China's social credit system?

Nov 2014
420
ph
Can anyone come up with an impartial culture neutral assessment of China's social credit system? It seems that the assessment from the Western press has been universally negative, but then that may be just the product of different culture systems, since the system seem be well received in China, and may be useful for cracking down on social incivility among the Chinese. This just seems like a more formal and systematic system to increase social capital and cooperation that societies have tried throughout history. And this is also an interesting experiment since the common thought is that Chinese culture is just too chaotic, because of its immense population, to be as civilized and disciplined as the Japanese. https://www.google.com/amp/s/nypost.com/2019/05/18/chinas-new-social-credit-system-turns-orwells-1984-into-reality/amp/
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
I can't help but feel a great aversion to the Chinese social credit system, so this is not going to be impartial. Any population that would willingly subject themselves to something like that are in effect natural slaves, in the Aristotelian sense. Even if the intentions are "benign" you still allow somebody else (in this case the CCP) to decide what is benign or what is not for you. What kind of human being are you to do that? Why does someone like that deserve to be taken seriously? What value do they have outside of their relationship to their rulers?

On the other hand I think we in the West also seem to be making ourselves into natural slaves, just in a different and less transparent - but perhaps even more dangerous way. There are ways to monitor and shape peoples' behaviour now that the Stasi or Gestapo couldn't have dreamed of, with the tools to do so being held in fewer hands than ever before. People's information flow, their preferences, their behavioural patterns are becoming, broadly speaking, less varied than ever before. At least in Sweden it is very easy for a conpany to make a credit check on you without you having any say, or just check your social media accounts - these things are done routinely for all sorts of reasons like job interviews. Is this really so different from the Chinese system, in practice?

The Chinese credit system (just like similar developmemts in the West) has to be understood in conjunction with modern technology and "modernity" more generally. We live in larger, increasingly complex societies with more "bottlenecks" and capacity for cascading effects. Things like family, traditional religion, loyalty and familiarity to the place you were born are increasingly missing. People also have greater theoretical ability to access information today than at any other time before, just like the ability of One Person to do enormous harm (terrorism, hacker attacks, whatever) is so much greater than ever before and will become much greater in the future. This is especially true in the social-liberal West, but it is true in China as well to a degree I'm sure.

So, how will these societies survive and keep together? It seems to me that surveillance and mass behavioural modification is a natural development under the circumstances we are in. Unfortunately. In the future we will perhaps see what will essentially be a caste system, where the elites (be they the Chinese Communist Party) or whatever group rules in the West or what's left of it are distinguished by their greater capacity for self-discipline above all else. The vast majority of people will instead be conditioned by social media, streaming entertainment services etc. to just fall into line. Of course you will have a few "extremists" who will cause trouble and feel alienated in this new world, but if everyone else who isn't part of the elite just behaves like drones then they are going to stand right out and be quite easy for the security services to find. That is the logic anyway, hopefully it won't come to that and the future will be brighter.

That wasn't exactly impartial but I hope it was something - and that said something wasn't too depressing.
 
Last edited:

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
Gathering of electronic data enables a form of state control that really has horrifying implications, and these are plainly in evidence in the Chinese social credit system; if that is acceptable in that society, well and good I suppose, but we who live in the West should observe this and draw appropriate cautionary lessons. Just think of what it can mean to move from the use of cash to use of credit cards and online payment systems for purchases, the possibility lies for a person's entire pattern of purchase to be recorded, stored and surveyed, even down to what books he buys and where he travels. Something that totalitarian rulers of the last century could only have dreamed of, when one compares the kinds of records that were kept for instance by the Gestapo and Stasi.
 
Nov 2014
420
ph
I can't help but feel a great aversion to the Chinese social credit system, so this is not going to be impartial. Any population that would willingly subject themselves to something like that are in effect natural slaves, in the Aristotelian sense. Even if the intentions are "benign" you still allow somebody else (in this case the CCP) to decide what is benign or what is not for you. What kind of human being are you to do that? Why does someone like that deserve to be taken seriously? What value do they have outside of their relationship to their rulers?

On the other hand I think we in the West also seem to be making ourselves into natural slaves, just in a different and less transparent - but perhaps even more dangerous way. There are ways to monitor and shape peoples' behaviour now that the Stasi or Gestapo couldn't have dreamed of, with the tools to do so being held in fewer hands than ever before. People's information flow, their preferences, their behavioural patterns are becoming, broadly speaking, less varied than ever before. At least in Sweden it is very easy for a conpany to make a credit check on you without you having any say, or just check your social media accounts - these things are done routinely for all sorts of reasons like job interviews. Is this really so different from the Chinese system, in practice?

