Staring Into the Black Mirror

by | Jul 31, 2020

EBAY. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. TikTok. Youtube. Amazon. Uber. TripAdvisor. Airbnb. Twitter.

How long has it been now? eBay and Amazon started way back in 1995. Facebook first came online in 2004. Twitter in ’06. It’s been 25 years since we all started giving instant feedback on our transactions. Over sixteen years since we started liking what our friends had to say and almost that long since we started re-tweeting our favorite microblogs.

When did you first start liking some product or something someone said? Think back to when you were first served up the option of leaving your feedback. Did you give it 5 stars? Thumbs down? Did you leave positive or negative feedback? Is your mental or emotional wellbeing effected if your own post doesn’t get a bunch of likes or shares? Do you crave getting re-tweeted? Are you constantly thinking of the next perfect shot for the gram? Does your business success hinge on how many five-star reviews you receive?

It’s weird, but I have this recollection that even though many of these companies and services existed it seemed like one day everyone was talking about them and everyone just had to use them. It was almost spiritual it seemed. A Siren’s call, beckoning and yet also demanding.

To think, an entire generation of human beings knows not a world without these apps, services and the devices they run on.

Be honest. You look at the black mirror too.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?

What is the black mirror you ask? It’s your iPhone screen when it’s turned off. Or your laptop. Or the 85-inch flat screen hanging on your wall. It’s the dim and sometimes distorted reflection of the world you see staring back if you gaze at it too long.

This is the premise for the show of the same name on Netflix. A show in the vein of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. Each episode is a self-contained story that explores a dark side of the technology infused world in which we now live. Ironically, when the show first began in the UK, under the station Channel 4, it was listed under the comedy section. If you’ve watched any of the episodes I think you’ll agree…the Brits have strange ideas about funny.

Once again this is not meant to be any sort of critique or review of the series, similar to my treatment of Westworld and Altered Carbon, but spoilers for one episode will follow if that sort of thing might ruffle your feathers.

The episode titled Nosedive is what I want to focus on.

In this episode we are introduced to an undisclosed near-future time period where, in addition to mobile devices and screens, people instantly stream and share their daily activities through and eye implant technology. A rating system is in place with a scale from 1 to 5. All interactions with other people as well as businesses are encouraged to be rated.

Further, your entire socio-economic life is tied to your current personal accumulated rating based off of the feedback others have given you. That prestigious job needs you to be at 4.5 at least. Want to be approved for that shiny new car? Better hope you clock in above 3.8. And don’t even think about buying a house unless you’re at 4.8 or above.

Does this sound ridiculous or at least a little bit hyperbolic? It really shouldn’t. We’re on the verge of this reality now. And really, we’ve already been conditioned to accept it. We don’t blink at credit ratings. We put our trust in businesses and services that come highly rated or are considered socially acceptable. We like and thumbs up and feedback into oblivion.

Sources are sketchy, but reports say that as early as 2009 China had already implemented various forms of regional trials for social credit rating systems. By as early as 2014 – some say 2016 – they had combined a total of 8 different scoring firms into one nationalized pilot program.

And everyone’s on board. And by everyone I mean all the usual suspects.

Of course, the communist government of China along with the People’s Bank of China. But then we have all of the corporations and tech firms. Alibaba and Tencent – think China’s equivalent of Amazon and Google or Microsoft – signed on eagerly to add their own systems. Their version of Uber, Didi Chuxing and popular online dating site Baihe are also involved.

Among the various scores and pilot programs there’s financial credits scores, numerical scores for various criteria and national regulatory methods that consist of straight up black and whitelisting. This is all tied into China’s state surveillance systems such as – I kid you not – one called Skynet. Facial recognition, artificial intelligence and big data analysis round it out.

During the course of Nosedive the main character, Lacie, seeks to raise her current 4.2 rating up to a 4.5 so that she can get a discount on a luxury apartment. The stream of consciousness behind her decision making is the old fashioned “keeping up with the Joneses” with the 21st century twist of also being able to flaunt it on social media. Plus, in this world, just having material things can improve your rating as you’re able to record shots of yourself at your beach house or getting into your exotic car or showing off your tan while you’re in Fiji. All of this creates the potential for you to receive higher ratings and expand your own personal socio-economic status.

The show being what it is, the scenario descends into darkness.

Although Lacie has done everything she can to bump her ratings by being overtly pleasant and sociable, she just can’t get above the 4.2. It gets suggested to her that she try to get that bump by interacting with highly-rated people and currying their favor. Through a series of events all made possible by social media, Lacie gets invited to be the maid of honor at a childhood friend’s wedding. This friend happens to be rated 4.8 and has other highly rated friends and acquaintances.

In a sort of socio-techno way, Lacie essentially writes a bad check as it were, and decides to commit to the luxury apartment thinking that she’ll get the needed bump in rating once she attends the wedding.

In the remaining course of the story Lacie has several run-ins with various people who all end up rating her negatively and she drops below 4.2. The flight she had booked gets cancelled and with her rating now dipping lower she is unable to book another. Spiraling further, she causes a commotion at the airport and the security team imposes a 24 hour penalty of 1 whole point on her rating. She is forced to rent an electric car and when it runs out of juice she is unable to recharge it.

