Imagine there was a plugin you could install on your social media that would display your IQ (intelligence quotient). To use this plugin, you had to take an IQ test. You could then filter based on IQ score among other users who had the plugin. For example, you could only receive messages from above 130 IQ followers, allow only above 100 IQ to read certain posts, or below 80 IQ to see a certain advertisement, etc.
I came up with this idea after seeing a Twitter post from someone wishing they could avoid interacting with stupid people on social media. There would obviously be a lot of challenges with implementing it. People might try to game the IQ test. You’d have to get popular adoption. Really stupid people might not even know how to install the plugin right, or just avoid outing themselves as dumb by using it. Yet, it could solve a common desire among internet users.
I took it further. What if you could filter customer services requests by IQ? Someone with a +130 IQ is probably calling with different questions than an 80 IQ person? What if you had the data on how different IQ levels behave differently in different systems? What if you could offer different versions of the same product for different intelligences? What if you could test for different types of IQ (spatial, emotional, linguistic, etc.) and filter even further?
Then I realized: I’d invented a social credit score system.
Social Credit Scores
A social credit score is a score assigned to a person that gives them certain rewards or punishments based on their behavior.
Social credit scores usually filter for the interests of the state. In China, your social credit score is tied to what the Chinese Communist Party considers pro-social behavior. Some are innocuous. For example, making a reservation at a hotel and not showing up lowers your score. Donating to charity raises it. Others are political. For example, buying anime, which is considered a degenerate Japanese (foreign) product lowers your score. Serving the Chinese Communist party raises it.
Social credit scores usually serve the interests of those who create them. If a state creates a social credit score, it can use it as a soft mechanism of control. You might not be forced to obey, but your life will be harder if you don’t. Some in the United States have proposed a harsher version of the social credit score system through vaccine passports, which would deny Americans the ability to travel in their own country unless they were up to date on all mandated vaccines.
Social credit scores also create odd feedback loops. I once heard a story of someone in China who offered to give their friend a lift. Their friend declined a car ride, because walking regularly raised their social credit score. Accepting a car ride from a friend would have been pro-social, but it would not have been recognized as such by the social credit system. By walking, this person was gaming that system and building their social credit score. They were choosing what the system recognized as pro-social over what was actually pro-social due to the incentives of the credit score system.
Social credit mirrors a system that has always existed in human culture: reputation. Usually, your reputation comes through your social circle. You will hear from others that someone has a “bad reputation” or “good reputation.” Because reputation is not tied to data, it’s very easy to develop a “bad reputation” merely because an enemy or ex spreads a negative rumor, and possible to develop a “good reputation” simply by being a very smooth con man.
Both systems can be gamed, they are just manipulated differently. Reputation is gamed by manipulating people’s perception. Social credit systems are gamed by exploiting what data the system values. One system is explioted through narcissistic sociopathy, and the other through autistic gamesmanship.
Hegemonic Social Credit Scores
Most people oppose social credit scores because they don’t want the well-being of their life determined by their obedience to a state, corporate system, or medical tyranny. I support this view.
However, the same people frequently who oppose social credit scores frequently use reputation to judge who they associate with. Some even use forms of reputation based in political labels. What if we could translate the informal and unquantified system of reputation people already use to evaluate their relationships into data like a social credit score?
The challenge with social credit scores is that different subcultures want different social behavior. For example, a “Christian Social Credit Score” would probably be lowered by sex outside of marriage. A “Sex-Positive Social Credit Score” might be raised by attending a course on polyamory. Both of these subcultures would frown on the relationship the other has to sex.
We do not have a one-size-fits-all relationship to reputation. Why would we have a one-size-fits-all relationship to social credit scores? Part of the challenge of social credits scores is right now they are only used by those who seek hegemonic control over social norms. There is a lot of power to be had if your subculture’s social credit system becomes the dominant society’s social credit system.
In a sense, we already have this hegemonic control in the informal system of reputation. There are certain topics you could write about or words you could say that would get you “canceled” by companies, social media platforms, and dominant institutions. Many of these are the same across social powers.
Yet, opposing “cancel culture” is a misnomer. We all have some standard for which we would remove people from our life or “cancel” them if they violated. What people really mean when they say those who oppose “cancel culture” is that they don’t want a hegemonic culture whose values they don’t share to rule over them.
Most would happily “cancel” certain people from their own culture for violations of their cultural norms. However, they don’t run dominant social institutions and would prefer those institutions to remain culturally neutral, or at least be willing to do business with people of any culture.
Decentralizing Social Credit Scores
The solution here is not to ban social credit scores but decentralize them.
What if instead of one social credit score run by the ruling party, major corporations, or the medical system, you had many different scores used by different subcultures and systems.
Imagine if you had a holistic health credit score or HHC score. This score was raised not by taking vaccines, but by exercising, eating organic vegetables, and daily meditation. Raising your HHC score meant that you got a discount on certain health services since it was assumed you were a healthier person and would not cost the healthcare system the same amount as an obese junk-food couch potato.
There might also be “healthy people only” events that you could only get into with a high HHC score. Some were even singles events or family events because healthy people want to interact with other healthy people, date other healthy people, and have their kids raised in a subculture that normalizes a healthy lifestyle.
Would you want an HHC score? Would gamifying health this way with real social rewards cause you to act healthier? Would be more likely to attend an event knowing everyone there lived healthy, even if it was just
This has the problems that other social credit systems have. Valuing the wrong data could lead to people gaming the system rather than actually being healthy. For example, a system that wasn’t too smart might log it as exercise if you turn on the treadmill for an hour without stepping on it.
There might also be debates over what constitutes health. Does meditation belong on the HHC, or is it just diet exercise? Is an hour of yoga worth the same on your score as an hour of heavy weightlifting, or is one worth more?
You could solve these problems with multiple scores or even forking the system. For example, vegans might create an HHC fork that decreases your score if you eat animal products. Paleo and carnivore people might create a fork that increases your score if you eat meat. If there were multiple social credit systems, this would not be a problem, since some might attend events only available to a high vegan score and others a high carnivore score.
Codifying Social Credit Scores
There are as many ways to implement a social credit score as there are subcultures. Every subculture or set of values could have its own score with its own set of rewards and punishments within that subculture or organization.
Imagine a political party where the activism you did raise your party credit score. Imagine a company where the number of shares of that company you owned was determined by a gamified tracking of the work you did for the company. You could even have encrypted scores which are only visible when two members of a subculture are near and chose to reveal themselves to another for a modern version of secret societies.
Designing this would take a lot of thought because you’d be codifying people’s values. You’d have to figure out what your subculture actually values, and how that value is signified. You’d have to test it to make sure what you’re rewarding is actually creating the culture you want.
Right now, social credit scores are used as a system of control. This method uses them as a system of association. With multiple credit scores, you could choose who you associate with, what you value, and find your people.
Yes, social credit scores run the risk of centralization. If all of society adopts one set of values, maintaining your own might be difficult. Yet, hasn’t this always been the challenge for subcultures and emergent ideas? Yes, this is a bit of a crazy idea, there are many ways it could be abused, and it’d take a lot of work to make right. However, there is a way this tool could be used for good.
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