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‘Black Mirror’ Meets Reality: China Moves To Rate Its Citizens Using A ‘Social Credit System’

China has implemented a social ranking system that’s set to become mandatory in 2020, and it sounds eerily familiar to a Black Mirror episode.

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Can you imagine a rating system being fully implemented into society that is not only meant to establish your “trustworthiness,” but is available for everyone to see? Well, China is seriously considering doing just that, as detailed in the State Council of China‘s document published in 2014 called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System.”

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Though this hierarchal system is currently voluntary, it is set to become mandatory in 2020. If you’re getting sort of a deja-vu feeling, that’s totally understandable. The system China proposed sounds eerily similar to an ominous social rating system featured in an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, which depicted a chilling Big-Brother-type, social-media-obsessed future.

China Plans to Implement Social Rating System by 2020

First, let’s review the details of China’s social rating system, called the “Social Credit System” (SCS). Try to envision a world in which you’re constantly monitored, judged for your actions, and literally evaluated based on every choice you make and action you take.

There will be different categories that you’ll be ranked on, including behaviour, personal preferences, and interpersonal relationships. From the people you hang out with to the amount of time you spend on social media and playing video games to the types of purchases you make and how much debt you have, the world will know. You can say goodbye to privacy under SCS, because Big Brother is stepping in to monitor your every move.

Of course, a lot of this already happens. Many governments including the U.S. already spy on their citizens, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram collect an overwhelming amount of information on you, and Google is secretly recording pretty much everything you do. Google keeps the texts/videos you send and literally tracks your every move thanks to your trusty Google Maps app (read more about that in our CE article here).

The primary issue with the rating system is, not only are they monitoring citizens even more than they do currently, which is already a substantial and arguably inappropriate amount, but they’re labelling their actions as “positive” or “negative” as well. Should we really be comfortable allowing the government to dictate what’s right or wrong?

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Sure, there are certain laws that are in place for a reason, but ultimately the government does not always operate in favour of society because they often put the needs of corporations over the needs of their own citizens. Laws are often heavily influenced by corporations whose main goal is profit, not the betterment of humanity as a whole.

Many governments allow corporations like Monsanto to fill our food supply with carcinogenic herbicides, they let Big Pharma influence their drug approval processes and advertise drugs to the public, and they allow the meat and dairy industries to dictate what their food guides deem healthy for our bodies, despite going against doctors’ recommendations.

This is precisely why rating systems in societies could pose a huge problem: We all have different moral compasses. Much of what the government does, you may not support. So, what happens when you voice your opinion, particularly if it goes against the government’s regime, in hopes of inspiring positive change within society? Well, you could get a lower score, rendering you ‘less trustworthy’ and ultimately affecting your ability to get a mortgage, a job, a loan, etc.

Of course, you could decide to speak out against them, and hope your rating wouldn’t affect your overall wellbeing, but how would that affect your friends’ and family members’ ratings?

The Chinese government has described the system as a method to improve trust nationwide and cultivate a culture of “sincerity.”

The policy reads, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

According to the policy documents, if you receive a low score on the SCS, then you could face the following penalties:

  • You won’t be eligible for positions in public office
  • You will no longer have access to social security and welfare
  • You’ll face stricter regulations and “frisking” at Chinese customs
  • You’ll won’t be able to apply for any senior level positions in the food and drug sector
  • You won’t be able to sleep in a bed in overnight trains
  • You won’t be able to stay in higher-starred hotels and restaurants and will have more difficulty travelling
  • Your children could potentially suffer because they won’t be allowed to attend more expensive private schools

It’s very clear that this ranking system could create a lot of separatism and division, and allow the elite to gain even more special treatment than they already enjoy. This type of hierarchy is in no way conducive to equality, or a society that allows love to lead their decisions. We do not need to implement social ranking systems in order to increase sincerity within society; we simply need to have more compassion for other people and treat them like equals. 

