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.