithm has reached its verdict.

@Stephen “about a score of gilet jaunes have been killed by French police in the same time frame”. I don’t nowadays read the French press, but going from those well-known authoritarian sources the BBC and the Guardian, I had no idea that was true, Sources, please?

Someone said Gilets jaunes? That particular statement of Faustusnotes you quote is not accurate (it is true that about a dozen people died in car accidents in the context of the Gilets Jaunes protests, but none of them were killed by the police – one elderly woman was killed by a hand grenade thrown by the police which detonated in her apartment, possibly after smashing her face, and one young man was pushed by the police into the Loire river, where he was left to drown, but neither had a direct relation to the Gilets Jaunes).

On the other hand, I do believe it is fair to note that the violence of the French repression against the Gilets Jaunes has been comparable or superior to the violence of the Chinese and Honk Kong repression against the movement there. A couple of people, sometimes non-violent protesters sometimes just passers by, are known to have been beaten into a coma; dozens to a low hundred have suffered mutilating injuries (permanently injured skull, destroyed jawbones, severed hands, gouged eyes…), the vast of majority of them as they were protesting peacefully or even not taking part of the protest at all (in fact, I don’t know of a single instance of a severely injured Gilets Jaunes for which the police even claims that he was violent or dangerous) and thousands have been arrested and detained without charge, or charged and sometimes convicted with ludicrous crimes, for instance having a yellow vest in your car (something which is actually mandatory), covering your face with a scarf (a “crime” that was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court of Honk Kong but for which dozens of French protesters have paid a 150€ fine and/or have been detained for 24 hours), having goggles in your bag etc.

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Henry 12.02.19 at 4:18 pm

A lot of the long-time readers of CT supported or at least grudgingly accepted the Iraq war in 2003, often on the basis of lies that were presented to them as fact by western media. You got burned by that, quite badly. I think some headline posters (JQ and Dan Davies spring to mind – I don’t know about Henry) supported the Iraq war on the basis of good faith acceptance of the information they were given, and they regret it.

I am guessing that the claim about dsquared is based on some dreadfully garbled memory of the once-famous “one minute MBA” post. Where the claim about John Quiggin is coming from, god only knows. If there is one thing that united the original Crooked Timber crew of bloggers, it was opposition to the Iraq war. This opposition is what led to the angry defection – before the blog even got started – of the late Norman Geras, who was originally slated to be one of the founders, but withdrew when it was clear that he was going to be in a minority of one.

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WLGR 12.02.19 at 4:40 pm

Many people have reiterated this point in many contexts, but it’s worth repeating here for emphasis: if a mass protest movement in the US were to use even a fraction of the tactics that the Hong Kong protesters are using, from coordinated mass-scale destruction of property and infrastructure to direct violent attacks against bystanders and even against police officers themselves, any American police department would’ve long ago cracked down brutally enough to make Kent State or even Tiananmen look like a quick parking-lot shoving match by comparison, and every single mainstream Western liberal commentator who’s spent the past six months waxing eloquent about democracy in Hong Kong would immediately trumpet their unequivocal support for necessary and justified police measures to restore order in the face of hardened violent radical thugs.

This doesn’t mean we should all swear fealty to the CCP party line or advocate for the PLA to come in and start mopping up the protestors, but it does mean we should be deeply skeptical of any Hong Kong protestors who venerate US-style “democracy” as either a practical goal or an abstract ideal, since in practice a US-style system would mean far more brutal and authoritarian state repression against a movement like theirs than it currently faces under the HK/PRC dual system. At best, protestors like these are profoundly naive about the political reality of what exactly constitutes authoritarianism and repression, albeit a similar species of naivete to Western liberals who refuse to look their own society’s deep-rooted authoritarianism in the eye. At worst, protestors like these know full well that their goals have nothing to do with principled opposition to authoritarianism or repression, and their use of “Cultural Cold War 2.0” discursive tropes about “democratic Western humanitarianism against evil totalitarian dictatorship blah blah blah” is every bit as cynical and instrumental as the death-squad-happy Reaganite neocons who first perfected this discourse back in the 1980s.

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Stephen 12.02.19 at 6:44 pm

Z: thanks for your confirmation (and very authoritatively reinforced by Henry, and by residents in Hong Kong) that factual accuracy is not to be expected from faustusnotes. I will bear that in mind. May Mephistopheles eventually conduct him to his deserved place.

Equally, what you write about the brutality of the French riot police (do other Western countries have equivalents of the Compagnies républicaines de sécurité?) is absolutely true: but does not exculpate the Hong Kong police.

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DBake 12.02.19 at 10:55 pm

@faustusnotes:

But Dbake is correct about one thing – On reflection I realize that the demonstrators don’t call mainlanders cockroaches, they call them locusts. My mistake! I confused racist insect-based slurs.

You also left out that insect-based slurs are being directed against the protesters as well. Anecdotally, I’ve seen protesters called cockroaches vastly more than I’ve seen the phrase “locusts,” which I honestly hadn’t run across in at least a couple of years. Yes, there is racism. There is also a lot of racism coming from the PRC trolls, believe it or not. But, as I keep trying to get you to acknowledge, that a movement has some racist members is not the same as being a racist movement. Just like my mainland friend who is much more skeptical of the protests is not a racist, simply because some of the critics are.

More generally, there seems to be a fixation on a few violent events, while ignoring a number of others. You seem strangely indifferent to the Yuen Long subway attacks, in which triad members came out to beat protesters and bystanders, it appears with the collusion of the police, or the attempted assassination of Jimmy Shan. You’re also leaving out the pointless damage the police did to the Mosque along Nathan Road, or the fact that it was protesters who showed up to help clean it up afterwards.

But DBake says it’s not a racist movement, and then goes on to say that the demonstrators can’t achieve power – even though their aim is universal suffrage – so as to carefully avoid the question “what will these racist murderers do when they win power”?

No. I was saying I can’t figure out what you are talking about. I am actually confused by what you are claiming. Are you saying that Hong Kongers are too racist for democracy?

In any case, as for what will happen if there is universal suffrage in HK, I think our former Chief Executive, appointed by Beijing, has a better idea than you do. HK resident quoted him above on why we can’t have democracy in Hong Kong. He said the problem is that given the number of poor people in Hong Kong, the interests of the poor would be overrepresented.

Finally, like HK Resident, I think it is possible to condemn some of the actions of some of the protesters, while also looking at a larger context that shows the aims of the movement as a whole. I can also notice that many of the more extreme actions are at least partially the fault of a government that has refused to compromise at all on a set of very reasonable demands, and a police force that has used violence indiscriminately against the local population. I don’t want to get into arguments about whether other police forces are worse–possibly they are. But HK is–or was–a very peaceful society, so the police abuses shocked people here. Also, I would note that something that doesn’t come out in short news clips is how brutal the use of constant teargas in some of the most densely populated residential areas on earth is. Families are being subjected to teargas seeping into their apartments. This is making people very angry at the police, the gov’t, and yes, unfortunately in some cases the mainlanders, who are seen, often unfairly, as being responsible, or being proxies for the gov’t that is responsible.

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J-D 12.02.19 at 11:03 pm

I am guessing that the claim about dsquared is based on some dreadfully garbled memory of the once-famous “one minute MBA” post. Where the claim about John Quiggin is coming from, god only knows. If there is one thing that united the original Crooked Timber crew of bloggers, it was opposition to the Iraq war.

I don’t know when John Quiggin started blogging at Crooked Timber, but I do know he wasn’t one of the original ‘crew’ (is that what you call yourselves? I did not know that).

However, it’s easy to find out what he was writing at the time on his own blog. Here he is in 2003:

The only interpretation that makes sense is that, despite all the dossiers that were waved about a few months ago – including satellite images of ‘suspect’ sites – the Administration doesn’t really have anything beyond some suspicious purchases.

There’s still a significant chance that Saddam will be nailed on a clear falsehood in the declaration or that inspectors will turn up something damning. And there’s an outside possibility that the alleged links to Al-Qaeda will pan out. But it’s becoming more and more likely that neither terrorist links nor WMDs will be solid enough evidence to justify an invasion.

https://johnquiggin.com/2002/12/13/confusion-on-iraq-2/
It is true, and was acknowledged by John Quiggin at the time, and subsequently, that he changed his opinion (https://johnquiggin.com/2013/03/21/sceptics-and-suckers-a-look-back-at-iraq/), but the change happened before the war started, and even before changing his opinion he wasn’t a supporter of the war, only somebody who thought that Bush and Blair could have a case about WMDs (changing, before the war started, to somebody who thought that their case about WMDs was all lies and that therefore there was no justification for war).

Incidentally, I think it’s worth pointing out that even the expression WMDs is a lie. Chemical and biological weapons are horrible, and they can be much more horrible than conventional weapons, but they don’t have the devastating power of nuclear weapons. Lumping them all in together as ‘WMDs’ was a way of pretending that even if Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons, chemical and/or biological weapons would make him just as much of a threat, which wasn’t and isn’t true. Technical experts (or people who appear to be technical experts, or relying on information from technical experts) talk in technical language about ‘WMDs’, and a lot of people get the impression that something is a much bigger deal than it really is. Maybe something similar is going on with AI? At best there’s only a loose analogy there, but it’s the best segue back to the original topic I can come up with.

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hellblazer 12.02.19 at 11:33 pm

Om rubbed his head. This wasn’t god-like thinking. It seemed simpler when you were up here. It was all a game. You forgot that it wasn’t a game down there. People died. Bits got chopped off. We’re like eagles up here, he thought. Sometimes we show a tortoise how to fly.

Then we let go.

He said, to the occult world in general, “There’s people going to die down there.”

A Tsortean God of the Sun did not even bother to look round. “That’s what they’re for,” he said. In his hand he was holding a dice box that looked very much like a human skull with rubies in the eye-sockets.

“Ah, yes,” said Om. “I forgot that, for a moment.”

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Orange Watch 12.03.19 at 1:46 am

any American police department would’ve long ago cracked down brutally enough to make Kent State or even Tiananmen look like a quick parking-lot shoving match by comparison

Kent, sure. But Tienanmen? Tienanmen?!? I think you may need to to educate yourself as to what happened there before you start spouting off about how “any American police department” could physically and/or logistically do that, let alone would. I have no illusions about the US being a low-key self-deceiving police state in denial, but this is ridiculous, and it makes the high-handed, pious lecture about delusion and naivete that follows it seem astoundingly lacking in self awareness.

