China’s Social Credit System: Conclusion

China’s Social Credit System: Conclusion

by Jessie Pitsillides

Over the course of three articles, we have explored a number of philosophical quandaries that China’s Social Credit System (SCS) presents. First, we reviewed what the SCS is and how it works/has been working; second, we looked at theories of power, and how the State can influence its people through perceived freedom; third, we looked at the individual level, and humans’ own capacity for following a given morality and the effects of surveillance. Now, let’s wrap things up with a few parting thoughts.

Technological advancements in surveillance and behavioural control have taken discussions around individuals’ liberty in surveillance states out of the theoretical realms of philosophical thought into the tangible realities of social governance. Today, these discussions have practical implications, not only for how societies function, but for how we as individuals are afforded basic liberties. The thought experiments of theorists like Foucault and Berlin are now real life social experiments, whose outcomes we are unsure of and whose participants have no choice to opt out of. China's SCS was used as a concrete example in the investigation of compatibility between surveillance and individual liberty, but the panopticon could represent anything, from social media to workplace dynamics to biometric surveillance during and after  the COVID-19 pandemic. This  article series attempted to offer a framework for critically examining the relationship between individual liberty and the Panopticism that pervades our technologically-drenched world.  

Changes in social happenings, ranging from corporate eavesdropping to terrorism, means that this is a dynamic discussion, and not one that has a fixed answer. 

This article series attempted to raise one of the key philosophical arguments brought up by surveillance states: while surveillance is a key method of maintaining safety and order within societies, it is also a "coercive" method of control that is incompatible with individual liberty and moral growth. This incompatibility is even clearer after considering the theories of Foucault, Berlin, and Kant. Inherent within these discussions is that for ideal societal functioning, a balance between surveillance and security should exist; however, an important  question arises: which members of society have the knowledge, power and right to decide what this balance is? Concepts like surveillance and privacy are not easily quantifiable, nor are they static. Changes in social happenings, ranging from corporate eavesdropping to terrorism, means that this is a dynamic discussion, and not one that has a fixed answer. 

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China's SCS is a fascinating topic with several psychological, sociological and political implications that, due to the confines of this article series, were not elaborated upon. Indeed, a complete discussion of  this topic will require a more multidisciplinary approach, as this Orwellian fiction is moving from the realms of theory to the real world. For now, keep in mind the concepts of positive and negative freedom, as well as the different examples of coercion in your own life. Ask yourself how you define morality, and how that definition was formed. Consider what your ideal State is, and how much control you would want it to exert over your life. And of course, keep your eyes peeled for any news on the SCS. There is surely more to come. 

Consider what your ideal State is, and how much control you would want it to exert over your life. And of course, keep your eyes peeled for any news on the SCS. There is surely more to come. 

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Jessie Pitsillides
Jessie Pitsillides

Jessie Pitsillides is an 18-year-old prospective Harvard student, and the founder of MentorJr, an organisation focused on fixing inequality within the education system. Here, she talks about the origins of the organisation, and where she sees it going next.

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