Tag Archives: reason

An Open Letter to #Google

I don’t usually like to get political on my blog.  I don’t think that using this platform to spew any sort of ideology is what my readers are searching for, or expecting from me.  However, in this case, I’m too angry and unsettled to ignore what’s happening.  I know I’m probably going to catch some hate for this, but so be it.

I will not apologize.

We’ve all seen the news, I’m sure, and if you haven’t, you should probably start paying attention.  For the past few years, there has been a growing controversy within western culture.  The growing divide between Left and Right in America and abroad has reached a point where the two sides have become increasingly polarized, and ever more insular.  Politics has become intensely personal, and the ramifications are radiating outward through all western societies.

I have been in a unique position to witness some of this controversy playing out first-hand.  At the time of this writing, I am thirty-five years of age, and a United States Army veteran of the so-called “War on Terror.”  I’m also a liberal arts student attending a large school with a vibrant left-leaning culture, though I won’t mention which university.  This is increasingly becoming an odd dichotomy in American society.  When I mentioned that I was a veteran, you probably pictured a mock-up of my personality based on popular stereotypes.  In wild opposition to that, you may have pictured something different when I mentioned that I was a liberal arts college student.

This has allowed me to walk between the two “worlds,” so to speak.  On one hand, I have my personal experiences taken from multiple deployments over nine and a half years of military service to inform my opinions on the war, other cultures, and international politics.  On the other, I have the prevailing cultural zeitgeist influencing–or trying to influence–what I think and feel about the above mentioned subjects, and all other hot topics.  Feminism, Men’s Rights, LGBT rights, Islam, terrorism, Republicans, Democrats, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, free speech…it could go on and on.  You all know what I’m talking about.

I’ve never been one to complain about having to face adversity–I grew up an atheist in the Bible Belt, so I’ve been arguing with people my entire life.  Growing up, I had a regular troop of other kids in school who made it their personal mission to either convert me, or let me know that I would burn forever in Hell for my blasphemy.  Even my friends would sometimes look at me like I was pitifully misguided, though they would tolerate my vociferous opposition to their positions.  I laughed these things off, because hey–Hell isn’t real to me, so it’s an empty threat.  Being a contrarian is not only a comfortable position for me, but also a preferred one.  I would much rather be a pariah who is strong in his beliefs than a sheep who has no foundation for the same.

Now, in pursuing a liberal arts degree, I have once again found myself in the contrary position.  I will preface the following statements with the “hashtag-not-all” qualifier.  For the most part, everyone I’ve met on campus has been friendly, open, and interested in discussion.  It’s college, after all–that’s kind of the point.  I have also faced a surprising amount of hate.  I have been called a war-monger, a fascist, a straight-up Nazi, a white supremacist, and had the term “right-winger” thrown at me the way a racist might spew epithets at his or her most-hated group of people.  I voted twice for Obama, and in this last election, I was so disgusted by both major candidates that I voted for Gary Johnson (go ahead and accuse me of wasting my vote, I would rather have done that than join either Clinton’s or Trump’s camp).  I have never considered myself right-wing.

However, at school I nearly had an official complaint logged against me under Title IX rules because, during a discussion in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting, I said that the primary motivation for the killings was contained within the Qur’an.  This comment was met with horror by most of the students in the class–all of whom were under twenty-one, and had never traveled outside the sphere of the western world.  The teacher for this class, who was a graduate student in the humanities, called me down for the comment.  To me, this is the most benign and truthful comment one could make in regards to the shooting.  I didn’t say that Muslims are evil, or that Muslims hate gay people, or that Muslims do anything at all.  I said that the Qur’an clearly sanctions this kind of violence in the same way the Bible sanctions slavery, and all kinds of other horrible stuff.  The comment was devoid of any condemnation for any person, or group of people–it was a comment on the holy book itself.

I was also the only one in the class who had read the Qur’an.  I’ve also read a sizable amount of the Sunni hadith, three versions of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, and studied Shintoism, Confucianism, Ancient Greek and Roman religion, and lots about the three schools of Buddhism–Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.  As an atheist, I find that I’m quite interested in and mesmerized by religion, religious history, and religious thought.  Only three other students in my class were even familiar with the Bible, and only one had actually tried to read it.  Only those three knew what the term “Abrahamic” meant in regards to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet, the entire class spoke to me with “authority,” assuring me that the Qur’an most certainly does not advocate violence–these white teenagers whose only exposure to Islamic cultures has been filtered through social media.  I’d say the news, but who are we kidding?  These days, people get their news fed to them by whatever social media outlet into which they are currently hooked.  The information they’re used to getting has been curated, and corrupted–and it was probably biased to begin with, as well.