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faustusnotes 12.03.19 at 1:50 am

I’m happy to be proven wrong about JQ and dsquared. I was reporting my impression of what they said from years ago, without checking, and I’m happy to be wrong. (This was, incidentally, why I used the phrases “I think” and “spring to mind”). My point in that statement is unchanged: you’re being lied to by the same people (the media, not posters here) who lied to you about the Iraq war. Back in 2003 lots of left wing people (including, most notably, a large chunk of the UK Labour party) believed these lies and the result was a tragedy. Many people commenting here were much less sanguine about the euromaidan, and saw through the lies immediately. You should apply the same critical approach to the violence in Hong Kong. What is the difference between what is happening in HK and what happened in Ukraine, that this time you uncritically accept what is being told to you by these liars? Is it the colour of the victims’ skin?

I’ll also note how quickly I was fact-checked for that, but how incredibly slowly you fact check anything I say that disagrees with your pre-conceived notions about freedom in HK. I found the video of the iron bar attack on twitter but it’s 10 seconds work on google to find a news report with the video. HK Resident says this is a terrible incident that he/she “ought to know about” but hasn’t bothered, obviously, to find out anything about it. Is your own ignorance a force of nature that you cannot change?

I think everyone should watch that video and ask themselves if that’s a movement they want to be attached to or support. Or watch this interview in which one of the Hong Kong protest leaders refuses to condemn the racist beating of a Chinese man. Is this the kind of freedom you think HK needs? Is this what you think should happen to young mainland Chinese women?

Notice also that DBake now admits that he has known about the locust slur being thrown around about Chinese people for years and hadn’t bothered to recall it or give it any salience. When was the last time anyone here saw a political movement in their own cities that referred to a foreign group as locusts (or any other vermin image). Oh yeah, it was Trump. Our bold left wing hero! Also note the language that DBake and HK Resident are using to dismiss murder and violence: that it is “at least partially the fault of a government that has refused to compromise”. You don’t set people on fire or kill them with bricks because the government made you, and the people beating that woman in the street aren’t being forced to do anything by the government.

I think everyone commenting here, if they were in a movement that was doing these things, would have abandoned it by now. Most people commenting here would have never joined up with a movement that had any connection to the use of the word “locusts” to describe a foreign population. But most people commenting here haven’t bothered to learn the first thing about this HK movement, the extradition law it opposed, or what the movement is doing. Instead you’re dismissing its critics as communist party stooges, and assuming that anyone who thinks we need a realistic discussion of what’s happening in China, based on facts, is a communist party stooge.

But until we have those facts, and a realistic attempt to grapple with what’s actually happening in China, we can’t do the kinds of comparisons Henry is trying in the OP!

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faustusnotes 12.03.19 at 2:05 am

So having said that, I’ll add another example of a western state using this kind of computerized or scientific social control stuff. Raven Onthill has noted the use of facial recognition now being required on phones in China. I’ll point out that if you’re a foreigner entering many countries in the world (including, I think, the USA) you get fingerprinted and photographed at the border. It’s really not unusual to have this kind of biometric data collected on people in the west. It happens to me everytime I enter Japan and I bet every single commenter here is happy to have their face scanned when they pass through border checks to return to their own country, just so they can skip the manual queue. So while a legal requirement to have facial scanning on a phone might be a difference of scale it’s not a difference of type.

Also, for the purpose of investigating crimes it’s actually really useful to be able to unlock people’s phones without a password. The police can break down your door and search all your letters and photos without your permission, but for some reason it is considered beyond the pale that they be able to break down your phone. Why?

So to give another example of an early version of this kind of AI stuff, back in the early 2000s when Australia was first implementing its “pacific solution” (nice name!) that led to concentration camps that, on a per capita basis, rival China’s treatment of the Uighur, the Australian government was desperately trying to find a way to reject asylum applications from the people in its camps. So they briefly used a “language analysis” service that claimed on the back of very shady snake oil science to be able to accurately identify where people were really from based on their language use, so that e.g if someone said they were from Afghanistan but had lost their passport, the govt could analyze their speech patterns and conclude they were from Pakistan and send them back to die. My memory is that this was done by a combination of human interviewers and some kind of statistical analysis, but even if it were done only by human interviewers this is very similar snake oil to the modern AI stuff. Western governments have been looking for techy solutions to security problems, which enable them to place the blame for their security decisions on “objective” factors rather than policy, for as long as they’ve had airconditioned offices. It’s easier now, and the scale of the fuckups can be larger, but there is really very little separating the nature of Australia’s Pacific Solution from anything happening in authoritarian states (outside perhaps Saudi Arabia, I guess?) So I think the totalitarian/democratic axis is not where we should be analyzing this.

This comes back to a fundamental problem I think a lot of left-wing critics of state power have: it’s much easier to attack the technology a state uses than to build a better state, so e.g. instead of saying “we should build a state we trust to use facial recognition software wisely” (or some version of that) they attack facial recognition software itself. This doesn’t work, because (as I said in my first comment here) the fundamental technology of the oppressive security state is an arsehole with jackboots, and you can’t attack that technology. You need to reform the state so that it only deploys those arseholes when it really has to, and only does so in line with strong principles of human rights and equality. Everything else – facial recognition software, AI, fingerprints, dna tests, surveillance cameras – is a distraction from this fundamental project.

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LFC 12.03.19 at 3:24 am

WLGR’s dislike, or should I perhaps say hatred?, of Western liberals and liberalism is so apparently intense that he seems to have constructed a partly (at least) imaginary world in which “Western liberals” are all deeply hypocritical, evil, self-deluding, and disgusting, and in which they would e.g. advocate police killing of violent protesters who destroy property and attack bystanders. (There is no other way other way to read WLGR’s reference to Kent State looking like a “parking-lot shoving match” by comparison to what liberals would advocate in the imagined case. At Kent State, just to refresh memories, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students protesting the 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and killed several of the protesters.)

So what WLGR is saying is that “Western liberals” would advocate police using live fire against demonstrators who destroy property and/or attack bystanders. (Just like “Western liberals” were deeply disappointed, I suppose, that police didn’t open fire and kill some of the anarchists etc. who torched vehicles and stores during the 1999 Seattle protests against the WTO. Strange that I don’t recall much or any evidence of such disappointment.)

In short, it’s mostly defamatory nonsense, in which “Western liberalism” is treated not as a complicated and multifarious tradition of thought but more as a vicious, hideous disease of the mind, and in which the actual historical links between the traditions of Western liberalism and Western Leftism are completely ignored in favor of a fever dream in which “liberals” are blamed for and held responsible for virtually all the ills and oppression and injustices that plague humanity.

Sure, WLGR has from time to time denounced right-wingers, but the majority of his venom is reserved for the evil liberals who populate his political mental landscape.

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DBake 12.03.19 at 3:44 am

Okay, I think this is going to be my last post here, because FN’s nonsense is too exhausting, and, thankfully, politically irrelevant. I am amused, though, that he keeps accusing me of failing to mention relevant details, whereas somehow all of the violence directed by government supporters and police against protesters and bystanders has just been airbrushed away in his discussions of what happened. Even now after I’ve brought them up, he still refuses to say anything. If his point is that there is racism in HK against mainlanders, yes. I acknowledged this many posts ago. But the fact that some of the protesters are racist does not make it a racist movement. The person I know to be most involved in the protests is a big fan of Elizabeth Anderson. An acquaintance who is from the mainland supports the protests, and I asked him if the racism made it tough, and he shrugged and said that in any movement this big you will get some people like that. Take that for what you will.

The basic issue is that Hong Kong is still ruled through the colonial system the British put in place. And, in classic colonial fashion, Beijing primarily rules through local elites, helping them maintain a monopoly on power in exchange for running things to their liking. You can look at CY Leung as an example. You can also look at the People’s Deputies to the National People’s Congress from Hong Kong–many of them are old money, sons and grandsons of wealthy bankers. That’s the system. It is, as far as I can tell, transactional. The rich support policies Beijing wants; Beijing prevents reform that would threaten their interests. At least that’s my interpretation. In any case, it’s worth noting that the local politics of HK get extremely complicated very fast, because you have an officially socialist party running the city through an alliance with capitalist oligarchs.

Steven Johnson’s statement above that Beijing is required by One Country, Two Systems to keep the colonial system in place is untrue. The Basic Law of Hong Kong, in articles 45 and 68, mandates that Hong Kong’s electoral system eventually be one of universal suffrage. Beijing’s refusal to allow reform is not their attempt to abide by One Country, Two Systems, but rather the reverse.

You can see both articles here: https://www.basiclaw.gov.hk/en/basiclawtext/chapter_4.html

Much of the prejudice against mainlanders emerged in the context of this colonial setup, as far as I can tell. This should not be surprising. Often times the colonized ethnicity starts to feel resentment and prejudice against the colonizing ethnicity. In fact, my own impression is that very few Hong Kongers thought of themselves as ethnically anything but Chinese up until 2014, when the democracy protests took place. Since then, the prejudices against mainlanders moved from seeing them as country bumpkins or tacky nouveau riche to something resembling racism, and many Hong Kongers started insisting they were not Chinese. (Before then, Hong Kongers had always seemed very proud to be Chinese, if not so keen on the central government.) It’s bad. But it’s also largely predictable, and could very likely have been avoided by a government that was more responsive, and a national government that was less into bullying the local population.

I’ll also add that the racist and nationalistic bile that often comes from PRC supporters is also bad, and it seems to make race relations in HK even more tense.

I’ll just finish off by noting that we’ve had about two weeks of relative peace, which unfortunately seems to be falling apart. The protesters cut back on demonstrating, so as not to give the government an excuse to cancel the District Council elections–the only elections in Hong Kong that meet normal standards of being democratic, I’ll add. The Pan-Democrats won over 80% of the seats (in an election with record high turnout, to forestall claims by FN et al. that actually this just shows that people are afraid of the protesters). The gov’t has still refused to negotiate about any of the demands–even after a victory on that scale. So more aggressive protests, with vandalizing shops and the like, are starting to happen again.

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HK Resident 12.03.19 at 7:09 am

WLGR — “Profoundly naive” is, unfortunately, a pretty accurate description of the protestors overall. But I don’t think there is any need to worry about “US-style democracy” being implemented in HK — it is difficult even to imagine what such a thing might look like.

Dbake — Yes to basically all of this. I would only point out the shift towards HK localist identities goes back earlier than the 2014 protests, and I know from direct experience that it was manifesting itself in basically “racist” ways in the early 2010s.

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HK Resident 12.03.19 at 7:10 am

faustusnotes — Dbake may getting exhausted, and I will probably get there myself pretty soon, but since you at least took the trouble to provide some links, I’ll give a response, sticking as far as possible to factual information. Some of this may seem like nitpicking, but I will try to get the details right: will you care to do the same? (Incidentally, I think you are basically correct about the relative importance of AI vs. arseholes with jackboots, although I have greater concerns than you about the usefulness of the former to the latter.)

