The AIs watch everything you do and assign you a merit rating based on how well you follow the rules. This governs everything in your life, from where you live to where you sit on the train to whether you are granted the luxury of hot water. This is done by The Companies; they own the AIs. Manipulation of the merit system gives them a great deal of power over your life, rivaling even that of UCE.

Merit Ratings

Officially, everyone is equal. In practice, society has a rigid class structure, with your station in life tied to your social merit rating. This is a score, similar to the financial market’s bond ratings, ranging from D (the lowest) to Aaa (the highest). It determines whether you live in the posh inner districts, the drab middle ones, or the dangerous outers.

Every company computes an independent social merit score, based on your degree of compliance with their customer agreement and how much they value your business. If you spend a lot of money on clothes and always keep up with the current fashions, you will have a high rating with The Clothing Company. If you are caught wearing gray-market clothes in a distinctive style, you will be penalized.

The results are aggregated across all the Companies and used to produce an overall rating. Companies fudge the numbers all the time; if you anger someone in a position of power, their company is going to give you a rock-bottom merit rating, regardless of whether you have broken any rules.

UCE ideology holds that advancement within an organization must be based on social merit, not competence. to get around this restriction, the Companies will artificially boost your status just before you get promoted; you can magically go from a mediocre Baa2 to an elite A3 in the blink of an eye. You can fall just as quickly.

Merits and Demerits

Almost anything you do or say can result in an adjustment to your social merit rating.

  • Violations of the Terms of Service result in a demerit, in addition to triggering whatever penalty is called for under the company’s rulebook.
  • A serious offense, such as genderism or membership in a terrorist cult, will result in an immediate large drop in your rating, to either the C- or D- level depending on the seriousness of the crime. Your employer will fire or demote you, and your life will become miserable. Your only way back will be to appease your former boss.
  • Passivity is rewarded. If someone jostles you while on the bus, you should meekly accept the mistreatment, trusting in the AIs to remedy the matter. And, by all means, suck up to your boss.
  • Wearing the current fashions increases your social merit. If you are dressed the same as everyone else, it demonstrates that you are anxious to conform. The Clothing Company, The Cosmetics Company, and The Mane Company love your business as you buy a whole new wardrobe every few weeks.
  • Looking different or behaving oddly will get you downgraded, even if no rules are broken. It will also trigger an investigation for possible cultish involvement.
  • Cheerfully accepting whatever the AIs give you has merit. Arguing with them when you don’t get what you want is a no-no. In the long run, it is counterproductive.
  • Your reactions to what happens around you are watched and scored for appropriateness. If you see someone dressed in a gaudy, distinctivist fashion, it is important to treat them with disdain; if the garment is gender-revealing in any way, you must act disgusted. If someone is of a lower class than you, it proves that they have a poor social merit rating, so it is okay to shun them.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse will count against you, if excessive.
  • Watching show-trials, mouthing UCE platitudes, and attending UCE rallies will garner you quite a few points. The companies are required to support UCE in this way; it’s part of the deal.

Effects of Social Merit

Social merit determines where you live; it determines how long your commute will take; it determines how cooperative your refrigerator will be at breakfast time. If you have a standing, your beige smock will be more comfortable and of nicer cloth.

Social merit also governs how the AIs treat you. If your status is high, they will overlook all but the most blatant infractions. If it is low, they will cite you for even the most marginal offence. Once your status starts falling, it is likely to continue doing so as the AIs become increasingly strict. After being cited for an infraction, you are well advised to carefully toe the line for a while, lest one violation lead to a cascade of others.

It’s all a Lie

The connection between these merit awards and your social rating is largely fictitious. For the most part, your employer assigns you a rating based on how much they want to pay you and fudges the numbers to get the desired result. The merits and demerits are an important signal as to whether you are doing the right thing or not, but they do not greatly affect the outcome. One might, through years of diligence, creep up from an Baa2 rating to Baa1, but no amount of fawning will ever get you more than a single step upward. Similarly, minor misbehavior might drop your rating from Baa2 to Baa3, but it would take a serious offense, such as genderism or membership in a cult, to drop you to a C-level — and any offense of that sort would certainly get you fired.

Members of the upper economic classes find they can get away with almost anything; the minor penalties associated with violations such as distinctivism will not get them fired, and The Companies are anxious to protect their most highly prized employees from suffering a decline in their status.

The Web Tightens

As you rise through the ranks in your company, they keep boosting your social merit rating to higher and higher levels. The problem is, if you have an A-level rating, the Hierarchy expects you to look and act the part. You will find yourself under tighter and tighter scrutiny; you will be reminded of every transgression and threatened with disgrace should you disobey. Making your situation even more precarious, now that you are making good money and have access higher-quality goods, you may begin to develop distinctivist tendencies, maybe even becoming entangled in a cult. At this point, you become politically vulnerable; anyone who knows your secret can threaten to turn you in.