Why Hong Kong protests aren’t important


A lot is being made of events in Hong Kong.

Here’s why I don’t think they’re important.

  • Overt protest is a bygone tactic.  They are events people create when they feel powerless to make a difference on their own.  And real difference always begins with one person—or, at best, small teams—working quietly.
  • Overt protests are easy to diffuse.  They are a flash in the pan.  Often the power structure(?) just lets them happen—they’ll peter out on their own.
  • Overt protests actually make little difference.  The status quo just shrugs them off. Remember the World Trade Protests?
  • Overt protests don’t work because they energize the status quo, making it stronger.  You’ve shown your cards.  Now they can nullify your tactics.  Or use your tactics against you.  Are you listening, Occupy?
  • Protests are vulnerable to corruption and infiltration.  No conspiracy here; it’s a simple matter of battle strategy.  Get inside and corrupt leadership, discredit it, create chaos, or better—remove the charismatic leader, and it collapses.

We’ve seen this before in the Middle East, Europe, South America, China, and the United States.  Yet the status quo keeps on chugging. In fact, its momentum increases in the wake of such protests.  We still have markets, debt-based economies, governments firmly controlled by corporate interests and the rich, and it’s all bigger, stronger, and more widespread.  Not a single overt protest has mattered.  Not even arguably the greatest one—The US Declaration of Independence.  And a war followed in that protest’s wake.

Public protests do little other than excite people today.  Most of them will go back to their lives tomorrow struggling with earning a living, squandering their time on things that neutralize their real power, such as angry birds, the NFL, and Desperate Housewives.

What really make a difference are innovations that can supplant the status quo.  Innovations are the real weapons of mass destruction, they are the revolutions of the 22nd Century.  They start quietly and unassumingly, momentum builds and over time, and before you know it they supplant the status quo:

  • rotary phones
  • the encyclopedia
  • Yellow Pages
  • pay phones
  • Walkmans
  • meeting someone at a bar

This has happened in business (Facebook), culture (rap music), fashion (Yoga pants), technology (email) for hundreds of years.  It’s peaceful, invisible, and looks unassuming (Twitter, Wikipedia) until too late for the incumbent.  They begin with tiny teams.  Sometimes one person, but usually two or more.  With momentum, they’re unstoppable.

Protests are powerless.  Where’s the hope?  In these:

  • Renewed interest in innovations such as Venus Project and TZM
  • Growing interest in the words of Charles Eisenstein and Russell Brand
  • And what we’re doing at Copiosis

Here is where the real social transformation is happening.  Time will tell.  The future is hard to know. My bet is what is going on in Hong Kong will result in little real change.

You want real change?  Don’t look to the streets.  Look in the garages, on Google hangout, in co-working spaces.  Look in social entrepreneurial startups and coffee shops.  Here you’ll find the end of the status quo.  It has always been this way.

Photo credit: 29.9.14 Hong Kong protest cellphone vigil” by Citobun – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons.


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