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For a story, I try to create a perfect Orwellian state with the current state of technology.

The government controls every aspect of its citizens daily life via constant automated surveillance (CCTV, biometric systems and wearable electronic devices), ministerial departments pass extreme anti-individualistic laws (citizen may only wear certain clothes and are assigned their jobs, apartments and mates for procreation by a computer system, etc.) and a radical (secret) police force makes sure there won't be any form of violent resistance against the system.

Almost everyone of the citizen are very content with the current government, due to the perceived wealth, security and lack of terror/crime. Their lifelong indoctrination at schools, universities and the media keeps them rooted for the leading party and against all enemies of their way of life.

1) Did I miss out any aspect or possibility to oppress the people of my state?

2) The protagonists of my story are working in completely different careers (i.e. a paramedic, an engineer and a businessman), that represent different aspects of the live within the state. How would their work be different compared to our current, free society?

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget cell phones, which especially in heavily populated areas can give you a very good idea (often down to blocks, at most) of where a person is simply by virtue of how it functions. Practically everyone carries a cell phone with them these days. They are also very good for tracking approximately where a person is at a given time and which other persons are nearby at that same time, and the data can trivially be stored to be looked at long after the fact. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 10 '16 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ See also: How can I transition from a democracy to a dictatorship, from within the government? which should give you plenty of ideas. $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 10 '16 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ Did you know that CCTV is also the national tv station in China? Probably just a coincidence. $\endgroup$ – Vincent May 10 '16 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ Cross-posting some somewhat-relevant stuff from RPG SE: Fantasy surveillance state via necrotic cyst, How can PCs beat a Necrotic Cyst-based surveillance state? They’re fantastical rather than technological, and they’re based in the actual rules for a certain edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s no reason that the bulk of the ideas cannot be transplanted to a technological narrative. And there are some really good ideas. $\endgroup$ – KRyan May 11 '16 at 5:17
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    $\begingroup$ I thought we already lived in such a world: Google News for indoctrination, Facebook for global surveillance, Tinder for mating, LinkedIn for work... And last but not least: all of that with explicit agreement of population. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel May 12 '16 at 7:34

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You've got indoctrination in there, but think about the details of how that'd work. For maximum evil you need the people to not just root for the State but (1) to be terrified of it and (2) to be forced to think and act in its support including helping to root out other dissidents, rather than passively obeying the laws.

A few models to look at in reality are Hussein-era Iraq (dictator has spies try to talk people into rebellion; targets must turn the spy in or be arrested themselves); socialist East Germany (something like 20% of whole population are informants, and typewriters are registered and possible to link to documents typed on them); and the upcoming "social credit score" system in China which turns obedience into a game. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHcTKWiZ8sI ) Your setting will be most oppressive if the people are actively participating in making the oppression work, so even your family members are untrustworthy.

The terror of imminent death is a possibility too, or of absolute impossibility of escape. Two fictional models: "Agent of Chaos", in which there's a list of "permitted actions" in any area, and any action not on the list is said to set off a deathtrap that kills everyone nearby; and Vinge's "A Deepness In the Sky" in which nanotech surveillance devices saturate a whole area and are linked to a constantly-listening, obsessive spy network.

Re: careers, figure that innovation is frightening because it means deviating from known approved designs. Don't know if it's true, but I recently heard Russia once built an experimental plane with a weird kink in its airframe because the blueprint was damaged and everyone was terrified to say that the Party had gotten it wrong. Figure also that corruption is rampant despite the surveillance (when does it ever really stop this sort of thing?). Also, that people have a tough time working together because anyone could be a spy. You could well have your paramedic knowingly kill somebody because Bob says 100 ccs is the proper dose, and Bob is a Party official reading from a State-approved guidebook. It can't be wrong.

