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The stuttering Chinese writer who poisoned the world.
In the year 221 B.C., a Chinese philosopher named Han Fei desired recognition above all else.
Born into a wealthy family of the ruling Han aristocracy at the end of the Warring States period, he lived at a time when China would finally be unified into a single cohesive nation, under the emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Han Fei craved the attention of the new emperor, but a lifelong stutter prevented him from presenting his ideas in court. Focusing instead on the written word, he wrote extensively about a philosophy he believed should be the basis for ruling China’s new empire.
Han Fei’s master was the philosopher Xunzi, who thought that human beings were inherently evil, and without virtue. And because of this inbuilt amorality, he believed that people should be subjugated and controlled by the state, and ordered by birth into a system of classes, in an attempt to control humanity’s wicked nature.
This philosophy was known as Fajia, or Legalism.
Legalism sought to exert almost complete control over Chinese society, via the principles of shu, fa, and shi—management, law, and power.
Through shu, a system of “names and tallies” was implemented throughout the land. Everyone from the highest political minister, down to the lowliest indentured worker of a rice field, had their actions in society recorded, and weighed against the actions of others.
Those who did good deeds could be promoted, or given rewards. Those who did not were harshly punished.
It was fa that decided the punishment. For minor indiscretions, citizens could be fined, beaten, or forced to serve in work camps. For more serious offenses, a person might be forcibly tattooed on the forehead, tortured, castrated, or even beheaded.
Fa was also enforced by grouping people into collective living spaces. In cases where one member of a community was held responsible for an infraction, all people who lived there were considered guilty by association. This encouraged members of society to monitor one another on behalf of the state, and to snitch on others in exchange for rewards.
But these first two principles would count for naught if they could not be enforced. So shi granted the emperor the absolute authority to impose Legalism throughout his kingdom, and upon all his people.
It was a perfect system of absolute surveillance, ranking, and control. And it was so loved by the Chinese emperor, he was recorded as saying “if I can make friends with Han Fei, I may die without regrets.”
Han Fei had finally received the attention of the emperor. However, his moment of renown was destined to be short-lived.
Han Fei’s main rival—a man named Li Shi—uncovered a previous essay written by the philosopher that described the desire to preserve his ancestral Han homeland. This was seen as a possible threat to the recent unification of China, and showed potential disloyalty to the emperor. And so, Han Fei was imprisoned under the very principles of Legalism he had previously fought for.
It would seem that the winds of fate are not without a sense of humour.
While imprisoned, Han Fei would be forced to drink poison, ending his life. But that same poison couldn’t kill his ideas of a society organised by absolute surveillance and control, as these ideas still thrive in China today.
It’s no secret that China currently has the most extensive social credit system on Earth.
Citizens are ranked by metrics like shopping habits, driving ability, how long they spend playing video games, and what they say online. Penalties are received for actions as frivolous as buying items the government deems to be non-essential.
But individuals don’t even need to step outside the lines themselves in order to be punished. Merely associating with those who have low social credit scores—whether online or in the real world—will cause a citizen’s score to degrade.
When a score becomes low enough, a person’s rights and privileges atrophy.
Internet speeds can be throttled, or someone could become banned from purchasing luxury goods. People regularly lose access to apply for bank loans, or be restricted from the ability to buy plane and train tickets. And it’s even someone’s children could be barred from accessing the nation’s best schools, or the government comes to take away their dog.
It sounds like a dystopian nightmare. But it’s happening on our planet today.
And unfortunately, this philosophy of social control has started to leak out of China, sending murky tendrils of change to infiltrate our nations.
Sometime this fall, the Italian city of Bologna will be rolling out what they call a “Smart Citizen Wallet”, which doesn’t sound overly foreboding. But then again, attempts to implement draconian measures on a population seldom do.
Citizens who demonstrate “virtuous behaviour” will be rewarded, by being given digital points they can use for discounts in the city, or to purchase items.