(1) It is not clear who you are counting as “protestors” — I assume you intend this term to refer to a group larger than those individuals who have directly participated in episodes of extreme violence, but perhaps smaller than the 1.7 million people who voted against the pro-Beijing parties in the recent District Council elections. Your case against the protestors would perhaps be more coherent if you could formulate it more precisely.

(2) “Locusts” — this slur continues to be used, but I would agree with DBake’s judgment that it is less common now than it was a few years ago. Do you dispute this? If so, on what grounds? (Your link to an article by Audrey Jiajia Li seems to make this claim in passing, but unfortunately the SCMP editors have linked her claim to an article from 2014. Your other link for locusts seems to be undated, but it appears to refer to an incident in 2012. I note in passing that Audrey Li’s article offers a balanced perspective on anti-mainlander bigotry among the protestors, describing it as a serious problem without claiming that it reflects the protests’ essential nature. Do you think she was wrong to aim for this sort of nuance?)

(3) “Chee-na” (zi1naa6 支那) — I have no idea why you would think people living in HK would be unfamiliar with this term, since it has been kind of a big deal here. (To avoid any possible ambiguity, I do not approve of the idiotic behaviour of Youngspiration members described in the link.)

(3) Iron bars — Thanks for clarifying which incident you were referring to. I had seen this footage previously, and I have no intention to deny or justify the actions of the protestors involved. Do you have reason to believe that the victim was a mainlander or that she was targeted because of her ethnicity? Your RT link does not provide this information.

(4) DW interview with Joey Siu (interested readers should check out the full interview rather than the CGTN excerpts linked by faustusnotes – funnily enough, the CGTN version omits the parts where the interviewer asks questions along the lines of “Doesn’t that make you just as bad as the Chinese Communists?” ) Joey Siu is not a “protest leader.” She is a spokesperson for the HKIAD 香港大專學界國際事務代表團, an ad-hoc body formed by representatives of HK Student Unions to lobby for the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. (If you feel like learning Cantonese, you can check out this LIHKG thread, where several protest supporters angrily dispute the implication that Ms Siu has any right to speak on their behalf.)

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Mark Pontin 12.03.19 at 8:14 am

DBake wrote: ‘The gov’t has still refused to negotiate about any of the demands–even after a victory on that scale. So more aggressive protests, with vandalizing shops and the like, are starting to happen again.’

I’m sorry. But what planet are you on? Not only do HK protesters not have a remotely winnable situation, but ‘aggressive protests (and) vandalizing shops’ actually serves Xi and Beijing’s aims.

Besides being completely indefensible — which was why the British gave it up so readily — Hong Kong is something like 75 percent dependent on energy generation external to itself, IIRC, and 90 percent dependent on food sources outside.

If Xi and co. feel it’s appropriate to shut down HK’s lights and power and food, the city will go down even quicker than Greece did during the ten days in 2015 when the Troika (the EU and IMF) simply shut down that country’s electronic payment systems and brought Greece to heel. No Tiananmen Square-type violence required, unless it’s the protesters’ side that gets frustrated enough to commit it.

Till then, as your protest continues, capital increasingly gets redirected away from the city — and its significance is only as a financial center — while mainland cities like Shenzhen grow in importance. That’s also been the Party’s long-term plan for awhile, so protest and vandalism in HK absolutely serves its aims there. Consequently, _of course_ they’re refusing to negotiate after your ‘victory.’

Furthermore, the longer HK protests continue, the more HK’s facial recognition systems and all the rest of its data surveillance are able to assemble profiles of HK dissidents for the Party’s data banks. Some of those folks will end up in reeducation camps.

I’m sorry, like I say. But on a personal basis, the solution for HK citizens is to get out. On a city-wide basis, there’s not only no possibility of winning, but HK’s resistance actually serves Beijing’s long-term aims.

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Hidari 12.03.19 at 9:06 am

One key point that gets overlooked in these discussions is that Hong Kong is not Tibet. Hong Kong has been part of China for (well) over 2000 years. It is a province of China. People talking about HK ‘being ruled’ by China or Beijing is like talking about Colorado ‘being ruled’ by Washington or Lancashire ‘being ruled’ by London. By whom else would it be ruled? China did not invade and occupy HK (the British did, though). What is in place is a temporary acknowledgement of the different system that was imposed on HK (literally at gunpoint) by the British Empire, a situation which will end in 2047.

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jack lecou 12.03.19 at 5:08 pm

When you’re in a demo and people start doing things in your name that you don’t like (like stoning people or setting them alight on the basis of their race, or beating young women for not speaking your language) you have three choices: stop them, condemn them or abandon them.

This seems like a fallacy of exclusion. Doing nothing is, in fact, a perfectly cromulent fourth choice, and I can think of many examples where it is a morally, strategically and tactically valid one.

Indeed, with a sufficiently large, dispersed movement it’s probably the only one. In a situation like Hong Kong, I’m not sure how the other three are even supposed to work, or how we would distinguish their effects from “nothing”. FWIW, it sounds like individual protesters are ready enough to condemn the murderers and violent racists when asked. For all you or I know, they are also privately discouraging such actions wherever possible (we don’t know about all the attacks that didn’t take place). What else are you expecting them to do, exactly?

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Cian 12.03.19 at 5:09 pm

One of the things I find quite annoying about these kinds of discussions in the west is that it seems that most debates always seems to be about identifying the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Once a ‘bad guy’ has been identified, the other side have to be the ‘good guys’. This template is applied to every conflict no matter what. So in Syria everyone knew that Assad was a ‘bad guy’, so it was just assumed (facts be damned) that the rebels were ‘good’. Putin is a bad guy, so obviously the Ukrainians are good. It seems that very few people, particularly in the media, have the sophistication to think – hey maybe one side are bad, and the other side are a lot worse.

I’m by no means an expert on China, or Hong Kong, so I’m not going to weigh in what exactly is happening because I don’t know. However what I can comment on is the way I’ve seen it portrayed in the western media. In the western media China is bad. They just are. Unambiguously bad. So if you’re against China you must be good. And to some degree maybe that works for this narrative. But there are a whole bunch of facts that don’t fit this narrative which have been minimized because they’re inconvenient. They spoil the morality story.

The strong support from billionares like Andy Lau (who is funding some activists, and is at least trying to direct events), who is a Hayekian Rupert Murdoch type. His tabloid is basically what Murdoch would own if he operated in Hong Kong. Nativist, conservative and nasty. Fine, the protestors aren’t being directed by him, but think about how you feel about US protests that were being backed by Fox, or the NY Post (or UK ones backed by the Sun). It certainly complicates things.

Then there’s the violence. People can try to minimize it all they want, but from what I’ve seen the HK police seem pretty restrained. Certainly more so than cops in Barcelona and France, and TBH more restrained than anything I’ve experienced at the UK police’s hands. And my god if this was in the US there would be tanks in the streets. I mean compare this to the US response to ‘Standing Rock’. These protests have been violent and destructive. You might think that was justified – maybe you’re right – I can certainly imagine conditions where I would be cool with that. But the surprise at the police response seems disingenuous.

And while I don’t know enough about the protestors to know what their politics are, if I was involved the violence by some protestors against ordinary people would make me question my commitments. At the very least I would wonder if the movement was being hijacked for other purposes. You can just shrug a guy being burned alive off. There are lots of protests all around the world, some operating in far harsher circumstances, which don’t just burn random passers by who disagree with them. The only ones that I can think of have been violent right wing ones in S. America.

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Cian 12.03.19 at 5:17 pm

On the Uyghur issue, while I would assume that what is happening there is bad, maybe very bad, I’m not sure we really know exactly what IS happening. A lot of the sources are dissidents, who often exaggerate (for good and moral reasons obviously as they think it will help their cause) while other sources seem to be rumours. So while assuming what’s happening is bad, fixating on individual stories is probably a bad idea. A good number of these will turn out to be bullshit.

However, to my previous point, I think the obsession with the Uyghurs is kind of telling. India has locked down Kashmir and is currently being run by a fascist with a history of genocide. The Saudis routinely torture, crucify and arrest Shi’ite children for minor crimes. The Turks (members of ‘the greatest alliance in history’) have been commiting massive human rights crimes in Turkey, and now Syria. We’re currently seeing a massive disparity in coverage of events in Bolivia before and after the coup (the violence after seems far worse, but it’s getting a fraction of the coverage).

Similarly on the HK police. Compare the coverage to the extraordinary response of Spanish police to ordinary, peaceful, Barcelonans. As ‘Z’ said, compared to what’s going on in France. How about Standing Rock? What about Chile? Going back a bit where we had peaceful protests in the occupied territories, and the Israelis mowed them down mercilessly.

Clearly the media coverage has nothing to do with the gravity of what’s going on, and everything to do with US political allegiances and alliances.

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Orange Watch 12.03.19 at 6:27 pm

FN@107:

The police can break down your door and search all your letters and photos without your permission, but for some reason it is considered beyond the pale that they be able to break down your phone. Why?

You insinuated above that I didn’t engage your arguments on their merits for motivated reasons, but this passage does a fine job of showing why I attacked your rhetoric, not your reasoning: you don’t engage in good faith. Shortly after complaining that others don’t even perform simple research, you lobbed the above complaint. The reason searching phones is more contentious than searching houses is because in most Western countries – almost certainly the ones you intended but did not name here – there are significant, long-standing institutional checks and safeguards attached to LE invading your home and searching your letters. In the US, for instance, judicial warrants are required in all but the most dramatic cases, and there are paper trails and some degree of gov’t accountability attached to these systems. Searching phones w/o your consent, OTOH, is typically performed at the border or incidentally following detention as a matter of opaquely arbitrary routine at the sole discretion of LE functionaries, with minimal oversight and no publicly accessible paper trail. It’s a huge and meaningful difference, and if you don’t understand why, well… your privilege is showing just as much as your fondness for orderly authoritarian elitism. This is as trivial to discover as the video you complain others couldn’t be bothered to check, but as with your assumption that most or all the commenters here subject themselves to biometrics in airports for convenience, you choose to make sweeping assumptions rather than risking disrupting your pat narrative. In short, you engage with us in sterling bad faith.