A good nonfiction reference is "MiG Pilot", the story of a Russian pilot who defected to the West. Among other things it talks about the pilot's utter disbelief at how US aircraft carrier crews worked so well together, cooperating and trusting. It also covers what life was really like for even a well-liked, loyal pilot under the Soviet state. (Corruption, shoddy building standards, lousy facilities because the only aspect of morale that matters is Party loyalty...)

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    $\begingroup$ @Hendrik Money is only one kind of corruption - contractors cozying up to the local commissar for the lucrative jobs, police knocking down a door for someone in the Party, etc. Unless the watcher watching the watchmen is a computer with some kind of incorruptible AI, people will engage in quid pro quo, and any auditor that actually cares will have their whole life's record (which is on tape) trawled for something to convict them of. And everyone can be convicted of something. $\endgroup$ – IllusiveBrian May 10 '16 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe there could be some sort of reward system for ratting out your neighbors with Reputation Points and a Badge System. $\endgroup$ – Hannover Fist May 10 '16 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ Just noting that that video is mostly a creation of the author's imagination (mostly, as there is a sesame credit system, but it's not what the author claims it is), so putting a work of fiction with other non-fiction items is quite misleading (although even the type writers weren't as trackable as people feared, but at least that was actually something the securitate wanted you to believe). $\endgroup$ – David Mulder May 11 '16 at 8:42
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    $\begingroup$ I must respectfully disagree. The most extreme and thus terrifying surveillance state is not the state where everyone fears the system; It is the surveillance state in which everyone loves the system and wants to participate in it. Examples of the former (1984, V for Vendetta) are unstable dystopias - the moment the State loses its grasp it will be overthrown. Examples of the later (Brave New World, The Giver) are stable dystopias - The people and not the State desire the dystopic status quo, and enforce the State's rules. I find the stable dystopia steady states far more scary. $\endgroup$ – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist May 11 '16 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @IwillnotexistIdonotexist. The state that everyone fears will fail, that is not scary. The scary one is the one that everyone loves. It is no fluke that dictatorships evolve into cults of personality where the state tries to indoctrinate you into loving the head of state. North Korea is the textbook example of this. The state that people love is the really scary one, because that is the one that is least likely to change and improve. And everyone that does strive to change that state is likely to be regarded as outsiders and/or subversives. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 12 '16 at 6:23
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What would "the most extreme" be?

Thought Reading and Thought Control.

Often forgotten when listing freedoms is Freedom of Thought. Maybe it is considered so obvious few think it might be threatened but never the less: all other freedoms start with this one. It is no accident that Orwell created the concept of "Thought-crime", because knowing what people think and taking action against thoughts, ideas, concepts, dreams, wishes, emotions is the ultimate totalitarianism.

Thankfully the root of all documents concerning freedoms - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - does bring up Freedom of Thought, in article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (...)

So if you want to create the worst of the worst, disable article 18, and go the full Monty on what that implies... thought monitoring, thought crime, thought modification, thought engineering, forbidden thoughts, societal thought alignment, thought eradication...

Everyone that goes with the program will be perfectly happy, because their thoughts - as supplied by the state - tells them that they are. And here comes the really insidious part: everyone that falls off the wagon will be miserable. Not because the state makes them that, but because they will suddenly feel things like sadness, anger, outrage, fear, anxiety. These are terrible things to feel when you previously were only happy. Many will want the bliss that the state provides. Those that have felt it will long for it again...

...and then do you have the most extreme you can think of: when it makes us yearn for the shackles. Nothing is firmer than that...

