“I’ll just follow my nose…”
In my recent efforts to get caught up on the program Black Mirror, I yesterday watched the first episode from season 3, entitled “Nosedive.” In this episode, the protagonist, Lacie lives in a world where everyone is constantly rated by each other on a 5 star scale. One’s rating at any given point is an aggregated average, with 5-star ratings from “high-4s” bringing one’s average higher than 5-star
ratings from 3.5s and lower. Lacie averages a respectable 4.2 at the episode’s beginning but to achieve a 4.5 and receive the benefits such a ranking holds (financial, social and professional) she takes a gamble and enters the high-stakes game of upward mobility at the elite level. Things quickly unravel for her as circumstances beyond her control coupled with some “average-dropping” faux-pas’ cause her to drop just below 4.2 and lose that ranking’s necessary benefits. This leads to an emotional outburst and profanity (a positive no-no in the perfectionist world of social media lifestyle cultivation) which gets her harshly penalized until her average is so low that she throws away all pretension and goes thermonuclear at the very social event that she gambled would bring her 4.5dom.
The whole episode seems as if it’s going to be a sobering parable about hubris and the dangers of superficiality, but late in the episode Lacie has a chance encounter with a formerly high-4 woman happily reduced to 1-dom and we start to see that maybe letting go is the path to salvation and the moral of the episode. The final scene in a jail cell where Lacie (at an abysmal sub-1 average) trades barbs with a fellow inmate only confirms this moral.
And it’s a good moral. It smacks of Voltaire’s timeless bit of wisdom, “Man is free the moment he wishes to be.”
I pondered this moral and it’s implications for me and where I’m at. I realized a few years ago that cultivating a squeaky-clean image online was not possible for me, nor desirable, as it would psychologically limit me in the future when I wanted to say some real shit.
Or perhaps more accurately, recognizing that a social media presence is a digital monument, if I built one based on omission and SFW opinions, I would be unwilling to topple it down the road (with risque points of view), it being a monument after all and something I would have, at that hypothetical future-point, invested much time and effort into creating.
No, better to speak my piece, polarizing as it may be, and let the chips fall where they may.
Enter the universe (or invasive data-mining), which, in it’s infinite wisdom, has been known to conspire: Logging onto the Facebooks this morning I saw that a friend posted an article from Wired entitled, “Big Data Meets Big Brother: China Moves to Rate it’s Citizens.”
That’s right, China is moving to implement citizen ratings based on stringent governmental standards by 2020. I would suggest you read the article for Rachel Botsman’s in-depth analysis of the implications, but essentially people will qualify for better services and greater privileges based on how high their rating is. Furthermore, and much more insidiously, those considered “untrustworthy” (Naturally, China is framing it as a trust-scale more than a conformity-scale) will not only have a lack of privileges, but be a threat to their circle of friends, as one person’s degree of “fuck-uppery” will reflect poorly on anyone who deigns to associate with them, threatening even the ostensibly “trust-worthy” with loss of privileges.
It’s like in Full Metal Jacket when Pyle keeps fucking up and so Hartman decides to punish the rest of the platoon, alienating him from everyone and causing them to beat the shit out of him, in what was (impressively) arguably the most disturbing scene in any Kubrick film. Punishments against bystanders for indulging and tolerating undesirables is a fundamentally malicious policy because it goes against beautiful and humanistic ideals such as “Love thy Neighbour” and “Do Unto Others…”
I’m not so naive to believe that this is a China-problem, nor that people-rating hasn’t already manifested there and here in the west. In a way, I’m all for it; I’ve worked hard to be a good traveler and earn a good reputation on CouchSurfing for example, and that reputation (rightly) gains me the trust of new hosts in new places a lot quicker and more easily. The logic is simple: Don’t be a shithead; Don’t get treated like a shithead. Simple! I, much like Ms. Botsman believe reputation to be the once and future currency of the world -good enough for proto-human tribes, good enough for the post-scarcity economy we’re moving toward.
However, China is bastardizing the noble concept of reputation by taking two of it’s ugliest permutations, credit ratings (a mechanism to further deprive the already deprived) and people reviewing (a “legitimate” way to smear someone via apps like Peeple), and combining them into an ugly abomination with the power to bestow privilege and convenience to the worthy and mete out suffering to the unworthy based on pre-established standards which are reflective of the state institution’s survival needs rather than the ability of citizens to co-exist with each other. And if that wasn’t already enough, those afflicted with “unworthiness” carry a memetic contagion of sorts, alienating them from worthy members of society who may help to, at the very least, rehabilitate them, even though they may have done nothing worse than question policy.
In this last regard, China is almost creating a prison without walls, which might not be so bad if this state-sanctioned social smearing was implemented as an alternative to physical incarceration (even though the ‘bar for entry’ seems to be much lower), but there has been no apparent mention of this, so its essentially just a way to lock up more citizens and scare many more into falling in line.
Well-played, China. The magnificence of your bastardry apparently knows no bounds.
My knee-jerk reaction to this article was predictably fear and anxiety. I’m not a violent criminal but it seems ‘crimes’ we all engage such as out-spokenness may one day land us in hot water as state-ratings become normalized and global. From a strictly amoral and Machiavellian perspective, it does seem to be a viable way to conserve and consolidate power and only someone with a complete lack of imagination or an interest in seeing this system propagate could deny it will be implemented in the western world if the China test-case proves successful.
Again, what was most paralyzing about the worry I felt was that I realized one day having an opinion that was considered unpopular could hurt those I care about. If I had to dissociate from my father for example, or worse, if he decided to dissociate from me because I was too much of a liability… Well, how could I fault him for that?
But in that moment of panic I realized that I was just feeling, I wasn’t thinking. The former has a place to be sure, but sometimes we have to be pragmatic and logical. Whenever I am seized by existential anxiety I go over my escape plan. The details of it change over time but points 1 and 2 are pretty much always the same:
ANDRE’S SUPER-SECRET, ‘DON’T TELL THE GOVERNMENT’, ESCAPE PLAN
- If shit gets too bad I can always kill myself and then my problems on this material plane are over.
- I can always focus on my breathing and the present moment.
- Refer back to points 1 and 2 as needed until such time as a better solution presents itself.
You could maybe argue that the order of 1 and 2 could be switched, but they’re just a starting point and as important as their actual viability as solutions to the problem of life, they serve the purpose of reassuring me while I formulate other strategies.
Those strategies I will elaborate on in my next post which will be a follow-up to this one.