The rating systems could seriously halt our personal growth, innovation, and thirst for knowledge as well. The government would be able to see exactly what books you’re reading and what you’re researching, and if it goes against the grain or challenges the current regime, then you could end up with a lower score. How are we going to be able to grow as a society if we don’t question the status quo?

We learn to improve ourselves by challenging the current norms and by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Renewable energy sources seriously threatened big oil and the government, yet this field was able to grow and advance because experts challenged our current energy system. We have made extreme advancements in health care because people found flaws in previous practices and had faith that they could improve them. This can be applied to quite literally every single industry, which is why these ranking systems could negatively affect growth, innovation, and our entire economic system as a whole.

If we can no longer challenge our current state of being and question our surroundings, then how can we continue to advance as a collective? As a collective, many of our strengths lie in our differences. A diverse society includes people with all different strengths and brackets of knowledge, but if we’re all racing to get a better ranking, then we could lose a lot of those differences in trying to become “people pleasers” and adhering to social norms.

How much could we be penalized for our creativity and forward-thinking under social ranking systems? It’s difficult to say. Perhaps there would be some benefits from this particular system being implemented in China, but until it is fully mandatory, we have no way of knowing the exact outcome.

China’s Social Ranking System Sounds a Lot Like This Episode of Black Mirror

Interestingly enough, an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror could give us some insight into how social rating systems could play out if they become mandatory in the future. If you haven’t watched Season 3 Episode 1 of Black Mirror yet, titled “Nosedive,” I’d highly recommend you check it out! The best part about this show is that you don’t need to watch the episodes in order, so even if you’ve never seen the series, you can still watch this episode without feeling lost.

The episode is entirely based around a social ranking system that had been integrated into every aspect of society, similar to what China plans to implement widespread by 2020 (though much more technologically advanced).

The episode focuses on a single social media platform that allows users to rank one another. The higher your ranking on this platform, the higher social class you find yourself in. Your score determines your livelihood: your access to services, your trustworthiness, your value, and your employability.

Your scores can also increase or decrease astonishingly quickly. You could lose so much in an instant, thanks to only a few people disliking you. You’re having a bad day, or perhaps you’re struggling with your mental health? Well, that could cost you your score, too.

The irony of this social ranking system was that it forced people to become insincere and disingenuous. Rather than improving their sincerity like China hopes their program will, it ended up encouraging people to simply play a “number’s game,” striving to please others and doing anything they could to fit into society’s norms.

The social ranking system depicted in Black Mirror just forced people to kiss up to higher-ups, making their lives one big popularity contest. The problem with this mentality is, if we’re not willing to challenge our superiors and “the popular kids” and speak up when we have genuinely innovative ideas or when we know something is “wrong,” then we cannot grow as a collective.

Another issue with this form of social ranking is that people could start to value themselves based on their numerical ranking and how society views them. The entire point of self worth is to determine how much you value yourself, not how much other people value you. It’s called self worth for a reason; you should not measure your worth based on society’s standards, but rather your own standards.

Final Thoughts 

We’re human beings, we often make mistakes, and in fact making mistakes can be a really beautiful part of life because we can turn our “mistakes” and “failures” into learning and growth opportunities. But, what if those mistakes became public? Would we be willing to take as many risks?

Although there could be some upsides to implementing a social ranking system, the risks far outweigh those potential benefits. So many of society’s problems today stem from our vying for social status and power, or from people holding their status over others. We certainly don’t need to add to this by further increasing separatism.

We need to encourage people to express themselves freely, question everything, and drop the fictitious barriers that social statuses create. We’re all human beings and we’re all equals, regardless of our social class or potential future social rankings.

If people start to value themselves based on a ranking system that may not even be “fairly ranked” to begin with, we will not become more sincere, we’ll just end up improving our “people pleasing” skills. We need to encourage others to go within to develop their self worth and build up their self love as well as express their creativity and their views; otherwise, we’ll end up regressing as a society instead of progressing.

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‘Jeffrey Epstein Committed Suicide’ Rules Medical Examiner

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    New York’s chief medical examiner has ruled Jeffrey Epstein's death suicide by hanging.