According to the moral and ethical ideals of Bologna’s politicians, virtues a citizen should emulate include regularly using public transport instead of driving a car, managing one’s energy consumption, and recycling. All things that on face value at least, I agree are mostly good things.
But as long as a person isn’t breaking the law, I also believe it’s morally and ethically abhorrent to rank citizens in a hierarchy based on how they behave.
Unsurprisingly, many of these so-called virtuous behaviours tie directly to a person’s individual carbon output. And in case you’re not paying attention, this is exactly how I predicted a social credit system could be rolled out in the west, as something that’s linked to the current carbon-obsessed narrative.
So, is it too early to say, “I told you so”?
In all honestly, I’m never happy being correct about things that I believe could happen, which then become things that are happening. Especially because I personally have no desire to live in a world where I can’t choose to drive my own car, or turn on my lights when I want to, for fear of being de-ranked against other people in society.
There are, of course, people who will argue that this small step by Bologna isn’t going to lead to the implementation of a restrictive social credit system throughout Europe, or the rest of the developed world.
Those people may be right, and I sincerely hope they are. But if one chooses to read the proverbial tea leaves, all the evidence points to the contrary.
Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia’s most northerly state capital Darwin have all proposed their own versions of a social credit system. And China is already trying to export its system to places like Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.
In other words, ready or not, here it comes.
Very soon, you could be living in a country where your access to credit, certain banking services, or the ability to buy a train or plane ticket could be limited, if you’re not a good little obedient citizen. And considering the first ripples of the ancient Chinese philosophy of Legalism have already reached our shores, a full-blown social credit system could be here sooner than you may think.
So, if you are a freedom-seeking human who is worried about an upcoming social credit system restricting your basic freedoms—economic or otherwise—what are your options?
Firstly, I believe that now is a good time to start considering places outside the west you could potentially call home.
Do you have the possibility of claiming a second (or third) passport via an ancestor, marriage, or some other avenue? I’ve met many people in my time who knew they had the ability to acquire another citizenship via descent, but just didn’t bother because they didn’t think they needed it. If that sounds like you, maybe now is the time to take some action.
Even if it is a passport from another western nation, it may afford you additional opportunities to live and work elsewhere, when compared to the one you have now. If not, it’s still good to have a backup.
Or, have you looked into some of the nations where it’s relatively easy to become a resident if you have an independent income, or if you work remotely? Places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, and Costa Rica all make it fairly straightforward to live there, for anyone who is able to support themselves financially.
In particular, El Salvador is doing all it can to become a bastion against authoritarianism, with president Nayib Bukele stating “as the world falls into tyranny, we’ll create a haven for freedom.” That’s more than good enough for me—I’m already looking at ways I can potentially acquire residency there in the future.
Obviously, not everyone will just be able to pack up and leave their home country. Family, work, or nationality restrictions may make this unrealistic, or even impossible for many.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll be totally out of luck.
Holding assets that may be more difficult to be controlled if a digital ranking system comes to your country—things like precious metals, arable land, and certain physical commodities—may allow you to continue living on your own terms, without having to worry too much about the hammer of restrictions falling on you as a result of a poor social credit score.
However, to be brutally honest, I believe this is an inferior backup plan that pales in comparison to being able to leave your country altogether.
In closing, let me leave you with a prediction that sounds about as palatable as standing in a field of burning tyres, while eating a durian fruit covered in rat shit:
In my opinion, it will only be a matter of years—maybe a decade at most—until much of Europe, and nations like the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, all have their own social credit systems.
My hope, however, is that I’ll be utterly, tragically, and embarrassingly wrong.
But I have a feeling I won’t be. And in that case, I can guarantee there won’t be an “I told you so” moment that gives me any kind of satisfaction.
The good news is, I believe there will always be nations that will be exceptions, that will refuse to impose a social credit system on citizens. Nations that will likely be a better place to call home.
Just don’t leave it until it’s too late to consider your options.
If you do, just like the writer Han Fei, you may find yourself to be poisoned. The difference is, you’ll be slowly poisoned by being forced to live in a society that chooses to ignore the basic freedoms of its people.
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