Facebook jail. Youtube timeouts. Demonitization. Fact checkers. Censored posts.

Meanwhile in China, the Supreme People’s Court now regularly blacklists people who are in debt to the government. Whether it be a tax, fine or some other sort of fee – regardless of how exorbitant or frivolous – they can now make you persona non grata and chop points off of your various scores.

Further, businesses and citizens who are deemed as having low trustworthiness due to their social credit scores are now routinely denied flights and high-speed train trips. Report say that as of March 2019, at least 13 million people are on this no-travel list.

That’s more than the entire population of New York City.

Private schools and universities are off limits to children whose parents do not rate. Doesn’t matter if they’re prodigy level genius.

Oh, and it can effectively cripple your ability to meet, marry and potentially start a family. Remember the dating site? Currently the reports say that publishing social credit scores are optional and up to each individual user. In the land of the former one-child-per-couple policy, one wonders how long this will last.

If you are a Christian, Muslim or some other non-state sanctioned religious person, good luck. The social credit rating system has helped lead authorities to further oppress Uighurs, various Christian sects and practitioners of Falun Gong.

They have apps that show deadbeat debtors within 500 meters of your current location.  Mugshots of blacklisted people are routinely displayed on huge screens on buildings or before movies. Contact tracing app anyone?

At this point in the episode we are introduced to a truck driver named Susan. Susan’s rating is sub 2.0 and she is rather ok with it. Lacie is aghast and beside herself that someone can live that way. Susan explains that when her husband was denied a life-saving cancer treatment due to not having sufficient ratings, she decided that her remaining life would be much better off by not trying to keep the number up.

The finale of the episode occurs when Lacie’s friend notices her now abysmal rating and realizes that it could have a negative impact on her own score and tells Lacie not to bother coming. Lacie sneaks in anyway and being dirty, disheveled and weary, basically has a mental and emotional breakdown as she nabs the microphone and gives a speech.

Of course all of the guests rate her poorly and she dips below 1.0. She is subsequently arrested and taken to prison. Because she dropped so low, the authorities also remove the eye implant and take her offline from the system completely.

The episode closes with Lacie and another prisoner in the cell opposite her realizing they are now “free” and do not need to worry about how to conduct themselves, so they start calling each other obscene names and insulting each other as they smile and laugh.

I hope you can see the false dichotomy that’s presented here.

You’re either one of the slaves toiling away to keep your score up or you’re a devolved monkey flinging poo at other monkeys in zoo cages.

And before you go pick up your pitchfork and torch to go battle the hammers and sickles, realize that this is all happening in the U.S., Europe and everywhere else as well.

In the U.S. since 2009 debtor’s prisons have become a thing again. Either through unpaid taxes or fines, many Americans find themselves incarcerated because they could not give to Uncle Sam what Caesar declares as his.

Another favorite American mainstay is Civil Asset Forfeiture. If you happen to get caught up in the .gov’s war on certain plants and substances then you could find yourself losing a car, house, cash or anything else. Even if they decide not to charge you! There are myriads of examples of this online if you just do some searches. Here are a few highlights:

In 2012 Mandrel Stuart was pulled over while on a date and was handcuffed, stripped of over $17,000 which he had earned from his personal barbeque restaurant and detained without charges. He had the cash on him because he was going to use the money later that evening to purchase new equipment for his restaurant. With no evidence of any illegal activity the cops seized the cash because it was merely assumed to be drug-related.

Matt Lee was driving to California from Michigan with $2,500 in cash when he got pulled over in Nevada. The cops seized the cash stating that it must be a drug run. Lee had to hire an attorney and prove that the money was not in any way drug related. Lee won his case but had to pay the attorney half of his money. He got to net a little over $1k for doing absolutely nothing wrong and merely traveling with cash. And this doesn’t take into account the cost of his stolen time and effort.

There’s a saying for this: The process is the punishment.

In my native Nebraska, Interstate 80 is a haven for asset forfeiture. Heaven help you if you have Colorado or any other “pro-weed” State license plates. Tan Nguyen was pulled over for a traffic stop there and when it was found that he had $50 grand on him the Sheriff’s deputy suggested that they, “take his money and, um, count it as a drug seizure.” No drugs or any other wrong doing was found.

Christos Sourvelis had his house in Philadelphia seized and was thrown on the street by authorities because they suspected Sourvelis’s 22-year-old son of selling heroin out of it. In a two year span, over 500 families in that city have lost their homes or cars due to asset forfeiture. And in the State of Pennsylvania the legal burden is on the property owner to prove their innocence.

So much for innocent until proven guilty.

And in the land of the fee and home of the slave, if you have what the government considers seriously delinquent tax debt they can and will revoke your passport. Say goodbye to that vacation in Cancun. In 2016 Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act.

Unfortunately, I could go on. And on. And on.

Now you might say, well this isn’t exactly a social credit system. Maybe not. But then you haven’t read the Equality Act yet. Probably.

