The Chinese Communist Party’s vast financial resources and total lack of regard for human rights make China’s servile population a fertile testing ground for social controls that should rightly frighten even the most domesticated among us.
Thomas Paine is rolling in his grave. The Common Sense he espoused is absent in the hearts of the modern architects of American Empire. Power and control are their only motivating factors, not civil liberties or ethical constraints. And they have learned about power consolidation lot from their counterparts in the CCP.
The Chinese social credit system might trigger recollections of “Nosedive,” the first episode in Season 3 of the techno-horror series Black Mirror. Although the episode’s writers likely intended the piece to be a speculative and cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked social media influence on daily life and the puppet-masters behind the design, it clearly mirrors China’s authoritarian government’s blueprint for achieving full, unilateral social control.
The CCP is hard at work turning cautionary tales of techno-nightmares into reality. The Chinese social credit system is only the latest development in the tradition of Chinese life imitating dystopian art.
In fact, Xi Jinping and his cadre of hammer-and-sickle-clad technocrats in the CCP appear to regularly alchemize warnings from all sorts of dystopian nightmare stories like 1984 and Brave New World into actionable plans in the real world.
Consider the Chinese government’s own description of the grand aims of its social credit system: to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
For even the casual observer of history, the CCP’s enthusiastic transformation of science fiction into reality is just the latest development in the ongoing Cultural Revolution to weed out “right-wing reactionaries,” capitalists, annoying human rights pests, and other undesirables.
The stated goal of the gut-wrenchingly brutal Cold War-era Cultural Revolution, under the leadership of the murderous dictator Mao Zedong, was to rid China of what it called the “Four Olds” — old habits, old culture, old customs, and old ideas – to be replaced with whatever the social engineers of the time would like to put into the heads of the Chinese working class.
As a stark countervailing force, for all its flaws, the American government writ large used to protect civil liberties with a fervency shared by no other nation on Earth. Restraints on ambitious social engineering projects were baked into the cake of the American political conscience.
In fact, even the most ardent opponents of American Empire throughout history have noted its fidelity to free expression and individual autonomy, even in the absence of other meaningful legal protections for average people.
One of the primary criticisms of the US by the Soviet Union in the heyday of the Cold War, for example, was of the paradox inherent in the American political system. Namely, that American leadership allowed its citizenry political freedom in the form of free expression while restricting economic freedom. That means, essentially, that the American oligarchy of the time preserved the social freedoms prescribed in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence even while it crushed the working class by squeezing labor unions and exploited overseas populations with its aggressive foreign policy.
Although wrapped in an extensive criticism, the Russian analysis correctly described the relative social and political sovereignty of the individual in American political canon compared to other more authoritarian regimes that comprise the majority of nation state governments.
In short — at least in this very narrow sense of individual autonomy — America lived up to its mythology as the “shining city on a hill.” America’s deeply engrained political infrastructure for the protection of civil liberties, arguably, was one of the distinguishing features that truly cast America in a positive light, despite its hard-earned reputation for murderous misadventures in war-making throughout the latter half of the 20th and the 21st century. An observer might even say that its distinguishing feature made America “great.”
Benjamin Franklin warned of the precarious nature of open governance when he responded to the birth of the United States as having provided the people with “a republic, if you can keep it.” He portended, as the historical record shows, that despotism is forever just a turn of the screw away.
In the 21st century, the NSA runs roughshod over the 4th Amendment with opaque mass surveillance programs. We’ve known the gory details of their activities since the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013 that showed, among other violations, conclusive evidence of illegal, warrantless, indiscriminate wiretapping of all of our conversations.
The NSA and other unaccountable federal agencies hack Google and Yahoo to steal analytic data as a regular course of business. They spy on democratically elected world leaders. They know what websites you visit and who you interact with there.
All of this is indisputably, heavily documented, publicly available knowledge, yet nothing has substantially changed since 2013 in terms of oversight, transparency or accountability of massive government agencies like the NSA, CIA, and the DIA. Our collective political will, the necessary ingredient to break the backs of the ever-more-powerful ruling class, is broken. Like Kafka faced with the labyrinth machinations of bureaucratic nonsense, we crumbled under the pressure of institutional power.
The weak popular response to serious First Amendment violations thus far raises the specter: When will the American overseers roll out China’s social control system for use in the states?
Silicon Valley is open and unabashedly diligently adapting its own US version of the control grid for introduction to your neighborhood in the near future. The voters were offered no voice; no referendum presented the options to the public to express their opinions as the subjects of the overreach.
The hope for the preservation of the American way of life remains that the citizenry joins together to mount a spirited resistance effort before the social engineers further tighten their grip on power.
Ben Bartee a Bangkok-based American journalist with opposable thumbs. Contact him via his portfolio or on LinkedIn.