I remember when Christians were bombing abortion clinics in the United States, and crowding the entrances to these places in order to shame and attack the women who needed care.  I was a child for most of that, but I remember the culture surrounding these attacks and how society confronted them.  No one would deny the fact that the justification for these attacks–or at least, the basis for the outrage over abortion–was found within the popular Christian belief that life begins at conception.  I don’t remember a vast army of apologists for the violence, or any pundits on television saying “well, we just have to understand that Christians are mad about this sort of thing, and the real problem we need to worry about is backlash against the Christian community.”  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of hate out there for Christians, but as a society, we did not shrink from confronting the root of the problem.

Today, there is most definitely a culture of silence surrounding the problems facing our society.  It thrives in our universities, it has seeded itself in our media, and spread from preschools to the top of the most powerful entities in western society, including our governments, and our most powerful corporations.  It is not a centralized conspiracy, but rather a prevailing zeitgeist that resembles, for lack of a better word, a pervasive orthodoxy.

I, like all of you, read the news about the Google engineer who wrote an “anti-diversity” memo, and was subsequently fired.  To me, this was the culmination of something that has been bubbling beneath the surface for years.  The man was blasted in the media as being everything from a woman-hating misogynist to an alt-right racist–none of which, of course, was true.  Read the memo for yourself.  The man takes pains to point out that his arguments are NOT coming from a racist or sexist place, and in fact, he suggests ways to improve the hiring practices in order to make working at Google more attractive for women.  In an interview after the fact, he even stated explicitly that he wants more women in tech, if for the simple reason that he likes working with women.

Of course he does.  He’s a nerdy guy.  He probably jumps for joy when a woman looks in his direction.

Not long after this, it came out that Google has been burying search results, or redirecting searches to results that seem more in line with Google’s values–such as redirecting ISIS searches to anti-ISIS videos, etc.  On one hand, this sounds like a good thing.  After all, we don’t want people being able to search up ISIS videos and become radicalized, right?  Surely not.  Being the contrarian that I am, though, I must raise a point–why in all the hells do we trust Google to tell us what’s acceptable to think?  Since when do we care what Google’s values are?  Why do we, as a society and as consumers, tolerate ANY thumbs on the proverbial internet scale?  Why would we cheer for a company who tells us to our faces that they wish to control what we watch, read, and can find on the internet?  Since when do people beg the Ministry of Truth to intervene in their lives, and curate what they are allowed to know?

After all, controversial and objectionable are subjective, relative terms.  Don’t believe me?  Read more history.

Nothing, to me, sounds more un-American, more antithetical to the enlightenment values that all westerners–not just Americans–hold dear, than this cowardly, secret censorship.  Our society has blossomed from the courage to confront, to question, and to risk trying new things.  It took hundreds of years for western societies to shrug away the mantle of religious orthodoxy and reach new heights, to find a synergy between rational inquiry and religious morality.  Now, a new kind of orthodoxy has sprung up in our midst.  One that has all the mechanical elements of a religious philosophy–rigid dogma, resistance to contrary evidence, desire for social control, hatred of outsiders, and active punishment of dissent, to name a few.  I know there are probably more elements I’m missing.  This orthodoxy has none of the mythology, but all the mechanical trappings of a cult.  It must be confronted, and it must be defeated.

Google’s dickery is most obvious to users of YouTube.  I’m a cord-cutter, meaning that I don’t subscribe to any cable television services.  I get all my media online, and have been doing so for the past few years.  This was originally an awesome thing.  On YouTube, it was quite easy to find shows that discussed politics in long format, with interesting people who couldn’t be more different than the paid pundits one would find on ABC or CNN or Fox.  On YouTube, one could find new perspectives, both interesting and repulsive.  One could also find independent journalists, who were supported directly by their patrons on Patreon and by ad revenue on YouTube, who would report honestly–and without filters–on whatever subject they were currently pursuing.  YouTube had the potential to be a free market of ideas, a bubbling cultural cauldron where even the most radical suggestions could be confronted, argued, and tested–at least, in the rhetorical sense.  YouTube has made some of the biggest stars in our society at the moment, and has become in itself a cultural phenomenon.  YouTube was so awesome because it pushed aside the traditional media gatekeepers, and instead took its ideas and content directly to users, who voted on whether or not they wanted said content.  With YouTube, you knew the biases in what you were watching were clear, if there were any, and that what you were seeing was, at least in some sense, raw.

