Liberal’s cognitive bias
A few days ago I was engaged into an online extemporaneous polemic with a highly respectable Chinese professor in Hong Kong that has tremendous accomplishments in the field of life science. Aside from his great achievement in science, this professor also exerts great interest in politics and has always been a firm advocate for democracy in Hong Kong. Like most of strong liberals in Hong Kong, their view of democracy has specifically meanings, that is to vote and to be voted, more precisely, the universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. They have always been the forefront in waging populist protests and decrying most of policies and measures from the Hong Kong SAR government, a puppet of totalitarian Beijing authority and local capitalist moguls as they perceive. It is unsurprising that a strong liberal like this professor would also be very critical and even bigoted towards the mainland Chinese society and government in particular. Long story short, the debate started when he was accusing China with an unverified seemingly highly unreliable viral message regarding the current bullet train collision in China on the internet. In the beginning we were only focusing on the authenticity of the information and the responsibility and credibility of information propagation. It all of sudden escalated into a very intensive argument on the subject of democracy itself and of course, China. In order to stay strictly objective and fair in this article, and most important to make my article as authentic and genuine as possible,I will not give any further arguments in this article to analyze who’s right or wrong or who’s making more sense than the other. Instead, I am simply posting the original dialogue between me and him. I believe you as objective observers definitely have enough commonsense to make the judgement yourselves, and could reflect on why I chose this title for this article.
Here is the original conversation log:
starting with the professor posting the demagogic viral message that claimed “a riot after they found 300+ corpses from the train collision” (with all major Chinese and Western media reporting the casualties of 39) with the comment that “Chinese government is way too cold-blooded and anti-humane”
ME: it’s better to go through triangulation to confirm the authenticity of such viral message
Prof:. t.s.e (my real name, replaced as t.s.e. here), in mainland, there is no TRUTH under the one party leadership…rather believe no riot because the govt can crack it down immediately !!False is real and real is false in mainland and so i dont want to debate with you..it really does not matter. …if you don’t think there is a riot that’s fine, do you think by my spreading of such message a riot would happen?/ Who cares? In mainland, a human live is like an ant !!
ME: I absolutely understand your infuriation over the train crash and the reactions of the government. The same here. Freedom of press is always a mirage in China, that’s why I never read from Mainland news sites. I always try to rationalize my opinions based on confirmed facts and logic speculations. That’s why I disapprove such sketchy hearsay around the internet. One thing we could see is that the government is improving its publicity skills and reactions to such impromptu societal events, but that’s nowhere near acceptable level still. Riot or not, one could only speculate at this point, I’d rather wait for more solid proof to exert my opinions on it later. Right now what I care the most is how to prevent such incidents from happening again in China rather than how government repress people of free will. I don’t think there’s a strong ideology that drives the gov’t to ferociously confine its people other than retaining in power. However, it is the means this gov’t adopts to retain its authority is out-of-fashion and clumsy. In mainland, as mentioned in the article I provided above, the society is highly impetuous, wherein money is placed the highest value over all other matters. I deem that as the ultimate cause for such horrible tragedies in China. For the very same reason, people in China are way more pragmatic than others, therefore giving a possible space for such lousy governance. Hong Kong should not be unfamiliar with that. Functional democracy (ones in the West) is based on the existence of a well educated and enlightened majority, not by a democratic political system itself. I don’t think China is anywhere remotely near democracy.
Prof: T.S.E, this is totally wrong to think that only educated people can have democracy !! In 1930′s, communist party in CHina had full democracy…Democracy is a human right !!
ME: by educated people I am referring to a well-enlightened majority that could support a well-functioning democracy. Flaws emerge when democracy implies on people who have little sense of its basic doctrines. The situation in India is the best example. in 1930 communist party appears to have democracy on a small group of communists and its supporters, and CCP was NOT in power that time. To them democracy would be a new fancy tool to attract intellectuals frustrated by KMT’s totalitarianism and peasants in poverty. Freedom is a human right, democracy needs societal and mental pre-conditions to enforce and reinforce. Projecting a political system that’s highly developed based on a much higher level society will not bring prosperity for a society that is nowhere near ready for it. The only way to ensure a functional democracy system is through education and natural accumulation of economic and technological capital itself.
Prof: is this a good excuse to ignore basic human needs and become dictatorship?? No way. Your mind set is basically a dictator’s mind set. Hopeless.
