Thinking May Be Emancipated, but Authority Cannot be Totally Rejected
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
April 25, 2014
Summary: The Sunflower Student Movement is a major event in Taiwan's history.
Will history judge this student movement favorably? That is harder to
say. Which stimuli, positive and negative, did this student movement
introduce to society on Taiwan? That may take time to sort out. Young people in the pursuit of individual autonomy and state autonomy
must understand the relationship between freedom and authority. Only
then can Taiwan's well-being be preserved.
Full text below:
The Sunflower Student Movement is a major event in Taiwan's history. Will history judge this student movement favorably? That is harder to say. Which stimuli, positive and negative, did this student movement introduce to society on Taiwan? That may take time to sort out.
The Sunflower Student Movement highlighted the creativity and vitality of young people. They set up a live webcams at the protest sites. They used a variety of Internet tools to promote their beliefs. They used a variety of images, catchphrases, and sketches to incite passions and influence public perceptions. They initiated discussions debating the future of the movement and the nation. During the "da cang hua forum" that took place near the end of the student movement, young people engaged in untrammeled challenges to authority.
From one perspective, the Sunflower Student Movement's freedom and lack of restraint was a positive influence on Taiwan society. Chinese society has long been conservative, with a intense patriarchal flavor. Even after the transition to democracy on Taiwan, adult authority remains strong. During public debates and decision-making, people of different social status should be able to engage in dialogues among equals. But this remains more ideal than reality. The student movement challenged the authority of the "adult world." It transformed the STA, a boring trade issue. All of a sudden, government propaganda became the common concern of Everyman. Many more were able to join the debate and be heard. Despite numerous fallacies and prejudices, the student movemetn played a role in emancipating the public and challenging the government's long-held monopoly on political discourse. In this sense, the Sunflower Student Movement was both valuable and significant.
In fact, opposition to authority has long been the defining characteristic of student movements. During the previous century, China's May Fourth Movement opposed both foreign aggressors and domestic traitors. It was anti-imperialist, patriotic, and dedicated to saving the nation. The New Culture Movement was imbued with a strong anti-feudal, anti-traditional, anti-authoritarian flavor as well. Its animating spirit was "reevaluate all values."
During the 1960s, student movements in Europe and Japan were also imbued with a strong anti-authoritarian flavor. As pundits have noted, Western capitalist society underwent severe changes following World War II. Changes took place in the traditional family system, in ethics, and in value systems. Lifestyles and the educational system fell under the sway of bureaucrats and plutocrats. They even served the military-industrial complex. Young people felt alienated from the system. A new youth culture and identity arose. Rebeling against authority and against the establishment became part of the younger generation's collective identity. This expressed itself not just in the student movement, but in music, movies, and other aspects of life.
Such revolts against authority however, always have limits. No social system can avoid all authority. Otherwise it will have difficulty functioning. And if young people "revaluate all values" and do "whatever they damn well please," there will be serious consequences for youth, for the nation, and for society as a whole. That is not necessarily a positive development.
In fact, 140 years ago, Marxists and other anti-capitalists revolted against capitalist authority. They engaged in a major debate with anarchists, who advocated absolute freedom. Socialist theoretician Friedrich Engels discussed the issue at great length. Engels stated his position clearly. He said authority refers to the will of others, imposed on us. On the other hand, authority is a prerequisite to submission. Therefore we have a problem. Is there any social system that can do without such relationships? Can authority become something meaningless, that disappears?
The answer of course is no. Engels cited the example of railways and shipwrecks. He pointed out that for a railway to run smoothly, cooperation among countless people is essential. To avoid mishaps, cooperation must follow an exact timetable. This requires a will able to handle every problem, in charge of everything. In other words, a clear authority. When a shipwreck occurrs, during an emergency situation, to save lives, people must immediately obey the will of a sing person. This requires absolute authority.
The reason is simple. It has to do with life. Authority may sometimes be annoying, and freedom is of course appealing. But the answer lies in between. This is not a question of choosing A or B. Young people will soon be leaving the campus. They will soon be entering society. Young people may become part of a business. They may become part of the public sector. They may become SOHO types, or small business owners. As long as people need to engage in production, or engage in labor, they will not be able to do whatever they damn well please. They will have to abide by certain norms. These include the legal system and commercial contracts. They will have to subordinate themselves to this or that authority. Too much freedom and the first person hurt will not others, but those young people who reject all authority.
From the individual level to the national level, the autonomy and freedom of the ROC is everyones' goal. But deeper understanding, mastering the norms of international order and reality, are basic skills necessary to preserve a nation's freedom and undependence, In international relations, one can never do whatever one damn well pleases. Only a clear understanding of the international order and its limits, will enable one to maximize one's living space.
Young people in the pursuit of individual autonomy and state autonomy must understand the relationship between freedom and authority. Only then can Taiwan's well-being be preserved.