Totalitarianism is a function of technology. Prior to recent times, governments might claim to be absolute, but they did not have the record-keeping, administrative capacity to make good on that claim. Now they can do so far more easily than ever before — without hiring armies of spies. All that they have to do is follow the population on the Internet and use computers to collect and analyze the data. What Google can do, governments can do — and in Xi Jinping’s China that is what they are going to do. As The Weekly Standard reports,
China’s Communist government is rolling out a plan to assign everyone in the country “citizenship scores.” According to the ACLU, “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, ‘authoritarianism, gamified.’ ” In the system, everyone is measured by a score ranging from 350 to 950, and that score is linked to a national ID card. In addition to measuring your financial credit, it will also measure political compliance. Expressing the wrong opinion—or merely having friends who express the wrong opinion—will hurt your score. The higher your score, the more privileges the government will grant you.
To do this, of course, the Chinese government needs help, and that is where private enterprise comes in. Alibaba and Tencent are set to administer the plan; and, if you hold stock in Yahoo, you are party to this as well.
In 2006, Yahoo was allowed to buy a chunk (now worth $23 billion) of Alibaba after it handed over to the Chinese authorities the name of a democracy activist who was anonymously using a Yahoo email address. As The Weekly Standard piece adds, he got a 10-year prison sentence for leaking the directives sent out by the Chinese Propaganda Department for the purpose of suppressing a commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Lenin once said that, when the time comes for us to hang capitalism, the capitalist will sell us the rope, and that Yahoo has done.
Could this happen here? If the fine folks at Google had to choose between sacrificing profits and sacrificing the rest of us, what do you think that they would do? It is certain that the techniques of social control being developed in China will be adopted elsewhere. Vladimir Putin would not hesitate to dirty his hands in this fashion. Can we be confident that down the road our political leaders would exercise self-restraint or that our business magnates would stand tall?
Think about the Gestapo-style raids directed against conservative activists in Wisconsin recently. Think about the fact that 48 Democratic Senators voted in 2006 to repeal the First Amendment. Thanks to the new technology, we are about to enter a brave new world.