China: Harbinger of a Brave New World

 

shutterstock_275764925Totalitarianism 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.

Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 41 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Richard Fulmer Member

    I can see this “working” in one-party states, but in countries that elect their leaders, I think it could lead to terrible conflict. Whoever is in power gets to decide what raises and what lowers one’s citizenship score. Gaining and holding power, then, becomes all but a matter of life and death.

    • #1
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  2. Misthiocracy secretly Member

    I’m pretty sure that China was a totalitarian state long before the invention of the Internet.

    • #2
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:26 PM PDT
    • Like
  3. Viruscop Member

    The link is not working.

    Anyway, many Conservatives think terrorists are more of a threat to the United States than China, and see no problem with China becoming the most powerful country on Earth. Indeed, some Conservatives wish to obliterate themselves for a bit of extra moolah.

    • #3
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:33 PM PDT
    • Like
  4. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    Misthiocracy:I’m pretty sure that China was a totalitarian state long before the invention of the Internet.

    Of course. But the internet makes surveillance much, much easier. In the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s, they had to enlist hundreds of thousands of people to report on their friends and neighbors. That would have been hard to do in the United States. But this . . .

    • #4
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  5. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    viruscop:The link is not working.

    Try it again without the quotation mark at the end.

    • #5
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:37 PM PDT
    • Like
  6. Viruscop Member

    Paul A. Rahe:

    viruscop:The link is not working.

    Try it again without the quotation mark at the end.

    It still isn’t working. Anyway, here is the link

    • #6
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:40 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    Richard Fulmer:I can see this “working” in one-party states, but in countries that elect their leaders, I think it could lead to terrible conflict. Whoever is in power gets to decide what raises and what lowers one’s citizenship score. Gaining and holding power, then, becomes all but a matter of life and death.

    Precisely.

    • #7
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:43 PM PDT
    • Like
  8. civil westman Inactive

    Harbinger? Future? Can any of us say with conviction that we believe no such activities are already underway here? That the “authorities” are uninterested, say, in who contributes to sites like Ricochet? What we already know – of things like the NSA, the state’s demands for no encryption and “back doors” to ISP’s and cell companies – requires an unearned faith in the present benevolence of the state to make such an assertion. Yesterday’s conspiracy theory is today’s banality.

    • #8
    • October 16, 2015, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. Instugator Thatcher

    No wonder Google (that bastion of Pro(re)gressives) dropped the motto, “Don’t Be Evil”.

    • #9
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. John Walker Contributor

    civil westman: Harbinger? Future? Can any of us say with conviction that we believe no such activities are already underway here?

    Precisely. Whatever China is doing happened at least five years earlier in the U.S. Am I assuming moral equivalence? You betcha! Is it China who is breaking Diffie-Hellmann with precomputation in order to read encrypted IPsec traffic? Well, maybe in five years, they will.

    But the U.S. is a consensual government; there the people rule! Which public figures are questioning what it going on at that NSA Utah Data Center, and why a free country should have such an abomination?

    If I had written this as a dystopian novel in 1968, I couldn’t have sold it because it would have been so implausible. Now one can only watch as darkness descends.

    • #10
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:10 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. Ontheleftcoast Inactive

    Richard Fulmer:I can see this “working” in one-party states

    Like California?

    • #11
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:15 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. MarciN Member

    civil westman:Harbinger? Future? Can any of us say with conviction that we believe no such activities are already underway here? That the “authorities” are uninterested, say, in who contributes to sites like Ricochet? What we already know – of things like the NSA, the state’s demands for no encryption and “back doors” to ISP’s and cell companies – requires an unearned faith in the present benevolence of the state to make such an assertion. Yesterday’s conspiracy theory is today’s banality.

    I don’t think the United States is too far behind China.

    I fear that the issue over illegal immigrants will be resolved in the same horrible computerized fashion: a national ID.