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    $\begingroup$ Wow, this truly is huge. So in which ways can the government directly manipulate the thoughts of it's citizen? Thinking of 1984, there would be a altered way of speaking (like doublethink). In Brave new world they had the drug Soma, that was kind of a hallucinogen. And in Fahrenheit 451 people numbed themselves with television. Are there other options? $\endgroup$ – Hendrik May 10 '16 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ The most popular way this happens in fiction is drugs. The movie "Equilibrium", the book Kallocain. But if you wish for something novel, well then a direct brain interface would be a great plot generator. The reason we do not have such stuff today is that no ethics committee in the world would allow for such experimentation on humans. But just disregard that ethics in your story and say that for instance during WWII it was discovered - maybe by accident - that if you could just eliminate all "negative" thoughts, people became incredibly happy, which made for a good society. And so it began... $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 10 '16 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ What would it be like living there? Well this is up to you really... you can make it anything from a perfect paradise to the worst Orwellian police state. If you really want to mess with the reader, make it out to be a place where people really do not want it to be different. Think "Cypher" from The Matrix... but the majority of the population think like him. Those that want to break the shackles... are they really the heroes that free the people, or are they subversive destructive forces that strive to make people miserable? This is totally up to you and what you want with the story. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 10 '16 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ I like this, it's indirect brain control, so it gives the illusion of choice. We already do this with lab animals. Hack into their pain/pleasure center and when they do something we like, give them pleasure; when they do something wrong, give them pain. That way it's a choice to think and do things they do, but in reality the government is in control. $\endgroup$ – TaylorAllred May 10 '16 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thought control might be all too easy to implement by implanting computer chips in the brain. $\endgroup$ – RichS May 11 '16 at 7:39
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The first thing that came to mind was the Borg.

Everything about your life is controlled, parsed and preplanned. You cannot deviate, your cannot rebel. You are the system. Everything is done for the collective good and the collective good all has the same goal.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like the average corporate workplace :) $\endgroup$ – Juha Untinen May 11 '16 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Only problem is that anyone who is able to contribute would voluntarily leave or go to waste. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 13 '16 at 14:45
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The most horrible would be a society where people actually believed they were free and did not realize in what ways the communication technology and surveillance was used to toy with their emotions to steer their thoughts and behaviours. Anyone pointing it out would be troublesome as it would hurt the pride of the people listening. It is painful to realize that one has been fooled - first blow would be to the self image, second to social status and pride.

However this would be efficient mostly in the individuals we have managed to establish a sense of pride and concept of shame. For individuals we're not able to establish that in... I guess we could always label them "sick". Get them locked up or managed by medication or somehow socially marginalized so at least they don't spread their influence.

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Virtual societies are the most oppressive possible state.

Imagine a society where, rather than wandering about their daily lives, all individuals exist in state-run facilities will full life support, immersed in a virtual world. CCTV, body scanners, and the like may exist, but they're just for show. The state has full access to the running code of the reality its individuals live in, and can determine exactly the state of every individual in society at all times. There is no part of the simulated world its controllers can't monitor at an arbitrary level of detail, so it's impossible to hide any action from the controllers of the world.

The most extreme possible version of this would be one where the individuals in society aren't just jacked into the computer system, a la the matrix, but are in fact programs themselves. Either they were coded into existence or uploaded into the virtual world. Every thought, need and emotion of a virtual citizen can be monitored, just like everything else in the world.

In this world, the secret police are a myth who exist to help further the illusion of existence, just like the cameras and body scanners that give the government an excuse for knowing everything. In reality, the government has a much simpler way of dealing with lawbreakers: it simply deletes them.

In a virtual state, all work is done along the lines of what sort of 'reality' the state wants to present to its citizens. Ultimately, any "job" that influences only virtual beings or creates only virtual goods is worthless, since the government can alter the world at will. Things like code development or research that can be exported outside the virtual world would probably be heavily promoted, since those are things the government can profit from. Jobs like 'paramedic' or 'burger flipper' may still exist, but they serve only as a way to further the illusion of the virtual state.