The Chinese credit system (just like similar developmemts in the West) has to be understood in conjunction with modern technology and "modernity" more generally. We live in larger, increasingly complex societies with more "bottlenecks" and capacity for cascading effects. Things like family, traditional religion, loyalty and familiarity to the place you were born are increasingly missing. People also have greater theoretical ability to access information today than at any other time before, just like the ability of One Person to do enormous harm (terrorism, hacker attacks, whatever) is so much greater than ever before and will become much greater in the future. This is especially true in the social-liberal West, but it is true in China as well to a degree I'm sure.

So, how will these societies survive and keep together? It seems to me that surveillance and mass behavioural modification is a natural development under the circumstances we are in. Unfortunately. In the future we will perhaps see what will essentially be a caste system, where the elites (be they the Chinese Communist Party) or whatever group rules in the West or what's left of it are distinguished by their greater capacity for self-discipline above all else. The vast majority of people will instead be conditioned by social media, streaming entertainment services etc. to just fall into line. Of course you will have a few "extremists" who will cause trouble and feel alienated in this new world, but if everyone else who isn't part of the elite just behaves like drones then they are going to stand right out and be quite easy for the security services to find. That is the logic anyway, hopefully it won't come to that and the future will be brighter.

That wasn't exactly impartial but I hope it was something - and that said something wasn't too depressing.
Aren't you putting words into Aristotle's mouth? To be honest he does not strike me as a libertarian. In fact if you look deeply into his writings, you can see him leaning towards a paternalistic state, he certainly would not be in favor of a democracy where the only requirement to vote is a pulse and being over 18. Aristotle certainly strikes need as being anti-liberal, in the sense that he would be against the current form of liberal democracy. I certainly do not see him taking the modern liberal or libertarian view that the state should not try to mold and regulate the morality of its citizens, or that personal morality and politics cannot be intertwined. In fact if Aristotle were living in this present age, I have trouble seeing how his politics would be all that different from Lee Kuan Yew or Franco. Maybe if you were looking for a liberal or libertarian Socrates is more in your alley. Maybe Aristotle would not use the exact methods of the social credit system, but if Aristotle were living now, he certainly would see some role in the Chinese government in cutting down on the boorish behavior of its population, if informal societal controls to promote cooperative behavior were not sufficient.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: civfanatic
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
Aren't you putting words into Aristotle's mouth? To be honest he does not strike me as a libertarian. In fact if you look deeply into his writings, you can see him leaning towards a paternalistic state, he certainly would not be in favor of a democracy where the only requirement to vote is a pulse and being over 18.
I am not a libertarian either, but no I don't think he was for a paternalistic state. I think his ideal (given that he was in some prided himself on his factfulness I think talking of ideals can be a bit misleading) state was a small city state made up of free landowning men who did military service, a broadly middle class society; in the context of classical Greece this means a restrictive hoplite democracy or perhaps a liberal oligarchy if that tells you anything. Quite different from paternalism, where this abstraction called the state tells you what is right and what is no as if it was your father. Aristotle was not Plato (in fact, it could be argued that Plato was not Plato - if people would read The Laws as well as The Republic they might find a more moderate thinker). You could argue that Aristotle was for a "paternalistic" society in the sense that society was stratified, but I think "paternalistic" has more moralistic and centralizing connotations than Aristotle would have liked. You are right about your last part though, that he was skeptical of pure democracy.

Anyway, in the politics Aristotle writes (copied from Wikipedia because I am lazy and entering Loeb classical library on my laptop takes a hell of a lot of time):

those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast—and they are in this state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them—are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled in accordance with this sort of rule, if such is the case for the other things mentioned.[6]

Okay, so what he means is essentially that if you lack the ability to conduct yourself as a free man (or a polis living man) you are a natural slave. My point is that the people who will live under the Chinese social credit system - and possibly the future masses in the West as well - will in effect become natural slaves, as they will lack the soul and the capacity needed to be free.


Sorry if this was a bit of a nitpicky comment.
 
