china social credit
© ABC News In Depth screengrab
In China, artificial intelligence uses facial recognition to monitor citizens for the social credit system
We are just over one week away from the release of Live Not By Lies, and I'm gearing up for swatting down the "Dreher's just being alarmist" accusations. Fortunately — or, to be honest, unfortunately for us all — 2020 is making my job a lot easier. A reader forwarded some information to me this morning that made my jaw drop. I'll tell you about it in a second, but first, I want to share with you a passage from the book.

Regular readers know that my belief is that the coming "soft totalitarianism" will rely on a social credit system, like the one the Chinese use, to control the masses and to compel conformity without having to use "hard" methods. From Live Not By Lies:
Beijing's use of consumer data, biometric information, GPS tracking coordinates, facial recognition, DNA, and other forms of data harvesting has turned, and continues to turn, China into a beast never before seen worldwide, not even under Mao or Stalin. In China, the tools of surveillance capitalism are employed by the surveillance state to administer the so-called social credit system, which determines who is allowed to buy, sell, and travel, based on their social behavior.

"China is about to become something new: an AI-powered techno-totalitarian state," writes journalist John Lanchester. "The project aims to form not only a new kind of state but a new kind of human being, one who has fully internalized the demands of the state and the completeness of its surveillance and control. That internalization is the goal: agencies of the state will never need to intervene to correct the citizen's behavior, because the citizen has done it for them in advance."

He is talking about Beijing's pioneering use of artificial intelligence and other forms of digital data gathering to create a state apparatus that not only monitors all citizens constantly but also can compel them to behave in ways the state demands without ever deploying the secret police or the threat of gulags (though those exist for the recalcitrant), and without suffering the widespread poverty that was the inevitable product of old-style communism.

The great majority of Chinese pay for consumer goods and services using smartphone apps or their faces, via facial recognition technology. These provide consumer convenience and security, making life easier for ordinary people. They also generate an enormous amount of personal data about each Chinese individual, all of which the government tracks.

The state has other uses for facial recognition technology. Television cameras are ubiquitous on Chinese streets, recording the daily comings and goings of the nation's people. Beijing's software is so advanced that it can easily check facial scans against the central security database. If a citizen enters an area forbidden to him — a church, say — or even if a person is merely walking in the opposite direction of a crowd, the system automatically records it and alerts the police.

In theory, police don't have to show up at the suspect's door to make him pay for his disobedience. China's social credit system automatically tracks the words and actions, online and off, of every Chinese citizen, and grants rewards or demerits based on obedience. A Chinese who does something socially positive — helping an elderly neighbor with a chore, or listening to a speech of leader Xi Jinping — receives points toward a higher social credit score. On the other hand, one who does something negative — letting his or her dog poop on the sidewalk, for example, or making a snarky comment on social media — suffers a social-credit downgrade.

Because digital life, including commercial transactions, is automatically monitored, Chinese with high social credit ratings gain privileges. Those with lower scores find daily life harder. They aren't allowed to buy high speed train tickets or take flights. Doors close to certain restaurants. Their children may not be allowed to go to college. They may lose their job and have a difficult time finding a new one. And a social-credit scofflaw will find himself isolated, as the algorithmic system downgrades those who are connected to the offender.

The bottom line: a Chinese citizen cannot participate in the economy or society unless he has the mark of approval from Xi Jinping, the country's all-powerful leader. In a cashless society, the state has the power to bankrupt dissidents instantly by cutting off access to the internet. And in a society in which everyone is connected digitally, the state can make anyone an instant pariah when the algorithm turns them radioactive, even to their family.
You think it can't happen here? As I show in the book, Google, Facebook, and other major corporations already collect tons of data from every one of us, based on how we use the Internet and our smartphones. If you have an Alexa, or any other "smart" device in your home, then whether you realize it or not, you have consented to allow all kinds of personal data to be hoovered up by the device and shared with a corporation. The technological capacity already exists in this country. The data are already being collected.

