An informative and even-handed segment from VICE News (not a source I usually find to be of much value) recently explored the Orwellian “Social Credit System” in China. The use of this system in China, however, prompts an obvious question, which the VICE segment did not consider: Could something like this happen in America? With the nation’s increasing embrace of socialism and the rise of the PC snowflake culture, government intrusion into the minutest details of our lives is a commonplace today, so the notion might not be as implausible as it may initially seem.
The Chinese Social Credit System is essentially a real-time “karma” system that awards citizens credits for good behavior and deducts credits for bad behavior. For example, the Vice segment showed a man getting rewarded for turning in a wallet he found on the ground, without stealing anything from it. Other rewarded behaviors noted in the piece include giving to charity, donating blood, and doing volunteer work. The system is similar to those widely used in kindergarten classrooms all around the world. Lose enough credits, and you start to lose certain rights and privileges. The government may limit your permission and ability to travel, throttle your internet speeds, or, possibly the vilest punishment of all, take away your dog. On the other hand, if you gain enough credits, the government will grant you privileges and awards, such as higher wages and discounts on utilities or rent. Hoorah for you!
Although China’s system is explicit, the Western world has been headed in this direction for decades now.The Economist notes that In Germany,“[i]nciting hatred can carry a prison sentence of up to five years, Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is available only in annotated form, and it is illegal to single out any part of the population for insult or other abuse that could ‘breach the peace.’” Here in the United States, PC culture has become ingrained as well, having started on the nation’s college campuses and spreading from there. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has found“that nearly 90 percent of 466 colleges and universities infringe on free speech rights of students.”
It is, of course, perfectly reasonable for decent people to denounce hateful speech and activities, and such denunciation is certainly on the rise in our society. It is quite another thing for people to use government and its monopoly on violence to coerce others into refraining from saying things we find to be too offensive for our delicate sensibilities. The religious faith of our nation’s founders and the great majority of its population throughout its history holds that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. That does not mean, however, that we have the right to force our neighbor to love us in return or at least pretend to do so.
Unfortunately, that is precisely the direction in which we in the United States have been going for the past few decades, with our political and cultural elites using acceptance and inclusiveness as a Trojan horse to institute increasingly obtrusive and heavy-handed control over expressions of opinion, business practices, and even our use of bathrooms. The major difference between the Chinese government and Western governments is that the Chinese openly admit that what they’re doing constitutes totalitarian control of the people. Here, the system is purveyed behind a fig leaf of concern for other people’s rights: where two people’s rights conflict, the government weighs in on a politically favored individual’s side instead of requiring the parties to work it out with each other as civilized people have always done.
This burgeoning American system of political mind control is a consequence of the government’s pushing of secularism, which has involved removing Christianity from the government-controlled K-12 education system and the colleges and universities, forcing individuals to set their religious principles aside if they want to engage in business, requiring people of faith to fund government support of activities their religion considers sinful, etc. Big governments perceive religion, especially Christianity, as a big problem because it teaches that there is an even greater power than the greatest power on earth. John Das of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property notes, although an extreme example, that in the Soviet Union “[b]y 1941, of the nearly 1,200 Catholic churches that had existed in 1917, only two were still active. In addition, parochial schools were closed and the teaching of religion to minors was outlawed.”
As our nation’s founders widely understood, however, people must be virtuous in order to be self-governing. As Samuel Adams noted, “The diminution of public virtue is usually attended with that of public happiness, and the public liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals.”
That is the fundamental reason both the Chinese and Western governments are resorting to moral micromanagement of the population: having undermined and rejected the religious foundations of virtue, governments replace it with a secular system of rewards and punishments to “nudge” the populace into virtue, with the stronger threats of PC police and bands of thugs to be used on particularly stubborn individuals and groups. Government is our new conscience, because God is too great a threat to the established secular order. In China, the system is far more organized than in the United States and is directed toward supporting traditional virtues. In the United States, the process is a combination of threats and stealth and is directed toward undermining conventional virtues in order, apparently, to increase the spread of dependency and thus greater voter support for big government.
In Communist and socialist utopias, the government really does take the place of God. The government giveth and the government taketh away. It provides “free” health care and government-owned apartments, and all that the people have to give up is freedom of thought and conscience. If the leftists in the Western world and the United States in particular are truly concerned about oppression, they should take a second to stop and smell what they’re shoveling.