Thursday, March 03, 2022

27. Conversations About the Book "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems': Chapter 26 (Sunday, May 31, 2020) The "Four Great Errors" and the Stratagems of Meaning Making.

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 “言有尽而意无穷” [Words and meanings are endless]. 

From the run up to the book launch of 13 July 2021, the folks at Little Sir Press organized a series of short conversations about my new book, "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems'." We continue with that series here.

About the Book: Hong Kong Between “One Country” and “Two Systems” examines the battle of ideas that started with the June 2019 anti-extradition law protests and ended with the enactment of the National Security and National Anthem Laws a year later. At the center of these battles was the “One Country, Two Systems” principle. By June 2020, the meaning of that principle was highly contested, with Chinese authorities taking decisive steps to implement their own understanding of the principle and its normative foundations , and the international community taking countermeasures. All of this occurred well before the 2047 end of the 1985 Sino-British Joint Declaration (中英联合声明) that had been the blueprint for the return of Hong Kong to China. Between these events, global actors battled for control of the narrative and of the meaning of the governing principles that were meant to frame the scope and character of Hong Kong’s autonomy within China. The book critically examines the conflict of words between Hong Kong protesters, the Chinese central and local authorities, and important elements of the international community. This decisive discursive contest paralleled the fighting for control of the streets and that pitted protesters and the international community that supported them against the central authorities of China and Hong Kong local authorities. In the end the Chinese central authorities largely prevailed in the discursive realm as well as on the streets. Their victory was aided, in part by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. But their triumph also produced the seeds of a new and potentially stronger international constitutional discourse that may reduce the magnitude and scope of that success. These essays were written as the events unfolded. Together the essays analytically chronicle the discursive battles that were fought, won and lost, between June 2019 and June 2020. Without an underlying political or polemical agenda, the essays retain the freshness of the moment, reflecting the uncertainties of the time as events unfolded. What was won on the streets of Hong Kong from June to December 2019, the public and physical manifestation of a principled internationalist and liberal democratic narrative of self-determination, and of civil and political rights, was lost by June 2020 within a cage of authoritative legality legitimated through the resurgence of the normative authority of the state and the application of a strong and coherent expression of the principled narrative of its Marxist-Leninist constitutional order. Ironically enough, both political ideologies emerged stronger and more coherent from the conflict, each now better prepared for the next.

The book may be purchased through AMAZON (kindle and paperback), book information including free chapters and the access to all video conversations HERE.

I am delighted, then, to make available the next in the series of video recordings of conversations about the book with my former research assistant Matthew McQuilla (Penn State International Affairs MIA 2021). Today we discuss Chapter 26 (Sunday, May 31, 2020) The "Four Great Errors" and the Stratagems of Meaning Making.

This is a stock taking chapter. We have come almost full circle from the exuberance of the start of the protests in early June 2019, to the announcement of the enactment, and soon, the vigorous enforcement, of a more direct oversight of Hong Kong by the central authorities in the form of a new regulatory superstructure. Across the arc of the development all of the principal actors deployed against each other quite potent discursive elements that in retrospect now begin to show the power of error as both a positive and negative tool in the (re)construction of a governing narrative for the management of collectives and in the structuring of inter-collective relations. 

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For that stocktaking I use the analytical framework developed by Friedrich Nietzsche, who quite famously spoke to the four great errors of causation: (1) The error of confusing cause and consequence; (2) The error of a false causality; (3) The error of imaginary causes; and (4) The error of free will. These are the errors on which the entirety of a rationalized weltanschauung may be built. Yet that is the point--the ‘Four Great Errors’ may be best understood as the Four Great Stratagems of collective organization. The errors remind one that collective reality is based on shared meaning, and on the power to create and maintain that meaning. They also suggest a baseline error on which the other four are revealed: The greatest error, then may be an indulgence of a belief the objectivity of causality removed from the ideological process of collective meaning making. That fatal error suggests the fundamental importance of the error (indulgence) in the belief in free will  context in which will is a commodity  the management of which is a prize sought by virtually everyone.

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The situation in Hong Kong suggests the relevance of the insights of the Four Great Errors, as both stratagem and as collective meaning making. But it is meaning making grounded in the inversion at the heart of the Four Great Errors. It is a quite conscious understanding of the malleability of inference, and of the potential for well managed ordering of the binaries that appear at the heart of the errors that seem to drive action and discourse in and around Hong Kong since 2019. The Four Great Errors are at their most useful as a structure of accountability; of stocktaking. Events, especially like those around the situation in Hong Kong, tend to acquire a life of their own. It is a life where officials and the public may feel swept along by events; where it is possible to spin out thrust and counter thrust on the basis of virtually anything but considered contextually based thought. These are the sorts of events in which reality becomes somewhat detached from the principles and objectives that themselves are reconstituted as "things"--with a life of their own whose satisfaction must be attained. And, of course, the events in Hong Kong can be telescoped from a granular examination of people in Hong Kong to the relationship of those events as interconnected with everything around which the Chinese and Americans now battle for the constitution of shared space. Hong Kong, then, becomes the center of a calculus of global finance (and dollar versus yuan internationalization); of the meaning and making of sovereignty in China even as it is remade elsewhere on quite different foundations; on trade and trade systems; and on the construction from out of a thousand places like Hong Kong of new imperial orders.

But the analysis is equally useful in the context of other great conflicts in which the field of discursive battle is every bit as important as what occurs on the ground. The situation around the Russian invasion of Ukraine provides fertile ground for the analytics of error and its strategic use in discursive conflict.  Along with that the ever present danger of being trapped in and by error oneself.  See essays in Russia-Ukraine2022.


The video of the conversation about Chapter 26 may be accessed HERE.

All conversations are posted to the Coalition for Peace & Ethics YouTube page and may be found on its Playlist: Talking About the Book: "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems'." All conversation videos are hosted by Little Sir Press. I hope you find the conversation of some use. 
A pre-publication version of some of the book chapters may be accessed (free) on the Book's webpage (here). All videos may also be accessed through the Little Sir Press Book Website HERE.

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