    • #12
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:22 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. Barfly Member

    Richard Fulmer:I can see this “working” in one-party states, but in countries that elect their leaders, I think it could lead to terrible conflict. Whoever is in power gets to decide what raises and what lowers one’s citizenship score. Gaining and holding power, then, becomes all but a matter of life and death.

    Actually, I think the cream of both parties are more similar than different, and more different from their bases than from each other. Of course, that’s just another way of saying we’re on the way to a de facto one-party state ourselves.

    • #13
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  14. MJBubba Inactive

    One of these days the lefty progressives at Google, Yahoo and Microsoft will decide that an election is too important to let the GOP have a chance of winning.

    They may have decided that 2016 is that critical.

    If they want to throw the election, they have the power to do so. They would not even need to do this conspiratorially. They could just let their employees know that they would find it acceptable if they were to take “unusual actions” to aid the cause, and then let their friends know that they are taking “unusual actions,” and their friends could decide to also take action to help the team.

    The conservatives won’t know what happened.

    • #14
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:52 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. mildlyo Member

    This story sounds like the old fear of “Stalin with spreadsheets”. The idea is that totalitarianism will work when the central government has all the information.
    Even if you believe this, you must believe that every Chinese citizen will cooperate by entering accurate information.
    The advantages of cheating for personal, family, and regional advantage are too great to believe this.

    • #15
    • October 16, 2015, at 4:58 PM PDT
    • Like
  16. BrentB67 Inactive

    civil westman:Harbinger? Future? Can any of us say with conviction that we believe no such activities are already underway here? That the “authorities” are uninterested, say, in who contributes to sites like Ricochet? What we already know – of things like the NSA, the state’s demands for no encryption and “back doors” to ISP’s and cell companies – requires an unearned faith in the present benevolence of the state to make such an assertion. Yesterday’s conspiracy theory is today’s banality.

    I am glad you went ahead and said this so I didn’t have to.

    • #16
    • October 16, 2015, at 5:21 PM PDT
    • Like
  17. Nick Stuart Inactive

    Maybe cameras everywhere, scanning and warehousing all electronic communication, and archiving the Internet, all indefinitely and for all practical purposes forever, are not such good ideas after all.

    • #17
    • October 16, 2015, at 6:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. David Foster Member

    Reminds me of Poul Anderson’s 1953 SF story “Sam Hall”/

    Prefiguring the hacker…and the American surveillance society

    • #18
    • October 16, 2015, at 6:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    >Ontheleftcoast
    >>Richard Fulmer:I can see this >>“working” in one-party states

    >Like California?

    Or like a Republic with one party that fights and another which coasts.

    • #19
    • October 16, 2015, at 8:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  20. Dustoff Inactive

    Really chilling. Does it only seem that the human spirit and freedom face more daunting odds than ever before?

    Or, are/will the struggles be the same as they have always been, with only the techniques and methodology of tyranny out pacing what is familiar?

    Having lived a while, bumping into of human nature and getting to know something of us, I suspect it’s merely the latter.

    • #20
    • October 16, 2015, at 9:03 PM PDT
    • Like
  21. The Reticulator Member

    Misthiocracy:I’m pretty sure that China was a totalitarian state long before the invention of the Internet.

    Yeah, but it wasn’t able to be that total of a totalitarian back then.

    • #21
    • October 16, 2015, at 9:24 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. The Reticulator Member

    Paul A. Rahe:

    Misthiocracy:I’m pretty sure that China was a totalitarian state long before the invention of the Internet.

    Of course. But the internet makes surveillance much, much easier. In the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s, they had to enlist hundreds of thousands of people to report on their friends and neighbors. That would have been hard to do in the United States. But this . . .

    It used to be terribly expensive to do all that. A good part of the Soviet economy went to operating its surveillance/police state. It contributed to the economic inefficiency that led to its downfall. But if the same kind of work and even more can be done on the cheap, that opens up new frontiers.

