Waking up to the news of the protests in Hong Kong this morning, watching the tear gas being thrown and the people exercising their right not to have tear gas thrown at them, I couldn’t help casting my thoughts in the direction of a man who I suspect would have approved no end of the demonstrations.
The city I called home for five years until only a couple of months is at a crossroads. Will it stand back and watch as its identity, status and rights are gradually eroded? Or will it stand up and fight for its existence? As the arch theorist of power and self-determination, Foucault is perhaps to go-to guy when it comes to finding philosophical justification for demonstrations such as we have seen in Hong Kong over the past couple of days.
Power, Foucault tells us, is not something that is simply used by those that have it against those that do not. Rather, power, or relations of power, are active at every level of society and govern everything we do within it. It is in order to realise the individual we want to be that relations of power should be challenged and authority resisted when it prevents us living the life we want to live. Only in this way can we assume responsibility for fashioning our own selves and overcome that which previously prevented us from doing so.
Hence why the Hong Kong protests should be seen not simply as an act of civil disobedience orchestrated by some mysterious foreign hand, but as an act of resistance by Hong Kongers aimed at asserting their power to determine their own existence. The usual condemnation is so laughable it makes you wonder whether those that peddle it are so deluded as to believe it themselves. Could it not be that the people of Hong Kong want the ability to determine how they want to live; that they want Hong Kong to be their city and not simply the city they live in? People don’t take to the streets without good reason. It says a lot about the degree to which the wants of Hong Kongers are listened to that we have reached the situation we have come to now. Sometimes if you want your voice to be heard, you’ve got to be the one prepared to shout loudest.