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    $\begingroup$ This is interesting but...why bother? If everything is mutable, why do the powers that be even need citizens? $\endgroup$ – Kys May 11 '16 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys It may not be that the powers that be need citizens, but rather that the government was created to serve the citizens and keep them safe. For example, if society wants to continue in a post-apocalyptic world in which the surface of the Earth is uninhabitable, it may be easier to move everyone into a virtual world than it is to clean the Earth. If successive generations are brought up entirely within the virtual world, they may not know anything of true "reality". $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 11 '16 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ Alternately, it may be the case that you can 'overclock' a virtual world to allow its members to be more productive. If the virtual world exports knowledge in the form of research to the real world, the government could be a corporation trying to maximize its research output. A third possibility would be that the virtual world is a tourist destination for real worlders or a game for real worlders in which the 'citizens' function as the NPCs. $\endgroup$ – ckersch May 11 '16 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yes if you can completely define a persons "window" out to the world you can toy their emotions completely as you want. Unless they realize what you are doing - in the case their confidence will probably rather improve arbitrarily. But that can also be a tactic to manage "dissidents". Trying to induce hubris. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 13 '16 at 14:07
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You could add religion into the mix and have a mandatory state religion and morality police. Regular confession could be demanded, and make use of polygraphs and truth drugs and drug tests. "Criminals" need not only to punished but shamed too and the message needs to get out about how the authorities have saved the people from terrible moral corruption. People who denounce their own families could be lauded as heroes.

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  • $\begingroup$ Haven't put religion into account to be honest. Sounds interesting. $\endgroup$ – Hendrik May 10 '16 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds just like Scientology's reported inner workings... $\endgroup$ – hmijail May 12 '16 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ You are skilled. You know there is no good response to this. I don't have any response either ( for "natural causes" ). $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 13 '16 at 14:52
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Give everyone a mandatory blood pressure cuff and regulatory device. Simple tech, Id think. If you can regulate their emotions, you can get them riled up only when you want them to be. And calm only when you want them to be. Their thoughts will follow.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've also thought along those lines. Measuring pulse and trying to measure what communication stresses the person (increases heart rate). But I think people are not just passive sensors that trigger emotions. They could learn to see when some input is too obviously designed to tilt their emotions. And if they realize that their confidence would increase and their receptibility to the strategy would decrease. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 12 '16 at 6:39
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You have missed the reviews.

A really aggressive state could provide the surveillance data not for its agency, but for another citizens, making all citizens responsible for reviewing the behavior of somebody living next to them. It is possible to put pressure of these reviews being as strict as possible, and negative reviews having huge negative impact on the target (who probably wrote the similar killing review on somebody else). This would make easy to ensure that people live in a constant fear, watching all details of they behavior. This also result to hate and friction between people, dividing society and making sure they cannot unite for overturning the government.

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  • $\begingroup$ The more afraid people are, the less new things they will dare to try. Such a state would get intellectual starvation as the creative people would stop trying to do new challenging stuff. It's just not worth trying your best to be smart if the punishment is so severe if you are smart in a wrong way. So it would end up with waste of resources. But of course the smarties cant say that - as that would likely punish them even more. So we'd get a big bunch of smart people all pretending to do good while actually not daring to do anything close to their best out of fear of negative reviews. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 12 '16 at 6:54
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Orwell wrote a fairly terrifying state in 1984, but a lot of the technologies referred to are now obsolete or redundant, though other factors are still perfectly valid.

Telescreens: These are now redundant. We each carry a little spy in our pocket that can listen wherever we are and track our movements. We no longer need to regulate to have a telescreen on in our house as someone in the room will always have a mobile phone turned on.

Two minutes hate: It's hard to tell the difference between this and a Trump rally, but it's about uniting the people in adversity, telling everyone that the enemies are still out there and they must accept the bad things to keep them safe.

Children informing on their parents: This was a side plot leading to the downfall of the neighbour. Taking away the children and turning them against their parents is still perfectly valid and still terrifying.

Now we have new factors though

Overwhelming marketing: How much of what you do or think is controlled by what's broadcast through your telescreen? We all like to think that we think for ourselves but for how many of us is that actually true?

Misinformation: A lie runs around the world before the truth can get its boots on. Even faster with a good clickbait tagline on social media. Who needs the heavy hand of control when you can just tell people a pretty story and have them believe anything you like.

