What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in “Brave New World Revisited,” the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. —Neil Postman

Does the scanner see into me clearly or darkly?

Sesame Credit App
Postman was a prescient man. He questioned the value of a society (ours in particular) that was uninterested in exercising its capacity to consistently exceed its potential. He understood access to information did not correlate directly with knowledge or even education, and that apathy might be more dangerous to a free society then authoritarian-directed motivation. In the intelligence community (IC), a consistent pattern has arisen in the wake of the absence of the Soviet Union, wherein the exclusivity of information is frequently confused with its importance. The IC is beset with the familiar trends many of you see in your Facebook timelines, or Twitter feeds, and which feed off of the availability of exclusive sources of information. In our contemporary society, echo chambers and confirmation bias abound.

Understanding what we see in the mirror of our society is important specifically because we use it to compare ourselves with other societies. The nature of “good vs. evil” in simplistic terms. The necessity of evil as a mean gradient for how we measure good. The quality or quantity of freedom. The nature of self-determination and the exercise of free will. These are not international standards.

Two years ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) released a document titled “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020).” I’ll quote a bit here. (From experience, these documents are “removed for public safety,” so you may want to save the text.)

A social credit system is an important component part of the socialist market economy system and the social governance system. It is founded on laws, regulations, standards and charters, it is based on a complete network covering the credit records of members of society and credit infrastructure, it is supported by the lawful application of credit information and a credit services system, its inherent requirements are establishing the idea of a sincerity culture, and carrying forward sincerity and traditional virtues, it uses encouragement to keep trust and constraints against breaking trust as incentive mechanisms, and its objective is raising the honest mentality and credit levels of the entire society.

Accelerating the construction of a social credit system is an important basis for comprehensively implementing the scientific development view and building a harmonious Socialist society, it is an important method to perfect the Socialist market economy system, accelerating and innovating social governance, and it has an important significance for strengthening the sincerity consciousness of the members of society, forging a desirable credit environment, raising the overall competitiveness of the country and stimulating the development of society and the progress of civilization.

Sesame Credit gamifies how good China's citizens are and how closely they follow the party line. You could see your friends scores.
Sesame Credit gamifies how good China’s citizens are and how closely they follow the party line. You could see your friends’ scores.

The first thing to note is that this is a social credit system. Credit in the U.S. is generally monitored by the “Big Three” credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union. They monitor consumer and supply-side transaction data for credit evaluations, which they then provide to banks as a stark summary judgement of a consumer. The consumer generally sees this as a “credit score,” and it affects our overall buying power, since much of the U.S. is built on a fiat system. Certainly there are issues with this system, but all three agencies spend an inordinate amount of time and effort attempting to protect consumer identities.

However, the PRC system is a social one. It uses similar central metrics of evaluation, however, it includes data points submitted (presumably) by a cohort of peers. Thus, the PRC intends to use societal pressure as a lever for affecting citizen behavior. Since Chinese society is heavily influenced by face (or mianzi), the implied intent is pretty clear. The individual will be heavily coerced by both their government and their peers to adjust his/her spending habits respectively to their cohort.