And Covid has pushed the United States much farther down the road to becoming a cashless society. There is an obvious safety-related reason for this. But banks have a vested financial interest in weaning Americans off of cash:
"Big Finance is the key driver moving us to a cashless society," he said. "You'll notice banks have been slowly closing branches and ATMs and they're doing so in an effort to nudge us more toward their digital platforms. This saves them labor, it saves them a lot of real estate costs, and it improves their bottom line."
What happens when you can't buy things at stores with cash? It's already happening now. I've been to stores here in Baton Rouge that will only transact business with credit or debit cards, citing Covid, or the inability to make change because of a coin shortage. It's understandable, but you should be well aware that the move to a cashless society makes each of us completely vulnerable to being shut out of the economy by fiat.

Here is a recent news report explaining how tech companies in China are collaborating with the state to improve the social credit system's monitoring. And here is an NBC News report explaining what living under the social credit system is like for Chinese people — including how hard life is if you are blacklisted for nonconformity. Watch one or both of them. It's important because now, we have evidence that American industry is preparing for a social credit system to be implemented here in the US. A reader who is an engineer sends along this industry news, and tells me that the takeaway point is that the American tech industry is ready and willing to do it here.

I'm going to give you a screenshot of the headline, which made my heart stop:
social credit
Here's a link to the page selling the report. The bland language of bureaucratese masks the sinister reality:
Beginning as a trend largely orthogonal to public safety and homeland security concerns, the market for social credit system infrastructure will ultimately become a mainstream component of both business and public policy. This means that systems will ultimately be used for a variety of commerce and lifestyle-related issues ranging from risk assessment (access to credit, financing fees, insurance, etc.) to accessibility within public places such as concerts, sporting events, and other assemblies. High social scoring individuals within the social credit market will be granted preferred access to both real and digital assets.

Social credit system infrastructure includes analog and digital surveillance, Internet-enabled devices like smartphones, wearable devices, security systems sensor-enabled physical objects, and surveillance devices that use biometrics and computer vision. Technologies include broadband wireless (WiFi, LTE, and 5G), IoT, AI algorithms, and big data analytics platforms, processes, and procedures. While each of these systems has market value individually, and are deployed separately for various purposes, it is the convergence of these otherwise disparate technologies that will facilitate value within the social credit market. For example, combined AI and IoT systems will be leveraged to identify important events that require immediate action versus those that are merely archived.

