NY Times magazine published a very long piece titled, ‘The case against Google’. It will probably be the article of the year for me. It is a business case study, a public policy case study and a business ethics case study – all rolled into one. All of these are interwoven into the personal story of two small entrepreneurs whose search engine proved more powerful than Google for certain types of queries and how they paid for it!
Public policy students and analysts will appreciate the spirit behind ‘anti-trust’. In the process, you learn the story of Standard Oil, the story of Microsoft. Microsoft did win its appeal against anti-Trust decisions. It did not have to break up. But, the legal challenges – even though they failed – made the company a lot more sensitive and allowed an upstart (called Google) to emerge.
Google’s behaviour may not have been against consumer interests but was it simply fair?
One can also reflect on the spiritual and philosophical lessons of this. When Google was formed, it took on the motto, ‘Don’t be evil’. Has it lived up to it? Or, as one grows big, powerful and influential, does it become part of the DNA or almost inevitable to become ‘evil’? Is that true, almost without exception, for individuals, institutions, corporations and sovereigns?
[Note: Google’s new parent Alphabet abandoned that motto and took up, ‘Do the right thing’, circa 2015. Don’t be evil is simple and absolute. ‘Doing the right thing’ is relative, can be subject to interpretation and it can be bent. The yardsticks are malleable.]
Then, does it follow that if you are self-aware, you limit your own growth and stay small, lest you become inevitably evil?
Do we realise that, once we start rationalising, we are no longer wedded (but already divorced) to our values? In fact, the rationalisation is merely a confirmation of the divorce that would have happened some time earlier.
Is there no better way at all than to become inevitably evil? What is that ‘better way’ if there is one? What does it take to traverse down that path? Do the modern society and its organising principles militate against individuals, institutions and businesses walking down that path? Or, is that question too a form of rationalisation? Isn’t it implicit in the question that we have simply re-arranged our priorities?
How do we stop rationalising or, better, realise that we have started rationalising? Is it about having fearless upstarts and advisors telling us that? Does it work?
In the Indian epic Ramayana, Kumbakarnan warns Ravana eloquently of the doom that he was courting by having brought Sita forcibly to his kingdom. It did not work. It was too late. In Mahabharat, Vithurar was the voice of wise counsel in the Kaurava court. Even Vikarnan warns his brother, Duryodhana of the destruction that awaits in the path that he had chosen to walk on. No avail.
Indeed, even the wise ones and the exalted souls are not exempt. The illusion of size, power and influence shrouds their intellect. Knowledge, spirituality and reason retreat.
Therefore, ‘are we doomed to end up like this only?
Utterly fascinating, utterly educative and utterly and ultimately sobering, about us. [Link]