How to Make the Perfect Citizen?

The Chinese Social Credit System gets easily likened to dystopian science fiction scenarios in the West, which at least in part seems to be related to the authoritarian character of the Chinese state. But we should assess the Social Credit System in its own right, asking: is the implementation of a Social Credit System leading to a dystopian political system?

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Rewarding Virtuous Citizens

The Chinese Social Credit System, in particular as presented by Western media, is widely seen as the height of technological dystopia. But is that intuition well founded? Wessel Reijers has sought to identify features that he takes to justify a rejection of the Chinese Social Credit System but forgoes an equally critical consideration of the alternatives. Relying on the market, the default solution of Western societies, is not obviously more just.

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An Illusion of Western Democracies

The thesis I propose is that the reason why the Social Credit System so scandalises Westerners is not because it is contrary to ‘our’ Aristotelian and Arendtian liberal political tradition. Rather, it is precisely because it shows the illusion upon which this tradition is founded. This consists in believing that there is a void at our disposal between people as ‘free’ citizens and the political as a set of laws.

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The Citizen, the Tyrant, and the Tyranny of Patterns

Good citizenship cannot be captured or fixed by an algorithm, because: (1) people genuinely disagree about what good citizenship is; (2) there are limits to how any conception of good citizenship can be enforced in states that uphold the rule-of-law; and (3) even the best scheme of algorithmic citizenship would fail to achieve its objectives due to the inherent weaknesses of applying algorithms to social affairs.

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Putting ‘Good Citizens’ in ‘The Good Place’?

In this contribution, I will aim to answer the question as to whether a Social Credit System will be more likely to lead a society to a ‘digital republic’ or a ‘digital dictatorship’. After analysing how the Chinese Social Credit System exhibits an enormous gap between policy-making and policy-execution, I argue that instead of a utopia or dystopia, such a system is more likely to lead us to a future of ‘digital bureaucracy’.

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