ME: This is not excuse, it’s a piece of inconvenient fact. One brutal example: elections have been tried in selected villages in more developed region in China. It was deemed an experiment by the gov’t, but brutally failed when vote buying stepped in and screwed up everything, exactly what happened to democracy in Thailand. Truth is, a suitable political system is determined objectively the socio-economic development of the society itself. There is no good or bad in political system, only the fit or unfit ones. This is exactly the argument when modern democracy was first created in Europe. Read the The Social Contract by Rousseau. I am simply reflecting the reasonable facts. Free election will only become a basic human needs when people truly realize the value of democracy. My mindset is based on logic reasoning, and I am not bashing democracy, I do think it’s a much more sophisticated and effective political system, but it has its preconditions and limitations that determine it is not desirable at least in nowadays China
Prof: I have heard many easy reasons not to have democracy in china, none of them is a good reasons except to let communist party rule and keep the hard liner’ ruling such that their power and benefits or advantages over regular citizens forever!
ME: I’d like to see the downfall of communists in China as well. Regular citizens seem to woo that idea for sure. But then I will never be back to China again, coz I could feel what regular citizens feel and once seemingly defend for the CCP one time by accident on facebook. Oh wait, I wasn’t planning to go back anyway, CCP would still bust my ass for I have criticized them over many times. Democracy? Nah, I want my freedom but politicians are all hideous clowns. I’d go to Singapore probably…
Prof: In your blood, you liked to be controlled and so I am speechless
ME: Let’s blame it on the blood. I am indeed very submissive, I could never challenge the international standards and universal principles, I’d rather be Kunlun Nu than a deriding heretic, If that’s the price of being a realist. I was engaging a pure political discussion with logic reasoning and rational analysis. Your sentimental trajectory really upsets me. I do not deserve such outcry. I was simply questioning the essential logic of your contention “democracy is the basic human needs”. I would rather be willing be convinced with rational reasoning with objective facts than emotional response of right or wrong. I am just a person who likes to question a bit more than many others. I don’t think I am hopeless.
Prof: Your concept is totally wrong, democracy is a human right by international standard! Like it or not, it is a basic right to vote and to be voted.
ME: That doesn’t sound a logic explanation to me. Democracy is definitely not an international standard. As far I concern it’s a political system that works on some places and doesn’t seem to work much on other places. Why is democracy a basic human right then? To the same argument I should tell you “like it or not China is never going to get democracy, ‘international standard’ never applies on China..”, but it doesn’t sound convincing, does it? Either way, I will drop the discussion for the time being, as apparently you are unable to rationalize behind “Democracy as universal standard and human rights” at the moment. If you found my comments too shallow and ignorant, enlighten me, or maybe you could provide me with some good articles that I could get convinced by that idea.
Prof: simple, in your mind, you are superior than others and so some people’s rights could be ignored. your mind set is like a dictator’ s mind set and perhaps over the years you grew up in mainland you have already got those idea that democracy is not good for china, looking over all other countries, even they have democracy they can do manage themselve, democracy may not be the best political system but at leadt it is a fair system and i have to keep sying that democracy is basic human right.
ME: First of all, I was never putting myself in the realm of democracy discussion. I am purely regarding it as a political concept and philosophical treatise for logic argumentation. There’s no black and white here. I could give you tons of examples that democracy might have negative impacts on people that are imposed upon instead of embracing themselves. I am a realist that listen to rational reasoning and logic analysis. I left China when I was 17 and frankly I developed most of my cognitive system based on years of exploring different countries one after another and tons of intellectual reading. I care way more about the humanity than myself. However, the same argument I could impose on you: how do you know China is suitable for democracy when you never have the experience of everyday life there? As far as I concern, vote or to be voted are not the basic needs for the people in China at the moment. Political chaos is what it could bring and anyone with common sense would foresee that happening. And there would be absolutely no benefits to the normal people at all. Personal freedom is what normal Chinese deserves at the moment. People are not born equal, and exactly because of that, the best political system must be customized according to the variety of different society. The only difference is that you religiously believe in democracy as a divine doctrine whereas I see it as a mortal conception. If you really think people’s rights are the most important things in a society, you’d be more socialist than a democrat. Of course my arguments would not be strong enough shake your faith, as I mentioned before, everyone has certain level of cognitive bias. But I see rational reasoning as a possible bridge to at least ignite some intellectual discussion here. That would be the attitude for such debate rather than projecting philosophical contentions as if it were physical theorem. Having said, I still have high level of respect for you, since you are even willing to exchange ideas to me in the first place. However, I have to say, personal attack and emotional outcry are for politics, not political discussion between two intellectual individuals.
Prof: I do not have any emotional outcry , still an intellectual debate and i believe that all humans are created equal and thus democracy is a basic human right. In China, there is no personal freedom at al, no justice, people are not born equal but it does not mean than we cannot be treated equal. Mainland chinese officials are doing everything against the ideology as a socialist and they are just dictators, that is my conclusion. And they are using all the excuses like you have to say that democracy does not fit Chinese.