And this is hardly unique to this comment; earlier you berated your opponents for speaking to the conditions for the poor in Western nations by presumptuously claiming most haven’t been near (let alone lived in) poor Western communities so we have no idea what their lives are like… but since by your own admission, you don’t speak Chinese you can’t have any firsthand experience with Chinese poverty even if you have lived amongst it (which I seriously doubt, given how thoroughly and enthusiastically bourgeois you are). Not that you have the experience you demand in others to speak for Western poverty either, mind you, but that didn’t stop you from opining about how formalized social credit is a boon that the Western poor (who are, of course, an indistinguishable mass) yearn for so that they can give up further inconvenient control of their own lives. More generally, this is a recurrent trend; you claim expertise over matters in nations you don’t live in based on media accounts of them, but deride others for making parallel claims about nations they don’t live in based on media accounts. You endlessly attack us for being insufficiently critical of media that may be sympathetic to Western gov’ts… then uncritically parrot CCP talking points (and more ironically, given your long-standing fondness for the phrase “Putin-fluffer”, Russian state media talking points). It’s also not exactly coherent when you use the idea of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism to advocate for Eastern colonialism and imperialism. My current favorite, though, would have to be your demand that leftists blindly cleave towards authoritarian state capitalist regimes that purport to be socialist, else they’re not really leftist. For someone complaining about me not knowing what words mean, reducing leftism to Maoist/Stalinist/Leninist authoritarian anti-democratic elite vanguard state capitalism is an appallingly ahistorical dismissal of most of leftist thought that appears to have a very clear authoritarian technocratic agenda motivating it.

That last bit reveals a common thread in your writing: you’re trying very hard to reduce politics to one dimension. As per Holbo’s most recent post – and referencing Corey Robin’s bibliography – conservatism is quite reasonably described as mostly centering on social hierarchies, not whether oligarchs run your capitalist industries or it’s party members who sit on their boards. You’re a reactionary berating leftists for not being authoritarian enough to call themselves leftists (and as some noted above, you’re using language and arguments routinely embraced by Trumpists and other fascists to do so). It’s completely natural for you to jump from this to defending intrusive ubiquitous surveillance technology – from such a perspective, the important thing is not that the population have any sort of political control of their lives or future, it’s that the planes run on time for the elites who (naturally and rightly) rule them, and that the right boot gets put on the right neck for the right reason. As long as intrusive technological and social controls avoid inconvenient disruptions of your privileged life, third-way neoliberal technocrats like you won’t object to it – but as the American expansion of executive power over the last several decades blatantly demonstrates, there’s no way short of permanent anti-democratic one-party rule to ensure that those mechanisms are deployed according to the elite-validated faux-empirical merit of their victims and beneficiaries rather than gauche measures like essentialist identities… not that the experience of the CCP would reassure anyone that a “future” aspiring to emulate them would be free of vicious bigotry, genocide, and arbitrary, corrupt tyranny. The only way to make sure state power is not abused is to prevent the state from exercising abusive forms of control. Seeking to ensure that only “our kind of people” are allowed to be the benevolent tyrant seated in the panopticon is quixotic at best. Glorifying control mechanisms while seeking to eliminate the possibility of those mechanisms changing hands merely ensures that when (not if) that unrestrained centralized state’s leadership begins to act according to self-interest rather than the common good, it will be that much harder for anyone to rein in their abuses.

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steven t johnson 12.03.19 at 10:30 pm

HK Resident and Dbake claim no one here defends setting a civilian on fire, but this is not true. I suspect Vivan would agree with the praise for the glorious flames.

Here, Orange Watch wrote “We’re talking about a protest movement that has included millions of people and spanned six months. If your proof that the HK protests as a movement are targeting mainland civilians for expulsion and/or violence, you should be able to cite far more deaths than either you or FN seem able or willing to do. Millions – or even hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands, or even hundreds – of “racist street thugs” could have and presumably would have killed hundreds or thousands of a minority comprising 12% of the population. And yet that’s not been reported nor is it even what you and FN have claimed.

So yes, the timeframe versus the small number of incidents is absolutely a reasonable rebuttal to your vague, sweeping generalizations.”

There have not been millions or even a hundred thousand “protesters” in the streets since the extradition bill was withdrawn. The violence has been with relatively small numbers of protesters aiming to make Hong Kong ungovernable, in the best Sharpian fashion. I said the protesters have been attacking the population at large with blockades, not trying to singlehandedly carry out mass expulsions. I could go on, but Orange Watch did defend this, for no decent reasons, directly putting the lie to HK Resident and Dbake, but probably not Vivian who likely thinks they were glorious flames of freedom or whatever.

HK Resident also remarked that no on said the protests were a left-wing movement, which is also not true, as unspecified “democracy” is covertly assumed to be left-wing. But, yes, the larger point the protests are a right-wing movement is correct. I will also say this to HK Resident: I loathe Trump and I loathe his friends. Praising Trump as a liberator is a political act in US politics as well as Honk Kong. As such, you and your friends are my enemies and I’m not going to be fool enough to get all worked up about AI mumbo jumbo putting a hex on you. In fact, you can pretty much go to hell as far as I’m concerned.

Dbake is so consumed with malice the most egregiously stupid things are pouring out onto the screen. For the simplest thing, Articles 45 and 68 don’t set a date, which means they aren’t violated until 2047. I could go into detail, but the ph/Stephen anti-communism is really all there is. Those are principles this site shares, despite other disagreements, so Dbake has the gallery, because the more BS the better. The popularity of the protesters is not measured by the elections for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the ambiguity of the relationship between the pandemocrats and the protesters. Or the ambiguity of whether people are voting against a government that is brutal or one that can’t keep order. Do not trust Dbake to tell you anything about any of this.

For the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”
Amnesty for arrested protesters
An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
Implementation of complete universal suffrage
The fifth demand, the withdrawal of the bill, has already been met.

Protests continuing after “yes” on the triggering issue—which was never a major democratic issue anyhow!— should raise a red flag (in the pejorative sense!) for everyone. The item about pretending violent blockades are not riotous is about making sure their later careers are not endangered, as it appears the large majority of the relatively small groups now engaged are rather well-off compared to the larger part of the population. If reports are correct, this is why most of the arrested have been released immediately, with low or no bail as I understand it. Also, this demand prejudges all conclusions of the “independent” investigation, turning into a demand the police be purged. Purging the police here is a good idea, but threatening to substitute a relative handful of militants for mass support? It’s folly if they were sincere.

Least, Orange Watch using Corey Robin to red bait is an inadvertently powerful exposure of…Corey Robin. I will believe there is a movement for real change in Hong Kong when they start advocating for rent control or

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DBake 12.03.19 at 11:36 pm

Hey guys, Steven Johnson is right. Don’t trust me! Please, read the English-language Hong Kong news outlets instead. Maybe you’ll come away skeptical of the protests. That’s fine. Cian’s skepticism above, while I disagree with it, is at least in the realm of reason. But please, read these instead of trusting anyone here. Definitely do not listen to these two weirdos who keep acting like experts on the place.

http://www.scmp.com
http://www.hongkongfp.com
http://www.rthk.hk (they have an English tab)

Of those, South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com) is owned by a mainland Chinese billionaire who is a member of the Communist party. It is the most pro-government and critical of the protesters. See if the story even they are willing to tell is as far out as FN’s and SJ’s. See how they interpreted the victory of the pan-Democrats, and its relation to the protest movement. Also, just for fun, google “Yuen Long MTR attacks.” Keep in mind, that happened way before notable violence on the part of the protesters, aside from some vandalism of government property.

Oh, by the way…

Dbake is so consumed with malice the most egregiously stupid things are pouring out onto the screen. For the simplest thing, Articles 45 and 68 don’t set a date, which means they aren’t violated until 2047.

That is some epic goalpost moving.

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J-D 12.04.19 at 12:06 am

People talking about HK ‘being ruled’ by China or Beijing is like talking about Colorado ‘being ruled’ by Washington or Lancashire ‘being ruled’ by London.

Or South Sudan being ruled by Khartoum or Eritrea being ruled by Addis Ababa or Ireland being ruled by London or Czechia being ruled by Vienna or Belarus being ruled by Moscow.

China did not invade and occupy HK

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_conquest_of_Nanyue
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conquest_of_Wu_by_Jin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_the_Sui%E2%80%93Tang_dynasties#Chen_dynasty_(588%E2%80%93589)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Song_dynasty#Founding_of_the_Song

And my god if this was in the US there would be tanks in the streets. I mean compare this to the US response to ‘Standing Rock’.

Were there tanks in the streets at Standing Rock?

The Saudis routinely torture, crucify and arrest Shi’ite children for minor crimes.

Citation needed.

Going back a bit where we had peaceful protests in the occupied territories, and the Israelis mowed them down mercilessly.

Citation needed.

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hellblazer 12.04.19 at 1:21 am

Hidari at 113: given that you bring up the historical perspective, would you care to expand on how people in HK felt between, say, 1947 and 1997? If you know people who’ve lived through that, or have done so yourself, that might add something to this comment thread which seems curiously absent: one might get the impression from some in this thread that HK is populated solely by “mainland civilians”, “HK protestors”, and people painted as cronies or remants of colonial power structures.

And just to try and forestall one particular set of responses to my question — a question which is actually genuine, not (just) rhetorical — I wouldn’t turn to search engines to find out, I’d ask some of my family.

(It seems no one felt the allusion in my previous comment was worth enaging with.)

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hellblazer 12.04.19 at 1:27 am

(previous comment seems to have been eaten by a spam filter, perhaps because of a link?)

FWIW I respect the comments of Cian at 115 even if I might not appraise things quite the same way, not least because of the opening reminder that in too many discussions

Once a ‘bad guy’ has been identified, the other side have to be the ‘good guys’.

This does of course cut both ways, but that’s probably why it’s an important point.

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hellblazer 12.04.19 at 1:45 am

In an effort to show some engagement with Henry’s original post, despite knowing little about ML or life in authoritatrian regimes:

In short, there is a very plausible set of mechanisms under which machine learning and related techniques may turn out to be a disaster for authoritarianism, reinforcing its weaknesses rather than its strengths, by increasing its tendency to bad decision making, and reducing further the possibility of negative feedback that could help correct against errors.

On the one hand I can see this might be salutary counsel against premature doom-mongering, but I can’t help thinking that IIRC quite simple game-theoretic/evolutionary models (Maynard-Smith??) demonstrate phenomena where one team or strategy will successfully defend against or crowd out other teams/strategies even though in the long-run it will collapse.

FWIW, similar comments have come to my mind occasionally when I see people positing on the interwebs that a Trump-fronted GOP in the USA is going to be disorganized and unstable hence “in the long run this should give the left cause for cheer”.

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faustusnotes 12.04.19 at 2:34 am

hellblazer, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions protested British colonial police violence in I think the 1960s, and some of them were killed by police. The HK protesters recently graffiti’d the HKFTU building with “never forget” slogans, mocking them for those killings.

Orange Watch, I wrote a whole paragraph about reforming the state, not attacking the technology. Did you miss it? Because I nowhere said that police should have the unfettered right to open your phone. This may be hard for you to understand but some countries have actually reined in their police, so that they can approximately be trusted not to do certain authoritarian things. With the correct mixture of state oversight, independent anti-corruption bodies and legislation, police can be forced to behave however you want. What is it about phone technology that makes it impossible for you to imagine that the same rules preventing police from knocking down your door without a warrant could be applied to opening your phone? Like I said (repeatedly!) don’t attack the tech, change the government. What I’m suggesting is the very opposite of authoritarianism. (The rest of your comment is unsupported attacks based on identity, again somewhat ironically).

