Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Ethics vs Principles? No, not really...

In the wake of what's been going on the past few weeks I feel that it's important to parse something out that is apparently beyond the reasoning capacity of some people. This has probably been said already, and by more eloquent people, but this is something I've been turning over in my head for the past couple of days and I need to put it somewhere, so here it goes. What I'm talking about is the "private company" argument that I've seen quite a few airheads using to justify what Google, GoDaddy, Cloudflare, and companies like them have been doing. I've even seen major media outlets praising these corporations as "America's new Moral Voice™," which is horrifying beyond all reason. But what this fundamentally comes down to is a breakdown between principles and ethics, and I don't think that breakdown actually exists.

So let's define some terms. A principle is defined by Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, in relevant part, as "a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption, OR a rule or code of conduct." Free speech is a principle one could hold, as is the concept that the ability of private companies to institute whichever policies they choose to and live or die by them should be respected. Ethic is defined in relevant part by the same source as "

1: ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2a : a set of moral principles : a theory or system of moral values the present-day materialistic ethic an old-fashioned work ethic —often used in plural but singular or plural in construction an elaborate ethics Christian ethicsb ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction : the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group professional ethicsc : a guiding philosophyd : a consciousness of moral importance forge a conservation ethic
3: ethics plural : a set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness) debated the ethics of human cloning

and so an example of an ethic one could hold would be that the principle of free speech should apply universally. Simple things, right? There isn't really any conflict between the examples I've given here. 

But some people apparently think there is, and I can not wrap my head around this. I understand hating Nazis, I'm certainly no fan myself, but letting hate direct your principles and ethics will lead you to make very stupid decisions in anger, and will put your supposed constitutional rights into the hands of some people who would prefer you just didn't have them. What you allow to be taken from others can just as easily be taken from you, and those that support taking rights away from groups they don't like do so at their own peril. 

So let's back up a bit. Is Google even a private company? Not really, they're publicly traded, but they're certainly still private sector. They don't receive taxpayer funds except when contracting out their services to the government, which is different from being a government service. Much the same way that the private business the government hires out to do repairs to roads, or build rest stops along interstate highways aren't "government employees" per se, they're being hired by the government to do a job that benefits the majority of the taxpayers and that those people would want to see their tax money go to, if Google contracts with the government to perform a job, they're being paid for a service (hopefully to benefit the American taxpayer), not receiving corporate welfare from the government. So unless Google is getting direct subsidies from American tax dollars and not just being hired by the government every once in a while to perform a service, yes, they are a publicly traded company in the private sector. 

What this means is that Google is not beholden to the U.S. government (except in legal matters, of course), and they are not beholden to people like you and I (the customers who buy and use their products and services), they are beholden to their shareholders (the people who own stock in the company). This is what their board of directors is there to do, increase the value of the company to benefit the shareholders by making the stock more valuable and giving them a greater return on investment. Given their latest astoundingly bad PR moves over the past couple of months, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a shareholder meeting in the very near future to discuss this disturbing direction the company is moving in. But that aside. 

So it's not quite so simple as "they're a private company they can do what they like." They're not a private company. As a contrast, DimensionBucket Media is a private company. It's owned by Christopher Warren and run by him, and he contracts out myself, Conner, and William to do audio work for his company, as well as contracts us to write books for his company to sell. There are no shareholders, because there are no shares. It is a privately owned business operated by one man with help from friends/employees who want to see the business succeed. You won't find us on the stock exchange, nor are we compelled to give in to public outcry over some policy or the fact that we don't have any women on the core team or something ridiculous like that. We're answerable only to ourselves, our writers, the people who contract us for audio work, and our audience/customers. We're also a very small company, so maybe this is a bad comparison, but it works for what I need it to. 

