I would like to talk about my generation, a generation whose aspirations and discontents have been subject to a good deal of media (mis)representation in recent weeks. We have been told, by political scientists and sociologists alike, that we are symptomatic of a ‘youth problem’. This is a perspective that is shared by those who are sympathetic toward our cause, as well as those who are virulently opposed to us. My generation refuses to accept this consensus- it is a smokescreen that obscures and limits the range of our ambitions. We should remember Plato’s lesson- majority opinion is, more often than not, untruth.
We are all familiar with the situation. Following the unwelcome irruption of illness, the state’s resident physicians have issued a simple prescription. The ailment is not one that afflicts society at large, it can be located in a precise point of the social body. Here is the diagnosis, then: the name of the cancerous tumor is the ‘youth problem’; our resentment is a swollen sore that must be punctured by swift administrative action. Whatever the remedy is, whether it assumes the form of the ‘reality principle’ (the pressing demands imposed upon us as a ‘world city’ by ‘development’) or the benevolent pastorate (misguided lambs must be led back to the fold of society by caring elders), it is clear that this prescription is simultaneously a proscription. The assignation of a name is never innocent. Naming the problem is the first step in vaccinating it- the name is a formal frame which determines, beforehand, the limits of a problem. The name is a method of control and containment.
This is no surprise- Hong Kong functions through the management of flows that do not converge upon, much less communicate with one another. Those of us who did our ‘bitter walk’ around the Chanel and Max Mara boutiques adjacent to Legco are surely familiar with this- while we were prostrate upon the floor, the circuits of high fashion continued to operate above us; shoppers merely stepped over us as though we were negligible obstacles. This symbolic, revelatory image is directly illustrative of our social condition- though we occupy the same physical space, we inhabit different universes, universes that neither intersect nor interact. Marx, of course, had a name for these microcosms- class. It is in the interests of ‘social order’ that these universes are kept apart.
It is characteristic of the state to introduce distinctions and differences, to localize social malaises in a specific segment of society. This is the first axiom of political philosophy, a truth that spans the spectrum from Left to Right, espoused as it is by Plato, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Rousseau and Burke alike- sovereign power must divide the multitude from within, the rule of law institutes territories and demarcations. The indifferent chaos of the ‘mass’ is only governable when it is partitioned and stratified- ‘society’ is nothing other than an aggregate of particular, namable identities, each of which can be subject to objective analysis. In this way, social science, in cooperation with the media, becomes an analytical instrument in service of the state. Having identified its object of study- the youth- the state’s resident experts mobilize a gamut of statistics and images to convince us that we have nothing to fear, that the ardors and passions exhibited throughout the protests are readily explicable. Genealogy and historiography situate the Post-‘80s group in the context of local activism at large, showing us that today’s youth are a mere facsimile, a repetition of prior struggles. Sociologists and journalists love to tell stories; nothing pleases them more than the unbroken continuity of historical narrative. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. What does all this signify?
A brief review of the media’s tactics thus far are in order here- the ubiquity of Christina Chan in the local press, a visibility that has transformed her into a sex symbol of sorts, would have us believe that the ‘youth problem’ is synonymous with boredom and libertinism. Explosive desires are explained away through classical sociological categories- the youth are acutely afflicted with anomie and alienation. We are supposed to be a generation that believes in nothing, that valorizes revolt and destruction for its own sake. It is suggested that we our idealism is coextensive with our dislocation, that the events of last weekend were a mere rehearsal of a classical scenario- the age-old ‘generation gap’. This gulf between the young (whose hormonal imbalances impel them to insurrection) and the old (placated by the passage of time) is a constant of the human condition, a customary rite of passage in world history. This is an ancient problem, with an ancient solution- this eternal conflict must be resolved at a higher level, through the objectivity of the State. Parliament is the name of objectivity and reconciliation, the ageless, sexless judge that legislates over the familial strife of father and son, mother and daughter. In short, the State surveys us with the beneficent, trans-human eye of God.
