What Google Evil and Liberal Evil Have in Common

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Google has famously brandished its motto of “Don’t be evil” when it came to accusations of wrongdoing. But here’s an interesting little essay on what evil might mean to Google.

The slogan’s significance has likely changed over time, but today it seems clear that we’re misunderstanding what “evil” means to the company. For today’s Google, evil isn’t tied to malevolence or moral corruption, the customary senses of the term. Rather, it’s better to understand Google’s sense of evil as the disruption of its brand of (computational) progress.

Companies like Google actually embody a particular notion of progress rather than populism, one that involves advancing their technology solutions as universal ones. Evil is vicious because it inhibits this progress. If Google has made a contribution to moral philosophy, it amounts to a devout faith in its own ability to preside over virtue and vice through engineering. The unwitting result: We’ve not only outsourced our email hosting and office suite provisioning to Google, but also our information ethics. Practically speaking, isn’t it just easier to let Google manage right and wrong?

Rather, our discomfort is an expression of the dissonance between ours and Google’s understandings of evil. Google has managed to pass off the pragmatic pursuit of its own ends as if it were the general avoidance of wickedness. It has invested those ends with virtue, and it has publicized the fact that anything good for Google is also good for society.

The dissonance arises from our failure to understand “evil” as a colloquialism rather than a moral harm. An evil is just a thing that will cause you trouble later on—an engineering impediment. These practical evils are also private ones. Google doesn’t make immoral choices because moral choices are just choices made by Google. This conclusion is already anticipated in the 2004 IPO document, which glosses evil as the failure to do “good things.”

That last line is important because it applies equally well to a lot of liberalism as well. Once you define evil as a lack of progress then progressives can never be evil because they are always striving to do good things.

The means not only justify the ends, but become a seamless part of the ends since anything done in a progressive cause must be progress.

Gulags? Who cares? Bill de Blasio worked with Communist terrorists? But his ends were progressive.

Google’s acts are by their very nature righteous, a consequence of Google having done them. The company doesn’t need to exercise any moral judgement other than whatever it will have done. The biggest risk—the greatest evil—lies in failing to engineer an effective implementation of its own vision. Don’t be evil is the Silicon Valley version of Be true to yourself. It is both tautology and narcissism.

And likewise the only thing truly wrong with Communism is that it failed to achieve its goals… which means it must be repeated.

  • guest

    Progressives have pretend-certainty.

    They don’t know if they will wake up tomorrow.

    And when they do wake up, they don’t know why.

    After the complete horror of this sets into their minds,
    all they’re left with is the cause.

    The all encompassing cause.
    They are truly wretched.

  • DogmaelJones1

    “Practically speaking, isn’t it just easier to let Google manage right and wrong?” Think again, McDougal. Not on my watch.

  • Gregoryno6

    Short version: We Are Google. We Can Do No Wrong.
    So now it’s all just a question of presentation. Armbands or no armbands? Moustache or no moustache?

  • http://www.clarespark.com/ Clare Spark

    Evil as a concept is only a religiously specific term unless it is historicized, as the notion of “progress” should also be. I tried to do that here: http://clarespark.com/2014/06/11/karl-marx-on-individuality/. “Karl Marx on Individuality: The Impossible Dream?” There is more than one version of progress, and classical liberals (Constitutionalists) are not the same as many organic conservatives.

    • alericKong

      Evil dates back to Aristotle.

    • Roy_Cam

      An interesting essay.

      Are you aware of the work of Freud-renegade Wilhelm Reich in the area of separating centrists from libs from “modern”- or “pseudo”-libs from socialist to hard-bitten commies?

  • alericKong

    Google’s nothing. They will be a historic relic. At most their legacy will be coding standards known only by technology insiders.

    It’s about power. They give more thought to their grooming than ideology or morals which is only a exercise in their image.

    • Roy_Cam

      It’s about power, all right, but the power problem is the failure of technocrats to find themselves in a universe in which good and evil are real objective forces.

      Jung called it: “demonic intelligence”. Or as Newton called it: “an atheist universe”, one to which Isaac Newton strongly objected but saw coming as physics went atheist.

      That would be tantamount to admitting the existence of the Spirit and they ain’t about to do that.

      That would take the high off their self-exaltation.

      No, no.

      As firmly committed self-exalted left-brainers, heirs to the French Revolution, they busy de-consecrating public spaces as the French revolutionaries did in 1793.

      It’s their “will zur macht” or “will to power”.

  • seewithyourowneyes

    So true.