Amid the obvious concerns over privacy invasion and further limitation of freedoms like speech and expression, one reverberation of the social credit system that hasn’t been discussed much is how it could affect interpersonal and community relationships. Social input data, for example, will come partly from ‘residential committees’ charged with monitoring and reporting people’s behavior.
If you knew one of your neighbors was keeping an eye on you, how might your behavior change? What if you knew someone was keeping an eye on you, but didn’t know who it was? If you were keeping an eye on everyone else, would you be a little more lenient with the people you liked most?
Besides creating a stratified society where upward mobility will be harder for low scorers (often arbitrarily), the system could cause all kinds of rifts to spring up between neighbors, coworkers, and even friends. The system’s stated purpose is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”…
… Finally, there is the ‘grid system’ information, which divides cities into small parcels overseen by citizens who are paid to report unusual activity to the police. The East Germans had a Stasi: in the 21st century, China enlists far more people. In Chaoyang district in Beijing, for instance, there are around 120,000 paid informants in operation. The information they provide is sifted through using computer power and artificial intelligence.
As early as 2000, the Golden Shield project aimed to link up information on all Chinese citizens. At a basic level it would allow authorities to know everything about a particular person within seconds. But it aimed to go beyond that, predicting who might cause trouble to the regime, anticipating the organising of any action deemed inimical to the party, and curtailing the freedom and actions of any suspect citizen, by, for example, taking away the ability to fill up a car with petrol or even, in the future, to start their engine.
Unsurprisingly, any tool that helps to maintain stability is welcomed by the party. Meng Jianzhu, the ex-head of the security system, hailed big data and modern information technology at a conference in September last year, talking of ‘extending social governance to the smallest social units, such as villages and communities, in order to realise precise governance’. His emphasis was on anticipating threats. Earlier in July on a tour of Guiyang, described by the state news agency Xinhua as ‘a pioneer of the application of big data technology in various sectors, including police work’, he had called on the country’s police to make full use of big data and AI. In August he repeated the message in Xinjiang. The State Council’s national artificial intelligence development plan declares that, ‘AI is indispensable for the effective maintenance of social stability’.
This is very much in line with the political zeitgeist. Past politburos were populated by engineers, who saw security solutions in terms of grand projects; the current leadership looks to a new age of ‘informatisation’ and IT as aids in governance, and this fits President Xi’s desire for increased central control. So, for example, if students are feared as a perennial catalyst for protest, is it surprising that the Ministry of Education has suggested monitoring their political sentiments by collating data from library records, surveys, social media posts and more?…
Formerly governments sought power and growth through waging wars against each other based on domestically imposed propaganda to demonize the enemy, resulting in mass adherence to government authority for the sake of safety from the “other” and ultimately fear of being labelled a traitor for non-compliance with govt dictates.
But social control no longer requires an external enemy to impose domestic regimentation. There is no longer safety in numbers when the herd itself is the enemy. And under a future planetary regime, regional governments will no longer be distracted by external powers and a possible threat of mass emigration to freedom. Control freaks can focus their attention on the domestic herd without distraction or mercy, and intergenerationally imposed mind control will produce armies of such control freaks.
Humanity really needs to get a handle on emergence. We don’t need to sleepwalk into this nightmare.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”