Another problem with the "private company" argument, aside from the fact that it's factually incorrect on its face, is that Google is damn near a monopoly. I say damn near because there are other services you can use, they're just not as popular or near-ubiquitous. You can use Internet Explorer, or Firefox, or Brave, or Avant, or SRWare Iron, or Midori as your web browser. You can use Bing, or DuckDuckGo, or Startpage, or IxQuick, or Blekko for a search engine. But Google's near-ubiquitousness is shown in the phrase that has become so common in English speaking countries, "Just google it." The very name of the company has become synonymous with looking things up online, and that very phrase also encourages people to use the site itself, as the url is the easiest to remember. The Google Play Store is part of a smartphone app store duopoly, and if you can't get either of these stores to host your app (as is happening right now to Gab.ai), then you're shit out of luck and have to use a bookmarked page in Safari or some other browser to access it on your phone, like I do. 

I could go on with other examples like the firing of James Damore for a very milquetoast discussion on Google's diversity practices, or their censorship of their search engine results that numerous people have documented and insiders have come forth about (including Damore), and the "limited state" they've put into place on their subsidiary company, YouTube, which is one of the most terrifying things I've seen in my time on the internet, and I've seen shitting dicknipples. But the overall point to this part of my incoherent rambling is that Google has power. A serious amount of power. More power than any company should by rights have. They literally control the flow of information for the majority of the people who use the internet, and that is a complete and total clusterfuck of a Godzilla-sized problem, especially for the normies who don't know how or don't want to put in the effort required to escape the Goolag. They control (and manipulate) search results, YouTube (a massive platform that's literally created a miniature economy inside the wider internet and given the average person the ability to have a voice and affect the world like no website before or possibly after), they also own Blogger (the website I use for this blog).

So yes, Google is a publicly traded company, but this does not make them a public service. They can be just as evil as any other company, and while they're not quite a monopoly yet they've been steadily advancing towards that for the past decade or more. I shouldn't have to explain why this should be worrying, but back to principles and ethics.

I myself hold the principle that companies should be allowed to do what they want. If a restaurant doesn't want to cater to, say, black people, or bake cakes for gay weddings, they should be allowed to do that, with the necessary corollary that the people who make up the market should also be allowed to go find other companies more to their tastes and more in line with the principles they as consumers hold. So by this principle if Google's board of directors decide that this more totalitarian approach to everything they as a company do is the proper way to go, then they should be allowed to do that. However this comes with that necessary corollary that we as consumers should be allowed to give them the middle fucking finger and walk away. A bit hypocritical for me to be saying this while using Blogger, but I don't have adsense enabled on this site, and I also don't pay them for a custom URL, so they're not making a whole lot of money off of me. I've also deleted Chrome from my computer and replaced it completely with Brave, and DuckDuckGo is my main search engine now. That transition took a couple of days, but it was absolutely worth it in my estimation. I'm also looking into ways to back up the website, but it's a bit difficult when you don't have much money to go to a company like Cloudflare and pay them for a domain. I'm limited to free services, and right now Blogger seems to be the best, so I'll ride it until the wheels fall off. I have all the audio backed up, don't worry, and I'm in the process of backing up my posts to other free to use blogging websites. 

But another principle of mine is free speech, and I take the ethical stance of being a radical free speech absolutist. I think everyone should be allowed to speak what they want, when they want, barring calls to illegal action (like some antifa websites I could name do), and things like the "fighting words" provision that many states have. If you're encouraging people to break the law, that's not protected speech. And so far as I know, as retarded as they are, the Stormfags over on The Daily Stormer don't actually tell people to run around beating up black people, or killing Jews, or what have you. They're disgusting, yes, but there's nothing actually illegal going on over there, so far as I know. But aside from those extreme provisions, I think the Nazis should be allowed to speak, and we should be allowed to mock them or attempt to deprogram them via active engagement from another point of view.