  • Reflect On:

    How could the biggest most important witness of our lifetime die so carelessly before trial? Why is there still so much we haven't been told about this Epstein case?

New York’s chief medical examiner has completed their autopsy and ruled that Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide by hanging himself his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.

Epstein was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges that had been reported for years but not much was done about them. His case is the highest profile case in a very long time involving many high level and elite figures and politicians.  Due to this, many believe he may have been murdered, and regardless of this ruling, that may still be the case.

It appears Epstein fashioned a noose out of a bedsheet and hung himself from a bunk bed in his cell. Epstein was allegedly able to kill himself just days after being taken off suicide watch at the prison as he had previously attempted suicide. Just so happens, guards on duty at the prison reportedly left Epstein unsupervised for longer than prison regulations require, giving him the time to commit suicide.

If Epstein’s case is this high profile, and he is likely the biggest most important witness is perhaps our lifetimes, how is it that the prison could have let this happen so easily and carelessly? Worthy of questioning regardless of the medical examiners ruling.

More details to come.

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The First & Only No-Kill State For Shelter Animals In The US Has Been Declared

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Photo courtesy of Brandywine Valley SPCA
Photo courtesy of Brandywine Valley SPCA

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    America has finally announced its first no-kill state: Delaware. All brick-and-mortar shelters in the First State have at least a 90% save rate which qualifies it as the very first full state working to lead a no-kill movement.

  • Reflect On:

    The no-kill movement is a beautiful one. It shows that the human-animal bond is not only seen and felt, but important enough to us as a collective to take action. Do you believe the goal of having all of America being no-kill by 2025 is attainable?

Sound the alarm! Happy news to share with you all today… Amid all of the perceived chaos that is taking over our screens and mainstream media, it’s always important to touch base on the good news that occurs. This week, Delaware has become the first official no-kill state for shelter animals, and I couldn’t be happier to hear and share this.

As not only a pet lover myself, but a cat-mom of 3 amazing shelter animals as well, I know and have seen the various traumas that can result from either life before being placed into a shelter or during their time there due to anxiety, etc. — and it doesn’t stop there. We’ve all heard the stories, and though I had yet to dive into the details myself personally due to not having the heart for it, it is a fact that some shelters rid themselves of ‘unwanted pets’ every cycle as the shelter seeks more room for new-coming potentials.

A volunteer cradles three rescued kittens.

Photo courtesy of Brandywine Valley SPCA

With that said, this is very BIG news — not only has Delaware taken on the task to reevaluate how its shelters are run and deal with overcrowding, but Delaware has also taken initiative in the ‘no-kill’ movement.

A Best Friends Animal Society volunteer hugs a rescue dog.

Photo courtesy of Brandywine Valley SPCA — The work of staff and volunteers at rescue organizations across the country and public support have already helped drastically reduce the number of pets dying each year in shelters from an estimated 17 million in the 1980s to now around 733,000 dogs and cats. Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

The nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, which is working with shelters, animal welfare organizations and government agencies across the country to make America a no-kill country by 2025, announced the news at their annual conference in Dallas, Texas.

Linda Torelli, director of marketing for the Brandywine Valley SPCA, which has three locations in Delaware and cares for more than 14,000 animals each year, credited a multipronged approach with helping the First State achieve no-kill status — and its citizens.

“The community in Delaware is very oriented to pet advocacy, so we had their support,” she told TODAY.

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Brandywine Valley SPCA implemented numerous programs so that 95% of animals that enter the open-admission shelter find homes. Torelli said because cats are euthanized at twice the rate of dogs, the nonprofit instituted the practice called trap, neuter and return, aka TNR, to save the lives of feral or “community” cats that would otherwise be euthanized. In TNR, advocates humanely trap the felines, and veterinarians spay or neuter them before they are released back into the community.

Open adoptions — which don’t require time-intensive applications that involve things like home inspections but instead focus on matching a pet with a potential adopter’s lifestyle — help move animals more quickly through the shelters. – As reported by TODAY

The Takeaway

We all either know someone or are that someone who has gone to a shelter and adopted their best friend at some point. And while we all aim to do our part, it’s a HUGE step to know that shelters themselves are now also taking initiative so that there is ‘no pet left behind’ if you will.

