Monday, December 16, 2019

China's Path to Democracy

In the course of the collapse of the previous dynasty in China, progressives were chanting for Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science. They were led by students.

Here in the West, where we seem hell-bent on electing strong-man nationalistic demagogues in the place of leaders, we are easily horrified by China's new social credit score system. It's not all that hard to discover what is going on. As soon as the Internet escaped academia into the realm of Dot Com, our form of democracy was foredoomed.

I listened (for a clue) to Lester Holt, a mainstream anchor, interview Mark Zuckerberg. In case you don't know, Mark runs a really big advertising outfit. They track our social behaviors, trading on our "social" enthusiasms just like Google trades on our shopping and searching enthusiasms. Behind much of all that lurks a credit scoring system. It would seem that while China strives to develop a more comprehensive scoring system for its citizenry, we are content to allow utter opacity to an overall system controlled algorithmically on behalf of our oligarchs (cute and likable as they try to be).

President Xi is certainly a strong man, but hardly a demagogue. Chinese are raised in terror that they might have our particular brand of democracy, where we electioneer amateurs to lead us. Even when they become professional politicians, or perhaps especially then, our leadership governs by some playbook as though politics were a sport.

I suppose that, as Max Weber did once opine, we can't depart from our Protestant roots where money might stand in for good works and thus for grace. It seems that we've become all about money and not much else.

Now, I do actually believe that China is slouching toward a form of Democracy, and here is how it might look: In place of one person one vote, they will evolve toward a weighted voting system where a person's vote counts proportionately according to that person's social credit score. Furthermore, the voter will be allowed to spread his vote among candidates for a particular office.

For instance, I am zero percent Trump and maybe thirty percent to each of Sanders and Warren right now. That's to encourage them to form a single ticket, maybe. The rest might be doled out according to what happens with electability.

In China, they will all vote at the same instant and information about candidates will be gotten out in ways cut off from the marketplace. No ads. Let's hope they allow even criminals to vote - since no legal system is perfect - diluted by a low social-credit score, of course.

There remains a lot to work out. I don't know what the credit score of an eighteen-year old might be, but I suppose one might start one as soon as one starts a bank account. I'll have to ask an eighteen year old if they even know what a credit score is.

Perhaps in China, one will start life with a social-credit score of zero, and then begin tweaking it in high-school, or perhaps earlier; upon first encounter with the legal system. So, the youth vote might be diluted for a while, even while the college-educated vote might be amplified.

Of course China has a lot of work to do, mostly with regard to creating a solid legal system which is trusted by the people. They need more and better codes for all sorts of things.

We, on the other hand, seem bent on destroying what we have. That often happens in the name of new technologies which enable the atrocities of Uber, Air-B-n' B and their ilk which enable the concentration of wealth among the mega-yacht-riding crowds on the backs of gig-workers competing for pennies on the street left behind by the newly homeless. Just imagine how much local knowledge Walmart has destroyed; the wreckage of small store owners and their living-wage employees.

Hmmm. What if politicians' social-credit score were visible and not just their balance sheets. Clearly, the Donald would be worth about zero, but then he knows we only care about money. I guess Republican means love of money and knowledge about how to gain power. There sure isn't any ideology there, apart from those basics.

And that would be fine if our current economy weren't so hell-bent on destruction of the earth. We need a government! I'm afraid China will get there first. Well, I'm not so afraid. I'm hopeful! I also hope that we won't have utterly destroyed ours by then.

The world is confusing and so people naturally listen to bloviators on the Internet and while they're driving. There seems to be no shortage of people willing to say anything for an audience, and their seeming certainty must be comforting somehow, in an angry sort of way.

We should be suspicious of anyone who wants to be president, shouldn't we. Who could actually want such a job for good and honest reasons?

Ah, remember when old Bill Gates (he's almost exactly my age, but sure looks a lot older now - I guess riches don't get you everything) raved on about how the Internet and tech generally was going to give us a friction-free market? What a hoot now when we spend nearly all our time trying to gauge how much we might be made a sucker by our endless and arduous calculations of value.

We might even be amazed when we discover something of good quality at a good price backed by honest people trying to make a living. So many are forced to sell their souls to take on some corporate ideology. You know, health-insurance providers, cell-phone giants, tech titans, those kinds of corporate people.

Trump is such a patently divisive "leader" with lousy instincts pandering to the basest in each of us. And yet we debate niceties and technicalities of the law and the constitution to provide cover for the obvious moral bankruptcy of the man. That's what we should impeach for. It's not about "administrative incompetence" which our founding fathers explicitly wrote out from impeachment as impeachment was described in our constitution. This is moral failure, plain and simple, administratively incompetent though Trump may be.

Bottom line for me is that absent Christianity (and it really is both absent and vacant in relation to its own erstwhile professions) we need some moral code that we can count on. We need to stop amplifying the voices and deeds of the sociopaths among us. We need to stop projecting our own deficiencies onto others (and wondering why they hate us in return).

Love is the only cosmic force worth comprehending. Our tail-chasing toward human abstraction from the muck of living by means of science and technology is backfiring miserably, no? I'm all for those pursuits, but not when guided by the anti-life force of money. I don't think we either must or should subvert what's working in our economy. Radical behaviors based on partial understanding, and especially based on ideological certainty, are always dangerous.

I like Bernie simply because he is who he is by proven track record. In that sense, he's as transparent as Trump, and likely could have beaten him for the same reasons Trump won. Were it not for the cynical and manipulative and apparently condescending calculus behind Hillary. Were it not for the way the Facebook amplified Putin-backed agitprop. Were it not for the general apathy about voting, especially among the young.

I'd like Bernie better if he were younger and didn't seem so eager to wrench the wheel of state in some new direction over the short-haul (which is all he's got now). I trust that he's been in government to know better than that, which is another reason to trust the man.

Well, that's about enough blathering from here. But mark my word on China's slow progress toward a better democracy than the one we seem hell-bent on selling down the river.

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