What is so remarkable about Hong Kong isn’t the huge potentially tragic problem it poses for the Chinese Government in the shadow of Tiananmen. This might be the emerging western narrative but in that story no one will question where is the dissent in the west.
As a student of history I am struck by how successful governments in the west have been in creating orderly society, especially over the last hundred years or so. I am definitely curious about how this has happened and it seems that a simple explanation might be at hand, so-called western prosperity.
The idea is this, it seems likely that the price of dissent free orderly society in the west has been the carrot of achievable personal comfort, if not relative affluence. Consider what we enjoy in the west, electricity, communications, transport, public health, shelter, clean water and possibly most telling, abundant food.
Certainly these things are not evenly spread around, that would be communism, but it is significant that these general social conditions form part of an unspoken social pact between the governed and the government. Democracy is supposed to enable this process but my cynical view is that democracy is not the vehicle that enables socially beneficial self government in the sense that Derrida was fond of. Rather it seems that democracy is merely a vaneer, painted a different colour from time to time that hides the real decision makers and their decisions from public scrutiny.
A sample of today’s news illustrates the point. Two “issues” currently doing the rounds in the media are the new spy laws and the budget emergency. These are not unrelated issues although they appear to be dissimilar, one a question of personal liberty and the other a question of economics. I think both of these issues are but two sides of the same coin.
The justification for the new surveillance laws is as hysterical as it is unfounded in logic or practical experience. No one has died from a so-called terrorist attack in this country since the 1970’s. The existential threat to everyday Australians is close to zero. Furthermore the police operations currently underway are taking place within the existing legal framework. The question then arrises, what about the future, remembering that the label of terrorism is a bit like the label of witch. The terrorist is defined as so alien to the us that we are justified in taking whatever course of action is deemed necessary to remove their threat, no matter how these things are in a more objective sense. In other words there is no logic to the terrorist question, rather its premise is irrational fear or hatred. This situation or definition is easy to reappropriate, just as in previous times heretics or witches were called out by representatives of the prevailing order. If you are wating to see how this might evolve consider how easily the idea of eco-terrorist has entered into the lexicon.
The other side of the coin is economic, or simply wealth. The 1% problem is hardly new but the success of the neoliberal agenda has seen the an exponential growth in the magnitude of inequity to the point where we are almost approaching feudal conditions. The so-called budget emergency concocted by the current fascist government of Mr Abbott is simply a statement of economic fact, government spending on the things that comprise the social pact is relatively stable but the amount of money coming into the government in the from of tax receipts has suddenly declined. Why? Because those that can have massively started to avoid paying taxes. This governments response has been informative, social spending has been cut, the office that polices taxes has been gutted whereas the muscular arm of state violence has been flexed with talk of war abroad as well as the extension of the all seeing eye.
The point of this rather long winded little rant is this. Dissent Hong Kong style has been bought of fofr a time here in the west but the cost of doing so has apparently become less attractive to the 1% who are busy withdrawing their financial support of social democracy while simultaneously securing their position from dissent with increased police powers. These two directions speak to our future, one which might bear more resemblance with what takes place in Hong Kong than what we are led to believe.