Whose Candid Camera?
We Jews are ruled by our King, whose eyes are always upon us. His constant gaze ensures that we maintain healthy and beneficial behavior toward others. When we fail, Hashem’s gaze ensures that we do teshuvah for our wrongdoings.
Posted on 19.05.23
Remember Candid Camera, the television series from 1948 to 2014? The show involved concealed cameras filming ordinary people being confronted with unusual situations as pranks. The use of hidden cameras has evolved beyond pranks to social surveillance that can be malevolent and controlling, or beneficial and healing.
Chinese Camera Surveillance
In China, the government is monitoring its citizens to a level of precision never seen before.1 Mass surveillance enables the government to strengthen its power over its people. When technology was relatively new, mass surveillance was accomplished by word of mouth. In every community, people kept a watchful eye on one another and reported the deeds of their neighbors who were not behaving like good citizens.
Technology progressed, and so did Chinese government surveillance. As of 2019, over 200 million CCTV cameras track every move. In addition to cameras, internet surveillance tracks every purchase made, internet platforms and messaging services are under censorship control, and artificial intelligence (AI) tools determine what is socially acceptable.
Chinese Reward and Punishment
China has also developed a social credit system that tracks and evaluates businesses, individuals, and government institutions for trustworthiness.2 Each citizen has a running social score. It’s a grade from 350 – 950 that determines how trustworthy the citizen is. For example, if you volunteer for worthy causes, you get points. If you follow the law, you get points. If you pay your bills on time, you get points. The points keep accumulating.
The higher your score, the easier it is to get a job and the faster it is to get a loan. The higher your score, the more keys to everything you need in life are handed to you on a silver platter.
But if you don’t follow the law, trouble ensues.
If you run a red light, the camera attached to the traffic light captures the violation and you lose points. Local media outlets are alerted along with a short video of you breaking the law. They broadcast as part of their daily newscasts who broke the law.
You can get docked points for gossiping. If word get around that you are talking about others too much, you lose points.
Local monitors also report good deeds. If someone is seen helping an old lady take out her garbage, the monitor writes it down and awards points.
One might think it’s outrageous that an advanced state would scrutinize its people like that. Wouldn’t people be fed up with “big brother” breathing down their necks?
They’re not! In a 2018 study, Chinese citizens strongly approved of the social credit system because they felt that the benefit in promoting trustworthy social behavior outweighed the privacy concerns.
One Chinese mother lauded the fact that crime is way down. People who used to act like deviants are now behaving themselves. People feel safer knowing that everybody is on their best behavior.
Shouldn’t there be such a system for all societies who want their people to be at their best when in public?
There already is such a system, and it predated China by several millennia!
Hashem’s “Camera” Surveillance
Hashem has His eyes on every one of His children in Am Israel from the first day of the year to the last. For every action, word, and thought, Hashem analyzes, scrutinizes, then judges.
We each have a running social score at every moment. When we perform mitzvot, our score rises. We can bring more Divine Light to this world and to all our brothers and sisters. We can protect our community with Hashem’s favor. We can bless anyone with more merit.
When we sin, the opposite happens. We lose face. We block Divine Light. We lose some of what we have. Our ability to do things we could do when living better is curtailed – even if we don’t know it.
The first scoring system originated in the desert and involved a tzaraat lesion. This lesion is a spiritual affliction that manifests itself in the skin. Tzaraat was due to various sins, most notably the sin of lashon hara (evil speech). If we spoke loshon hara, a tzaraat lesion would appear on our skin and the Kohen would proclaim us tameh (impure).
Like the Chinese citizen who lowered his social score to the point that he couldn’t get a job – or even got arrested – we would lose the privilege of being part of the community. We would be forced to leave the community and live on the outskirts of the camp until our social score rose to an acceptable level. We would have to make repentance for our loshon hara and change ourselves to the point that we would no longer commit the sin.
Hashem’s Reward and Punishment
Hashem’s surveillance system was in place during our 40 years in the desert, the period of the Judges, and the reign of the Kings – over 850 years. When we committed a sin, our transgression was publicly exposed, and we were restricted until we did teshuvah (repented).
In China, if you did something in private, out of view from the cameras, you got away with it. In Hashem’s system, He sees everything, He hears everything, He never slumbers nor sleeps. Nothing is “out of view” for Hashem. Gossip spreads rapidly to the four corners of the earth, but it’s very hard to pinpoint the starting point. Adultery, stealing, sexual misconduct, violating Shabbat, even eating non-Kosher food are similar sins that occur either alone or with a very small group of people. Hashem’s surveillance catches all of this.
We don’t get away with a thing. Every action we do is written in a book. At the end of the day when we’ve said Kriyat Shema and gone to sleep, our pluses and minuses are tallied for the day. We get a new score based on His absolute justice.
Only recently have the Chinese discovered how public surveillance and “scoring” can keep everybody in line. The motive was control of its citizens.
In contrast, Hashem knew from the beginning of time that to get people to stop sinning against Him, they needed a similar deterrent. However, Hashem’s motive is to keep all of His children close to Him and to promote tikkun olam (perfection of the world).
Hashem’s deterrent is tzaraat and public Temple sacrifices.
After the penitent did teshuvah, he brought an offering to the Beit Hamikdash. That meant transporting an animal from home to Jerusalem, and personally bringing it to the Temple. He walked the streets of Jerusalem with his bull, goat, or dove and everybody who saw the animal knew exactly what he did. That humiliation was part of his teshuvah.
The penitent went to the holiest place in the universe and stood before the holy Kohanim. In this place closest to heaven and nearest to God, the penitent shouted out in his loudest voice — that he spent 2 hours watching porn.
Hashem’s Surveillance Today
Look at typical Haredi neighborhoods like Bnei Brak. There is no police station because there is little crime. There is little crime because the community is so tightly knit. Exposure of misbehavior could ruin one’s reputation and standing in the community.
A lower “social score” in the community could prevent one from finding a spouse or getting a loan from the gemach (gemilut chassadim – free loan society). It could keep one’s children out of a good yeshiva. It could even prevent one from getting called up to the Torah.
The Haredim conduct themselves strictly, in no small part from the fear of being exposed and “thrown out of the camp.”
The Chinese discovered what Jews have known since Har Sinai: We need constant surveillance to maintain a society where everyone can feel safe.
Fortunately, in Israel, we are ruled by our King whose eyes are always upon us.
Whose “Candid Camera” do you prefer?
David Ben Horin lives in Afula with his family, millions of sunflowers, and Matilda, our local camel. David‘s Israeli startup, Center Stage Marketing, is a lean marketing agency for startups and small businesses that creates and promotes SEO optimized ROI-driven to the right audience on LinkedIn to make your business the star of the show.
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