Brian Lam of Gizmodo (@blam) recently wrote an article entitled Google Would Remind My Grandpa of the Arrogant White Invaders.
It’s his take on the Google vs. China debate and it sent my BS sensors spiraling. I think I understand what he was trying to convey, that under the guise of doing something just and good, Google is just as misguided as China, if not moreso.
I off-offhandedly commented on Twitter to Will Smith that Brian fell prey to enough logical fallacies in his article to short out my logical fallacy detector. Brian subsequently called me on that supposition. So here I am defending my criticism. Brian, I hope you appreciate this because it’s time not spent blowing people up in Battlefield 2: Bad Company. After being a code monkey all day, I need that sweet, sweet release…
Logical Fallacies are the corner stone of critical thought. They are the scalpel by which one takes apart an opponent’s thoughts piece by piece. It’s also, in my book at least, the most fair, neutral, and rational way of carrying on a debate as it keeps everybody as close to honest as you are going to get. After all people have passions, and those passions screw with rational debate.
Brian’s opening salvo:
Days after Google moved from China, Sergey Brin is pushing the US to fight censorship there. But the West has a history of forcing moral and economic standards onto foreigners. This sort of thinking isn’t good—it’s how wars start.
OK. Sounds good. It’s a nice opening, punchy, with the overshadowing threat of pain, suffering and death. I say it’s a false dichotomy with a dash of non sequitur.
The reader is presented with two options. Maintain peace and status quo, or question the establishment’s laws and provoke war, the false dichotomy. We see citizens question laws and censorship around the world on a daily basis without the looming threat of violence. The current campaign for libel reform in the UK is a fantastic example of many countries having a vested interest in another country changing their laws for the betterment of not only its citizens in the UK, but also those outside of the UK.
The West, which I am going to assume stands for the United States in this particular instance has a 200+ year history of pushing its moral and economic standards on those around them. It has a vested interested in doing so. However, that makes it a mere child next to most European countries that have done such for centuries beforehand. A mere newcomer at the game you could say. We could jump two thousand years back to see the real masters at it, Rome.
Peering back through time history teaches us that every country that COULD push its moral and economic standards on others did such. It’s what countries in ‘normal mode’ do. It’s how they survive. You may find, for a brief period, countries that do not push their agenda on others. This may be due to times of unusual quiet, peace, and plentiful resources. Sooner or later, history points out that those countries either have to reverse that trend or get eaten by another country. It’s like watching the nature channel and having to learn how to stomach that at some point the cute seal pup is going to be dinner for the polar bear. This is the world of ‘shit happens’. That’s the non sequitur.
Brian goes on to say:
Censorship—a dirty word to netizens of the free world! But we have censorship and propaganda of our own to preserve corporate interests. I’m not sure any of us should be applauding Google’s stance.
This is classic Tu Quoque. I may have the best fitness advise in the world. I may also be obese. My bulging gut does not invalidate the priceless and accurate fitness advise I have to offer. Because there are forms of censorship in the US, censorship that Google adheres to, it in no way invalidates their decision to not support China’s levels of censorship. On the other hand, it may make them a hypocrite – which can weaken a moral stance, but then one has to wade into the factors of how and why Google chooses to censor in one country but not another.
Australia routinely bans video games and movies with controversial content. In the US, Kiddie porn lands you in legal trouble here as does any public threat of violence against others. And did you know that in 2004, Google and Yahoo decided to not advertise online gambling sites, even though it was not illegal? And this blogger compares the UK Digital Economy Bill to China’s net censorship laws, point by point. Especially those sections introduced by the local recording industry reps.
Brian is creating a false continuum by blurring the lines on types of censorship, that removing the ability to research human rights atrocities a country has visited upon its own citizens is somehow equal to child porn. One deals with fact (Tiananmen square, Falun Gong), the other with trying to stem an industry of mental and biological destructiveness (child porn). Then we fall back into Tu Quoque, with Brian reasoning that since Google voluntarily censors gambling they should just STFU and GBTW when it comes to China. I would side with Brain that it was a foolish and puzzling move to censor gambling. I would venture a guess it was Google choosing not to pick a fight with the US government at that particular time in order to give themselves leverage in another area later. Again, that really has jack to do with what is going on over in China.
Ultimately it comes down to Google’s job as a corporation – to play the system to their advantage, to drive profits which in turn shore up stock prices for their shareholders. This is the ‘shit happens’ world of corporations. What seems to make Google a little bit different is that Sergey Brin got a bellyful, and flying in the face of what corporations are supposed to do, has turned the ship around. I’d wager Brin went in with a small romantic notion of being able to change the moral and economic standards by empowering China’s citizens with knowledge – but upon endangering those dissidents that China hunts so furiously by allowing Google to be put into a situation where its databases could be violated - Brin has thought better of it all.
How often do we hear of a corporation giving up current profits and potential profits in the corporate world? I can’t think of one instance, ever. This is why Google is being lauded – as a leader to set an example for other corporations that it is possible to say, ‘no’.
I suppose I fear Google for the same reason many Americans fear China. It’s not what they’re doing to us today, but what power they might have over us tomorrow if left unchecked. Not to my body, as with corporal punishment in China, which the US thankfully protects me from in least in part. But to my mind, which will be filled with advertising slogans about things that I do not want to buy, and do not want to think about, and do not want to help promote and with the idea that if I do not have these things, I will be a less happy person. This is seriously dangerous. (I’d like to take this moment to thank the sponsors of this site!)
Here we have the appeal to final consequences. Google’s ploy of ‘no censorship’ is really just a smokescreen so people don’t see the advertising juggernaut that will soon be playing McDonald’s slogans on your eyelids. Brian fails to take into account that one does not have to read ads. For the internet there is adblock. For the TV, if you still watch it, you can turn it off, leave the room, read a book, or fast forward through it. The radio? Turn down the volume. So I’m left with the though of, “Ads? This is the big boogeyman? Are you serious?”
This whole argument is a strawman, setting Google up as the imperialist invader and then knocking them down. Google never invaded China. They never forced their product on China. They never endangered China’s citizens until China forced their way into Google’s servers.
Brian closes with:
Nothing’s free, and no corporation or country has ever wielded a great deal of power without committing evil. Maybe those are things both China and Google could both stand to learn.
Indeed. However, the difference here is one company campaigns to get as much knowledge into the hands of citizens as possible – with which people can analyze situations with as many facts as possible – to critically think over the matters of their governance. Google will make mistakes and stumbles in their efforts to reach that goal.
In staunch opposition is that government that hides behind platitudes of protecting its citizens while censoring any history diametrically opposed to its creed, imprisoning those that speak out, and relentlessly hunting down dissenters by any means necessary, including international espionage and cyber attacks.
Remind me how one can reconcile those two levels of ‘evil’?