[guest post by Dana]
During this Thanksgiving season, most of us take a moment to give thanks for the gracious plenty that is ours. Whether in our personal lives or our country at large, there remain innumerable blessings that enrich our existence here. I would guess that for most readers here, at the top of the list is the freedom to express ourselves with very few limitations. Also treasured, and perhaps overlooked, is our freedom of movement. Traveling by automobile throughout our nation does not require a presentation of identification, nor does it require us to notify any governmental agency of our comings and goings. The freedom to worship how we choose, where we choose, and to whom we choose is right up there as well. And, to varying degrees, we still have opportunities in life to choose the path we want to walk, the profession we hope to become a part of, and the person we will commit our lives to. There are exceptions, of course. This broad-brush painting is not intended to ignore the consequences of having been found guilty of a crime, nor does it ignore the twists and turns, and trial and tribulation that befall us all, in one shape or another. Nor does it ignore the limitations, or even re-mapping of our path that might later become necessary because of circumstances beyond our control. Our lives, even at their finest moments, are messy. But it’s our mess, for better or worse. And if it’s a mess from our making, we can clean it up, or remain stuck in it as we please. And while there are consequences to our every decisions, for the most part, they remain free of governmental interference, whether the choices made were moral or immoral, just or unjust, fair or unfair. In other words, we remain free to make a complete and utter mess of our lives, without retaliation from the government. Of course, family, friends, and employers are a different story… (Please note the exceptions already mentioned. Also included in these exceptions would be the historical governmental mistreatment of American Indians, the internment and detainment of Japanese-Americans and other groups of Americans during WWI and WWII, as well as the mistreatment of groups considered less than equal. And I do not ignore the fact that virtually all levels of government are inclined to infringe upon our rights and interfere in our lives.)
But, in stark contrast, it appears that the authoritarian regime in China continues apace with grossly oppressive and dystopian-like plans for their people:
China’s plan to judge each of its 1.3 billion people based on their social behavior is moving a step closer to reality, with Beijing set to adopt a lifelong points program by 2021 that assigns personalized ratings for each resident.
According to the report, this will be a punishment and reward system based on an individual’s actions and reputation:
The capital city will pool data from several departments to reward and punish some 22 million citizens based on their actions and reputations by the end of 2020, according to a plan posted on the Beijing municipal government’s website on Monday. Those with better so-called social credit will get “green channel” benefits while those who violate laws will find life more difficult.
The Beijing project will improve blacklist systems so that those deemed untrustworthy will be “unable to move even a single step,” according to the government’s plan. Xinhua reported on the proposal Tuesday, while the report posted on the municipal government’s website is dated July 18.
China has long experimented with systems that grade its citizens, rewarding good behavior with streamlined services while punishing bad actions with restrictions and penalties. Critics say such moves are fraught with risks and could lead to systems that reduce humans to little more than a report card.
The final version of China’s national social credit system remains uncertain. But as rules forcing social networks and internet providers to remove anonymity get increasingly enforced and facial recognition systems become more popular with policing bodies, authorities are likely to find everyone from internet dissenters to train-fare skippers easier to catch — and punish — than ever before.
Not even Winnie the Pooh is safe from China’s crackdown.
Coincidentally, in reading about the subject, I saw that Bill Kristol is advocating that the U.S. should be in the business of changing the government in China:
“Shouldn’t an important U.S. foreign policy goal of the next couple of decades be regime change in China?” The question implies that I think the right answer is Yes.
I’ll put my position simply. The case for regime change shouldn’t really be controversial. The U.S. at its best has always stood for the proposition that all people everywhere deserve to be free.
Now it goes without saying there are practical limits to what we can and should do to make this happen. Much of what we do is simply to serve as an example. We use diplomacy, public and private, to persuade other nations to move toward freedom. We help civil society abroad.
We sometimes use political or economic pressure. We rarely use and should rarely use military force. And of course we realize that in the real world prudence requires that we be allied with oppressive regimes, sometimes terrible regimes (the Soviet Union), and sometimes for a long time (Saudi Arabia). But surely our ultimate goal, after preserving and securing our and freedom, is to be a force for freedom in the world. And this means changing un-free regimes to free ones, or freer ones. This means regime change, sometimes gradual, sometimes, in the way the world works, sudden. I do think a relatively open embrace of freedom as our goal, and a relatively candid debate over means, would serve the nation well. Such a debate will resolve very few of the particular choices facing us.
Those choices will always depend on the weighing of particular circumstances. This will often be difficult and controversial. But having the goal in mind would, I think, clarify and elevate our view. It would be a north star to help guide our reactions to diverse circumstances. We can always recall “the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God,” or by the dictates of History or Science.
The people of China deserve to be free. The people of Saudi Arabia deserve to be free. This means, ultimately, regime change. How to help different peoples achieve freedom is a complicated question. The conditions of freedom and the paths to freedom are challenging.
Freedom isn’t our only goal. But it is our key political goal. And it is the goal of freedom not just for us but for all people everywhere, the goal of freedom with its noble simplicity and even quiet grandeur, that gives meaning and elevation to the American experiment.
Request: Let’s try to elevate the level of discourse to something more than than “Bill Kristol is a neocon!”
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)