Last edited:

Linschoten

Ad Honoris
Aug 2010
16,214
Welsh Marches
I'm afraid that the mass of people are not particularly concerned about being free provided that they are comfortable, they're happy enough to be controlled and be told what to think provided that they suppose that it's in their material interest. The Chinese people are being lifted out of general poverty and they've entered into a Faustian pact with the ruling party, accepting that it should control everything provided that it continues to deliver, on the supposition that this is preferable to the messiness and unpredictability of any more democratic system; but the trouble is that when you sign up to such a pact, it becomes impossible to retract when the situation changes, especially when the rulers have easy access to all your personal data and have the means to control your life.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Kotromanic
Nov 2014
420
ph
I am not a libertarian either, but no I don't think he was for a paternalistic state. I think his ideal (given that he was in some prided himself on his factfulness I think talking of ideals can be a bit misleading) state was a small city state made up of free landowning men who did military service, a broadly middle class society. In the context of classical Greece, a restrictive hoplite democracy or perhaps a liberal oligarchy if that tells you anything. Quite different from paternalism, where this abstraction called the state tells you what is right and what is no as if it was your father. Aristotle was not Plato (in fact, it could be argued that Plato was not Plato - if people would read The Laws as well as The Republic they might find a more moderate thinker). You could argue that he was for a "paternalistic" society in the sense that society was stratified, but I think "paternalistic" has more moralistic and centralizing connotations than Aristotle would have liked. You are right about your last part though, that he was skeptical of pure democracy.

Anyway, in the politics Aristotle writes (copied from Wikipedia because I am lazy and entering Loeb classical library on my laptop takes a hell of a lot of time):

those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast—and they are in this state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them—are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled in accordance with this sort of rule, if such is the case for the other things mentioned.[6]

Okay, so what he means is essentially that if you lack the ability to conduct yourself as a free man (or a polis living man) you are a natural slave. My point is that the people who will live under the Chinese social credit system - and possibly the future masses in the West as well - will in effect become natural slaves, as they will lack the soul and the capacity needed to be free.


Sorry if this was a bit of a nitpicky comment.
How are you supposed to form a system of values without some form of backup of values formation by that state? Or the state with its laws as a last line of defence for the maintenance of values, with the community being the first line of defence, assuming that your society is not atomized so that communities beyond perhaps your drinking buddies and your immediate family really do not exist? Assuming that free will exists? I thought the Romans got this when they had the office of the Roman censor? And you can argue that the state does legislate morality, and does preach morality anyway, isn't banning murder and theft and attempt to legislate against acts of unjustified killing and stealing? And what do you call civics class, or do not grope women at the swimming pool class for refugees, if not an attempt to mold morality by the state?
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
How are you supposed to form a system of values without some form of backup of values formation by that state? Or the state with its laws as a last line of defence for the maintenance of values, with the community being the first line of defence, assuming that your society is not atomized so that communities beyond perhaps your drinking buddies and your immediate family really do not exist? Assuming that free will exists? I thought the Romans got this when they had the office of the Roman censor?
How is a state supposed to be formed without people forming it? Values schmalues. We are social animals, there will always be values of some kind. The question is what kind of values they are and for what kind of society (or societies) those values will be adapted. Where do they come from?

Also, ancient Greece, just like Europe historically was very decentralized, bordering on anarchic. I think there were over 1500 Greek city states recorded from antiquity. If you read the Iliad and think about what kind of society that made those poems, then it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to say that "your immediate family and drinking buddies" is the only kind of strong community (look up the concept of philos if you are interested) that actually existed. Most Greek city states were quite small even in the classical era, I think the average size was 5000 free adult male citizens...

One thing I sometimes think about when I want to be really depressing is if political freedom is only possible in this warlike, half-anarchic context. As soon as you make something bigger then you end up with all sorts of problems.

I'm afraid I don't understand what the roman censors have to do with this.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
I'm afraid that the mass of people are not particularly concerned about being free provided that they are comfortable, they're happy enough to be controlled and be told what to think provided that they suppose that it's in their material interest. The Chinese people are being lifted out of general poverty and they've entered into a Faustian pact with the ruling party, accepting that it should control everything provided that it continues to deliver, on the supposition that this is preferable to the messiness and unpredictability of any more democratic system; but the trouble is that when you sign up to such a pact, it becomes impossible to retract when the situation changes, especially when the rulers have easy access to all your personal data and have the means to control your life.
I think you may be right. If material interest is all you have then you are very easily manipulated...

What scares me most about the Chinese political system is the fact that I fear it might actually work very well in the purely functional and economic sense - compared with other older and more obvious forms of unfree systems like the Soviet Union. No doubt the Chinese will even be conditioned to like it as much as possible, humans are malleable and the Chinese do not seem naturally predisposed to free government (even though Taiwan seems to work very well, so I have no doubt they can pull it off if they want to).