Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Millennials are just misunderstood, and divisive coverage is not helping

CommentInsight & Opinion
Kelvin Lee says media and social stereotypes of Gen Y only deepen the generation gap, when it can be easily bridged with dialogue and empathy

It is possible to make fun of millennials over almost anything these days. Take Tim Gurner, an Australian millionaire property mogul who recently took millennials to task. His preferred “angle”? Avocado toast. “When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for 19 dollars and four coffees at four dollars each,” He told Australia’s 60 Minutes. If only that “avocado money” could buy you a flat.

In case you have not been keeping close tabs on the “millennial beat”, our generation is portrayed as one that just can’t seem to get it right. Time suggested in its “Me Me Me Generation” edition that millennials are more narcissistic because of modern technology, while the Post’s own Peter Kammerer suggested that millennials are lazy because Hong Kong employs too many maids. We are, in no particular order: insecure but, as aforementioned, narcissistic; vacation-killing but work-averse; “more generous than you think” but still selfish. If there is one consensus, it would be that our generation is simply the worst.

But just what is a millennial? While “young people” might seem like an intuitive answer, it might not be precise enough. According to researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss, millennials are people born between 1982 and 2004, aged anywhere between 12 and 35. This roughly 20-year difference in age means that while the oldest among us might very well have married and had children, the youngest are just getting started in secondary school.

Not many will disagree that today’s 13-year-old and 35-year-old have had vastly different upbringings. When the 35-year-old was born in 1982, Hong Kong was still under British rule, personal computing was still in its infancy, and Madonna was still a thing.

The cultural, economic and political shifts in this 20-year window mean that characterisations based on the age group of millennials are just broad-stroke stereotypes that hold little truth, and that social commentaries blaming millennials for killing anything, from cinemas to department stores, are, in reality, intellectually lazy arguments that oversimplify social phenomena.

Indeed, “Gen Y” is not the first generation to be at the receiving end of these unfair, ageist comments – New York magazine dubbed the ’70s the “Me Decade”, while Time later likened the 20-something Gen X’ers to Madonna’s hit song Vogue, noting they know how to “strike a pose”, so implying their superficiality. But with online journalism and the media’s incessant need for clicks, coverage these days has only grown more whimsical in tone and outlandish in content.

These divisive articles have created a schism between millennials and practically everyone else. In Hong Kong, for example, articles on “post-90s” and “post-80s”, the preferred description of millennials here, have proliferated in recent years. Millennials are condescendingly labelled “rubbish teens”, a term that describes young people as slackers that demand much from society but don’t contribute, and are judged for not having the same value set as our parents.

Even the most innocuous stories can fire up generational warfare – stories and videos documenting how some young people refuse to give up priority seats on the MTR [5], and how a civil discussion on domestic workers can turn into a full-on attack on our values and our supposedly morally decadent lifestyle. This knee-jerk response of blaming it on the young has been anything but constructive in bridging differences in our communities, and will only continue to perpetuate intergenerational misunderstanding.

Perhaps it is time for this trend to end. While millennials should be more communicative with other generations, we should not be treated with condescension, or simply dismissed for our youth and inexperience. We don’t need special treatment – we just need to be treated like everybody else.

Each generation faces challenges that are unique and might not be understood by those with a different upbringing, even people within this “millennial” umbrella might have had different experiences growing up. Only dialogue and an appreciation of differences could bridge the generational gap.

Kelvin Lee is a business student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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權力令人墮落 其來有自




昔日,掌權者的墮落往往被視為個人欠道德操守所致,今之科學家卻有另一番解釋。首先要問:為什麼人喜歡權力?按照李察杜堅斯(Richard Dawkins)的「自私基因」學說,人生在世,首要目的是繁衍個人及家族的基因。人是群體動物,聚眾成群,須有人掌權,領導眾人。掌握權力的人,可以優先獲得較好及較多資源──包括食物、居所、財富乃至配偶──此所以地位卑微者一旦掌權,十之八九會棄糟糠,因他微時選擇不多,當權後選擇多了,自然另擇條件較佳的異性,繁殖基因更好的子女。他一人得道,亦會提攜家族中人各居要職。無他,家族中人分享他的基因;提攜他們,家族基因遂得以繁衍。