So many wonderful pets, companions, and memories are birthed thanks to adoption and it is beautiful to see that more intention is being set on creating a community that is aware of a movement to aid in eliminating the need to kill for the lack of insufficient adoptees. As a personal thank you to all of you who have or will adopt and welcome a new friend into your lives & homes – a reminder to remember you are saving a life when doing so. So, THANK YOU! And thank you, Delaware, for being the shift!

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Alternative News

What Are The Hong Kong Protests All About?

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Photos by Anthony Kwan & Peter Y. Chuang, Unsplash

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Protests in Hong Kong against an 'Extradition Bill' that threatens the freedom of residents have ramped up, to the point where the Hong Kong Airport had to be shut down and the Chinese army is closer to intervening upon this semi-autonomous nation.

  • Reflect On:

    Is Hong Kong now the central theatre playing out the struggle between Eastern and Western sociopolitical ideologies?

I decided to take on this article, first to inform myself better about the motivations behind the Hong Kong protests, which have been ratcheting up in recent days, and then to pass on a basic understanding to you, the reader, so that together we can follow the events going on in this allegedly ‘autonomous’ Chinese territory with some degree of context.

First, it must be understood that Hong Kong developed into a commercial powerhouse as a British colony, and its residents enjoyed some aspects of democratic freedom not available on mainland China. British rule of Hong Kong ended when it was returned to China in July of 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems.” The “Basic Law” constitution guaranteed to protect, for the next 50 years, the democratic institutions that make Hong Kong distinct from Communist-ruled mainland China.

The struggle for an expansion of democratic freedoms on the island have been ongoing in some form or another ever since, with some initiatives specifically supported by the “Basic Law.” Meanwhile, the national Chinese government has attempted to resist such reforms, and has been working to augment its own power and influence over Hong Kong:

  • In 2003, Hong Kong’s leaders introduced legislation that would forbid acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government. But when an estimated half a million people turned out to protest against the bill, it did not go forward.
  • In 2007, China delayed constitutional plans to implement universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive of Hong Kong until 2017; however, they added more seats for lawmakers elected by direct vote in a way that divided the pro-democracy camp.
  • In 2014, the Chinese government introduced a bill allowing Hong Kong residents to vote for their leader in 2017, but the candidates still needed to be approved by Beijing. Massive protests led legislators to formally reject the bill, and electoral reform stalled. As a result, the current chief executive, Carrie Lam, was hand-picked in 2017 by a 1,200-person committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites.

In other words, it was not a question of if there would be another populist uprising in Hong Kong, but when.

New Extradition Bill Is The Catalyst

Earlier this year, Chief Executive Lam pushed amendments to extradition laws that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face charges. In some ways, this had a similar agenda to the bill introduced in 2003 that would have directly forbidden acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government.

This latest bill is a bit more subtle, but the end result would be the same: those Chinese dissidents who are working for greater autonomy from mainland China and full democracy in Hong Kong are de facto enemies of the state, since they are working to erode China’s power over the economic and political affairs of Hong Kong. And China wants to be able prosecute such activities.

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Even before this bill, Beijing’s influence over Hong Kong had been on the rise. Activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office, while independent booksellers started disappearing from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges. And so when the extradition bill came out, the population of Hong Kong clearly saw it as an attempt to undermine and subvert The “Basic Law” and give Beijing full authority to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.

