Your Score Is Your Life

social-behavior-score-2

Absolutely fascinating article in the Washington Post

China is working on a plan to use big data to score people on their social behavior. 

Every interaction you make in life either increments or decrements your social score. 

You social score determines how trustworthy you are. 

The social score would vacuum up data from the “courts, police, banking, tax, and employment records.”

People in service professions like teacher, doctors, and business could be scored for their professionalism. 

Doing positive social actions like caring for the elderly earn you added points and doing negative social actions like DUI or running a red light subtracts points from your score. 

As the score includes more and more data feeds over time, you could eventually be scored for doing your homework, chores in the home, how you treat your wife and children, the community service you do, how hard you perform at work, how you treat people socially and on dates, whether you are fair in your business dealings and treat others well, whether you do your religious duties, and so on. 

People can get rated for just about everything they do.

And these rating get aggregated into your social score. 

The score is immediately available to everyone and so they know how good or bad you are on the scale of 1 to a 1,000.

If you think people are stressed out now, can you imagine having to worry about everything you do and how you will be rated for it and how it can affect your score and your future. 

If you have a bad score, say goodbye to opportunities for education, employment, loans, friends, and marriage prospects. 

Imagine people held hostage by others threatening to give you a bad score because they don’t like you, are racist, or for blackmail. 

What about society abusing this power to get you to not only follow positive social norms, but to enforce on you certain political leanings, religious followings, or policy endorsements. 

Social scores could end up meaning the ultimate in social control. 

Personal scores can manipulate your behavior by being rewarding or punitive and rehabilitative to whatever end the scoring authorities dictate. 

Moreover, hackers or the people who control the big data machinery could destroy your life in a matter of milliseconds. 

So this is what it comes down to: You are your score!

Play along and do what you are told to do…you are the Borg and you will follow. 

Conform or you are dead by number!

Transparency is everywhere. 

Pluses and minuses every day. 

What is my score today? 

Today, I am desirable and successful, and tomorrow, I am disregarded and a loser. 

Please don’t kill my score.

Please don’t destroy me. 

Please, I will be socially good. 

Please, I will not resist. 😉

(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

Imprisoned and Reeducated

Imprisoned and Reeducated

China always seems like such a beautiful and mystical land to me.

The innate beauty of this huge, yet sort of remote country, a homogenous people who have a raw brilliance yet type of innocence about them, and the ancient practices of natural medicine and martial arts, and a meditative demonstration of inner tranquility.

In contrast to this image, I have read about forced labor and tough punishment on people in various Asian countries, with a poignant focus on the North Korean camps with untold horrors. But recently, there seems to be more information being shared about forced labor camps in China as well.

First, I read about the notion by China’s ruling elite that the individual is nothing, and the State is everything. Therefore, the sacrifice of one or tens of millions of individuals for the sake of the greater country and those in power is acceptable, perhaps even desirable. This aligns with an extreme of utilitarianism–the greatest good for the greatest number, but irregardless of the effects on the individual.

This is very different than Western Countries, which have a tremendous value that is put on each individual–their voices and opinions, their rights and freedoms, and the protection and safeguarding of each person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. There is emphasis on the individual and the social contract that exists between them and their government. In this system, the whole (State) is greater because of the sum of it’s parts (of individuals), not in spite of it.

Last Friday, I read about the consequences of these differences in political philosophy in an article in the Washington Post about the grim conditions in Chinese labor and reeducation camps.

What struck me the most was the opening of the article that described one of the Chinese reeducation camps.

“For the first weeks, Shen Yongmei was told to sit on a rough plastic stool from 6 a.m. to 8. p.m., her back absolutely straight, her hands on her knees, and stare in silence at three sentences painted on a wall.

– What is this place?
– Why are you here?
– What attitude are you going to employee in order to comply with the police?”

The 55-year old women was told to contemplate on these and any slackening could result in a beating.

After this, the women went through months of “reeducation through labor”–screwing on the plastic plugs on ballpoint pens–a quota of 12,000 a day.

All this to wash clean her “disobedient thoughts”!

In Judaism, there is a teaching that we don’t really get punished for thoughts, but for actions. A person can’t fully control where their thoughts stray, although we can take steps to control our wondering eyes, mischievous speech, gluttonous eating, and so on.

Similarly, in America, we are not punished for having a bad thought, but for committing a criminal act.

Yet, in China just being suspected of harboring disobedient thoughts can get you (and your family) into a whole lot of trouble and necessitate your rehabilitation through coercion.

For the last week, I have not been able to stop thinking about the image of the lady on the stool for 14-hours a day starting at those three questions in order to reform her.

Treating people like misbehaving children who are put in a quiet corner of the classroom for a short time and told to think about what they did and when they are ready, they can come back and join the rest of the class.

But these are not misbehaving, they are not children, they are not in a classroom, and it is not contemplative for a short time, but punitive and threatening of much worse to come if they don’t comply.

There are so many horrors out there that can be inflicted on human beings–not even for doing something wrong and violent, but for simply not agreeing with those in power.

Of course the state is important. But perhaps it is not a state, but a prison, if the people are forced to consent both in body and mind?

I would suggest that we can learn from the Chinese that a hedonistic, near-constant focus on the “I” and immediate gratification does not achieve long-term, well being for the “us”. And that there is an important place for individual self-sacrifice for the greater good.

This reminds me of the Jewish saying from Ethics of Our Fathers, where Hillel says that “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself what am I?”

Perhaps, a balance of looking after oneself and giving generously to others and the Nation can provide for both personal growth and satisfaction as well as a higher, long-term, purpose for the survival and advancement of the collective.

My belief: Education and not reeducation is the answer. Good jobs with fair pay and benefits and not labor camps is the answer. Self-determination and sacrifice and not State protectionism is the answer.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)