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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Foucault and the CCP's social-credit scheme

I highly recommend this book(s) review, by John Lancaster, in the London Review of Books, called "Document Number Nine."  Among other things, it discusses the striking developments in AI/machine learning and the ways that the CCP dictatorship is using them for policing, surveillance, rewards, and punishment.  Along the way, though, there was this, which echoed some themes I've been presenting, in my first-year Criminal Law course, when we talk about "Big Data" and Predictive Policing:

At the moment, the main impacts of people’s social credit are on activities such as travel: people with bad social credit can’t fly, can’t book high-speed train tickets or sleeper berths; they have slower internet access and can’t book fancy hotels or restaurants. It isn’t difficult to project a future in which these sanctions spread to every area of life. The China-wide version of social credit is scheduled to go live in 2020. The ultimate goal is to make people internalise their sense of the state: to make people self-censor, self-monitor, self-supervise. Strittmatter quotes Discipline and Punish: ‘He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.’ The Chinese version of social credit is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to Foucault’s system in action at a national level.

And this:

Given all this, it is frequently the case that outsiders are surprised by the apparent freedom of the Chinese internet. People do feel able to complain, especially about pollution and food scandals. As Strittmatter puts it, ‘a wide range of competing ideologies continues to circulate on the Chinese internet, despite the blows struck by the censors: Maoists, the New Left, patriots, fanatical nationalists, traditionalists, humanists, liberals, democrats, neoliberals, fans of the USA and various others are launching debates on forums.’ The ultimate goal of this apparatus is to make people internalise the controls, to develop limits to their curiosity and appetite for non-party information. Unfortunately, there is evidence that this approach works: Chinese internet users are measurably less likely to use technology designed to circumvent censorship and access overseas sources of information than they used to be.

A new chapter, perhaps, in a revised version of Andrew Ferguson's book?

Posted by Rick Garnett on October 9, 2019 at 10:37 AM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


For what my recommendation's worth, the entire London Review of Books is leaps and bounds better than any of the comparable publications in this country, though some people may mind that its politics are harder-left (and more anti-Zionist) than that of the comparable publications in this country. Even its occasional forays into law, often authored by Stephen Sedley, a major former British judge, are much more interesting than the pallid amicus briefs for non-lawyers that the New York Review of Books tends to publish.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Oct 9, 2019 1:32:39 PM

There has been a fair amount of research by political scientists on this issue, and they have found that "posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content." https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11878767/33531/censored.pdf?sequence%3D1

That seems pretty unsurprising; the govt lets people blow off steam, but prevents speech that might lead to the creation of any sort of potential political threat to the state.

Posted by: gdanning | Oct 9, 2019 11:17:54 AM

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