Political Awokeness: the Next Phase of Digital Population Control

Many on the left (and also some on the center-right) are lately penning critiques of the disturbing phenomenon of “surveillance capitalism”—for example here, and here.

Many of these critiques are perceptive, very well-written and much-needed. But I cannot help wonder how many of these brave and principled souls would still demur at the involuntary “moralization” of our surreptitiously collected personal data, if the algorithmic ranking of citizens by credit or criminal scores, currently at issue, were instead replaced or even simply supplemented… by measures of individual wokeness…?

One has only to imagine something like the already tremendously spooky mylife.com—which features a “reputation” gauge that literally judges for you, on the basis of criminal and financial data, whether a given citizen-of-interest is “good” or “bad”—but with the addition of an extra weighting factor. Let us call this the “political-awokeness” factor (or some other euphemism to taste; it doesn’t matter).

This “political-awokeness” factor would collate all the person’s available correspondence, public statements, social media, and lifestyle/purchasing decisions, subject it to an opaque (and probably poorly-validated) machine-learning rubric, and return a value indicating the person’s degree of concordance with and advocacy for leftist-SJW orthodoxies (or, in the event of a Fascist instead of Marxist takeover, rightist-racialist orthodoxies; technology is quite flexible and indifferent to such fine-points of ideology).

How many of those critics of “surveillance capitalism”, who decry most articulately and justly the digital invasion and ranking of our lives and souls in the name of capital, would nonetheless be perfectly happy to go for ranking of citizens by “political-awokeness”? I cannot say with certainty, but we will soon know: for the experiment is almost surely underway already.

Such a scale based on political amenability is no more far-fetched than one based on finances, criminal records, or any other personal data; such things have been in the works for a long, long time.

We enjoy pointing at the Chinese “social credit score” and feeling a flush of moral pride (or schadenfreude) that we in the West, at least, still appreciate freedom and privacy and due process before judgment(!)

But in fact, even if very slightly behind, Western organizations are hardly less obsessed than Chinese ones with developing such tech for themselves—in fact, they are largely in sync with China on this.

To take just one example, consider the “incivility detector”, announced several months ago, which combs the Internet for signs of rudeness or even, perish the thought, outright meanness. Or, for a more thorough sampling, we might want to consult such scholarly tomes as “Social, Cultural, and Behavioral Modeling“, a periodic collection of research proceedings whose recent annals include such juicy titles as “Detecting Betrayers in Online Environments Using Active Indicators”; “Learning Latent Representations of Users Using Their Social-Media Activities”; “Multi-Agent Accumulator-Based Decision-Making Model of Incivility (MADI)”; “Exploring Fake News and Satirical Responses During the Black Panther Movie Event”; “#metoo Through the Lens of Social Media”; and my own totalitarian favorite, “Fine-Scale Prediction of People’s Home Location Using Social Media Footprints”.

Interestingly, these investigations are nearly always approached from a leftist or social-justiciar perspective, not a financially-focused “capitalist”—let alone rightist—one. (Surely, these authors’ political-awokeness scores must be astronomical!)

***

Glancing over the deluge of such developments, which seem to meet less and less resistance even as their flow becomes greater and greater, it is hard not to suspect that we are actually approaching the point where it will be completely useless to refer to things as “Orwellian”—partly because, due to sweeping intellectual illiteracy, no one will really know who Orwell was or grasp what point he was even making, but mostly just because everything will be Orwellian. There will simply be nothing meaningfully to compare Orwell’s forecasts against; at that point, the word will have been wholly exhausted of shock-value.

But even so, one has to ask: why such a rush on the part of elites around the globe to out-Orwell themselves? Are there simply no other technological frontiers left to fight on?

This last is a distinct possibility, actually, as technological stagnation is far further advanced (pardon the mixed metaphor) than is generally discussed or admitted. Still, it’s almost as if the elite are anticipating a period of exceptionally hard times not far ahead, in which it will be necessary to deploy much stronger and more innovative means of control and persuasion to keep the population from eating each other—and, of course, the elites themselves.

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