But so far we don’t need a government imposed system. Our outside-the-law system of social networks and controlled media are already doing the job quite nicely. Law enforcement routinely gets intelligence and tips off of tweets, Facebook posts and other social media.

Look at all of the companies who are now broke because they didn’t get “woke”.

And look at what we are now witnessing with the plandemic. All the major companies, airlines and media are lockstep in enforcing the mask mandates, social distancing, contact tracing and all of the other nonsense.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that 2020 is an aberration. No, they have been conditioning the entire world for this for quite some time. Next we will see the rise of cashless societies and restrictions based on your vaccinations. Some of this has already been happening.

India’s government outlawed large denominations of their currency and tried to force an all-electronic payment economy in 2016. It largely failed but that wasn’t the point. These are experiments and tests to see how far and how fast they can push the tax cattle around. Rest assured, the goal is to have total control and traceability over every facet of a person’s life.

The other possibility that I personally subscribe to is that they are pushing hard so that it causes a civil or all out world war. Many atrocities can be covered up or conjured up during war. Debts, blatant mismanagement and corruption can be swept under the rug and new forms of government can be instituted in the aftermath. The new master typically looks just like the old master.

They’ve gotten really good at adding the tinder, splashing on the gas and then handing us the match. It is the Hegelian Dialectic in action. Government creates the problem. Government gives you a “left” and “right” solution to the problem. You are told these are the only two solutions to the problem. Underneath the subterfuge the end result is the same. Then the voters get to feel like they actually did something and that they influenced the outcome. Rinse and repeat.

So I think they’re baiting everyone. You have subservience and acquiescence on the one hand or fight back and destroy the world you know on the other. They win either way.

Albert Pike’s letter from 1871 that laid out the three world wars they have planned still comes to mind.

I find myself being disgusted at how easy it is to just be ok with even just the social media and convenience aspects of this. We expect everything on our time now and we’ve come to be dependent on being dependent. It’s completely natural in our matrix-like world to be totally reliant on the government, corporations and other services to live and stay entertained.

I want to simultaneously cry, puke, scream and punch something.

When I myself became “woke” to YHWH’s Law and the importance of the Torah in my life, I became acutely aware at how our entire existence is now manufactured. Nothing that we have or do now is sustainable. Everything is subsidized. It is fake. It is fabricated. It is contra to everything Yah would want us to do or be. There is no left or right. No substantial difference in capitalism or communism. Or any ism. Look at the pyramid with the all-seeing eye at the top. It doesn’t matter if you start at the bottom left or bottom right corner of it. Both sides lead to the sharp point at the top.

It’s actually much, much simpler than the world and all the religions would have you believe. There’s being on the Father’s side of the line or not. That’s it. There’s only, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15)

It’s funny but when I first became a Christian I struggled and watched many others struggle so hard with finding out what “God’s will was for my life”. There’s sermons and books galore on this subject. It’s mostly all vapid.

These days I just find myself seeking what YHWH ultimately has in store for us. To live in peace with Him and everyone else under my own vine and my own fig tree.

 “But at the end of days the mountain of Adonai’s House will be established as chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills. Peoples will flow up to it. Then many nations will go and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Adonai, to the House of the Elohim of Jacob! Then He will direct us in His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of Adonai from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and decide for mighty nations far off. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war again. But each man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one causing terror, for the mouth of Adonai-Tzva’ot has spoken. Though all the peoples will walk each in the name of his god, so we ourselves will walk in the Name of Adonai Eloheinu, forever and ever.”

This makes me want to simultaneously cry, laugh and hug someone.

Step away from the screen. Put the black mirror down and spend more time in the Father’s creation that he made for us.

– Justin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/china-social-credit-system-explained

https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/two-years-after-demonetisation-cashless-india-still-a-distant-dream-45682/

6 Comments

  1. Lowell Okumu

    Thank you Justin.

    Reply
    • Justin Russell

      You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  2. John Williams

    Love this. Black mirror is like many other shows. They are sharing what can happen and what is happening.
    You are so right on the rating system I for one do not care and will continue to voice my beliefs. I appreciate your article and only wish I could express myself as you and Noel do through your graphic arts of writing i honest feel I’m there with you as you all write and share your thoughts and findings.
    Blessings Brother and I mean it…

    Reply
    • Justin Russell

      Thanks for the kind words, John. Should it shame me to say that if there was a “like” button for your comment I would press it? 🙂

      Shalom and blessings to you as well brother.

      Reply
  3. Arthur Herring

    So well said, and agreed. I had honestly forgotten about credit scores, and havent even checked mine for about 15 years. With one who has eyes to see, it is painfully obvious how all this has all been carefully prepared for us and is quickly coming to fruition, for those that love this world. Many Blessings… and Shabbat Shalom this 6th day evening!

    Reply
  4. Debby

    I haven’t watched any episodes yet. Thinking about it now… I sometimes refer to our devices as scrying mirrors, though it’s not my purpose to scry. hmmmmm, maybe they truly are. Thanks for another great paper.

    Reply

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