ME: You are being unreasonable here. “All humans are created equal and thus democracy is a basic human right” is a not a mere assertion that is not even a logic cause-effect. You still try to label me as mainland Chinese over anything else, and therefore uncompromisingly link my realistic and logic point of view to the Chinese government’s propaganda. I take as you have never personally challenged the concept of democracy in the first place and questioned the rationale behind the statement such as “democracy is basic human need and people are created equally”. My hope is that you could read more about the concept of democracy and develop an absolute logic explanation to justify your position. We need to be convinced with reasoning based on facts and logic, not emotional attachment. This is NOT a “now-or-never” “good-or-wrong” moral discussion. It would be pointless to argue if one denies the logic despite it reaches the commonsense ground. You assertion is fine. But it needs a lot more theoretical support which you couldn’t provide with. This is no different than the church claimed geocentrism is the truth and that’s final in the medieval age, then using this mere assertion as a divine dogma to accuse anyone else who tried to challenge the contention. As a result, it would be pointless for me to argue the conceptual standing ground of democracy with you. Then let’s switch the topic down from abstract logic to a specific case China. As I mentioned before, Chinese government was merely making efforts to retain its power and authority, as far as they see having democracy in China would impose great risk to their power. Hence they tend to also create “unquestionable” assertions such as China is China and democracy deems not fit for China is unique. It is true they often cite the instability and chaos democracy associates in non-Western countries to scare Chinese away from the idea, the same logic to use ethic argument to deter people from challenge a philosophical thesis. I do not like their obscurantism, either. In a fair conclusion, I think you need to be better informed about China to see it is really as you claim there’s no personal freedom, no justice and people live like ants in China. Those are very absolute and specific claims that are usually based on either an extremely well-informed observer (rare cases a political system could still survive after so much wrongdoing) or a ill-informed opinionated outsider who could choose only to look at one facade with their own prism. Though I have way more legitimacy to talk about those specific issues you mentioned for I have a more thorough sense of mainland Chinese society than you do, I won’t use that as an argument to convince you anything. I honestly hope you are more open-minded to know more about China other than those subjective news reporting. I got the feeling that it is rather you that are speaking from a superior position to me. I would advise you to stay for a period of time in Mainland to talk to the normal people, the group of people you are defending for in this conversation, and then let’s talk if government is evil and people live in no freedom and justice like ants. That does sound fair to you, doesn’t it?
Prof: Fact and logic is that all humans are created equal and thus to vote and to be voted are basic human right, very simple and fair. I know China very well since i was a kid from cultural revolution until today !! I never speak from any superior position, just that you have such “Class Struggle” concept in your mind and I went to mainland very often until I am not allowed to enter anymore. Because of many people with your idea and concept of democracy in China and thus the dictators can rule CHina forever, or perhaps you were brain wahed since you were young and hence I am not surprised to see you wrote such a long paragraphy to debate with me. Poor you.
ME: Your pre-assumptions and accusations don’t really make yourself a better argument here. “Fact and logic is that all humans are created equal and thus to vote and to be voted are basic human right” is a simple statement that needs logic justification and operationalization. People have spent generations and generations in Europe to devise the idea. How can you say “humans are born equal and that’s logic” without further reasonable explanations? That sounds no difference than “Allah is the only god so shut up!” I don’t know what a “class struggle” is, and I probably was brainwashed, that’s why I could organize my arguments structurally and logically. Your cognitive bias will simply satisfy what you want to believe, you are constantly dodging from my logic arguments all the time and emphasizing on a fraction part of my life experience and assume my way of thinking is solely built on the empirical cognition I received at that stage and attack your imaginary stereotype in your imagination which is itself incoherent and simply don’t make any sense. How can you attack my well-structure rational argumentation with “brain-washing by the communists when I was young”? With all due respect, I was very well polite to you all through the debate. But at this point, it looks like you are just hysterically insulting my rationality and intelligence. Unlike you, I will not toss the emotional derisive personal attack back to you. Instead, I have saved all our conversation and post it on my blog. theslittyeye.wordpress.com Let’s let others to judge who is making sense here, or maybe in the future when you calm down from your emotional blockage, your rationality could be enlightened by reading our conversation again.
Prof: Sorry, I do not have any emotional blockage. You just want to use your so called logical thinking to justify your right over others .Actually you should not have posted our personal discussion up on to your own blog. Anyway, it does not matter.Again, this posting of our discussion shows that you have no concept of what is basic human right.
Excuse us for our broken English and especially my verbose arguments. Aside from that, this pretty much tells you what the level of cognitive bias is like for a strong liberal in Hong Kong.