By: Brannon Gerling
Can China’s new ‘social credit system’ ethically enlighten its citizens? How would Lao Tzu (6th c. B.C.E.), the central figure in Taoism—that cherished self-exiled sage sapped by the stultifying monotony of the Zhao dynasty—treat all this ado?
Unlike Confucius’s style of virtue-based ethics which rest heavily on the sharpening of moral character, Lao Tzu’s less earthly Taoist ethics individually and transcendentally induce ethical development and hence resist the groupthink requisite for social engineering. The Chinese people’s best means to contest the regime’s new method of domestic persecution lies in their nexus to Tao. They must, as Tzu says in the Tao teh Ching, “hold fast to the original path in order to control the realm of the present.”
Many Westerners referring to China’s new social credit system relate it to the dark-humored Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” and the characters’ angst caused by the manic ritual of social rating isn’t unrealistic. Some of the penalties for an inadequate score will bear similar resemblance to the show: travel restrictions, throttling of Internet speeds, banning (citizens or their children) from choice schools, employment obstruction, difficulty securing loans, and, of course, public shaming.
Who might comply with the story’s credit system or cathartically screw it like the main character does in a mortifying maid-of-honor speech at her pseudo best friend’s wedding? Who really cares?
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) cares and is designing the system with ideal timing: deep learning is wielding big data to digitize everything from genome editing to reconstructions of human thinking. Perhaps the meek or stalwart will be able to ignore the credit system by living inconspicuous or prudent lives, but they will still be scrutinized. A growing network of 200 million CCTV cameras across the public and private domain will use facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking and other surveillance tech to track the massive swathe of addicted gamers and screen timers ushered into the largest digitally organised personality heist in history.