在杜堅斯一派眼中,這是演化賦予人類的「陰暗面」,生而有之,難以根絕。惟有後天的道德修養可以克制,或建立政治社會制度「監管和制衡」(Checks and Balance),防止掌權者弄權,才可減少腐敗。另一方面,任何人要獲得權力只有2個方法:一是通過槍桿子,一是通過選舉,得到公眾認受,賦予權力。無論用哪個方法,在掌權之前都要籠絡人心,誰能體察民情、公正嚴明,誰便能獲得權力。腐敗往往在掌權之後。

權力令人墮落,有沒有科學根據?有沒有生理原因?加州大學柏克萊分校的心理學教授蓋拿(Dacher Keltner)經過20多年實驗研究,出版了《權力的悖論》(The Power Paradox)一書。他指出,許多掌權者的腦彷彿受過嚴重創傷般,導致其行為劇變──由謙卑變傲慢,由小心謹慎變好冒險,由公道變自私自利,由能體察民情變漠視民意,由視野恢宏變只有「隧道視野」(Tunnel Vision)……最要命的是,掌權者逐漸患上神經科學家口中的「同理心不足症」(Empathy Deficit)。

經濟學家之父阿當史密斯在1776年出版《國富論》之前,於1759年撰寫了《論道德感》(The Theory of Moral Sentiments,一譯《道德情操論》)。阿當史密斯認為,人有道德感,皆因人對他人的苦樂哀喜可以感同身受,眾哀我哀,眾樂我樂。是以人樂於行善,因看到別人幸福快樂,我亦感同身受,分享喜樂。人不作惡,因作惡害人,令別人哀苦,我亦免不了感同身受,為之哀苦。這便是今人說的「同理心」。沒有同理心的人,便是患上「反社會人格障礙症」的Sociopath,甚至是沒有良知的Psychopath。他不能感受到他人的苦,所以他作惡。別人痛苦,他不會良心不安。你罵他「遲早天收你」,他一笑置之,不當是一回事。他也不行善,因別人開心,他亦不能感同身受,分享歡樂,那他為什麼要幹毫不利己的事?


有了權力,同理心真的會相應減少?學術上,如今還沒有定論。無他,位高權重的人,哪會接受學者的調查、研究或肯紆尊降貴去做實驗?但有研究發現,社會經濟身份愈高的人,其同理心準確度愈低,對其他人的感受愈無法理解,皆因他們掌權後,愈來愈少接觸地位低微、無權無勢的人,難免和他們脫節。(讀者可閱讀Power Changes How the Brain Responds to Others, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 2014, Vol.143, No.2, 755-762)


蓋拿指出,掌權者的同理心會逐漸減少,權力愈大,掌權愈久,同理心愈缺乏。不單掌握公權力的政府官員如是,inc.com的編輯Geoffrey James訪問過逾百間大企業的CEO,也認為大老闆和總裁亦如是。他慨嘆:「公司愈大,總裁愈混蛋。」難怪有言道:「權力令人腦殘」。

撰文 : 占飛

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China has a vision of how to engage the world. The divided West needs one, too

CommentInsight & Opinion
Michael Clauss says the world is poised to usher in globalisation with Chinese characteristics – unless the US and Europe can come together to offer a strategy of their own that gives more protection to the defence of enforceable rules and human rights

China has a global strategy of engagement. The Belt and Road Initiative is only the most visible example. Its vision to create stability through development encompasses the European and Asian continents and large parts of Africa. Everywhere you see Chinese leaders travelling, you see giant pledges of further engagement, in Africa, Latin America and even Europe: more trade, more investment, and more scientific and people-to-people exchanges.

