Friday, October 17, 2008

Chutzpah Google has Found to be True

At a time when all roads seem to lead to further thoughts on our economic crisis, it seems appropriate to present Google with its second "corporate-level" Chutzpah of the Week for the role it is playing (and the money it is making) in leading so many us further and further into that crisis. My line of reasoning began with Andrew Keen's latest rant on his Great Seduction blog. His target in this case was the United Kingdom division of Google, which had decided to remove the ban it had placed on running advertising for gambling companies. I agree with Keen that gambling is basically addictive, so providing people with Web pages that provide easy links to gambling sites could well be seen as feeding that addiction.

However, by setting his sites on the other side of the Atlantic, Keen missed out on the extent to which Google is already thriving (and, considering the latest news from Wall Street, that use of the present tense is very much in full force) on a much stronger addiction. That is the prevalent addiction to consumerism in the American culture, which is the primary reason why so many Americans are now living with levels of debt they cannot manage. How, then, has Google become such an economic success? Certainly not by "organizing everything we know," which is the "party line" promoted by Randall Stross' Planet Google book. Their success resides primarily in the ways in which they deliver advertising, combined with the extent to which the search engine has become a major tool for shopping. Google is thus a fundamental (perhaps the fundamental) motivating force that induces consumerism addiction!

This leads both Keen and me back to where Google stands on that old question of being evil. Now, just to be fair to Google, all this "don't be evil" talk is a product of those who, for one reason or another, have never bothered to check the source document, which is a corporate information Web page that Google modestly calls "Our Philosophy" (leading those of us who have put some time into seriously reading philosophy to wonder whether or not those guys actually know what a philosophy is). This page has a list of "Ten things Google has found to be true" (which further fuels the fire of the principle that, whatever Google has done, they have not read much philosophy). About halfway down this list (not at the top, mind you) we find:

6. You can make money without doing evil.

Now, on the basis of my own study of philosophy, I would not commit to whether or not this is true; but, in the spirit of those Transcendentalists who believed that, whether or not God exists, there are advantages to believing in God, I believe that there is, at the very least, a moral (continuing with the snide parentheses, I have to wonder if that word is in the Google working vocabulary) advantage in accepting this proposition. Nevertheless, whether or not Google once found it to be true, they seem to have hit on a "higher" (scare quotes) truth: You can make so much more money if you don't let the evil bother you!

Putting the question of evil aside, it would probably be a mistake to accuse Google of driving the bus that led us all down the road to economic ruin. However, it might still be fair to say that, at the very least, they provided a lot of the heavy machinery used to build and pave that road in the first place (consider, for example, all those advertising links to mortgage companies); and now they are still prospering on Wall Street while everyone else has gone into free fall. Since their prosperity depends on feeding a major root cause of the crisis, I can think of no better reason for presenting them with their second Chutzpah of the Week award!

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