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The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard

The Conflicting Forces of Modernism: Kafka and Kierkegaard

We seem to be heading into a confrontation between the two forces of Modernism: the primacy of the individual versus the increasing technological and economic might of the central state.

In Kafka’s Nightmare Emerges: China’s “Social Credit Score” (May 7, 2018), I wrote about Kafka’s vision of a bureaucratic nightmare emerging in China’s “Social Credit Score.”

The idea here is the central state sets up a vast, pervasive surveillance system to monitor all its citizens, and assigns a social score to each citizen based on his/her compliance with regulations and social norms as defined by the state.

In Kafka’s nightmarish novels, an opaque, impenetrable and impersonalized bureaucracy controls the social and economic structures of everyday life.

China’s system is based on a social score, but one’s social score has enormous economic consequences: the citizen with a low score can be denied rights to travel, his/her children can be denied access to educational opportunities and so on.

As I noted, there doesn’t appear to be a legal process for challenging one’s low social score, or much transparency on the various violations and weighting of violations that go into calculating each individual’s score.

I’ve often written about the difference between force and power: as per Edward Luttwak, force (coercion) is costly and clumsy, while power works via persuasion, grudging or otherwise.

China is attempting to create a system that is extremely coercive (a low score generates severe punishments) but also seeks to internalize the social scoring system: no authority figure is required to force individuals to comply; each individual internalizes the rules and modifies their own behavior accordingly.

This aligns with China’s historic reliance on internalized social norms to control its vast populace. Even in the Song Dynasty (960 AD to 1279 AD), the central state relied on the internalized social norms of Confucian values to “order society” with minimal coercion.

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