Security cameras: There are various figures about being seen by 300 security cameras a day. This is an old figure for London, it may or may not be true but it means your day to day movements are now easily tracked. Those cameras are mostly linked to networked computers. Anything that's on the net can be watched centrally.

Where I'm going with all this, is that the crude old methods of informing on every little crime, and making people suspicious of each other, leaving them constantly in fear are not required with modern technologies. It's far simpler and easier to use the technology that we accept and want day to day against us and if someone complains, just write them off as a crank. Everyone thinks they live in the best of all possible worlds and even keeps reelecting their leaders from the same cabal as they always have.

In practice Orwell was wrong, Huxley was right, but Orwell is the one we remember.

Huxley wrote Brave New World, also dystopian but rather than being oppressed by power, the people are controlled by pleasure. Enjoy your "reality" TV.

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I don't think 1984 was a guide, nor the Democratic People's Republic of Korea an example to follow. You, sir, are devious.

I have one remark though: isn't gender an individual trait? Would be "businessperson" or somesuch more appropriate? We wouldn't want people to think they have unique characteristics, would we?

As for the other question, I'm pretty sure the work wouldn't be very different in a lot cases. It kind of depends on how you treat science and knowledge. Likely, it would be restricted to a small number of people whose job require it. So a paramedic would still be a paramedic. They may use medicine from the fifties, but it's better than no medicine probably. Ditto for engineers. They might engineer different things, or they might engineer it like it's 1989, but there's always something to engineer.

North Korea for instance has engineers working on missiles and nukes. They have their own operating system, their own intranet (unironically called Walled Garden IIRC). They have technology of their own, and yes it's antiquated but it kind of works, or at least they're getting there. Your state would likely operate on the same level, technologically backwards but there are a lot of things you can still do with older technology.

Business is something else. See, why would any industry not state-owned in the first place? Business decisions would be left to a handful of high level civil servants. The managers of a factory would manage the workers of the factory, what's their jobs. Who buys what, from who and at what price wouldn't be the concern of factory-level management. They don't get to decide what happens in the country.

Being a "businessman" would be more about managing flows of resources than conducting business though. At least, that's how I'd do it.

As for doing business abroad, it would be even more limited. The reason is that doing business outside means the Party cannot provide for absolutely everything, and we can't have that. Not that are many countries in our international scene would deal with them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't much like to limit myself on technology of past decades. All the advances in science and engineering should be available in my state. That being said, I can imagine several restrictions for engineers/programmers to standards set by the government (for example backdoors in cryptography). What if the paramedic has to report every confidential patient data to the health ministry? Or what if a business is unable to fullfill the targets of the planned economy? $\endgroup$ – Hendrik May 10 '16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Hendrik Science is knowledge, knowledge is information, information is power. Balancing absolute control with easily available information will be a challenge for you. Medical secret would make little sense I suppose. As for business, or everything really, failing to meet the goals will result in any punishment you see fit. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate May 10 '16 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are right. Knowledge is power. But isn't an inbalance of information the definition of oppression / surveillance? The normal people don't know anything about the true proceedings within the government, while they are at the same time completely transparent to their officials? $\endgroup$ – Hendrik May 10 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate On 1984 and North Korea... by the journalist/author/orator Christopher Hitchens youtube.com/watch?v=P8-Vr_r36Fg $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 10 '16 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Hendrik North Korean aren't dumber than average, but by limiting access to information very strictly, it also hinders the pursuit of science. Academic research is based on cooperation and the free sharing of knowledge, which may not be something your government want on their watch. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate May 10 '16 at 18:52
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Computer-based supply management chains that determine what gets purchased and where it goes. There is no appeal, and people don't decide who gets what. As a kicker, it should actually work: everyone gets enough, and people get rewarded seemly randomly with extra stuff with notes saying why.

A huge percent of the population is spent on monitoring other people. The monitors are in turn monitored, as is their monitoring. Failure to report crime is a crime, so you have to work really hard at monitoring crime. There is a load-factor of around 10: 10 people are monitoring you and/or being cross-monitored for everyone actually doing something "productive".

