A Normcore Manifesto: Introduction

If there was a ‘Peak Comparativist’ time, as measured by influence and traffic, it was in 2014 as we headed into the White Paper, the electoral ‘reform’ proposal, and eventually the Umbrella Movement/Occupy. During and after Occupy, though, I have taken a less partisan and more analytical framework. I have tried to describe the dynamics as I see them even as the political scene fragmented and the stakes have become higher. I predicted the rise of Localism in the immediate aftermath of the failure of Occupy, I surveyed the ‘Post-Occupy Landscape,’ and explained what I saw firsthand at the ‘Fishball Revolution.’

As much as possible, I have kept this website out of the fray in saying where the democracy movement should go, what strategies and tactics should be used, and what person or group should now carry the torch. One reason is that I am, apparently, a “left plastic” and those with my opinions and beliefs ‘lost’ the debate by failing to achieve any concessions with Occupy. Though I disagreed with how this criterion for success was being used, I was sympathetic to the argument that it was time to let other voices, with different tactics and messages, have their turn.

I am neither ‘yungmo’ or Localist, but I am open-minded towards new approaches so long they do not contravene core values. I stayed away from the anti-parallel trading protests because I was disgusted with some of the bigoted language and messaging that was widely tolerated. I joined Localists and independence activists in their protest of the Beijing ‘interpretation’ because, on that issue and in that moment, we shared a common cause in fighting Hong Kong’s rule of law.

My mind is changing, though, as I witness the closing of the Hong Kong mind. As many friends (online and otherwise) linked themselves to the Localism, I saw firsthand some of the worst traits of that movement: insularity, hypersensitivity to criticism, and a detachment from hard truths and political realism. I was recently kicked out of a private political Facebook group for being a ‘crypto-critic,’ for instance. What’s driven me to speak out, though, has been the nearly unanimous condemnation of Chris Patten’s recent comments about the independence movement. The ‘shield boys’ have captured what they despised most during Occupy, the “Main Stage,” and castigate anyone who tries to speak truth to (their) power.

So let me now speak truth to power, those now firmly at the helm of the Hong Kong activist movement. One way of doing this is by going through the various claims that are now considered settled truths. Some of these claims are true; some are exaggerated beyond recognition; some just need more nuancing. Volume 1 of the Normcore Manifesto will address Claim #1, The ‘Left Plastics’ Failed.

Before I conclude this introduction, here’s a short self-test to see whether or not you’re a ‘normcore’ like me:

  • You were deeply inspired by, and likely participated in, the Umbrella Movement.
  • While there might have been a few days or weeks where you got carried away by the moment, you always knew that changing Beijing’s mind was a long-shot. It was worth coming out and making sure your voice was heard.
  • You believe that One Country, Two Systems is imperfect and under threat. But claims that it is ‘dead’ are widely exaggerated.
  • You believe that it’s worth fighting for the version of One Country, Two Systems that existed circa 2000-2007. A time when democratic reforms seemed plausible and when academic and press freedom were at their zenith. Maybe you remember reading the South China Morning Post back when it was a newspaper worth reading and working for.
  • You believe one of the most pressing immediate threats to Hong Kong’s civil liberties is Article 23 legislation.
  • You believe that some factions of the Localist movement are troubling and are likely setting the larger goal of democratizing Hong Kong back.
  • You think that intentionally provoking 6/4 in Hong Kong or draconian security laws is a disgustingly bad idea.
  • You might empathize with the idea of an independent Hong Kong, you believe that (a) it’s so unlikely that it barely warrants a debate, (b) you’re not convinced that those leading the charge would be any more democratic or pluralistic as our current political class, and/or (c) those leading the charge are politically incompetent.
  • You hold deeply antagonistic views towards the Communist Party of China, yet recognize that no one has ever lost a bet predicting that claims of their imminent death are greatly exaggerated.
  • You too have sensed, or experienced, a ‘closing’ of the Hong Kong mind. Those who were with you during Occupy are now hypersensitive to criticism and unwilling to engage in honest debate.

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