It is important to note that there is great overlap between the technologies used for social credit systems and other solutions such as public safety, homeland security, and smart cities applications of many types including smart transportation (highways and surface streets, parking, autonomous vehicles, etc.), intelligent buildings, environmental monitoring (light, temperature, pressure, etc.). Many of these infrastructure elements are already planned for smart cities implementations and will, therefore, be multi-purposed including support of the social credit market.
More:
At the heart of social credit systems are large-scale data repositories that may store virtually any type of data that may be correlated to or associate with citizens and businesses in terms of both identity and behaviors. This includes raw observational data as well as listings (white, gray, red, and black) and meta-data to tie together data elements and allow for ease of information queries. Without the use of AI and big data technology, it would be problematic to implement social credit market systems in a meaningful way as massive amounts of disparate data must be correlated.
Note that line: the market for social credit system infrastructure will ultimately become a mainstream component of both business and public policy. The engineer who sent me this says:
These type of reports target tech leaders looking for market opportunities, the "next big thing", and where to invest their resources. Multiple items of note that align with your theses. The core point here is that this is an indicator of an industry ready and willing to implement a pervasive social credit infrastructure.
If you don't believe that the left — woke capitalists, universities, and other institutions — would jump to implement such a system, as part of a plan to rid the world of racism, of homophobia, of transphobia, of bigoted Christianity, political dissenters, and so forth, you are living in denial. It's coming, and it's coming hard. Do not make the mistake of thinking that such a system would obviously be unpopular. Politico wrote this summer:
While online shaming may seem like a major preoccupation for the public if you spend a lot of time on Twitter, only 40% of voters say they have participated in cancel culture and only one in 10 say they participate "often." It appears to be more of a liberal pursuit: Half of Democrats have shared their dislike of a public figure on social media after they did something objectionable, while only a third of Republicans say they have.
Age is one of the most reliable predictors of one's views. Members of Generation Z are the most sympathetic to punishing people or institutions over offensive views, followed closely by Millennials, while GenXers and Baby Boomers have the strongest antipathy towards it. Cancel culture is driven by younger voters. A majority (55%) of voters 18-34 say they have taken part in cancel culture, while only about a third (32%) of voters over 65 say they have joined a social media pile-on. The age gap may partially explain why Ernest Owens, a millennial journalist, responded to Obama's criticism with a New York Times op-ed that amounted to a column-length retort of "OK, boomer."
Over the next couple of decades, as Boomers pass into history, and Generation X becomes a minority, weaponizing cancel culture as a national social credit system may well be popular. A sign of what's coming: at The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and other major publications, Millennials and Gen Z'ers in those newsrooms forced out writers and editors who violated progressive orthodoxies. As go the elites, so, eventually, goes the country. We can, and we should, fight this politically as hard as we can, but we should be aware that this really is a David vs. Goliath fight. I don't see much evidence now that the right even understands what's happening, and grasps the stakes. It is very, very hard to get right-of-center people to imagine that Big Business is, and is going to be, part of the soft totalitarian Regime. Conservatives are so stuck in a Cold War mindset that they can only see totalitarianism as something that a tyrannical government does. They cannot imagine the day coming where woke banks redline them on the basis of being a bad social credit risk, and keep them from having access to capital. This is what Woke Capitalism means: bringing left-wing politics to the practice of business, even down to the granular level. Aside from Woke Capitalism, my belief is that when the Democrats consolidate power in the years to come, they will move to pacify the country by implementing a social credit system that will punish dissenters and reward conformists — and progressives will cheer, because the anti-liberal principles of cancel culture (e.g., no tolerance for disagreement) are already normative within the institutions they control.

If you are a Christian or a conservative of any kind, please get a copy of Live Not By Lies, which will be published on September 29, and let's get started preparing for the long resistance. When Father Tomislav Kolakovic warned the Slovaks in 1943 that totalitarianism would come to their country when the Red Army defeated the Nazis in the East, bishops and others thought he was alarmist. But he was right. The young Christians who believed him, and acted on his warnings started building networks of spiritual and practical resistance, while they were still free to do so. Those networks became the backbone of the underground church under communism. In my book, I quote Dr. Nicolas Bartulica, a Croatian emigre to the US, and a friend of the prophetic priest. Dr. Bartulica says:
"Father Kolaković saw what was coming and prepared Christians for it. Don't doubt it. He is speaking to us even now. He is telling us what to do."
(By the way, if you want to pre-order a signed copy of Live Not By Lies, you can do so exclusively through Eighth Day Books in Wichita — click here.)

UPDATE:

tweet
I get that. Me, I have no idea if the Apocalypse — as in, the End of the World — is at hand, and I would not dare to guess. Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour. But as far as I know, until now, we have never had a system of commerce that could cut someone out of the economy entirely if they were dissenters from the regime ("...so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name" — Rev. 13:17). This now exists in China, thanks to technology in the hands of a tyrannical government. And it is coming to us too.

UPDATE.2: Reader Hattmann:
For those who don't believe it will happen, it already has. Banks have already closed accounts of gun manufacturers. I work for a large financial institution. We scour the web when you open an account. Bankruptcy in 2003, You'll have to explain (that's a real life example).
I know Hattmann's real identity. He's not lying to you when he says he works for a large financial institution.
Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod's commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.