Under the umbrella


A reflection on the Umbrella Revolution (2014) on its first anniversary

706 words · 4 min read

I. Memory and cognition

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”—Milan Kundera

I will always admit that I have a memory far better than I like, in a sense that I remember things so well that sometimes it hurts. But no matter how well someone or something was once etched onto the slate, time made those markings fade, either because something new was etched on it, or the markings became shallower after years and years of exposed in the elements, and some of them will eventually become invisible. In the end, you will forget the face of someone that you have not seen for years, even though you once tried very hard to forget that face.

All authoritarian regimes are alike in that Orwellian way: doctoring photos, falsifying facts, glorifying lies, inciting senseless patriotism. We will probably find ourselves confronted by people who remember a totally different version of the event, and they will tell us very persuasively that their version is right, and ours is not. Facts do not change, but people who remember those facts do, sometimes in ways that surprise you. The future struggle, indeed, is a struggle of memory against forgetting. But it is also a struggle of independent thinking against herd mentality, a struggle of true conscience against bent morality, and a struggle of common sense against contrived intellectualism.

Perhaps we have already forgotten the face of the stranger who sat next to us on the concrete road divider, but the memory of the struggle and the struggle itself has only just begun.

II. Magic mirror and insincere neutrality

The struggle has, unwittingly, become a magic mirror. But this magic mirror does not reveal whether you are pretty.

This struggle has gone beyond taking side in simple political terms: it is not about Tory vs. Labour, Democrats vs. Republicans, or Pro-establishment vs. Anti-establishment. When one side used flawed logic, fictitious events, and organised assault against the other side, when people who have power have gone on to abuse the power, and when people who were expected to protect average citizens have gone on to harm average citizens, this struggle, as a magic mirror, tells us not just whether you are pro-establishment or not, but it also tells us how careful your thinking is, how readily you believe in lies, and how your morality is stacking up against others.

Because of the nature of the struggle, neutrality, it appears, is no longer an available option. In fact, neutrality has become an excuse of the unsuspecting minds to feel content about their contrived intellectualism while slipping unwittingly to the side of the devils, and telling others to put oneself into others’ shoes has become a laughable attempt to claim the moral high ground while descending unknowingly into an amoral wasteland.

III. History and reality

History usually makes judgements long after those being judged have gone into their coffins, with very few exceptions; even a man as unequivocally evil as Hitler is still subject to scholarly examinations and evaluations. For most people whose reputations are less decidedly good or evil, they will only be given their places in history by historians of future generations, and they will never know where they were placed.

For now, however, the person(s) in question are universally loathed, and he is the rare case in which we have already known the verdict future historians will give. Forgive me for using a cliché, but future historians will tell our future generations that the person(s) in question are now on the wrong side of history.

The trouble, of course, is that his being on the wrong side of history means nothing to him, because he may well end up on the right side of reality. Joseph Stalin killed millions of people, and you would think, upon hearing this fact, that he must have been punished by being hanged, or being shot, or perhaps being killed in a revenge. The reality, however, is that he died in his own bed, and quite peacefully, I heard.

History is fair, but reality is not.

(This post was written last year on my old blog, and I am re-posting it here on the first anniversary of the Umbrella Revolution)

 Essays    28 Sep, 2015
 Hong Kong    Politics    Democracy  
Copyright © Peter Y. Chuang 2018

Peter Y. Chuang is a Hong Kong-born novelist and short story writer who’s lived in London and calls Berlin his spiritual home. He has completed the manuscript of a literary science fiction novel, Twenty Forty-Seven,” and is currently re-writing another literary novel, Only You Know What It Means.”

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