First and foremost, I want to wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving. We have been entrusted with so much in this great Country and State. I am thankful for my wife and family and the greatest nation on Earth.
I recently traveled to China to discuss trade and other important issues that will affect Iowa. It was a great trip, although not one that was on my bucket list. While in China I was able to spend around 4 hours with Ambassador Branstad who asked many questions about “home” from me and attended two province functions including a dinner. Together, with the Ambassador, and through other meetings, I was able to promote Iowa’s tremendous ag industry and products.
I was struck by the kindness of the people but taken aback by the lack of freedoms that the people of China have. Three instances of this lack of freedom really clarified things for me. First, a system of Social Credit demerits is being rolled out in China, second, was the T.V. screen going black when an English-speaking channel was broadcasting about the Hong Kong riots, and finally finding out that the Chinese judicial system may penalize someone based on the public good rather than just on the rule of law.
In this newsletter I would like to discuss the Social Credit system that is being set in place in certain regions right now but will be rolled out to the entire country soon. The system is also known as a national reputation system and is intended to standardize the assessment of its citizens and business’ economic and social reputation or social credit. In effect it is a form of mass surveillance that uses facial recognition and big brother type systems. All I could think of was the book 1984, which I read in high school back in the 1980s, thinking this stuff is crazy and could never happen. I am here to let you know, it is happening and almost exactly like the author of the book 1984 wrote about almost 80 years ago.
Supporters of the social credit system in China say that it will help regulate social behavior, improve quality of life, and promote traditional moral values. Critics, however, say that it oversteps the rule of law and infringes on legal rights.
If a citizen (although it isn’t fully understood if the system is specific to just citizens or Chinese businesses) receives a social demerit they could be subject to travel bans, exclusion from school admissions, may be the subject of public displays such as mug shots, and in general, just making your life harder.
I was struck by the fact that recent polling in the United States indicates that younger citizens may be ok with limiting their own freedoms. The polls on this subject talk about banning specific terms or making people talk in a certain way that some believe is acceptable. On the surface, this all sounds good and something that can bring order to a world. The reality is that it infringes upon our God-given rights and freedoms.
I remember one instance while at breakfast with a Chinese national and people asking that person questions about his country. His reply is that this is a discussion that I cannot have because I won’t be someone of interest as an American, but he as a Chinese would be looked upon negatively. As American’s we find it hard to believe that you can’t speak your mind for fear of being punished in some way, even if it is to criticize the very government that would do the punishment.
I can think of an instance in Iowa where the Social Credit system seems to have taken place, where a teacher was giving a lesson to her students and in the process of teaching about prejudice and improper words. She said one of the very words she was talking about, in order for the students to know exactly what she was talking about, and the students walked out of school the next day because they said nobody should be able to say those words. There was no maliciousness associated with the instance, simply a desire to teach right and wrong from a historically accurate point.
Free speech is a sticky situation because you don’t have to like what is being said but folks have the right to say it and it can be frustrating. Take for example people have the right to disagree with our President. In China disagreeing with the President would give you a demerit. Our freedoms are reliant upon free speech and without it we will crumble.
We have got to return to our roots and away from the systems like China’s, whether that system is government implemented or implemented by groups of people. Our country was founded on a Bill of Rights and those rights include the freedom of Speech and Religious Liberty. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights that says you must agree with or like what someone says.
Thank you for your trust in me to represent you as your State Legislator. I find it humbling to know that you trust me to bring your values and issues to the Statehouse in Des Moines. Thank you!