There are those who find it incomprehensible that Mary Magdalene, after discovering the tomb in which Jesus is supposed to have buried is empty, would run into him nearby and misidentify him as the gardener. Such people are probably not familiar enough with the way our minds can fool us: Mary was simply too fixated on the idea that Jesus had died to be able to recognize him.
This problem of our expectations distorting our perception weighs on even the sharpest of minds engaged in the loftiest of intellectual endeavours. To warn budding scientists against being held captive by their assumptions, the renowned Cambridge pathologist William Beverdige points to the profundity of Galileo’s achievement: “things that are now quite easy for children to grasp, such as the elementary facts of the planetary system, required the colossal intellectual feat of a genius to conceive when his mind was already conditioned with Aristotelian notions.”
I’ve been thinking about Mary Magdalene and Galileo quite a lot lately, as I struggle to understand why a number of people in Hong Kong known to be critical of the CCP – a cohort that typically cares about truth and justice – are giving the appearance of being willfully blind to signs of voter fraud in the US presidential election. Because I personally know some of them – I know their history of quitting Hong Kong newsrooms because they weren’t prepared to yield to the CCP’s editorial interference – I’m more than ready to interpret their stance in the most charitable light: like Mary, their existing beliefs disposed them to being blind to the obvious.
One such belief: western mainstream media are still by and large trustworthy and therefore one doesn’t need to trouble oneself with finding out the truth through other channels. “Have you even watched one of those state election hearings from the beginning to end and soak up the atmosphere of outrage?” I asked a longtime Hong Kong journalist who has longstanding ties with US mainstream media and who thinks Trump should concede. He greeted my query with silence.
In my view, those on a truth-finding mission (shouldn’t this be the default mode of all journalists?）should open themselves to weighing the documentations of voting irregularities that non-mainstream media have reported on, for the simple reason that should they find the allegations to be of substance, they can at least brace themselves for an abrupt shift in global politics: a candidate who has to stage a coup to win the US presidency and is perceived by almost half the population to have done so – a recent Rasmussen poll found that 47% of US voters across the political spectrum thinks Biden likely stole the election – will assume office under a dark cloud of suspicion.
Entities that have aided his ascension by not reporting on news unfavourable to him – Big Tech, mainstream media – will muzzle dissenting voices even more harshly. The worst-case scenario is they may become his most important asset, the way Hong Kong’s 30,000-strong police force is (by her own admission) Carrie Lam’s most important asset.
A US administration whose claim to power is illegitimate will not stand with Hong Kong in its fight against the CCP, which will be allowed to become richer and therefore be in possession of more resources to crush resistance For example, even if Biden keeps the legal apparatus Trump has set up to reduce the CCP’s access to foreign funds, he can render the decree toothless by being lax in applying them. As overseas mainland commentator Jie Sen (杰森）has pointed out, the US can ban US funds from investing in Chinese companies linked to the Chinese military, but as long as these funds are allowed to buy stocks in the subsidiaries of these companies, the law will have limited practical effect.
In his famous speech “A Time for Choosing,” Ronald Reagan tells a story that has a particular bearing on today’s Hong Kong. Two of his friends were listening to a Cuban refugee recount his harrowing escape from Castro when, at one point, they looked at each other and said “we don’t know how lucky we are.” The Cuban begged to differ: “how lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.” Reagan’s takeaway: “and in that sentence (the Cuban) told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”
I’m not unaware that I, too, may fall prey to my own biases. This much I admitted to that veteran Hong Kong reporter who refused to consider evidence of voter fraud. By way of illustration, I sent him the duck/rabbit illustration philosophers sometimes use to demonstrate how the same data can yield different meanings: this is the way those with evil intent can plant half-truths and alter people’s perception of reality, you see. I added, I do read The New York Times every day, but only to place their material at the back of my mind and eye whether my current understanding of reality needs refining; as long as my grasp of facts isn’t invalidated outright, I hold onto them one day longer. This method isn’t fool-proof, but it’s the best one I’ve been able to come up in my battle against Mary Magdalene’s type of lapses in judgement.