The deal those bankers cooked up was to save the banks from capitalism.
– From Matt Taibbi’s recent piece: Ten Years After the Crash, We’ve Learned Nothing
While Google executives still attempt to portray themselves as scrappy, enlightened, countercultural tech luminaries, their reaction to Donald Trump’s victory in a recently leaked internal video leaves you wondering whether they understand anything at all about what’s happening around them.
One big takeaway from the leaked Google video is how weak, superficial and echo-chamber ridden these executives are.
They are embarrassingly bland, unoriginal and clueless about the reality around them.
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) September 13, 2018
There are two key takeaways I got from the video.
First, Google executives are either totally clueless or in willful denial about the state of the country they call home.
Second, they’re shameless hypocrites when it comes to the so-called values they claim drive corporate behavior.
In other words, they collectively sound just like all the phony, status quo D.C. politician everyone’s sick of.
Indeed, the denial’s so strong co-founder Sergey Brin on more than one occasion claimed many Trump voters were motivated by “boredom.” As if that’s not insulting enough, he goes on to suggest that the rise of authoritarianism and totalitarianism in the 20th century was also likely driven by boredom.
While I can’t speak from personal experience when it comes to the rise of fascism and communism a century ago, I’ve seen enough of the 21st century to tell you 63 million people didn’t attempt to throw a metaphorical grenade into the political system because they were “bored.” People were angry and disillusioned, and justifiably so. Let’s not forget that 2016 didn’t just see the rise of Trump, but Bernie Sanders almost defeated Hillary Clinton despite a rigged primary. Was that also driven by boredom?
While Brin was bad enough, Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President for Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, takes the cake. The guy was genuinely painful to watch as he endlessly regurgitated vacuous soundbites about Google’s values and how the company’s committed to making the world a better place. He launches into a big lecture about how there are two worlds, one of the “wall” and one of the “square.” Google, according to Mr. Walker, is deeply committed to the open world of the square, which consists of, in his own words, a commitment “to a free and open internet.”
I find this fascinating since Google’s currently working on a search engine tailored specifically for Chinese government censorship. The Intercept has been leading coverage on this secretive project codenamed Dragonfly. Here’s some of what we learned in a recent piece.
Google built a prototype of a censored search engine for China that links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people’s queries, The Intercept can reveal.
The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.
Previously undisclosed details about the plan, obtained by The Intercept on Friday, show that Google compiled a censorship blacklist that included terms such as “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin.
Leading human rights groups have criticized Dragonfly, saying that it could result in the company “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.” A central concern expressed by the groups is that, beyond the censorship, user data stored by Google on the Chinese mainland could be accessible to Chinese authorities, who routinely target political activists and journalists.
Sources familiar with the project said that prototypes of the search engine linked the search app on a user’s Android smartphone with their phone number. This means individual people’s searches could be easily tracked – and any user seeking out information banned by the government could potentially be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain the search records from Google.
I must just be a bored pleb because this sort of thing looks a lot like the exact opposite of a “free and open internet.” Which brings me to a key point of this post: Google executives are full of shit. Dangerously full of shit. Like politicians in D.C. level full of shit. In fact, the two words that come to mind when reflecting on the video are denial and hypocrisy. When denial and hypocrisy become a way of life for the wealthiest and most powerful members of a society, you’ll get a reaction from those who see right through their lies and empty talking points.
Brin says Trump voters are bored and Hillary calls them deplorable, but the point’s essentially the same. According to them, the problem lies with the voters, not the system. Whether disconnected elitism manifests in a t-shirt and jeans in Silicon Valley or an expensive pantsuit in D.C., it’s clear these stewards of society don’t see anything wrong with a country increasingly defined by rampant structural corruption and imperial warmongering. They simply refuse to honestly assess a system that’s been so generous and lucrative to them, irrespective of how completely off the rails it’s gone.
The Iraq war? An honest mistake. The bailouts of criminal bankers in 2008? Unfair, but necessary. This is how they see things and it makes people apoplectic. In the face of a booming stock market and a grotesquely lopsided economic “recovery” during which the most wealthy members of society gained share from the bailouts, people remain angry and they have every right to be. The U.S. is not a free market economy, but a kakistocracy in which the “elites” have placed themselves above the law and above failure. We bail criminals out so they can shove it all back in our faces ten years later.
This is the garbage we have to listen to 10 years after bailing these criminals out. https://t.co/KRKd1aTWRJ
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) September 18, 2018
The leaked Google video confirmed what many of us already knew, which is that these “don’t be evil” tech executives are a bunch of superficial phonies, cut from the same cloth as rapacious bankers or crooked politicians. The extremely powerful aren’t going to reform or fundamentally change the system that’s been so beneficial to them. It’s up to us to do that. This is why we’re in a populist period, and why populism won’t be going away anytime soon.
The only question is in what form will the next iteration of populism manifest. When it comes to U.S. politics, the actions of Donald Trump will be decisive. If he embroils the country in another war in the Middle East, or saves bankers from capitalism again, he will thoroughly discredit right-wing populism and open up a huge window of opportunity for leftist populism. On the other hand, Trump still has a chance to be the transformative president Obama refused to be, he just needs to avoid more war and make sure corporate crooks are held accountable in a future crisis. I continue to doubt he’s got the desire or disposition for all that, but you never know.
Significantly, there are multiple other ways populism can manifest outside of traditional politics, with the most promising being in the realm of open source, decentralized technologies that don’t ask permission and can change the world via their very existence. Bitcoin’s the preeminent example of this sort of thing in the post-financial crisis period, but I expect more to follow. Particularly when it comes to communications tools as our tech giants are failing spectacularly when it comes to what’s ostensibly their primary mission — to foster open global human interaction.
When elitist types refer to populism they treat it like a dirty word, but grassroots disgust and reaction to an entrenched kakistoracy is not only inevitable, it’s normal and healthy. This doesn’t mean populism will necessarily lead to a positive outcome. We can be shortsighted and foolishly choose to scapegoat the weak by punching downward, or we can confront true power in a conscious manner by creating and using tools that makes the existing power structure obsolete.
As Buckminster Fuller put it:
You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
More than anything else, this is what we need to do.
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