How We’re Selling Honor
The previous post satirically announced our new Honor Rating (a public forum measuring everybody’s social status) and The Honor Market (a global marketplace for buying and selling your personal honor). That post was fictitious, but the idea is already becoming a reality.
Our current society seems to be moving from a market economy to a reputation economy. People’s main economic asset is not the goods or services they offer, but their reputation and relationships. Whether you like it or not, people are trying to quantify your reputation, or “social credit.” Here is a recent example.
The Chinese government announced their system for measuring peoples’ honor. Their omniscient “credit system” compiles public information into a single number that measures each citizen’s trustworthiness. People are encouraged to flaunt their good score when seeking potential mates, or just reserving a hotel room. By 2020, everyone will be enrolled in the mandatory system. (Read more: BBC article and Jackson Wu’s response). For now, this is the most extreme example, but not the only one.
The Evolution of Social Credit
In certain ways, systems of “social credit” already exists. In small communities, people intuitively rank and rate the status of other people (they refer to it as “character” or “name.”). Since everybody knows everybody, there is no need to publicize this information—people just know. Remember, honor and shame are by definition “social credit scores.”
The idea of a FICO score is similar—it measures your past actions to determine your future credit risk. Everybody in American has a credit score that is shared whenever you apply for credit. This credit score is not public for everybody to see, but only made available to potential lenders. Yet, this commonly accepted feature of American society is the large step towards letting others define our reputation.
The website Klout.com (started 2008) measures a person’s influence on social media. “The Klout Score is a number between 1-100 that represents your influence. The more influential you are, the higher your Klout Score.” This innovation moves a person’s status from the financial world (i.e., FICO) into social media. Klout.com is completely voluntary, so you only get a score when you enrolled. Klout is now out of business, but the idea is not.
Last fall, Silicon Valley announced the newest app—Peeple. The app was billed as “Yelp for people.” You can rate movies, restaurants, and your professors. So why not rate people? The Peeple app launched as a completely public app, anybody could publicly rate you (from 1 to 5 stars). The co-founders thought everyone would be excited to “showcase their character,” but the backlash was immediate and harsh. So after consideration, it was modified so that you can only rate people who voluntarily opted-in.
The Future of Selling Honor
Efforts to quantify and publicize social credit/capital in American have not yet stuck. But for three reasons, I believe it is just a matter of time before it does.
1-Urbanization/Migration. As people continue to move into cities, human interactions will become increasingly anonymous. The less we know people, the greater the need for easy ways to “get to know someone’s character.” Overtime, a social credit system will find a welcome market of people looking to “know their neighbor.”
2-Capitalism. There is simply too much financial potential in this idea. If one company/website became the standard reference for learning others’ status rankings, they would effectively broker our social and economic transactions. There is huge financial upside in being the gatekeeper of relational interactions. There is too much money in Silicon Valley on the hunt for this sort of scalable business for it not to happen. They will keep pushing until the floodgates open.
3-Commodification. Humans are always finding new parts of “themselves” to fractionalize, securitize, and sell to others. We already sell our time (40+ hrs/wk!), our blood, and our home, with hardly a thought. There are even new ways to sell your legal rights. So when it becomes possible, what would keep people from selling their honor?
Questions: Are there ways people already sell their honor? What is a biblical response to an app like Peeple where people are rated? What do you think will honor and status will look like 50 years from now?
I think we get the bottom line for Christians from Paul:
“Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself,but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Cor 3:21-4:5, ESV).
I believe this passage would require us to acknowledge the reality of human honor assessments, but to insist that our standard and standing come from the Lord himself. That is all that matters. Such a stance is counter-cultural to be sure, but it would keep pointing folks in the right direction.
On any system like this that measures someone’s character (or tries to quantify it), there is a potential upside and a downside. One element that I have not yet seen mentioned in these articles (the main one and those linked to it) is whether, after a period of time following its introduction, such a system would also make available historical data on that person in regards to their score (i.e. show if the person’s score is trending up or down over a period of time). This would provide perspective on whether the person who may have gone through a challenging time that affected their score is now working on improving their score, or if they at one time had a near-perfect score but due to recent events (life changes) are trending downwards.