Yet to resign ourselves to this is to consign the events of last weekend to the realm of myth. I insist that our struggles constitute an event, the singularity of which cannot be collapsed into sociological or psychoanalytic categories. To be succinct, we refuse to be Oedipalized, to acknowledge the futility of our frustrated desire, the reality principle of Mama, Papa and their statist surrogates. We are assuredly not hippies, and we are neither interested in ‘repression’ nor ‘liberation’. It is evident that the press wants to sexualize us, to brand us with the hallmarks of scandal and rebellion- the eroticization of Christina Chan’s image and the media’s preoccupation with her supposed ‘hedonism’ are efforts to reduce our desires to so many expressions of an unruly libido. Yes, yes, it’s the same old story- steeped in the ennui of decadence and conspicuous consumption, the youth of today are eager for new pleasures, sensational upheavals and conflagrations that will reduce civilization to ashes. In accepting the Oedipus complex, we sanction a biological explanation for youthful iconoclasm- boys and girls will revolt against their seniors; that’s a fact of life. If this enmity is genetically encoded, then the paternal institution of the State must attempt to transcend its own patriarchal tendencies in an attempt to address its children on their terms- thus Donald Tsang’s suggestion that the government should engage with its youth on cyberspace. As a pastoral agency, the ministry of youth ushers its errant lambs through the tempests of infancy, leading them to the placid fields of castration.
All of this is not true. Things are not at all like that. We should be bold enough to see that the mask of Oedipus is a smokescreen that must be shattered, if we are to recognize the profound implications that our struggles have for Hong Kong at large. Politics requires us to take our leave from the theatre of tragedy, the endless re-enactment of the familial scene. We would like to be clear. When we skirmished with policemen on the 16th of January, we certainly did not do so as angry young boys and girls. When we demanded an audience with state servants, we were not sublimating our hatred for our parents. We may be Promethean, but we are certainly not Oedipal. This is because there is something that is even older than the myth of Oedipus- the primordial equality of all. Every inequality is secondary, structural and contingent, subsisting upon a foundation of equality- the Master can never be secure from his fear that the Slave is always capable of unsettling and reversing the precarious bond of hierarchy. When every inequality dissolves, we stand face to face as fellow citizens.
So, it is imperative that we explain who we are, lest we submit to state censorship and media ventriloquization. We are not the ‘young’, we are not psychosomatic symptoms, we are not figures of myth, abstract emblems of social contradiction. If we pledge allegiance to a certain heritage, it is not that of Freud, but that of the French Revolution- we are citizens. The inalienable right that we invoke is that of the people, a common and universal right that cuts beneath every objective classification. Solidarity has no regard for identity; egalitarianism effaces every margin that divides us from one another. This is precisely why our revolt is formally addressed to everyone without restriction, why our appeal is an invitation to every citizen insofar as they recognize themselves in it. The policemen are not our immediate adversaries, because our demand goes beneath and beyond them, it lays claim to a commonality that we share between us. This was our implacable cry when we sat behind the barricades: citizens are welcome; take off your uniforms and join us, policemen!
What does this universality mean? Statesmen, entrapped within the confines of parliamentary logic, have mistaken the problem entirely. Instead of confronting the limits of this logic, they insist that it is the only means by which antagonistic interests can be arbitrated upon. They say that we want representation in the cabinet; that we wish to install an emissary in the government who will embody our interests. Another professional spokesperson, a participant in the interminable debates and discussions that comprise parliamentary deliberation. No, the problem does not lie in representation. It should be obvious that there is no deficit in representation, there is a surplus of it. We are overexposed as young men and women; everybody wants to offer a consolatory word, to lend a nurturing hand, to calm the clamor of adolescence. This is all very kind, but pardon us if we decline. The fists that toppled the frontiers erected by the state, the hands that tore through the barriers enforced by its functionaries were not the hands of impetuous delinquents, they were bodies consecrated to an idea of justice. This justice cannot be obscured and dismissed by reference to a classical schema, by assigning it a limit. We constitute the threshold beyond which sociology cannot go, a zone in which a primary truth is revealed- the inchoate indifferentiation of the mass, the failure of every classificatory distinction. Yet, as we have shown, the mass is not a headless monstrosity stumbling haplessly through an impenetrable ignorance. The mass can make decisions, the mass can act in concert without the direction of a transcendent authority. In situations of risk, it consults nothing but its own initiative. In a certain regard, we are in absolute agreement with the state and its functionaries. This is certainly a matter of ‘us versus them’. It is also on this point that we differ- every delimitation of this ‘us’, an ‘us’ which denotes nothing other than a continuous process of constitution, amounts to nothing less than an ideological mystification.
To close, let us probe the contours of a remarkable paradox: our generation claims a large share of the responsibility for the anti-railway protests, but we are not a youth movement. If our voices and our bodies symbolize anything, it is not the tumultuous drama of pubescence, but a collective aspiration for a new world. You are certainly right to suggest that you have a problem, but the vocabulary that you have developed to evaluate it is woefully inadequate. There is no ‘youth problem’. Ignore this at your own peril.