Also, I hear it’s a good place for cat videos and Worldstar compilations.

YouTube, however, has recently been blasted for blocking videos they deem “controversial.”  They’ve demonetized videos en masse, and have empowered “trusted users” to go on flagging campaigns against content they find objectionable, effectively creating a sort of digital Truth Brigade.  While demonetizing an ISIS propoganda video is one thing, what about the temporary removal of Dr. Jordan Petersen’s account?  A move which was obviously motivated by his outspoken resistance to hard-left ideology encroaching upon western society.  Agree with him or disagree with him, his videos simply cannot be compared to, or lumped in with, ISIS propaganda and pornography.  YouTube, however, did exactly that.  They’ve hid video notifications of channels from the very subscribers of said channels, effectively telling you, the end user, that the content to which you subscribed is something you shouldn’t be seeing.

You might say that Google is a private company, and they can censor whatever they want on their own platform.  There is some merit to that argument, but I do have a dog in this fight–I subscribe to HBO, Google Music, and YouTube Red through Google Play.  I have been a Google customer for years–a paying customer.  Also, Google has arguably reached such a level of influence in our society that they have a responsibility to uphold things like free speech.  Google has created entire economies, including the one on YouTube.  It’s just not right for Google to create this economy, invest in it, encourage it, then start picking winners and losers based on the political beliefs of their creators.  What it is effectively doing is discriminating against the end users who hold those political beliefs, or just wish to hear those beliefs.  Forget, for a moment, the wrong being done to those creators who, without warning, saw much of their income vanish overnight.  What about the users, who have become consumers of “controversial” content?  It is clear that YouTube and Google are attempting to shut these channels down by demonetizing them, and if this trend continues, they will succeed.  The disappearance of this content hurts not just the creators, but the users who have become fans of these creators.

My message to Google is thus:  Stop placing yourself between your customers and their preferred creators.  Stop with the political discrimination within your own company, and stop with the ham-fisted attempts to water down the information that reaches your end users.  It is not your job to be the Ministry of Truth.  It is your job to find what the fuck I’m searching for, not to decide what it is I really want to see, or should be seeing.  Also, fuck you for trying–that’s some truly evil shit.  If this doesn’t change, I will be voting with my dollar, and encouraging everyone else to do so as well.

And YouTube–you had something great going before you decided to play schoolmarm for your entire audience.  You pushed aside the gatekeepers, and allowed creators to bring their content directly to the users.  You then made a system which saw the most popular creators rise to the top, but also allowed those with smaller audiences to find their niches and make an income doing what they love.  This was good not only for them, but for your audience.  It is exactly what YouTube users wanted, and why they love it.  It is the thing that made YouTube what it is, you fucking idiots.  Now, instead of disdaining the gatekeepers, you have decided to become the gatekeeper.  You have taken the very thing that made your product awesome, and turned it around ninety degrees.

Google, it is not your place to take a political stance.  I wish everyone would stop doing it, as if I care what Johnson & Johnson thinks about gay rights, or whether or not Aflac insurance is #woke.  You can’t even watch ESPN these days without having twelve idiots talking about whether or not Colin Kaepernick’s inability to get hired is racist.  For fuck’s sake, he’s not even a good quarterback!  Can I just get the game highlights without the political commentary, please?  This constant grandstanding, this high-handed moralizing, is beginning to really make me sick.

Companies need to stay in their lanes.  If you want to support a political cause, then give money to those causes.  Do not use your platform to discriminate against those with whom you do not agree.  That’s not only underhanded, it’s cowardly, and frighteningly authoritarian.  The fact that anyone agrees with it is staggering to me.

Authoritarianism is my greatest fear.  It is the thing that pushed me away from religion, and the thing against which I have spoken my entire adult life.  It doesn’t matter if any given authoritarian is wearing a brown shirt, an SS belt buckle, a hammer-and-sickle pin, a priest’s robes, or a CEO’s tailored suit.  In practice, they are all the same–cowards who want nothing more than to stifle individuality, and whitewash society in their own preferred image.  They are evil, no matter the clothing in which they appear.

So, Google–stop being evil bastards.  We can all see what you’re doing.