HK Resident, at comment 96 you said you were “unfamiliar with” the iron bar incident and “ought to know about it”. Now at comment 111 you say you knew about it. Are you actually commenting honestly here? You also claimed previously not to know anything about insect slurs or racism in the movement, but now you admit you knew about the use of 支那 and you knew about what you dismiss as “Localism” going as far back as 2010. (Incidentally for readers not steeped in the history of Asian racisms, the oath-taking incident HK resident links to would be the equivalent of a senator under Obama’s presidency using the n-word when taking their oath of office. Do you still support this movement?)

It also now seems that you’ve gone from denying the violence in the movement to saying it’s not racist, because you can’t hear the language people are speaking and maybe they’re Hong Kong people. This is a problem for many reasons, most obviously: mainland Chinese from neighouring provinces speak Cantonese, and the movement doesn’t suddenly become less violent because it is attacking and killing locals who disagree with it. It’s still fascist, though maybe if you could confirm all these incidents were locals you could disprove it’s racist (whew!) In any case, you’re not correct: the man who was set on fire was told to go back to the mainland by his assailants, and his wife was interviewed in Mandarin on CG TV. This was a racist attack and attempting to pass it off as merely fascism is ridiculous (and not exactly productive).

Also regarding the Yuen Lon attacks: it’s not a counter-argument to my point that this is a racist movement. If it is a racist fascist movement (i.e. if I’m right) then the existence of a gang of thugs from the targeted community who attack the fascists is 100% to be expected and 100% right. If I’m wrong and it’s not a racist fascist movement, then yes I need to talk about those attacks. But why would I? These people are fascists, and the correct response to fascists is to beat them up. Also, attacking the rioters because they’re rioting is very different to attacking a Chinese girl because she’s Chinese. I hope you can understand the difference between these two things – it’s a kind of pretty basic left wing principle. But I am not getting the impression that you understand many left wing principles.

Your link to the HKIAD page makes it pretty clear that they claim to represent the demonstrators. This brings me to jack lecou’s point, that doing nothing when your movement starts targeting people of a certain race for murder is a cromulent choice. Yes, it is, but if you’ve been in any mass movement you will know that you are responsible for what it does when it passes a certain point. Look at the videos of people being attacked and you can clearly see that the majority of the demonstrators are not helping the victims or interfering in any way. Usually there will be one or two women from the rioting group who try to intervene, maybe to stop it or maybe to offer medical help. In the case of the guy at the airport those interveners were also verbally abused. This movement is stunningly lacking in any kind of responsible members. This is also why HK Resident in point 1) above tries to conflate the rioters (people on the streets rioting) with the peaceful opposition (people not on the streeets, not rioting) who voted for anti-beijing candidates. I have consistently talked about the rioters and as steven t johnson notes above this movement bled support from the peaceful opposition once they started becoming violent. You have a choice when your movement gets taken over, and yes, doing nothing indicates that you agree with the actions of the violent vanguard. Deal with it!

(I have problems with the political stance of the broader peaceful movement to oppose Beijing but they’re problems of legitimate political debate between different points of view. Because they aren’t out on the streets expressing their opposition by murdering innocent people!)

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J-D 12.04.19 at 3:24 am

hellblazer, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions protested British colonial police violence in I think the 1960s, and some of them were killed by police.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_1967_leftist_riots
http://www.ftu.org.hk/en/ (Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions)
http://en.hkctu.org.hk/ (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions)

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DBake 12.04.19 at 3:31 am

Also regarding the Yuen Lon attacks:

It’s Yuen Long.

If it is a racist fascist movement (i.e. if I’m right) then the existence of a gang of thugs from the targeted community who attack the fascists is 100% to be expected and 100% right.

The targeted community? You mean mainlanders? But the thugs weren’t mainlanders or hired by mainlanders. The general consensus is that they represent the village clans, which are about as indigenous Hong Kong as it gets. Maybe you should, you know, know something before you spout off like this.

Link:

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2019/07/27/explainer-yuen-long-mob-attacks-hong-kongs-triads-consider-new-territories-lawless/

These people are fascists, and the correct response to fascists is to beat them up.

So here is SCMP’s description of the attacks:

“At least 45 people were injured in unprecedented late-night violence at a Hong Kong railway station on Sunday, as a rampaging mob of men in white T-shirts attacked black-clad protesters and passengers indiscriminately.”

Note some of the key phrases here. “[U]nprecedented late-night violence.” Because this happened back in July, well before the protests started turning violence to any substantial degree. Notice that they attacked protesters and passengers indiscriminately. That’s what FN wants to announce to all of us is justified.

Here’s another video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plf9g07VoQ4

Wait till the end when one of the thugs loses his glasses in the course of beating people. The people on the train beg him to stop attacking and agree to get his glass for him. Then, after a young man hands the glasses back to him, one of the thug’s friends punches him in the face. Totally justified, FN wants us to know!

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HK Resident 12.04.19 at 5:32 am

hellblazer — I appreciated the allusion in your first comment, at least!

Cian — If I understand you correctly, I agree that your perspective is probably a wise one for most outsiders to adopt. Certainly, you are right to draw attention to discrepancies in international media coverage of police violence in HK vs. Western countries. For people currently living in HK, however, international comparisons are less important than the specifics of the local situation.

In terms of political psychology, people’s reactions aren’t based on whether police and government actions are good or bad in some absolute sense, but on whether they perceive the trajectory of politics and governance to be getting better or worse. HKers who are angry at police violence are not necessarily angry because they think HK police are worse than those in France or the USA (they argue among themselves about this point), but because: (1) They see the police as responsible for the escalation of violence at initially peaceful protests; (2) They see the police force as rejecting any form of accountability to the people of Hong Kong; (3) In the absence of effective mechanisms of political representation, mass protests have traditionally been one of the few ways that the HK population can collectively communicate dissatisfaction with government policies, so people are particularly sensitive to the perception that this channel of political participation is being closed down.

Given this background, I am not sure what it would mean to say that protestor violence should lead people to “question their commitments.” I believe that HKers who support the protests are committed, not to the “movement,” but to pressing the government on the issue of the Five Demands, the most important of which is based on the principle that police should be held accountable for their actions. (I think this is widely accepted, but I can explain my reasoning if necessary.) Is your argument that HKers are faced with a choice between tolerating anti-establishment violence and accepting a police force that is accountable only to itself and Beijing, and that the latter is the lesser evil? This might ultimately be correct, but many people here continue to hope, perhaps in vain, that other ways forward are possible.

faustusnotes, steven t johnson — If anyone else here has lingering doubts as to which commenters are engaging in good faith, I’m happy to answer their questions. Otherwise, I’ll leave it at that.

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DBake 12.04.19 at 6:28 am

@HK Resident

Dbake — …I would only point out the shift towards HK localist identities goes back earlier than the 2014 protests, and I know from direct experience that it was manifesting itself in basically “racist” ways in the early 2010s.

I’m happy to concede that. My subjective impressions on this matter could easily be off.

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Z 12.04.19 at 1:02 pm

Going back a bit where we had peaceful protests in the occupied territories, and the Israelis mowed them down mercilessly.

Citation needed.

May 19th, 2004, Gaza. A peaceful protest in Rafah is bombed by a helicopter, then shot at at least twice by a tank, then machine guns open fire. At least 19 dead and 70 injured. About half of the casualties were children.

As Stephen wrote above, ” the brutality of the French riot police […] does not exculpate the Hong Kong police”, so the fact that Israeli army bombed children in Gaza is perhaps of little relevance in a discussion about Honk Kong. Nevertheless, I do think it is dangerous to minimize the level of state violence that well-established democracies can resort to against largely peaceful protesters.

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Cian 12.04.19 at 2:11 pm

JD @120

Random link to Saudi attrocity:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/09/world/middleeast/saudi-teenager-death-sentence.html

Destruction of houses:
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40937581

There’s loads of this stuff. Saudi Arabia is an abomination. Your ignorance of these things would seem to prove my point.

> Were there tanks in the streets at Standing Rock?

Yes. The police brought in armored vehicles, which are essentially tanks. There was also at least one police sniper. The police have tanks in the USA and use them quite often, including to raid people’s houses for fairly minor crimes. Are we really arguing over whether the US police are hyper violent and militarized, and will react to riots with extreme prejudice? Given there is a long history of them doing these things, and they posess military hardware for exactly those purposes. Or given that US police are notoriously murderous and violent. Or that Chicago had a black site that they used to torture people. I mean seriously?


Me: “Going back a bit where we had peaceful protests in the occupied territories, and the Israelis mowed them down mercilessly.”

Citation needed.

Last year there were Gaza border protests from last year when the Israeli army killed 190 people, many of them children and medical professionals, and injured 28,000, using snipers who were never in any danger. It got some coverage, much of it skeptical, but nothing compared to the scale of the attrocity.

Z @129:
I don’t think the brutality of the Israeli army exculpates the HK police. But I do think that the differing levels of coverage tells you something about the western (particularly the US) media, and why certain events get all the coverage. It’s particularly ludicrous in the US where journalists will talk in breathless tones about how violent the police are in Hong Kong, while the US police are routinely way more violent.

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Cian 12.04.19 at 2:20 pm

HK Resident:
For people currently living in HK, however, international comparisons are less important than the specifics of the local situation.

That’s fair. I also don’t really care what the world thinks about Brexit, so I get this.

But to sort of ground my skepticism in something real. The coverage by the UK media of the post-Brexit years has been total garbage. Biased, inaccurate and devoid of basic facts (the Financial Times is a a noble exception to this). Unless you have a very good understanding of the UK media, local sources of information, then I don’t think it’s possible to follow what’s going on. I wonder how true this is of other countries. To a lesser degree the same is also true of my adopted country, the USA.

To put another perspective on this. You will routinely hear people from Bolivia (pre-coup) and Venezuela complain about ‘westerners’ ignoring the views of the people on the ground. But of course anyone you hear from in those countries is going to be well off, if only because they speak English and have access to good internet, etc. Similarly foreign journalists tend to talk to people like themselves (upper middle class and educated), and ignore everybody else. So you get a very distorted view of what people in a particular country think. Do some of them think these things? Sure. Do all of them, probably not given that the educated upper middle classes are a small minority of the population.

So when people tell me to listen to the people from a particular country, I wonder which people and how do I know that these people are representative?

In terms of political psychology, people’s reactions aren’t based on whether police and government actions are good or bad in some absolute sense, but on whether they perceive the trajectory of politics and governance to be getting better or worse.

