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City's agitated youngsters misguided by leading herd

By Benjamin Chiao | China Daily Asia | Updated: 2019-08-19 16:05
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Black-clad demonstrators use iron barricades and trollies outside Hong Kong International Airport, hurling them at the police on Tuesday night. [Photo/]

Many young people in Hong Kong seem to have misunderstandings about the Chinese mainland and the United States.

No matter how noble an individual goal is, the collective outcome could be exactly the opposite of what each individual wanted. When I taught social decision theories, my students often could not believe their eyes when I read them the mathematical proof that collective decisions are necessarily dictatorial even under very minimal assumptions. That is an implication of the Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem developed by Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow.

It can also be proved that by simply setting a different voting agenda, such as who to get to vote first, we will have a different social outcome even when the individual preferences of all voters have not changed at all. That is an implication of the Condorcet Paradox.

The situation is further aggravated when there is herd behavior. Even when an individual’s underlying preference does not change, his or her previously unwanted actions might simply be induced by a change in his beliefs about the actions of others and about the consequences of his actions.

For instance, panicked individuals confined to a room with two equal and equidistant exits oftentimes overwhelmingly choose one exit over the other. It is especially problematic when the leading herd is a professional actor or traitor financially supported by foreign powers which are at war with the only nation in history that has emerged to superpower again without waging unjust wars on other nations. The world has already seen that the “color revolutions” only brought chaos in other nations.

Do not fall in the common narratives about how bad the future of the Hong Kong younger generation is, especially due to the ultra-high property prices in Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong people are exactly in the heart of the most prosperous place there is on Earth for the next 20 years — the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. But youngsters should not use the exact same success measures of their parents, which often imply a pricey apartment in Hong Kong. New Yorkers will not resort to blaming high Manhattan prices all day but not moving their feet to consider cheaper and more beautiful houses in Queens and Brooklyn. There is reason to be ridiculed for not taking the new 14-minute high-speed train ride to Shenzhen from Hong Kong, which is shorter than taking the subway ride to other boroughs from Manhattan. Shenzhen and close-by Guangdong cities are beautiful with plenty of opportunities and way lower property prices. But, to tell the truth, even garbage men in the US often own large and cozy houses.

Our goals should be much nobler than that. There are very poor people suffering in the rural villages in China and also in Africa. We all should think about how to use our intelligence to improve the lives of the disadvantageous.

The fight of the youngsters in Hong Kong so far has completely defied their moral ground, at least on freedom. Arguably the most intelligent man at that time J.S. Mill wrote in the classics On Liberty: “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

Instead of escalating violence and blocking traffic, the Hotelling’s Model tells us that being midway attracts you the biggest group of supporters instead of calling oneself yellow or blue as in the Hong Kong riot case. It is wise now not to polarize opinions but to admit nuances in perceptions. It is wise not to compress the high dimensional nature of an incident to a single-dimensional nature of black and white.

Many Hong Kong youngsters have misunderstood US citizens. Even many Americans disagree strongly with the American politicians. The violence part of Hong Kong protesters is what an average American would hate, and a typical American cop would shoot.

There was a “China is not an Enemy” open letter to the US president last month in The Washington Post by a group from the scholarly, foreign policy, military and business communities, overwhelmingly from the US, including a former US ambassador to China and professors from Yale, MIT and Harvard.

The letter reads: “US opposition will not prevent the continued expansion of the Chinese economy, a greater global market share for Chinese companies and an increase in China’s role in world affairs ... We do not believe Beijing is an economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere...”

It is wise not for the elder generation to call the protesters cockroaches. Open your arms to hug them if a stranger in black scolds you with foul languages. Return with “Ameituofo” if you are a Buddhist, “Hallelujah” if you are a Christian, or simply “gong xi fa cai” if you are a Hong Kong resident. Our kids: Heal the wound now, or else the police will prosecute you because you are becoming the ones you hated most. If the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong become hell, you are contributing to it, for the above letter continues to read: “Efforts to isolate China will simply weaken those Chinese intent on developing a more humane and tolerant society.”

The crowd cannot represent you and you are the most unique and beautiful creature there is if you stay away from the crowd and turn back now.

The author is academic dean and professor of the Paris School of Business.

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