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Young people should not follow herd's behavior

By Benjamin Chiao | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-09-17 06:45
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Many young people in Hong Kong seem to have misunderstandings about the Chinese mainland and the United States.

No matter how noble an individual goal is, the collective outcome could be exactly the opposite of what each individual wanted. When I taught social decision theories, my students often could not believe their eyes that collective decisions are necessarily dictatorial, even under very minimal assumptions. That is an implication of the Arrow's impossibility theorem developed by Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow.

It can also be proved that by simply setting a different voting agenda, such as whom to get to vote first, we will have a different social outcome even when the individual preferences of all voters have not changed at all. That is an implication of the Condorcet paradox.

The situation is further aggravated when there is herd behavior. For instance, panicked individuals confined to a room with two equal and equidistant exits often overwhelmingly choose one exit over the other. It is especially problematic when some leading the herd are professionally engaged or supported by external entities. The world has already seen that the "color revolutions" only brought chaos in other nations.

It is easy to fall prey to the common narratives about how bad the future of the Hong Kong younger generation is, especially due to the ultra-high property prices in Hong Kong. Yet Hong Kong people are exactly at the heart of arguably the most prosperous place there is on Earth for the next 20 years-the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

But young people may consider not using the exact same success measure of their parents, which often implies a pricey apartment in Hong Kong. New Yorkers will not resort to blaming high Manhattan prices all day but not moving their feet to consider cheaper and more beautiful houses in Queens and Brooklyn. There is reason to be ridiculed for not taking the new 14-minute high-speed train to Shenzhen from Hong Kong, which is shorter than taking the subway ride to other boroughs from Manhattan. Shenzhen and other nearby cities in Guangdong province are beautiful, with plenty of opportunities and far lower property prices.

The fight of young people in Hong Kong so far has defied their moral ground, at least on freedom. John Stuart Mill wrote in the 1859 classic On Liberty, "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."

Instead of escalating violence and blocking traffic, being midway attracts the biggest group of supporters, instead of calling oneself yellow or blue as in the Hong Kong riot case. It is wise now not to polarize opinions but to admit nuances in perceptions.

Many young people in Hong Kong have misunderstood US citizens. Even many Americans disagree strongly with US politicians. The violence part of Hong Kong protesters is what an average American would frown upon.

There was a "China is not an enemy" open letter to the US president recently in The Washington Post by a group from the academic, foreign policy, military and business communities, overwhelmingly from the US, including a former US ambassador to China and professors from Yale, MIT and Harvard.

The letter reads in part: "US opposition will not prevent the continued expansion of the Chinese economy, a greater global market share for Chinese companies and an increase in China's role in world affairs.... We do not believe Beijing is an economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere."

It is imperative for the protesters to heal the wound now and clearly stay away from the rioters. Identify the right crowd and recognize one incontrovertible fact-that Hong Kong is part of China. Upholding the "one country, two systems" principle is the first step toward restoring the rule of law in Hong Kong. Please do not become the ones you hated most. If Hong Kong becomes hell, you are contributing to it, for, as the open letter mentioned earlier also says, "Efforts to isolate China will simply weaken those Chinese intent on developing a more humane and tolerant society."

The wrong crowd cannot represent you, and you are the most unique if you avoid the crowd and turn back now.

The author is academic dean and professor of the Paris School of Business. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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