Tech Totalitarians Are on the March

Tech Totalitarians Are on the March
Visitors look at AI (artificial intelligence) security cameras with facial recognition technology at the 14th China International Exhibition on Public Safety and Security at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2018. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)
Roger Kimball
3/7/2022
Updated:
3/13/2022
Commentary

The Chinese were pathbreakers.

With their system of “social credit,” which seeks to enforce conformity by “grading” an individual’s or business’s adherence to the party line and imposing penalties for deviations, they have showed the West the way.

If you don’t espouse the right attitudes, you might find yourself barred from public transportation, from work permits or travel visas, from preferred jobs and other social—which includes economic—perquisites.

It’s a totalitarian’s dream—one that was dreamt by George Orwell in the pages of “Nineteen Eighty-Four”and it’s made all the more total by advances in technology.

Winston Smith, Orwell’s unhappy protagonist, had to contend with a tiny two-way television set in his apartment that he couldn’t turn off and that constantly eavesdropped on him.

Chinese citizens have to contend with having their texts, emails, and internet activity constantly scrutinized, which also means having every phone conversation docketed and financial transaction tracked.

Cameras, backed up with facial-recognition technology, are everywhere, watching, listening, building up a record that can always be marshaled as an indictment.

It’s a good thing, isn’t it, that we in the freedom-loving West eschew such totalitarian intrusiveness?

Just kidding.

The U.S. Department of Justice showed how it’s done in the land of the formerly free when it employed all those techniques to track down, arrest, and incarcerate hundreds of people involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, protest at the Capitol.

Phone and social media accounts were hoovered up and dissected; facial recognition technology was deployed and weaponized; financial transactions and travel records were subpoenaed and combed through.

Hundreds of people are still languishing in a Washington, D.C., gulag, waiting while the authorities expend vast amounts of legal ingenuity to transform various misdemeanors into felonies.

In many ways, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada went even further in dealing with the “Freedom Convoy” of truckers.

He had banks shut down the accounts of the protesters, prevailed upon entities such as PayPal and GoFundMe to deny them access to funds that third parties had raised; he confiscated their property, and went after anyone who provided aid, comfort, or even coffee to them.

Xi Jinping must be proud of him.

As far as I know, Trudeau doesn’t yet have an army of slave laborers as Xi has the Uyghurs, but it takes time to acquire these things.

So now we have Vladimir Putin invading Ukraine.

Media and financial companies of the West, having gotten used to shutting down people they don’t like, are in for the kill.

Visa and Mastercard, which account for 74 percent of payment transactions in Russia, have shut down operations there, as has PayPal.

That’ll show that mean, nasty dictator!

But the net effect seems to have been to force Putin to look elsewhere for financial services.

(It is worth noting, however, that as of this writing anyway, Putin, unlike Donald Trump, still has a Twitter account. I surmise that the establishment regards Putin as less of a threat than Trump.)
“Several Russian banks said on Sunday,” Reuters reported, that “they would soon start issuing cards using the Chinese UnionPay card operator’s system coupled with Russia’s own Mir network.”

I think that there are two lessons to be drawn from this.

One is that the net result of the West’s foot-stamping against Putin has been to push him into the arms of Xi and the Mullahs in Iran.

Sure, the sanctions are hurting the Russian economy, and, hence, the Russian people, but at the end of the day, I suspect that their chief effect will be to anger Putin, not dissuade him.

Second, by marrying the imperatives of cancel culture with the resources of high-tech, the campaign against Putin may prove to provide a blueprint for future totalitarian moves in so-called democracies in the West.

The irony is that, just a few years ago, all this high-tech was touted as a great instrument of freedom.

The internet would put ordinary citizens on the level with media giants.

Twitter would enable anyone to reach anyone.

Facebook and Instagram were supposed to open up the world.

Google would help us all to find what we wanted, almost instantly, and entities like PayPal and GoFundMe were instruments for citizens to support causes they believed in.

Except that it turned out the vast power and reach of these technologies could, in a nonce, be turned against the people they supposedly served, coopted in part by governments, but just as much by the progressive ideologies that ruled in their corporate offices.

As “Sundance” at the Conservative Treehouse observed, “What we are seeing is a full-blown alignment of interests between globalist government and their partnered multinational corporations and financial institutions.”

Indeed.

Noting the alignment of entities such as NATO, the EU, and Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum with its plans for a “Great Reset,” Sundance warns that “the global future being outlined in this NATO/EU/WEF strategy to use private industry as a weapon, is like the government attack on Canadian truckers/supporters taken to an exponential scale.

“Now, overlay your pending requirement to walk around with a digital identity, and you can see exactly how easy it will be to de-person, which is one layer higher than de-bank.”

Get ready. Cancel culture, armed with the high-tech weapons that were supposed to emancipate us, is coming to a democracy near you.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads.”