This last is important because sending these people underground will not change their minds, it will only radicalize them and galvanize them into a victim narrative (that they'll have more than a little evidence for), and in essence it will prove to them the rightness and righteousness of their cause. It will also add to them a forbidden fruit aspect that they've literally never had before. In the past, anyone could go to The Daily Stormer and see for themselves how full of shit they were. Now? Well, you have to jump through some hoops to get there, and all that censorship makes people think that they must be on to something if the powers that be are trying so hard to shut them up. It's not good tactics or strategy, if you actually want to defeat them, and not just make them stronger and swell their numbers. And when people like Sargon of Akkad (whatever you may think of him) are getting banned for engaging in discussion and debate with these people with the expressed goal of convincing them of how wrong they are, all you're doing is throwing fuel on the fire. Whereas if you just let them speak we would still all be laughing at them like we've done for the past fifteen fucking years, instead of having to stand up for them because they're not being allowed to stand up for themselves. 

I can respect that Google can do what it wants as a business entity. I can also have a visceral fundamental fucking disagreement with what they're doing based on my principles and ethics. There's absolutely no conflict here between the two. You don't have to choose between "Companies legally shouldn't be allowed to restrict speech on their platforms" and "Private company can do what they want HAAAAHHH!" It is very possible to find other companies out there that do the exact same thing that Google is doing from a goods-and-services perspective, but better because they're not engaging in totalitarian speech policing. Corporate oligarchies are exactly as dangerous as fascist totalitarian governments, sometimes more so, because the former can enable the latter, and Google seems very much intent on doing so.

And I'm more than willing to forgive and forget. Google has been a very good service over the past couple of decades. I liked their search engine, and despite how much memory Chrome ate it was very convenient and had connective functionality with almost everything on the internet. I'm also absolutely in love with Blogger. I've tried a couple of other free-to-use blogging sites, and Blogger has everything I need and more, and none of it is stuck behind a paywall. It's great, and I'll admit that freely. I'd like to go back to the old days, where they took a hands off approach and let the community police itself. But those days are behind us, and the best way to fight them is to hit them in their wallets. Or rather, in the wallets of their shareholders and advertisers.

To be perfectly and 100% clear, here, I am not advocating that anybody do anything. I have a personal disagreement with Google's policies, and so I'm not using their services anymore until they turn this around. At least so far as YouTube and their search engine and their adsense programs go. The blog I'm going to keep around, mainly because I put so many hours of work into getting it to look just how I want it, and I don't want all that to be for naught. Blogger I'll ride until I get shut down, or the wheels completely fall off, but because of this I certainly won't be contacting them about a personalized URL for my website. I'll be looking to other services for that in the future. 

But in the interest of describing tactics and strategy for the interested, there are things that I don't explicitly advocate that people can do if they want to hurt Google. They could get adblockers and use YouTube ad-free. The Brave browser actually has a built-in adblocker that's more robust than AdBlock. You could contact their advertisers and voice your displeasure, much like what happened in Gamergate with the advertisers on games journalism sites and Gawker. You can use different search engines and browsers. You could also be a particularly nasty little shit and install AdNauseum, which is a browser add-on that gives false clicks to ads and is basically making Google inadvertently commit advertiser fraud, if I have my facts straight (and I may not on that "fraud" bit, fyi, doing your own research is encouraged here, as always), which means they'll have to pay out money to their advertisers to make up for the false positives, instead of the advertisers paying money to Google. Once again, I'm not recommending anybody actually go and do any of this. I'm simply describing tactics and strategy from the point of view of someone who's interested in such things and enjoys reading accounts of, say, World War battles and figuring out the tactics of both sides and where they went wrong. I don't make any money via Google, so this is purely an academic interest to me right now. 

But I'm certainly going to be minimizing my personal use of their products, because I disagree with the policies of the company and don't like the direction in which they're heading. And this is perfectly in line with my principles and ethical standards of freedom of association, free speech, and radical free speech absolutism. Just because they're a private-sector company doesn't mean I have to like, agree with, or put up with everything they do. 

Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

So in closing I'll leave you with my take on the classic poem by Martin Niemöller, First They Came For The Jews:

First they came for the Nazis
and I did not speak out
because fuck those guys.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because fuck the Commies as well.

Then they came for the moderate conservatives and liberals
and I began to get very worried
because I wondered who was next.

Then they came for me
and I made a vow to myself
that they would not take me alive.

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