With Mao’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1962), it became increasingly clear China was a totalitarian police state willing to do almost anything to advance its aims. That attempt to forcefully move from an agrarian to a socialist industrial society cost tens of millions of Chinese lives. One historian’s estimate runs to a staggering 56 million deaths for that period alone, making Mao easily the greatest mass murderer of all time. After that came the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (more millions of deaths and countless other lives shattered) and, of course, what we all witnessed on Tiananmen Square in 1989, government tanks plowing into democracy protestors.
These days, however, the Chinese communists have become more subtle in the control of their populace. They are in the process of instituting a social credit system.
China has a radical plan to influence the behavior of its 1.3 billion people: It wants to grade each of them on aspects of their lives to reflect how good (or bad) a citizen they are. Versions of the so-called social credit system are being tested in a dozen cities with the aim of eventually creating a network that encompasses the whole country. Critics say it’s a heavy-handed, intrusive and sinister way for a one-party state to control the population. Supporters, including many Chinese (at least in one survey), say it’ll make for a more considerate, civilized and law-abiding society.
That one survey is backed up anecdotally by NBC’s Janis Frayer, who made an interesting video inside China about this new system that allows the state to monitor technologically virtually every aspect of a person’s life and reward or punish him or her accordingly. Frayer opines in the narration: “What’s weird is people seem okay with it.” (It wouldn’t have seemed so weird if she had been in the PRC in 1979, as I was, and seen an entire country in blue pajamas.)
But where did this ability to control such a giant country come from in the first place? As Pogo would say, I have seen the enemy and he is us! Namely, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, and all those other American high-tech companies eager to get a piece of the fat Chinese pie. The technology was taken piece by piece by the Chinese from all of them to execute, with some local improvements, the social credit system. In a certain sense, these companies provided the inspiration for it—and the impetus. The Chinese copied them. That’s what they do.
Did the companies care?
Did they allow it on purpose?
Not quite. They largely ignored it. After all, basically, the companies were doing the same thing to us.
Witness just the other day when YouTube instituted a social credit system of its own, demonetizing a whole host of conservatives. That’s almost identical to what the Chinese are doing, penalizing people who are ranked poorly in their system by denying them mortgages, etc.
Are American companies learning from China in a game of turn around? The companies have been there for a while. It could be osmosis.
Actually, it may be worse because our tech companies are more deluded than the Chinese. YouTube, etc., think they are doing good (while suppressing free speech). The Chinese are more realistic, merely finding a new way to exercise maximum social control, something that has gone on in that country since the days of Confucius.
What our tech companies are doing is ignoring (or stomping on) the wisdom of the Founders of our country—the Federalist Papers or even the Bill of Rights not being on the reading lists of the average programming classes. Be that as it may, both these systems (American and Chinese) have more similarities than differences. It’s almost as if they are about to converge. China, after all, has its own Amazon, Alibaba. And we—both our companies and our government— sometimes working together, are monitoring all of us in a Chinese manner. Facial recognition is poised to take over our lives. Video cameras are ubiquitous. Chairman Mao is smiling.
As many have written, it seems a grim Orwellian-Huxleyian future is already upon us. Privacy is not only dead but decomposed. Yet there is an iota of hope in the form of anti-trust legislation, at least in America. As someone once said, faster, please.
Roger L. Simon is the co-founder and CEO emeritus of PJ Media.