Movement and noise based monitoring lowers the load at "sleep time". At sleep time, you must be alone; any attempt to communicate is a crime. Mostly automated systems can then be left monitoring you, reducing the load.

For near-future, implants that read your surface thoughts could exist. Basically, stick some electronics in your head, train it to work out what you are thinking about, then generate an approximation of what you are thinking about. Again, we have people monitoring them, and people monitoring the monitors.

Spy social games where your points in the game are highly important to getting rewards. See Halting State: an intelligence service that is gameified. The people playing the game never know if their operations are really important, or just algorithmic games used to spend the leasure time.

Menial jobs are done by remote control. You put on a headset with a cam, and a computerized voice instructs you what to do next. Sometimes it is a computer, sometimes it is a citizen operating you by remote control. So you'll be told to go to the bathroom and clean the toilet, step by step. Failure to clean the toilet in the average amount of time will be reflected in your next performance review, if noticed.

A high reproduction rate, which permits a high winnowing factor.

Everyone has a GPS-type chip that constantly reports their location, or records it and sends it back. Going outside of communication range gives you a warning, and you are told to go back, unless you have special dispensation.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not big on the implant side. I think warable technologies (Smartphone, Smartwatch, bracelets, etc.) to send constant data about the carrier are more realistic in near future. The Monitoring factor is interesting, though. But why have so many people monitoring one subject? Wouldn't it be easier to get a person near you (neighbor, roommate, relative) assigned to you that you have to observe? While not knowing who is observing you and not being allowed to speak about it. $\endgroup$ – Hendrik May 10 '16 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ @hendrik 8 hrs per day, two shifts. And the monitors need monitors and redundancy: miss a crime, you know the other monitor will catch it. This also permits a surveilance state without anyone in charge -- the game of cross checking, if set up right, does it, even without any true believers! $\endgroup$ – Yakk May 10 '16 at 19:04
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This sounds bad if you think in paranoid terms, but you have to remember, you can do a lot of good with total surveillance. Consider cops in Germany arresting people who post xenophobic material on the internet. If they're willing to take this seriously, the Germany government can 100% shut down any public opposition to unrestricted immigration (or any other government policy to which opposition is illegitimate). That's huge: Immigration is the most pressing moral imperative in our time. You can't allow opposition to it. Xenophobia is not a legitimate position, period. There's no debate on that point. The German people don't get to redefine right and wrong just because they fear change.

That's just an example. It's early days yet, but consider the benefits to society of being able to prosecute anybody who engages in any type of hate speech or denialism, even in absolute privacy. Fundamentally, what people need is not privacy, but safety. The socially legitimate purpose of privacy is to allow minorities to protect themselves from those who hate.

You're talking about a civilization where reasonable people can finally establish the limits of legitimate debate, and enforce them. That's the exact opposite of a dystopia. It's a society where a Hitler or a Trump never could have gotten out of the starting gate. It's a society where everybody is safe, unless they choose to make others unsafe.

Sounds good to me.

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  • $\begingroup$ Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? $\endgroup$ – Eric Brown May 11 '16 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ @EricBrown I trust progressives with absolute power, absolutely. I know these people. They're thoughtful and they care. And it's incredibly easy to avoid hate speech: Just don't be a shitty person. It's not like there can be any gray areas. Is what you're saying motivated by kindness and compassion? You're good. Are you an a**hole? Well, then, you can keep your mouth shut, or be excluded from human society. If there's any doubt, that means there's a problem. It costs you nothing to refrain from cruelty and abuse. $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett May 11 '16 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ I really really hope this whole answer is satire. If so, well played. If not... You're one scary individual. $\endgroup$ – m t May 11 '16 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @mt What's scary about people treating each other with compassion? $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett May 11 '16 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Well played, sir. Well played. $\endgroup$ – Eric Brown May 11 '16 at 17:47

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