    • #22
    • October 16, 2015, at 9:28 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. The Reticulator Member

    mildlyo:This story sounds like the old fear of “Stalin with spreadsheets”. The idea is that totalitarianism will work when the central government has all the information. Even if you believe this, you must believe that every Chinese citizen will cooperate by entering accurate information. The advantages of cheating for personal, family, and regional advantage are too great to believe this.

    You think this will be done by citizens entering information into a database? And

    mildlyo:This story sounds like the old fear of “Stalin with spreadsheets”. The idea is that totalitarianism will work when the central government has all the information. Even if you believe this, you must believe that every Chinese citizen will cooperate by entering accurate information. The advantages of cheating for personal, family, and regional advantage are too great to believe this.

    The cheating is the best part! (For a totalitarian)

    • #23
    • October 16, 2015, at 9:32 PM PDT
    • Like
  24. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Mildlyo, look into the anatomy of a tweet, and Facebook metadata. Finally, if you know how servers work, you see that the game is up.

    • #24
    • October 17, 2015, at 1:49 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Here’s an obsolete graphic of a tweet’s metadata:
    http://readwrite.com/2010/04/19/this_is_what_a_tweet_looks_like
    This is obsolete because a modern tweet now contains much more metadata. This is where I gave up.

    • #25
    • October 17, 2015, at 1:54 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    Here’s a deprecated approach to mining Facebook data.
    https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/fql
    There is effectively no way to hide a signal in the noise anymore. These two social apps pass everything right in the open. Accumulations of data are kept private. Other methods such as chat, email, snail mail (processed and handled by computers now, which take pictures and keep logs), phone calls, and book sales are all recorded or subject to recording, tracked or subject to tracking.
    By the time you achieve privacy, you stand out, “like a hole in the water”. There is nowhere to hide.
    This is all without looking official records. Accumulating metadata is enough.

    • #26
    • October 17, 2015, at 2:03 AM PDT
    • Like
  27. David Foster Member

    It has often been observed, beginning with McLuhan, that electronic communications turns the world into a “Global Village.” Villages, though, are often places in which people’s lives are known to all, and there are strong pressures for conformity.

    In Hans Fallada’s novel “Every Man Dies Alone,” an anti-Nazi couple moves from Berlin to a small village:

    Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

    Peter Drucker

    Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.

    Freedom, the Village, and the Internet

     

    • #27
    • October 17, 2015, at 5:22 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. MarciN Member

    One of the most interesting bits of information I got out of watching the wonderful British series Foyle’s War was that when Britain thought that it was within the realm of possibility that Hitler would be invading Britain, the Brits took down all of the street signs. And they got rid of a lot of their citizen lists such as their voter lists.

    That little detail on the program keeps coming back to me.

    Freedom from the Internet may be the next frontier.

    In fact, I’ll bet someone is working on this as I write–some artificial island somewhere that can guarantee its occupants that there are no electronics. I’d go. :)

    • #28
    • October 17, 2015, at 9:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  29. philo Member

    When it does come, I wonder how my “citizenship score” will factor into the calculus from whatever incarnation of the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” exists at that point. (My guess is that we will all just call it The Death Panel by then…and the members won’t even be ashamed of it.)

    Will I get that heart valve transplant? Doubtful.

    More likely, and insidiously, will my daughter get that appendectomy today or just put on the list for a possible slot next month…or will mom get that hip transplant…or will grandma keep getting her meds. That, of course, all depends on if I’ve been a good little boy in Barack’s America.

    No, it can never happen here…

    • #29
    • October 17, 2015, at 9:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  30. Richard Fulmer Member

    Technology may be able to address China’s assault on individual freedom. First, there’s encryption. Second, “personal agent” programs are available and can scan the web for a user. Presumably, they could be configured to scan “politically correct” sites and rack up “citizenship points” for users.

    • #30
    • October 17, 2015, at 10:09 AM PDT
    • Like
  1. 1
  2. 2