And on global governance, China has promised more engagement. It is contributing more to the UN, from UN peacekeepers to development funds. It has called for strengthening the World Trade Organisation as the core of an open multilateral trading system. It has also become more active in peace and security. In the Middle East and North Africa, China has stepped up its diplomatic activity. This has not resulted in more stability in, say, Libya, Syria or Yemen, but China at least is not part of the problem and, potentially, is part of a solution. In Afghanistan, its active diplomacy to create more stability has also not yet achieved lasting results but its profile has risen dramatically.

The accession of both Pakistan and India to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was a diplomatic triumph and might contribute to confidence-building. And China almost single-handedly keeps the BRICS format alive, despite considerable internal problems.

Are we at the threshold of a new era, a new age of “globalisation with Chinese characteristics”? What could this look like? Possibly prosperous, but more based on informal arrangements with strong hierarchy rather than enforceable rules adjudicated by independent bodies. Many, if not most, activities and new formats devised by China are China-centric.

On trade, but also ideas, information and cyberspace, China’s openness is limited while it uses a lot of muscle to open up others. China shuts out foreign competition in vital areas such as rail transport, medical devices, telecommunications and now the IT sector. As a result, trade deficits and one-sided investment relationships in favour of China, with such diverse countries as Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, Poland and Serbia, are extreme. We Europeans would like to maintain a rules-based global order with equal rights for every country, big or small, and would like to avoid one-way streets.

China’s world view is coherent and predictable. It has a strategy of engagement and, in many cases, offers what is needed to create a prosperous and stable world. In the West, many zero in on real or perceived faults in the Chinese approach. But what do we have to offer?

Does the United States offer a coherent strategy? Do we see more US engagement in the world? Leaving the Paris climate accord means disengagement from a global solution to the world’s most dangerous problem. Intended deep cuts in development assistance and contributions to the UN would, if carried out, imply massive disengagement. Negative comments about the WTO, withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatening to leave other trade agreements even with its closest allies would imply disengagement from trade multilateralism altogether.

Meanwhile, Europe remains committed to the multilateral system led by the UN, to open trade with the WTO at its core, to development and the Paris agreement. Germany is fully behind this agenda. On many of these key goals and values, the growing convergence with China is evident. However, there are also areas where Europe does not see eye to eye with China.

The playing field for European companies in the Chinese market is anything but level, and tilting further. While China benefits more and more disproportionately from a completely open German and European investment market, it has not opened its own investment market, with the exception of some minor fields, where the government, inter alia, through unfair procurement, has successfully pushed foreign competition out of the market. There are significant, even growing disagreements on human rights. The emerging “Chinese intranet” is growing ever more isolated and ever better policed.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron meet the press at the end of a two-day European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, last month. Europe remains committed to the multilateral system led by the UN, and to open trade, development and the Paris climate agreement. Photo: EPA

But does Europe have a vision of its own to create stability in Africa, the Middle East and the still many underdeveloped parts of Asia? And how about Europe’s most important source of strength – unity? Just a few weeks ago, the EU, for the first time, failed to agree on a joint statement in the general debate of the UN Human Rights Council. Greece openly advertised that it was its delegation that broke EU unity. On trade, Hungary broke ranks with the EU by signing up to an unsatisfactory statement on trade at the Belt and Road Forum, despite the fact that trade is an exclusive competence of the union. On procurement rules and reciprocity on investment, EU solidarity becomes a rare currency where the promise of easy money looms, as the planned upgrade of the Belgrade-Budapest train link shows. There is evidence that a public tender was deliberately avoided so as to achieve the outcome desired by China.

When it comes to engaging the world, it seems that China is currently the only power that has both the will and the means to do so. The US has the means but increasingly lacks the willingness. Europe has good intentions but is grappling to develop a coherent strategy.

The West is losing its common vision on how to engage the world, with potentially disastrous results for the defence of global rules on equal market access, of human rights, of development and combating climate change. A unified West with a clear strategy and positive narrative to address the truly awful problems the world is facing is needed – not as a counterweight to China but as a respected partner to shape the global order together.

If China ushers in an era of “globalisation with Chinese characteristics” on its own in the coming years, the West will have itself to blame. It better not carp about it.

Michael Clauss is the German ambassador to China