Over the past decade, China has developed a means of extorting conformity and compliance by ranking and sorting its 1.3 billion citizens into two main categories: the compliant, who are materially and socially rewarded, versus the less conforming, who are materially and socially punished.
Social control is the obvious aim of China’s social credit system. If the state says you “loitered” in some public place, you lose points. That could mean losing access to good housing, employment, transportation, and more.
In 2020, China plans for the system to go fully operational with scores on every citizen. The Chinese state monitors virtually all aspects of life—shopping habits, movements, daily routines, health, debt, love life, etc.—to enforce compliance with standards of behavior. China’s vast surveillance network includes hundreds of millions of cameras with facial recognition technologies enabling this scale of social control.
Algorithms score people and dole out consequences. In 2018, for example, China’s Global Times proudly reported that its social credit system had blocked more than 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million train trips of people who were behind in their debts. The idea, according to China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), is to make sure that “discredited people become bankrupt.”
Could it happen here? Several commentators have speculated that China’s Orwellian system might develop in America, especially given the Big Brother spirit of Big Tech. Americans are also becoming conditioned to sharing personal data online and being tracked through devices. In Human Events, writer Bradley Brewer contends that we already have a similar system of “technologically-mediated social control and coercion” in America. It is not top-down as is China’s, but de-centralized and controlled by “a loud virulent minority.”
For example, Google hired the Southern Poverty Law Center to censor YouTube videos on the pretext of banning hate speech. This gave the disproportionately powerful SPLC enormous clout to de-platform all people and organizations with whom it disagrees.
Then there is the growth of “woke” companies who make common cause with leftist lobbies to enforce politically correct group think. In early 2019 several conservative activists had their bank accounts inexplicably cancelled by Chase Bank. Several banks, including Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America have caved to agitators for open borders by cutting ties with companies that provide services to prisoner and immigrant detention centers. We recently saw Chick-Fil-A cave to the LGBT lobby by cutting its donations to the Salvation Army and other Christian organizations. The list goes on.
Equality Act Lays Groundwork by Dictating Reality
This leads to the next question: Is there any means by which a social credit system might become centralized in the United States? The First Amendment remains a sticking point. But one key may lie in the possibility of Congress enacting the so-called Equality Act.
If we want to preserve free expression, we need to understand two things deeply embedded in the nature of a free society. First off, there can be no free society if the government coerces people to conform to an idea generally viewed as farfetched. That’s like dictating reality, a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Second, any law that threatens social and material punishment for such non-conformity of thought lays the groundwork for a social credit system.
The “Equality” Act, which the House of Representatives passed in May and is now before the Senate, would be just such a law. In a nutshell, it tells all Americans that they must reject the reality of sex distinctions if they are to avoid social and material punishment. It does so under the pretext of adding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as categories to be protected against discrimination. And it applies to every aspect of life, including housing, employment, transportation, education, businesses, and more.
U.K. Forstater Case Gives a Template
In the United Kingdom, freedom of speech and conscience under its own Equality Act of 2010 was recently put to the test. In December, Maya Forstater, a British tax expert, was fired from a think tank, the Center for Global Development, for publicly stating her view that there are two sexes, male and female, and for tweeting that changing the legal definition of women to include men undermines women’s rights.
Forstater challenged her employer in court, and in December the judge ruled against her. Forstater’s acknowledgement of physical sex distinctions were found to be in conflict with the UK’s Equality Act and, according to the judge, “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Enter British citizen J.K. Rowling, the phenomenally successful author of the Harry Potter series with more than 14 million Twitter followers. She immediately tweeted her disagreement with the ruling:
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
As of this writing, Rowling has not recanted to the trans-woke mob. But she continues to be raked over the coals for her mild question, “But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?” Public statements and essays accusing her of transphobia abound. Unlike Forstater, the independently wealthy Rowling has not been punished for her apparent apostasy through heavy fines or firings. But the time for material punishment of such statements, even for someone of Rowling’s stature, may be just around the corner.
On the local level in the United States, we already see similar examples. In New York City there is a maximum $250,000 fine for misgendering someone, and there are several cases of bakers and florists with politically incorrect beliefs about sex distinctions and marriage who have been denied their livelihoods by state governments.
Indeed, government control over commerce to this extent allows the state to coopt companies in their effort to police speech and thought. Many of these companies cooperate with the government out of fear as well as legal necessity. This is the essence of how a social credit system operates, and it indicates how astray the concept of “democratic society” has gone.
U.S. ‘Equality Act’ Would Affect Society in Numerous Ways
Obviously, America is not China and the Equality Act is not a social credit system. But reading the text of the Equality Act, House Resolution 5, it suggests some early similarities.
The Equality Act builds on most of the elements needed to establish something very much like China’s social credit system. It undermines individual freedom of expression. It extends government direction and control over speech. And it provides for government and private punishment, both material and social, on citizens who don’t comply.
Below are just a few of the ways the Equality Act aims to enforce conformity of thought through threat of punishment.
