Carl Trueman has an interesting blog post where he discusses why young people in the UK, and media in general, are more exercised about the death of George Floyd than what is going on in Hong Kong. He suggests that it comes down to current negative perceptions of democracy in an era of identity chaos:
I suggest that this is the result of two complementary cultural pathologies, both with rather worrying implications. First, the issue with Hong Kong lacks cultural appeal because it involves the importance of democratic freedoms—and democracy is increasingly seen by the burn-it-to-the-ground right and left (Exhibits A and B: Trump and Sanders) as part of the problem, not the solution. Fighting for democracy in the West is simply not as trendy as it was in the days of the Cold War. Now we take democratic freedoms for granted even as we decry the components of democratic culture—e.g., freedom of speech, freedom of religion, respectful civility toward those who disagree with us—as oppressive instruments of privilege.
Related to this, identity has become the most important factor in contemporary politics. Strange to tell, it was only a month ago that the nightly news was seasoned with inspiring stories of communities coming together in countless acts of kindness toward the vulnerable and needy in their midst in the face of COVID-19. The identity chaos of recent years seemed suddenly to have vanished. How naïve and paper-thin that renewed community now seems. In a world where the traditional anchors of identity—nation, family, religion, place, geographical community—have been attenuated or redefined virtually out of existence, personal freedom and self-determination have become gods. And fighting for such has given a rootless generation a cause in which to believe and find meaning.
In a context where democratic freedom is seen as part of the problem and identity is about self-assertion, then democracy and its concomitant institutions will seem a failed deity, a fallen idol, an impediment to freedom rather than its necessary facilitator. And in that situation, police brutality in Minneapolis will speak more powerfully to people in Portsmouth than will state-sanctioned violence in Hong Kong. The aesthetic imagination that shapes the public performance of political values in the West is now gripped more by the aspirational freedom of individual identity than by the actual liberty of liberal democracy.
I agree that the fight for democracy is less trendy now. If the protestors in Hong Kong were being targeted because they are fighting against climate change they would get more media and public traction. That said, I think the bigger reason why Hong Kong is seen as a non-issue comes down to the fact that the George Floyd issue is an exercise in moral ‘white guilt’ whilst the Hong Kong issue is not.
Yes, it is true that the U.K. shares some blame in what is going on in Hong Kong by turning a blind eye to many of the wrong things the Chinese government is doing. We also know the U.K. has been behaving this way because in a post-Brexit world it feels unable to challenge China on many issues. It desperately needs those bilateral trade deals! But that share in blame is not sufficient to get the media and public to take the issue seriously enough because of another factor at work : the new collective feeling of “white guilt”.
The hands off approach to Hong Kong is precisely what the “anti-white supremacy” crowd led by BLM and others want. The idea of Britain intervening in Hong Kong indirectly or through other pressures is frowned upon because that would be interpreted as “whiteness” exerting its supremacy again in the guise of being global moral guardians. In line with this, any criticism of China is seen as an expression of white supremacy. It is not simply that a choice is being made to side with one issue over another, it is that the very logic of the BLM and their media sympathisers requires ceding moral authority in situations in which the perpetrators of injustice are non-white. We should expect more Hong Kong situations to occur with West unable to do anything about it.
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