Hong Kong, Newspeak, and Psychological Subversion (Part 2)

Our readers could now have a glimpse at the answer to the question put forth earlier on in this discourse, ‘What made a great literacy like Ronny Tong blunder in perhaps his most important letter of his life?’ His confusion between ‘neutrality’ and ‘moderation’, as we have deduced, is a form of Newspeak and ‘doublethink’, which leads to illogical use of language. And if the failing of language could only be the result of an arbitrary process, what kind of process is that? That is, psychological subversion warfare.

For my readers who are not familiar with the term, psychological subversion warfare is originally a strategy deployed by the Soviet Union, and the term was first coined to the Western World by a Soviet defect, Yuri Bezmenov. Berzmenov escaped to the Canada in 1970 and provided us with some fascinating information. Firstly, only approximately 15% of KGB money was used in performing romantic James-Bond-style missions. Secondly, money was mostly spent on in this so-called Psychological Subversion. Rooted from Sun Tzu’s (孫子) ‘philosophy of winning a war without fighting’ (不戰而屈人之兵者,善之善者也), psychological subversion aims to, in Bezmenov’s own words, “change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country”, which is achieved “through a prolonged time lapse of undermining of social structures and values”. Despite Bezmenov’s reference to America, the case is extremely relevant in contemporary Hong Kong as well. The whole process consists of four stages:

Stage 1: Demoralisation (15-20 years)

Purposed to ‘re-educate’ an entire generation of people. The aim is to break from traditionally established social bodies and norms, including events such as population resettlement, ridiculing religion, unconstructive education, lobbyists and pressure groups, etc. There is also generalization through propaganda which leads to mistrust. ‘Exposure to true information does not matter anymore,’ said Bezmenov regarding a ‘demoralised’ person. ‘A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The fact tells nothing to him.’

Stage 2: Destabilisation (2-5 years)

Essentially radicalizing the process of demoralization, aiming to destabilise all accepted institutions and organisations. This results in an all-encompassing state and emergence of ‘sleepers’ – the new generation after demoralization.

Stage 3: Crisis (6 months)

Bezmenov considered that six weeks would be enough to send a country into crisis after she is demoralized and destabilized. There would be “violent change in power, structure and economy”. The society descends into either ‘civil war’ or foreign invasion.

Stage 4: Normalisation

The society is completely subverted and comes out from the ashes of the crisis under a new ideology and political structure.

One of the important things about psychological subversion is that it is an overt and continual process. There is nothing behind the scenes. All of its symptoms are to be seen by everyone. Another takeaway is the peculiar similarity of those symptoms with what has been happening in Hong Kong.

Is Newspeak a form of psychological subversion? Apparently so, as it spreads confusion – the goal of demoralization. Be aware that Ronny Tong’s ‘neutrality’ stance was brought about only after the Occupying Central movement. Hong Kong had previously been politically apathetic. Tong’s stance became prominent because it took advantage of the occupying central movement, where everyone seemed to have been involved. Combined with the aforementioned aftermaths of Tong’s stance, the answer to the question seems obvious. Any more traces? Christianity is now treated as farcical by non-believers, with the rise of phrases such as ‘Yeh-Lun’ (耶L). Simultaneously, with church leaders being members of the CCP, such criticisms are valid. But the point is not whether they are valid. It is that religion has been ridiculed, even among believers. Old family-run businesses are substituted by chain stores. The media, both left and right, makes their position explicit through their articles, disregarding their claims of neutrality. Lobbying from developers meant that housing and rent problems remain unsolved. Are all these just coincidences, or do they imply more? Is it not disconcerting how Hong Kong descended into its current position so suddenly? Is it not surprising that Hong Kong is having a political crisis on its 22nd anniversary of return to China, about the same time as when the demoralization and destabilization process is complete in psychological subversion?

What is truth? 20th century political theorist Hannah Arendt saw how easily it could be distorted. “Factual truths are never compellingly true. The historian knows how vulnerable is the whole texture of facts in which we spend our daily life; it is always in danger of being perforated by single lies or torn to shreds by the organized lying of groups, nations, or classes, or denied and distorted, often carefully covered up by reams of falsehoods or simply allowed to fall into oblivion.” How similar this concept is as to psychological subversion! “What convinces masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.” It is as well alarming that such a plight is not exclusive to Hong Kong but is a worldwide phenomenon.

‘Defactualisation’, according to Arendt, or ‘post-truth’, as we now call it, is a matter as bright as the sun that we are actually beginning to treat it as if it is something normal, thus also its effects on stemming confusions. From when have we started considering that it is normal to merge ‘neutrality’ and ‘moderation’ altogether as a synonymous concept, like Ronny Tong did? It is only that we have been affront to this idea for such a long time that this “lying becomes counterproductive”. “This point is reached when the audience to which the lies are addressed is forced to disregard altogether the distinguishing line between truth and falsehood in order to be able to survive. Truth or falsehood—it does not matter which anymore, if your life depends on your acting as though you trusted; truth that can be relied on disappears entirely from public life, and with it the chief stabilizing factor in the ever-changing affairs of men.” Again, post-truth is an arbitrary process, and that it contributes to creating a ‘demoralised’ person.

One of the agents of ‘post-truth’ is the media. Once more we can see how truth is corroded. Only a few years ago one could point out at least several ‘neutral’ or ‘unbiased’ sources of media. Now every medium is at least perceived as being biased to one side or another. There is ‘CCTVB’, ‘red-SCMP’ and ‘yellow-NowTV’, to name a few. One no longer believes that a news source is addressing an issue in its entirety and from an uncensored perspective. The tragedy begins when some arbitrary figure decides that a certain news source is prejudiced. And when the crowd begins to follow this narrative, they themselves become confused and demoralized, thus the news source is no longer considered credible. The outcome, as everyone can see, is the ‘blue’ and ‘yellow’ camps denouncing each other’s news source as ‘biased’. All of which are psychological subversion.

As things stand, 2019 appears to be the watershed of Hong Kong politics and there is no going back. The likely results are either the pro-Chinese side coming on top and increasing Chinese control over Hong Kong; or major concessions from Beijing and perhaps even universal suffrage. If psychological subversion works out, things might escalate as we enter the ‘normalisation’ stage. If democracy and universal suffrage do dawn in Hong Kong, very optimistically speaking, there is still heaps of problems that our society would face. Let us just imagine the situation: Hong Kong becomes a democracy with about 30% of its population being a ‘deep blue-ribbon’. The media is no longer trusted. A leadership figure in both the pro-establishment and democratic camps is lacking. Meanwhile, the economic consequences of the series of protest would begin to reveal itself, and perhaps have a disastrous effect on the bubble housing prices. The market will not recover its confidence in Hong Kong quickly. Constitutional problems arise, as to how the political and election systems should be set. It is not difficult to imagine that after another 10 to 15 years, a new generation would grow up thinking that democracy is a great mistake and long for the former system where there is stability and a strong government, just like how some of our current generation look back in awe at the British colonial rule. These are questions which we have to begin to think about, in order to avoid another collapse of the Weimar Republic. Fortunately, we are not the worst case. Germany fared way worse in 1945. Yet they endured, and flourished as a democracy. How do we deal with psychological subversion, and propaganda in particular? How do we avoid sophistries such as Tong’s fusion of opposing notions? How do we avoid demoralization and confusion of the population? All of these require an answer. It is better that we ponder so that in the case we have full access to our political freedom, we do not make the same mistakes again.