Sure. And this is the right way to react as a local. But given most people here are not from Hong Kong, I think it’s worth pointing out that foreign coverage is largely due to Hong Kong’s status, rather than local events. There are global events that are far worse, that get a fraction of the global coverage (e.g. Kashmir currently). As a Brit I think the way that the student protests in the UK were dealt with was awful – and domestically I’d be very suspicious of anyone who said, ah but what about the yellow vests in France, eh (assuming the timelines lined up). On the other hand if global coverage focused exclusively on Britain and ignored France – that would also be weird. One is objectively worse.

In the absence of effective mechanisms of political representation, mass protests have traditionally been one of the few ways that the HK population can collectively communicate dissatisfaction with government policies, so people are particularly sensitive to the perception that this channel of political participation is being closed down.

This makes sense, but also I’m having trouble imagining any police force in the world responding any differently to these protests. But granted in a fairly undemocratic state, there are few other outlets and if the government ignores popular opinion this is what will happen. I guess the solution is more democracy, but… that seems unlikely while Hong Kong is a Chinese territory. And I suspect a lot of the elite probably don’t want that either. Hong Kong is a very unequal place. Do the protestors have a political solution that accounts for the fact that China can pretty much shut everything down if they get really annoyed.

Given this background, I am not sure what it would mean to say that protestor violence should lead people to “question their commitments.”

If I was involved in political actions where some of my protestors are commiting these kinds of attacks on individuals, or non-establishment groups, at the very least I would question the tactics, or organization, or something. Something has gone wrong, and the likelihood of things getting worse would seem quite high (in extreme cases this is how civil wars start, though I would assume that’s unlikely in this instance). There’s a huge difference between fighting the police (sure, go ahead – just don’t act surprised when they fight back), and attacking rando civilians.

I believe that HKers who support the protests are committed, not to the “movement,” but to pressing the government on the issue of the Five Demands, the most important of which is based on the principle that police should be held accountable for their actions.

Is there any reason to believe this though, because it’s quite easy to delude yourself that people agree with you, when they don’t. See for example the UK where anti-Brexit hardliners deluded themselves into thinking their position was a majority one, rather than one held by a small minority. Other than the fact that people are turning up to protests, how much does anyone know about what the protestors really want? Serious question.

(I think this is widely accepted, but I can explain my reasoning if necessary.) Is your argument that HKers are faced with a choice between tolerating anti-establishment violence and accepting a police force that is accountable only to itself and Beijing, and that the latter is the lesser evil? This might ultimately be correct, but many people here continue to hope, perhaps in vain, that other ways forward are possible.

Anti-establishment violence doesn’t really bother me, except whether it’s an effective tactic (mostly it isn’t – simply because people underestimate the political effectiveness of protestors being beaten, and it’s a rare protest that can overwhelm a modern policeforce/army). Violence directed at other groups does, with obvious exceptions (beat up all the fascists that you like).

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Cian 12.04.19 at 2:28 pm

On the AI thing I guess I have trouble caring because so much AI stuff is bullshit. AI, as it currently exists (lab and commercially) is good at limited things, where there are patterns and your data is reliable and unambiguous. For anything else it doesn’t work. I’m very skeptical that the face recognition stuff works well, because it has never worked in a proper trial (yes the iphone stuff works, because that’s a different type of problem and a much easier one to solve). AI probably isn’t going to take your job. Self-driving cars are not on the horizon. General Dynamics robots are a scam designed to get money out of the military. Hell, even in areas where you’d think AI has a chance like radiography – nah, doesn’t work very well. Just like the last time (anyone remember expert systems), and the time before that, and the time before that…

Though I agree with people who say that outsourcing decisions to algorithms may be a way to remove accountability from politicians – just as previously privatization, or independent central banks, etc are. That’s the bigger threat.

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Z 12.04.19 at 3:30 pm

@Cian It’s particularly ludicrous in the US where journalists will talk in breathless tones about how violent the police are in Hong Kong, while the US police are routinely way more violent.

Yes, I agree with you.

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HK Resident 12.04.19 at 5:58 pm

Do the protestors have a political solution that accounts for the fact that China can pretty much shut everything down if they get really annoyed?
Not really. HK people in general are surprisingly ignorant about their neighbours and overlords to the north, and this is especially true for the young protestors on the front lines. They seem much more comfortable with a strategy of gaining international support and hoping that Beijing won’t dare to crack down while the world is watching, but this obviously isn’t a sustainable solution once the international media get bored and move on.

Other than the fact that people are turning up to protests, how much does anyone know about what the protestors really want?
You are right that nobody really knows the answer to this question (including the protestors themselves, since what they want is related to the question of what concessions they can plausibly expect to win, and nobody knows the answer to that question either). Rather than asking what they want, it is probably better to ask what would satisfy them, and I don’t think it is just a projection of my own ideals to suggest that a credible independent commission on inquiry into police actions could be the key to satisfying protestors’ anger.

This is a fairly mainstream opinion that has even been expressed by a prominent pro-Beijing politician; my personal belief in its correctness is based partly on conversations with local friends and colleagues, but also on observing the dynamics of protests (all of which have been peaceful on the occasions I have attended, which protestors have attributed to the absence of police) and spending time reading the posters on Lennon Walls. These walls are typically tiled with images and lists of incidents of police violence (including the Yuen Long attacks, rumoured to have been carried out with tacit police approval). They also include allegations of dubious veracity, since the unwillingness of the police to accept criticism even where evidence of misconduct is clear-cut has precluded the possibility of building public confidence in their public statements. This in turn has made it easy for fake news to proliferate, I would hope that a credible independent inquiry would be able to put an end to some of the worst rumours that have been circulating.

Establishing an inquiry probably wouldn’t satisfy all of the protestors — for months, they have been chanting “Five Demands, Not One Less” (五大訴求,缺一不可), and some of them presumably take it literally — but moderate protestors are aware that democratic reform isn’t going to be happening any time soon, and the demands relating to amnesty and the designation of the June protests as a “riot” could reasonably be folded into the outcome of an inquiry. The more extreme protestors currently draw confidence from the moral support from the moderates (which can also become practical support, as when waves of fresh protestors descended on Mong Kok to draw police resources away from the siege of PolyU). If the extreme protestors who insist on “Not One Less” lose this moral support, their numbers would dwindle to the point where they could no longer conduct large-scale disruptions. (There would also be less of a backlash against them, eliminating the confrontational dynamics that have led to the worst cases of protestor violence on civilians.)

The above scenario for deescalation remains plausible. Carrie Lam has mumbled something about an “independent review committee to look at underlying causes,” which may be her inept way of inching towards the independent inquiry that the protestors are actually asking for. My main worry is that the government will keep dragging its feet as the situation deteriorates, just as they did by “suspending” the extradition bill and leaving its status ambiguous for months before finally withdrawing it properly. If the situation continues to drag on and get worse, decisive intervention from Beijing becomes more likely.

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DBake 12.05.19 at 12:02 am

@Cian

This makes sense, but also I’m having trouble imagining any police force in the world responding any differently to these protests.

That may be right, but I think there are some important details that get overlooked in this way of thinking about it. First, the police starting using very intense violence way before the protesters did. This isn’t to excuse violence against bystanders by the protesters. But it is worth noting that part of the reason the protesters are able to retain decent support in a pretty conservative city, despite very disruptive tactics, is that the government and police force did a lot to unnecessarily delegitimize themselves early on. It’s actually been surreal the extent to which this government almost seems to be trying to delegitimize itself. So even a lot of people who are frustrated by the traffic blockades, etc., still think the police are worse.

Two, my impression, and if I’m reading right, it seems to be HK Resident’s too, is that people really turned against the police after the Yuen Long attack. There is substantial evidence that the police colluded with the triad members who carried out the attack. The police never showed up when the attacks were going on. Numerous people report calling the police to report the attacks and getting responses like, “If you don’t feel safe don’t go outside,” and then being hung up on. There is video of people physically going to the nearby police station to report the attack, and the police officers closing the front door to the station and locking it. When questioned about this, the police spokesman has said they didn’t actually close the station, because anyone could have come in through the back entrance. I am not making this up.

I think this was worse than simple brutality in terms of public opinion, because with brutality your average middle class consumer of news can tell themselves it happened in the heat of the moment, or we don’t know the whole story, etc. But here the police were flaunting collusion with gangsters. So the corruption is at least as big a deal as the brutality.

Along these lines, a memo got leaked (probably deliberately) from the HK prosecutors office, asking the police spokespeople to stop engaging in bald-faced lying, on camera, to the press. If you like I can find it for you, but I recall it advising the police to just say ‘No comment’ if they do not want to tell the truth, rather than saying something everyone already knows to be untrue. The memo expressed the concern that prosecutors won’t be able to convict anyone given how little the public trusts police testimony, after all the lying. Already they have had to drop charges against five protesters, and have agreed to pay full legal and attorneys’ fees for two.

Third, unless the videos are being edited in very clever ways, there is a lot of footage showing police attacking random bystanders, even when no protesters are present.

Other than the fact that people are turning up to protests, how much does anyone know about what the protestors really want? Serious question.

By talking to them. I know some. The press interviews protesters and their supporters regularly.

They did also stop protesting disruptively as the elections were approaching. And things have been quite a bit calmer since the elections took place. So gauging how much nativism is at work here is tough, but the desire for democracy and elite accountability seems, from both testimony and behavior, genuine.

I want to finish by saying that if your picture is protesters = nativists, that is a gross oversimplification. Yes, there is racism and nativism within the movement. But there is a lot of racism and nativism in HK generally. I know a mainland Chinese man who support the protests, another who supported it up until about a month or so ago, when it got more violent, a good friend knows young South Asian women who have participated in protests, one of whom had a black eye she says she got when a police officer slugged her for no reason. The anti-protester politician Junius Ho made an insanely racist and misogynistic insult about another legislator. And so on. The racial politics of HK are complicated.

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DBake 12.05.19 at 12:04 am

I also pretty much agree with everything HK Resident said above.

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Faustusnotes 12.05.19 at 3:44 am

HK resident do you think the amnesty should extend to the people who murdered the cleaner, set the guy alight or planted IEDs in the streets?

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HK Resident 12.05.19 at 8:45 am

Cian: How much does anyone know about what the protestors really want?
DBake: By talking to them…

Obviously it isn’t that simple for people outside HK, and Cian is right to be cautious about taking the reporting at face value. When media report a wide range of protestor opinions, it isn’t easy for an outsider to know which ones are representative, or even whether the protestors interviewed are being honest about what they want. International media prefer to interview English speakers, which introduces one sort of bias; local media (including the English-language sources you list above) have biases of their own, and international readers generally aren’t in a good position to evaluate them.