The Equality Act un-defines “sex.” It adds to civil rights laws (especially the Civil Rights Act of 1964) the categories of sexual orientation and gender identity to race, color, religion, and national origin. But it does so by redefining the term “sex” to include those SOGI categories of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The language abolishes the intrinsic meaning of the word “sex,” so that it no longer can mean the distinction between male and female. In other words, it is at war with biological reality and threatens to punish anyone who accepts that reality.
The Equality Act seems to expand the scope of the prohibition on discrimination in at least two ways. First, it defines an establishment “to include an individual whose operations affect commerce and who is a provider of a good, service, or program.” This would presumably mean any employee or volunteer who is in any way a part of an establishment. The list of public accommodations is lengthy, and includes everything from salons to women’s shelters to funeral parlors.
Second, it also expands the list of commercial activities covered in anti-discrimination law, to include pretty much everything, including “communication” (already covered in the Civil Rights Act) and “entertainment…public gathering, or public display” (newly added). So it looks like we have here an expansion of state control over individuals within establishments. If you do not adhere to gender ideology, it seems neither you nor your employer can do business without being threatened by the state.
The Equality Act also sets up a collision course between SOGI rights and the First Amendment. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) while the main law it amends, the Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. Therefore, conflict is guaranteed. But the SOGI side wins out over freedom of religion because the Equality Act expressly states that religious beliefs may not be a part of freedom of expression, particularly in defense against any accusation of SOGI discrimination.
The bill also specifically invalidates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which was intended to breathe new life into the First Amendment, stating that the RFRA “shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”
The Equality Act appears to explicitly promote and encourage wholesale lawsuits intended to destroy perceived enemies. The language states that nothing in it “shall be construed to limit the claims or remedies available to any individual for an unlawful practice” on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This is an open invitation to put out of business anybody deemed undesirable by social engineers.
And how might an “unlawful practice” be construed in the future? If a business owner or landlord is known to attend a church with traditional teachings on sex and marriage, could that in itself be construed as discrimination?
The bill also encourages private surveillance and snitch culture. We already live in a highly polarized culture. If lawfare against such thought crime is encouraged, we can expect to see new depths of vindictiveness rewarded by the state and a further decline in social trust. People will feel pressure to show mandatory enthusiasm for ideas that we do not personally accept.
Consider, for example, the words of LGBT activist David Gushee, writing as an “evangelical ethicist” in a 2016 op-ed. He warned that there is no middle ground for anyone not on board with the full-scale LGBT agenda: “Neutrality is not an option. . . . Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.” And he was talking about churches.
What’s Missing: Centralized Surveillance and Monitoring
Recall the key elements of the Chinese social credit system: government standards, proactive government enforcement of those standards, and the surveillance and monitoring infrastructure to enable enforcement. And let’s review what the Equality Act does: it expands the scope of government-established and mandated standards; reduces the scope of the private sphere; undermines freedom of belief and expression; increases the scope of government control over our private lives, including employment and religious practices and beliefs; and it undermines the First Amendment.
The Equality Act, if enacted into law, will move us down the path toward that social credit system, but not the whole way. At least two elements seem to be missing: a surveillance infrastructure and a centralized government database.
Of course, much of the surveillance infrastructure is already in place for a social credit system. There are millions of cameras embedded not just on street corners and public places, but in our cell phones and computers and inside our homes. Facial recognition software can be incorporated and in many cases already is.
Further, all of the biggest data-mining operations—including Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, and more—are on record as fully supporting the Equality Act, despite all of the social engineering the act requires.
Support for the Equality Act is not the same as willingness to share data to determine compliance with it. But with a surveillance infrastructure pretty much in place and the Equality Act’s attack on freedom of expression, can we really trust Big Tech to resist any temptation to develop a central clearinghouse of data once the timing seems right?
In addition, U.S. governments have not quite yet proactively imposed their version of ideological correctness on citizens, preferring to wait for citizens to report violations to independent civil rights commissions. Of course, the Equality Act itself is proactive in that it will “nudge” citizens to behave “properly.” Beyond that, how long do we believe the government will exercise a measure of self-restraint, limiting its data collection and use, limiting its urge to tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it, with whom to do it?
When you federalize thought policing, which is essentially what the Equality Act does, then it seems you are creating a social credit system that nationalizes the punishment of wrong think both materially and socially. Imagine a federal law like New York City’s $250,000 fine for misgendering. Imagine activist judges everywhere—not just in states and localities—eager to bankrupt anyone who doesn’t reject biological reality.
Consider also how identity politics also conditions us to accept a social credit system. Affirmative action seems to have morphed into the grievance theory of intersectionality. Intersectionality literally sets up a cultural scorecard by which perceived victims are awarded points and perceived oppressors lose points in society.
This elaborate social scoring system is well embedded on today’s college campuses, where students are being conditioned to “check their privilege.” In addition, any student who fakes a politically correct belief to avoid a bad grade is already mentally adjusted to a social credit system.
No, we are not China. No, the Equality Act does not translate directly into a social credit system. But it does represent a bait-and-switch power grab by the state. And unless we are cautious, it represents the extra bricks needed to pave an ever-shorter road to Hell.