Thursday, August 22, 2019

[Opinion] Carrie Lam as a Moral Vacuum: The Sad Affair of an Ex-Civil Servant

Carrie Lam

Humphrey Appleby

1. Carrie Lam is the current Chief Executive of Hong Kong and she has assumed office on July 1, 2017.

Carrie Lam has become notorious worldwide in the last three months for pushing the Extradition Bill that sparked: (a) a 1.03 million people protest on June 9, (b) a 2 million people protest on June 16, and (c) a 1.7 million people protest on August 18, with many protests of varying sizes in between and since.

The Wikipedia entry on Carrie Lam calls her "a Hong Kong politician". 

But I believe the key to understanding Carrie Lam is not to treat her as a politician but as the civil servant that she has been for some 30 odd years, first under the British and then the Chinese governments.

The most illuminating comparison I can think of is to compare Carrie Lam to the fictional character Sir Humphrey Appleby of the British television series Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.

Humphrey Appleby is the consummate British civil servant that is dedicated purely to means and not to ends.

Humphrey Appleby is also an elite who looks down on the people and politicians whom he supposedly serves with pride and smugness.

I think this civil servant mentality of dedication to pure means and not ends accounts for Carrie Lam's behaviors.

Carrie Lam is not here to make policy for Hong Kong but to carry out the policies of her political masters in Beijing, right or wrong.

This dedication to pure means without considering the morality of the ends of an action makes Carrie Lam into a moral vacuum.

Like Humphrey Appleby, Carrie Lam also behaves towards the people of Hong Kong with pride and smugness.

Carrie Lam is what Humphrey Appleby would have been had he become a politician.

2. For those not familiar with the British television series Yes Minister, the relevant episode is called "The Whiskey Priest" (season 3, episode 6).

(a) There is an excerpt of the relevant portion of the episode in YouTube:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Consummate Civil Servant

(b) Partial Transcript:

(Jim Hacker is the minister and Humphrey Appleby is the civil servant.)

Jim Hacker: You may take this lightly, but we cannot close our eyes to something that is as morally wrong as this.
Humphrey Appleby: Very well, Minster.
If you insist on making me discuss moral issues, may I point out to you something is either morally wrong or it isn't.
It can't be slightly morally wrong.
Jim Hacker: Don't quibble, Humphrey. 
Humphrey Appleby: Government isn't about morality. 
Jim Hacker: Really? What is it about? 
Humphrey Appleby: Stability.
Keeping things going.
Preventing anarchy.
Stopping society falling to bits.
Still being here tomorrow. 
Jim Hacker: What for? 
Humphrey Appleby: I beg your pardon? 
Jim Hacker: What is the ultimate purpose of government if it isn’t for doing good? 
Humphrey Appleby: Minster, government isn't about good and evil.
It's only about order or chaos. 
Jim Hacker: And it is in order for Italian terrorists to get British bombs?
And you don't care? 
Humphrey Appleby: It's not my job to care.
That's what politicians are for.
My job is to carry out government policy. 
Jim Hacker: Even if you think it's wrong? 
Humphrey Appleby: Well, almost all government policy is wrong but, frightfully well carried out! 
Jim Hacker: Humphrey, have you ever known a civil servant to resign on a matter of principle? 
Humphrey Appleby: I should think not! What an appalling suggestion! 
Jim Hacker: For the first time, I fully understand that you are purely committed to means and not to ends! 
Humphrey Appleby: But as far as I'm concerned, Minister, and all of my colleagues, there is no difference between means and ends. 
Jim Hacker: If you believe that, Humphrey, you will go to hell. 
Humphrey Appleby: Minister, I had no idea that you had a theological bent. 
Jim Hacker: You are a moral vacuum, Humphrey. 
Humphrey Appleby: If you say so, Minister. 


"2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia, 
"Carrie Lam", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2019-08-22).

"Humphrey Appleby", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2019-08-22).

"Jim Hacker", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2019-08-22).

"Yes Minister", Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia,
(accessed 2019-08-22).