These are genuinely hard problems, and I don’t think there is any general solution other than patience and willingness to critically consider a range of different perspectives. For us it has immediate personal relevance, but an outsider can legitimately conclude that the situation in HK isn’t important enough to justify this sort of effort, and be suspicious about the international media’s enthusiasm for simplistic and decontextualized stories about HK when other things happening elsewhere are arguably more important.

DBake: The racial politics of HK are complicated.
Exactly, and I have been uneasy about my own references to “racism” in this thread — the term is fine as a provocative shorthand to start off a discussion, but the social and political dynamics of anti-mainlander bigotry and Sinophobia in HK are completely different from the forms of racism that Anglophones are typically more familiar with.

faustusnotes — It’s a lovely cool day here today in HK, my favourite kind of weather. I hope you’re having a good day too!

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ph 12.05.19 at 8:49 am

A couple of quick points:

The historical record confirms that there’s nothing fascists prefer quite so much as the absence of dialogue and discourse (sure losers for them). Let me repeat: ending discourse, discussion, and debate is one of the primary goals of fascism. i.e.. democracy is nothing more than the sum total of human failures (and confusion).

True, fascists love beating others. But, for fascists, being on the receiving end of a good beating is almost as good as beating others, and in some ways being beaten is preferable. Being on the receiving end of a good beating justifies attacks on others as justifiable ‘defensive’ violence. More importantly, retaliatory violence makes dialogue, debate, and discussion more difficult – the time for talk is over, imminent threat of mass extinction, of invasion means we have no time to wait, and certainly no time to talk.

In a free society, the best defense against fascists is to protect free speech for fascists, to force fascists to articulate and then defend their loopy theories of race, supermen, and other nonsenses.

Fascists love violence. Advocating violence, especially extra-judicial violence, is exactly what fascists prefer. What fascists and authoritarians hate, is being laughed at, or mocked.

China has done an excellent job of managing its problems given the nation’s troubled history, and external and internal pressures. There are some good articles on the 5G threat China poses to western tech dominance, which are worth a read. In general terms, I think many societies are becoming juster and more fair, even as grave injustices persist. I doubt very much whether anyone living in the west would want to live under the kind of restrictions people in China face, and were they forced to, they might very well take to the streets.

I try not forget to look in the mirror at least a few times each day and have a good laugh. We’re a bunch of f-ing clowns, for the most part, as far as I can tell.

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jack lecou 12.05.19 at 5:26 pm

This brings me to jack lecou’s point, that doing nothing when your movement starts targeting people of a certain race for murder is a cromulent choice. Yes, it is, but if you’ve been in any mass movement you will know that you are responsible for what it does when it passes a certain point.

That’s begging the question. I don’t think it’s at all self-evident that the movement is racially targeting people for murder.

I mean, I’m no expert, but to take the position of the mathematician on the train through Scotland, all I’m seeing is one half of a black sheep here: deep political fault lines that have taken on a regrettably racialized dimension, a bare handful of violent incidents/perpetrators, but a mass movement that otherwise appears to be non-homicidal, and laser-focused on some quite legitimate looking — and non-racial — political aims.

If this were, say, a series of Black Lives Matter protests on a similar scale (agitating for, e.g., some specific proposals around police accountability and community engagement), there’d obviously be some pretty deep racial fault lines in the background too. It wouldn’t be surprising at all — especially with enough demonstrators on the streets — to have a few incidents where that tension herniates out. Racial slurs, violence to bystanders, etc. That wouldn’t be excusable in any way — the perpetrators should certainly be held accountable — but it would also be important to understand that it’s localized.

Despite the racial-political tension, the movement wouldn’t be fundamentally racist or responsible perpetrating racist violence in that scenario, it’s a few individuals that are losing control. And questioning or abandoning the (legitimate!) tactics and political aims of the movement as a whole on that basis would be foolish — if the proposed moral rule is that you have to be able to personally vouch for everyone’s behavior, then nobody’s allowed to participate in any demonstration big enough to matter. (Maybe this is the point? Hmm…)

BTW, this is easily distinguished from genuinely racist movements like white nationalism or MAGA (or rounding up Uyghurs in camps), because there the platform is implicitly (or even explicitly) racist and genocidal. Agitating for a white ethnostate or expelling asylum seekers or whatever doesn’t become racist only after some proponents use nasty words or kill people — it’s racist because it’s racist.

Look at the videos of people being attacked and you can clearly see that the majority of the demonstrators are not helping the victims or interfering in any way.

Not sure how clear that is. You even contradict yourself in the very next sentence when you say they do interfere, if only weakly and/or verbally.

And that still doesn’t really clear up what you’re expecting to happen, or what you’re expecting the observables of that to be.

For my part, I’d expect these (remarkably rare, AFAICT) incidents to break out mostly when the hooligans involved feel supported — i.e., surrounded by a pack of mostly like-minded hooligans rather than more disciplined ones. That’s the sort of conflict-prone gathering you might expect journalists to follow around, too.

But neither of those things tell us whether, in the background of all these videos — down the block, around the corner, hemmed in across the street — there’s a crowd with an order of magnitude or two more peaceful protesters. Nor can you see would-be instigators discouraged from taking action by lack of support in those crowds, talked out of going out at all that day by a wiser friend, etc. It’s selectivity bias all the way down.

That’s why “some people seemingly on this one side or the other did this bad thing” just isn’t a good way to judge a movement. See also: the first part of this reply.

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Cian 12.05.19 at 7:43 pm

HK Resident & DBake:
Thank you! That makes a lot more sense, and seems way more believable than the coverage I’ve mostly seen. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

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J-D 12.05.19 at 9:31 pm

Random link to Saudi attrocity:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/09/world/middleeast/saudi-teenager-death-sentence.html

Destruction of houses:
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40937581

There’s loads of this stuff. Saudi Arabia is an abomination. Your ignorance of these things would seem to prove my point.

I’m not sure what point that is which you think has been demonstrated. Ignorance is the default human condition, so it seems unlikely to me that any specific ignorance of mine in this case demonstrates anything of significance.

I was not, as it happens, ignorant of the general fact that the Saudi government is extremely repressive and a perpetrator of frequent cruel abuses. However, neither of the citations you have provided substantiated the specific description you gave in your earlier comment, so I remain dubious about its literal accuracy.

Are we really arguing over whether the US police are hyper violent and militarized, and will react to riots with extreme prejudice?

No. At least, although I can’t speak for you, that is not something I am arguing about.

I asked you a question because I was curious to know whether it was literally true that there were tanks in the streets at Standing Rock. An obstacle to finding that information myself was that, to a search engine, ‘tank’ might mean ‘battle tank’, ‘water tank’, ‘petrol tank’, or many other things. ‘Armoured vehicle’ does not present the same problem, and after you used that term I put it into a search and found for myself reports of the presence of police armoured vehicles at Standing Rock.

All tanks are armoured vehicles, but not all armoured vehicles are tanks. Some non-tank armoured vehicles are close to being tanks; but some are not even armed. If the police armoured vehicles at Standing Rock had been tanks, it would have been the kind of detail unlikely to be left out of the reports, so I feel comfortable in concluding that it is not literally true that there were tanks in the streets at Standing Rock. However, the presence of any kind of armoured vehicles is significant and noteworthy. (Again, I don’t think there’s any important conclusion to be drawn from the fact that I was previously ignorant of this presence.)

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Faustusnotes 12.05.19 at 11:43 pm

Jack lecou, if even a tiny minority of blm protesters were hunting white girls in the streets and setting white day laborers on fire most of the ordinary people involved would have backed out long ago. Interesting you bring it up though: there are run outs circulating that six of the blm leadership have been found dead in burnt out cars…

I’d like to hit back at phs idea that fascists thrive when censored and hate free speech. Hitlers party had an entire newspaper with wide readership that was key to their success. They held regular public meetings nationwide, and were enabled into power by a conservative leadership. Mosley in the UK was supported by the daily mail and has widespread public coverage. Hitler wrote a fucking book and very party member bought it! These people depend on wide public dissemination of their ideas and mainstream acceptance and approval from their conservative mainstream allies. Mosleys movement fell apart after he was humiliated at the battle of cable street and ultimately the enabling le was passed in Germany through violence that the opposition weren’t strong enough to stop. Fascists thrive through free speech and are stopped by censorship, violence and the refusal of mainstream conservative parties to support them.

(As always ph is completely wrong about everything)

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Faustusnotes 12.05.19 at 11:48 pm

I note HK resident saw my question and responded without answering. Apparently the racism in hk is so complicated that the people who set a man alight on the basis of his nation of origin should get an amnesty! Complicated but not so complicated that racist murderers should be punished. That sounds very simple to me…

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Cranky Observer 12.06.19 at 12:28 am

= = =deep political fault lines that have taken on a regrettably racialized dimension, a bare handful of violent incidents/perpetrators, but a mass movement that otherwise appears to be non-homicidal, and laser-focused on some quite legitimate looking — and non-racial — political aims. = = =

Political aims such as disenfranchising residents of specific townships and counties when 420 years of discrimination in land ownership and housing have resulted in specific racial groups being congregated in those zones. That the zones disenfranchised happen to be a bit dark at night, if you know what I mean. Heh is just a coincidence and no evidence of racial political aims. All quite legitimate in fact.

[1] in the United States, a political subdivision of a county or parish [2]

[2] in the United States, a few states with strong French colonial influence use the term “parish” for their major subdivisions

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Edward Gregson 12.06.19 at 9:31 am

Faustusnotes:

The BUF enjoyed growing support from conservatives and the press before and during 1934, but in June 1934 it held a large meeting in Olympia Hall. A number of left-wing activists infiltrated the meeting and heckled Mosley’s speech. The BUF ejected them, and being fascists, did so with clubs and knuckledusters, with a degree of violence that shocked the public. The BUF lost their former support from conservative figures and the Daily Mail.

The Battle of Cable Street happened two years later, when the BUF was essentially moribund. The violent tactics used by the counter-protesters actually played into Mosley’s hand. He was able to leverage victim rhetoric to gain a large increase in BUF membership and a higher percentage of the vote, although I don’t believe they ever got back to where they were before the Olympia rally.

The government tried to suppress the party by banning its political uniforms (apparently this actually resulted in further support as plain clothes made the party seem less Nazi-like to onlookers). Eventually, its association with the Nazis led to the government banning it during the lead-in to WWII.

So it seems to me like the history of the BUF is a demonstration that confrontational but nonviolent protest tactics work best against fascists, whereas street violence, and possibly also attempted government censorship of political messaging, is counterproductive. Germany had plenty of left-wing activists who fought the Nazis in the streets, and it didn’t seem to do anything but fan the flames.

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ph 12.06.19 at 11:02 am

Watched a great video (via the Daily Mail!) of Corbyn supporters being duped into reacting to Bojo’s alleged anti-semitic slurs (Corbyn quotes, of course). Two responded somewhat sheepishly when informed of the facts, one held true and observed “Well, the Jews do have a lot of money!” So much for cherry-picking.

