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China and the West: sleepwalking to the same future

Pedestrians in Shanghai. Getty

The fight for supremacy between the West and China is often seen as an ideological battle “between democracy and autocracy”, says NS Lyons in UnHerd. In fact, the two superpowers “are not diverging but becoming more alike”: both are converging on a system that George Orwell and the philosopher James Burnham described as “managerialism”. At the heart of this is a conviction that “all things – even the complexity of society and Man himself – can be understood, managed and controlled like a machine”. This is most obvious in China’s “blossoming social-credit system”, in which individuals get a trustworthiness score which affects access to travel, housing, higher education and even healthcare. As late as the mid-2010s, everyone in China would jaywalk to cross the street – now, thanks to facial recognition cameras, they’ve been conditioned out of it.

“This is not a million miles away from what is happening in so-called Western liberal democracies.” Take the debanking trend, which Coutts tried with Nigel Farage and is an “increasingly routine practice”. Those who have the wrong political opinions can, “in a society as digitised as ours”, be cut off from almost all aspects of life if they’re stripped of a bank account. And in the rise of scoring schemes like the Corporate Equality Index and ESG (environmental, social, and governance), we can see something like a social credit system taking shape. Private companies have to follow these diktats to “survive and thrive” in an increasingly managerial economy. Even as China and the West “roil and clash”, they are converging on “the same socially engineered submission of everything human, real and free to technocratic nihilism”.