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Google, Intolerance, and Competition (or a perceived lack thereof)

So I wrote an article recently describing the so-called ‘Google Anti-Diversity Screed’ which, apparently, caused quite the dust-up in Google’s headquarters.  It seems the author of the well-thought-out memo which set this whole thing into motion has now been fired by Google for ‘promoting gender stereotypes.’  If I’m reading the timelines correctly, (a would-be Twitter competitor founded on the principle of free speech) pre-empted the firing by saying they would gladly hire the author of that memo if opportunity arose–which, apparently, it now has.


For the original memo’s full transcript, here’s a gizmodo page containing just that.  It seems that the part which Google deemed action-worthy was the following excerpt:


google anti-diversity screed excerpt


There you go: the above excerpt was, apparently, considered an offense worthy of employment termination by the higher-ups at Google.


By firing this employee, Google is proving his point perfectly–so perfectly that one has to wonder if that was their point.  It seems as though, with most of the political Left in the West, reason and evidence are being actively subordinated to agenda and ideology.  By being so intolerant of dissent, Google is creating the very type of echo chamber we are constantly warned about by every half-sane politician, pundit, and philosopher on the planet.


And why is it that Google feels justified–let alone safe–in being so blatantly intolerant of political dissent?  It’s simple: they feel, perhaps correctly, that they’re no longer subject to the market forces which once turned them into the information economy’s most terrifying titan.  Without the forces of competition to keep a business honest, why on Earth wouldn’t said business belligerently throw its weight around?  What would keep any of us from doing whatever we damn well please if not for social sanctions, reprisals, or other negative responses from those around us?  Conscience?  Sure, that might get you a little ways down the track.  But it clearly doesn’t prove to be a decisive factor when it comes to this phenomenon.


And really, Google isn’t doing anything the rest of us don’t generally do.  Think about it: we all fight, scrape, claw, and struggle to keep our heads above water.  We do anything necessary to advance our interests during life, including–and often especially–things that we absolutely disagree with or disapprove of in some meaningful fashion.  But once we get our heads a step or two above water, as a species we’ve demonstrated an uncanny tendency to stop doing the very things that made us successful in the first place and start doing the things we’ve always wanted to do, the way we’ve always wanted to do them.


Think about your favorite actors and actresses.  Or your favorite authors.  Or your favorite musicians.  How many of them have said, in one form or another, “I’m so glad that I’ve been able to enjoy as much success as I have, because now it means I can pursue the things I think are important instead of just chasing money.”


Now you’re probably reading that and saying, “So what?  Why would you object to them doing what they want to do now that they’ve reached the summit of success?”  I’m not saying they shouldn’t do the things they think are important; I’m saying that when they do those things instead of the things that made them successful enough to pursue those ‘higher interests’ in the first place, they will inevitably stop doing the things that made them successful enough to pursue those ‘higher interests.’


If you’ve read Ayn Rand (and, full disclosure: I’ve only ever digested the Cliff’s Notes of Atlas Shrugged, and listened to as much of her as I could find on YouTube a few years ago) you’ll see that what I’m talking about is essentially at the heart of her philosophy.  I’m not entirely sold on her world view, but a lot of it seems irrefutable as far as I can tell.  The subject I’m discussing here falls squarely into that category.


Take our favorite actors/actresses, musicians, or authors again.  The most vivid example I can come up with off the top of my head is that of an author named Laurell K. Hamilton, who wrote a supremely popular series of books featuring a character named Anita Blake.  I’ve not read the books personally, but after the series hit a certain point (10-12 books?) and had established a large, devoted readership, the author made massive, sudden, character-breaking changes to the series while crowing about how she no longer needed to be restricted by her editors and could finally write how she wanted to write.


I’ll leave the research to you, good reader, to verify that the reviews for the books following this ‘liberation’ from her editors’ clutches were scathing, and the average review for this series’ books plummeted following this radical shift in how she approached her most successful creative property.  Earlier books averaged review ratings in the mid 4.00’s on Amazon (as an indie author, I can attest that this is a high bar and one which we all seek to reach), but after she ditched the model which had afforded her such massive success, several of the books’ average review scores were all the way down in the 2.00s–which, again as an indie author myself, I can confidently assert would get you drummed out of ANY writing competition, let alone the most important writing competition of all: the one where you try to convince new readers to try your books!).


I’ve heard similar complaints about other authors, and we’re all familiar with our favorite musicians starting their careers with one sound/style, and after they reached the pinnacle of success completely changed their tune to something wholly unrecognizable from what we originally loved them for.


Understand that I’m not castigating Laurell K. Hamilton, or our favorite musicians, or anyone else who falls into this trap.  I’m saying that what they did, in turning their backs on what made them successful in the first place, is entirely predictable and 100% normal as far as I can tell.


It’s the same thing with Google’s increasingly belligerent intolerance.


The. Exact. Same. Thing.


Google built its entire brand on serving the internet community with a user-friendly and ultra-slick search engine; a content network that redefined the way we interact with online media; monetizing options that made it possible for people to earn livings by literally doing nothing but blogging about the things they care about; and promoting competition at the grassroots level, in an effort to help small fry like myself compete with the Big Dogs on a more or less level playing field by allowing unrestricted access to its powerful marketing tools.  Google became a titan because it not only tolerated aberrant or radical ideas–it became a titan by doing everything in its power to promote new ideas, divergent points of view, and individual expression across the board.


Should we be surprised, then, that now with Google standing atop the virtual world it has opted to reverse course of the very practices and principles which once propelled it to its currently lofty position?  I should hope that, by now, you will agree with me that there is nothing surprising about it.


Which is where competition (or a perceived lack thereof) enters into this particular conversation.  If Google had a handful of competitors making legitimate threats against its ability to earn a profit on a day-in, day-out basis, Google would be far less likely to be as belligerent as it was in this particular situation (or in a thousand similar ones which have transpired in the last decade or so).  But Google, perhaps correctly, has determined that no such threats currently exist.  So why self-moderate?  They’re already successful to a degree enjoyed only by a handful of organization throughout human history, and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to be able to keep them honest in the marketplace, so why self-moderate?  If, say, 40% of Google’s employees think and feel like the now-ousted employee whose memo set this whole affair in motion, and if there were a handful of competitors to Google operating down the street from Google’s HQ, would Google be so brazen as to fire someone for speaking The Wrong Words?


Certainly not.  Some portion of those 40% would up and leave in protest of Google’s (perceived) abuse of power, which would weaken Google while strengthening its competitors.  You can see how this works; I’m just making crystal clear how competition (or a perceived lack thereof) can negatively impact the way a marketplace, and the assembly of players within it, operates.


I hope that Google’s top-level executives take a good, hard look at this situation and others like it.  I hope that we, the people, take a good, hard look at this situation and others like it.  And I hope that, in the end, we come to a clearer understanding and appreciation for tolerance–especially when it’s tolerance of things we disagree with.


As the Dangerous One himself has said: Sunlight is the best disinfectant.  If something this former Google employee said was provably false, let the correct response to his saying it be to refute it using evidence, reason, and truth.  Shine as much light on weak ideas as possible, and their weaknesses will be made apparent to all.


When you resort to authoritarianism to deal with perceived threats to your position, you do nothing so effectively as confess the weakness of that position.  Strong ideas don’t require strong-arm tactics; they’re plenty strong unto themselves.

Published inauthoritarianismClassical LiberalismConsequencesCultureFree MarketFree SpeechInformation

One Comment

  1. Much better and with more zing to it than the previous article I read!

Let me know what you think!