There is no democratic tradition in China, at least one most of us would be familiar with. None. Fascism is always an abject failure in functioning democracies with a free press. It’s why the American Nazi party was such a pathetic, laughable flop. It’s why Charlottesville is such an non-story.

The number of functioning democracies on the planet today, however, is nowhere near as we might wish for: a dozen/2 dozen max. And in the 1920s-30, we can count the number of democracies in single digits. Even with that number, the people of Ireland and India will be quick to point out the problems of describing the British Empire as a democracy in 1945. And yet, the British Empire is what is was.

Unlike some, I don’t believe in dropping bombs arbitrarily on those who refuse to cleave to my will. Nor do I support beating people in the street on any grounds. I’m always delighted to read some ‘liberal’ arguing that the right response is to bomb or beat someone.

I did look up some data on the British Union of Fascists and was unsurprised to discover, after about fifteen minutes of reading I could set the average number of members at around 6500, or lower, which is a very curious variety of ‘thriving.’

That’s my own rough number btw, based on the years 1924-1940. Scholars differ on the membership numbers, but most agree that membership appears to have been extremely fluid, with ‘fascists’ migrating into and out of the BUF to various nationalist movements in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland as economic conditions worsened in Britain. Numbers as high as million, and 400,00 are claimed and quoted. But data to support such claims is extremely thin and seems to be based almost entirely on extrapolations of various suspect kinds. So, I’ll go with an average of 6,500 who loved to dress-up, yell Seig whatever, and claim to be supermen and superwomen. I’m sure an expert can help us on that point.

Fascists don’t win many arguments, because they don’t argue. Fascists erect, or co-opt, mythologies and when folks have f-all else, that’s too often enough, whether in the playground, or on a national scale.

Free speech isn’t a threat, but political repression and poverty are.

So, don’t forget to defend the free speech rights of those we disagree with most. Solidarity matters. And don’t bomb or punch people we disagree with, please. OK?

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Cian 12.06.19 at 1:23 pm

J-D @ 142

I’m not sure what point that is which you think has been demonstrated. Ignorance is the default human condition, so it seems unlikely to me that any specific ignorance of mine in this case demonstrates anything of significance.

Given that several people on this thread have engaged with the point I was making, I feel reasonably certain that the fault is on your side. My point was simply that the western media coverage government crackdowns differently depending upon whether the government is an ally, or an enemy. It’s a simple point that you can engage with if you wish. Or you can continue to demonstrate epic levels of pedantry.

I was not, as it happens, ignorant of the general fact that the Saudi government is extremely repressive and a perpetrator of frequent cruel abuses.

So your use of “citation needed” was what? Performance art? A plea for every claim on the internet to use Harvard MLA referencing? Because dude, it sure seems like you were demonstrating wilful ignorance from where I am.

However, neither of the citations you have provided substantiated the specific description you gave in your earlier comment, so I remain dubious about its literal accuracy.

I provided an example and that doesn’t substantiate the ‘specific description’. Okay, here’s another one:
https://abcnews.go.com/International/convicted-minor-crimes-teens-now-face-beheading-crucifixion/story?id=64191283

Mostly these don’t get covered in the US media, but for a brief period the US media did notice them – probably because a WP journalist was murdered by the Saudis (do you need a citation?).

Me: “Are we really arguing over whether the US police are hyper violent and militarized, and will react to riots with extreme prejudice?”

You: “No. At least, although I can’t speak for you, that is not something I am arguing about.”

That’s odd, because it really seems like we are from here… But okay, guy who’s clearly arguing in good faith about… something.

I asked you a question because I was curious to know whether it was literally true that there were tanks in the streets at Standing Rock.

So if you’re going to be this pedantic, you should probably know something. There are no streets in Standing Rock. It’s not a town, or a village. I let it go last time because I didn’t want to be that guy, but apparently you do.

And secondly, my point, which you are wilfully ignoring is a fairly simple one. Standing Rock was a peaceful protest. The US police responded with violence, armoured vehicles (what civilians call ‘tanks’) and snipers. So how do you think they’d respond to a violent protest?

An obstacle to finding that information myself was that, to a search engine, ‘tank’ might mean ‘battle tank’, ‘water tank’, ‘petrol tank’, or many other things. ‘Armoured vehicle’ does not present the same problem, and after you used that term I put it into a search and found for myself reports of the presence of police armoured vehicles at Standing Rock.

So you suck at google? Is that the point you’re trying to make?

All tanks are armoured vehicles, but not all armoured vehicles are tanks.

I used to work for the UK military and I know more about tanks and all the “lovely” variants than I care to acknowledge. I also know that when the average American (including a few ex-soldiers of my acquaintance) see a Bradley, they call it a tank. Now we can talk about the various tactical and strategic uses of tanks, armoured vehicles, etc in urban environments, as well as for crowd control, if you want…

Or to put it another way. Most of the armoured vehicles in Tinamen were armoured vehicles. The vehicles that killed and maimed protesters were armoured vehicles. While tanks were there, they seem to have largely been used for symbolic value, or to engage with rogue People’s Army elements.

Some non-tank armoured vehicles are close to being tanks; but some are not even armed. If the police armoured vehicles at Standing Rock had been tanks, it would have been the kind of detail unlikely to be left out of the reports, so I feel comfortable in concluding that it is not literally true that there were tanks in the streets at Standing Rock.

Which reports? It was barely covered by the mainstream media. Most of the reporting was either freelancers, or fringe left wing media (no criticism of the publications in question, some of which are very good). They covered it – some of them filmed them.

However also – US police have armoured vehicles. They have Bradleys for gods sakes. Do they have Abram M1s? No – but then what would even the most repressive police force do with those?

However, the presence of any kind of armoured vehicles is significant and noteworthy. (Again, I don’t think there’s any important conclusion to be drawn from the fact that I was previously ignorant of this presence.)

And do you think your ignorance of the fact might have something to do with how the media covered this story. Or rather failed to cover the story? That the media gave more coverage to protests in China, than by Native Americans in the US? Are there any conclusions we can draw from this about how stories are covered?

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Orange Watch 12.06.19 at 3:57 pm

J-D@142:

However, the presence of any kind of armoured vehicles is significant and noteworthy.

This is of course true, and your comment does a good job of covering why it’s true. There is one important bit missing IMO, tho, and it relates to pragmatics, not semantics. “Tanks in the streets” has meaning beyond what the words denote. It implicitly refers to overwhelming military response to civilians – it suggests the government is engaged in high-intensity warfare against its own people. This is based, of course, on historical instances where gov’ts did exactly that, like what the CCP did in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The conflation of de-militarized surplus military armored personnel carriers operated by LEOs and used as mobile barriers and passive area denial tools during riot control operations with armed battle tanks operated by military personnel and used to directly attack civilians in live fire sweep-and-clear combat operations is disingenuous to the point where it’s hard to take it as being made in good faith even if we assume it’s coming from a place of ignorance. One is crowd control, the other is martial law. It’s not good that policing in general and crowd control in particular is militarized to the degree that it is – indeed, it’s very bad – but there is a huge and meaningful difference between even militarized riot police trained for riot control operations engaging in riot control operations under lax rules of engagement, and untrained military personnel attacking civilians – or even untrained military personnel engaging in crowd control. Conflating the two situations is far enough beyond reasonable rhetorical oversight that it should be taken a priori as a sign of conscious bad faith.

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jack lecou 12.06.19 at 4:42 pm

Jack lecou, if even a tiny minority of blm protesters were hunting white girls in the streets and setting white day laborers on fire most of the ordinary people involved would have backed out long ago.

Again: assuming facts not in evidence, and not really responsive.

If people are facing perceived injustice — with disruption and protest their only apparent avenue for redress — what makes you think they’re just going to shrug their shoulders and go home as soon as a few people on the fringes go too far? What makes you think that giving up at that point is even the right thing to do?

(And do you have even one example of that actually happening? A mass movement that has backed off and gone home, not because they won concessions, or were finally beaten into submission, but because people read the news and decided they were personally appalled by the excesses of a few, so whatever they were hitherto passionately fighting for wasn’t really that important after all?)

Also: the fact that the protesters in HK appear to be mostly sticking with it is actually interesting in and of itself.

A few people upthread have agreed that this sort of violence would make them “question their involvement”. Which is fine (and correct) so far as it goes. I think it’s fair to assume that the HK protesters (and anyone else in a similar situation) are probably asking themselves questions about their involvement on a more or less continuous basis: “does this movement still align with my principles?”, “is marching today worth my fear of catching a police bean bag in the eye?”, etc. They wouldn’t be human if they weren’t.

But that’s only half the process. Once you’ve asked the question, the next step is to actually answer it. And the answer they — the people best in a position to know what the movement is really about, at least to them — apparently keep coming up with is “yes”.

So, is that because they’re all racist, homicidal maniacs? Or is it because they think the movement is just and necessary? It appears you think it’s the former, but I’m not really convinced you’ve eliminated the latter possibility. For one, if they were all racist maniacs, you’d expect a bit more of that to leak out in their official aims and statements, no?

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jack lecou 12.06.19 at 4:52 pm

Political aims such as disenfranchising residents of specific townships and counties when 420 years of discrimination in land ownership and housing have resulted in specific racial groups being congregated in those zones. That the zones disenfranchised happen to be a bit dark at night, if you know what I mean. Heh is just a coincidence and no evidence of racial political aims. All quite legitimate in fact.

Well, that certainly is a great example of illegitimate, racist aims.

I’m not sure what that has to do with the legitimate aims I was writing about though. (Are you implying that independent police oversight, or a universal franchise for HK legislative council elections are somehow crypto-racist proposals? If so, please elaborate — I definitely missed a subtlety somewhere.)

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faustusnotes 12.07.19 at 8:24 am

Jack, the demonstrators have gone from being able to muster 1.5 million people on a weekend to a maximum of 15,000. At PolyU the final rioters were barely able to muster a couple of hundred people to come and help them escape, and aside from their parents nobody was interfering with the police. Had they still held the attention of the popular movement they sprung out of the police would never have been able to get near the university to arrest them. The schoolkids trapped in Poly U were saved by their headteacher, not by any popular movement. The movement bled support as soon as it turned violent. That’s what should happen!

You see all the time in western protest movements that people make decisions about who they want associated with the movement and what to do about it. If they know there’s a risk of e.g. black bloc disruption that they don’t want, they set up marshalls and methods. Even then it happens and they get smeared with the same brush. But these demonstrators haven’t bothered to take any effort to stop the violence or to condemn it (see HK Resident above for examples!)

Would you, jack lecou, stick around in a movement whose members were committing racist violence openly in the name of your movement?

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