Protests Erupted

Protests started small, relatively speaking, but as we have seen with the Yellow Vest protests, attempts to crack down with a hard hand are not deterring people as much as they used to, and in fact protesters become emboldened by seeing an increase in participation. Here is an early timeline of the protests:

  • March 31: the first protest was attended by 12,000 pro-democracy protesters according to organizers (police put the peak figure at 5,200).
  • April 28: an estimated 130,000 protesters joined the march against the proposed extradition law (police estimated 22,800 joined at its height), the largest since an estimated 510,000 joined the annual July 1 protests in 2014. A day after the protest, Chief Executive Carrie Lam was adamant that the bill would be enacted and said the Legislative Councillors had to pass new extradition laws before their summer break.
  • June 9th: while reports suggested it had been the largest ever, it was certainly the largest protest Hong Kong has seen since the 1997 handover, surpassing the turnout seen at mass rallies in support of the Tiananmen protests of 1989 and July 1st demonstration of 2003. CHRF convenor Jimmy Sham said that 1.03 million people attended the march, while the police put the crowd at 270,000 at its peak.
  • June 16th: even though a day earlier Carrie Lam announced that she would suspend the second reading of the bill without a set a time frame on the seeking of public views, the pro-democracy camp demanded a full withdrawal of the bill, and went ahead with the rally, which the Civil Human Rights Front claimed saw the participation of “almost 2 million plus 1 citizens.” The government issued a statement at 8:30 pm where Carrie Lam apologized to Hong Kong residents and promised to “sincerely and humbly accept all criticism and to improve and serve the public.” Still, she did not meet the protesters’ demands of withdrawing the bill completely or resigning.

As the timeline goes forward beyond the suspension of the second reading of the bill, the protests have grown bigger, with more widespread involvement. It is impossible to list all the events that have taken place, but a good compilation can be found here.

Police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets. As well, it seems that there have been instances of unsanctioned pro-Beijing thugs on a mission to injure protesters, where police did not intervene. However, as political authorities are slowly learning in recent times, protests that resist strong-arm tactics see their demands grow beyond their initial grievance and demand reparations for state violence that has occurred during the protests themselves. Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until these core demands are met:

  • the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam
  • an independent inquiry into police tactics
  • an amnesty for those arrested
  • a permanent withdrawal of the bill

The Geopolitical Context

The protests here are emblematic of a larger struggle between different systems of national governance. Hong Kong is a particularly unique case as it is a region that developed some mature institutions of Western Democracy while still always being tied to a major Eastern civilization.

Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations of the protest but has left it to the city’s semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. But that does not mean they cannot influence even more serious internal measures. On Thursday, Chen Daoxiang, the head of the Chinese army garrison in Hong Kong, said the military was “determined to protect [the] national sovereignty” of Hong Kong and would help put down the “intolerable” unrest if requested. The army released a promotional video showing tanks and soldiers firing on citizens in an anti-riot drill.

A tweet yesterday from the Editor in Chief of China’s state-owned tabloid, Hu Xijin, warns of an imminent showdown in the wake of protests at the Hong Kong airport that were so disruptive that the Hong Kong airport authority advised all passengers to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible:

There is an implied threat that the mainland Chinese army may get involved. Chinese military vehicles have gathered in Shenzhen, a city in mainland China bordering Hong Kong, and military exercises may soon be underway.

Of course, the actions of the Chinese government are being closely watched by the Western world, and there has been no lack of condemnation for the strong-armed tactics of police. The condemnation will only increase if the Chinese government institutes even more severe measures. Countering this, Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are “fanning the fire” of unrest in the city. China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi has ordered the US to “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form”.

Whatever happens, the people in Hong Kong seem quite steadfast in demonstrating that they don’t want to allow meaningful change to be kicked down the road any longer, and certainly don’t want any more limitations to their freedom. We will see how this struggle plays out this time around.

The Takeaway

Before we start taking sides on the issues behind this protest, it is important to note that neither Chinese-style communism nor any current implementation of Western-style democracy present themselves as true vehicles for the full burgeoning of our individual sovereignty and our collective evolution.

Certainly the struggle in Hong Kong provides more and more individual citizens the opportunity to implicate themselves directly in our system of governance, and the ripple effect of this is that more people in the world will awaken to the fact that each and every one of us has an innate choice in the way we consent to be governed as a society.

Once we clear the veils of control-based deception and come to truly grasp our sovereignty and our ability to choose, we will then be in a much better position to give an informed consent to any social or political institutions we decide to create and maintain.

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