I highly recommend the story Kremlin, Inc. in last week’s New Yorker. It’s a very good piece, and it awakens me to the corrosive by degrees nature of our own compliance in corporate evildoing. If this age truly is the age where the most technically useful aspects of all the previous ages are gathered up and re-used, then the practice of dealing with ones’ enemies by simply having them killed, which here and there throughout history has enjoyed some popularity, would certainly be central to the combo platter of options considered available to today’s leaders. And while we may be correct in saying: we can’t fight them, the fact that we likewise refuse to protest in small ways seems the most disingenuous of all.
I’m thinking specifically of Google, both the richest company and the first to ever adopt as its mission statement “Don’t be evil.” I’m thinking of hanging out with Sergei Brin, which I actually did a couple of weeks ago at a party, and what we talked about. And I’m thinking of Professor Ding Zilin, whose son was shot dead protesting freedom on the night of June 3rd, 1989, and who since has been collecting names of those who were killed around that night. At the end of June 2006, she was able to confirm 186 deaths. But when she logged onto the Internet and went to Google.cn, which began operating in China in January of 2006, and typed in Tienanmen Square, zero results showed up. She typed in her son’s name. There was no such person. In exchange for what could be billions of dollars of revenue, Google agreed to censor all of its Chinese searches to exclude, how did the Nazis put it, “any unpleasantness.”
How many people died at Tienanmen? According to Wikipedia: “Estimates of civilian deaths vary: 23 (Communist Party of China), 400–800 (Central Intelligence Agency), 2600 (Chinese Red Cross). Injuries are generally held to have numbered from 7,000 to 10,000.” Wow. That’s a lot of human sacrifices for freedom, in a country without, shall we say, a history of strong protest movements. These people were killed or injured for doing nothing but peaceably assembling, one of the cornerstone reasons for why there is an America. And while it was American freedom that gave birth to the Internet, ironically none of these people will ever turn up on a Google search in China. Look it up. It never happened. Imagine being someone who knew them, loved them, someone like their mother, like Professor Ding.
The BBC wrote: “Google’s launch of a new, self-censored search engine in China is a ‘black day’ for freedom of expression, a leading international media watchdog says. Reporters Without Borders joined others in asking how Google could stand up for US users’ freedoms while controlling what Chinese users can search for.” The article continues: “The BBC news site, for example, is inaccessible, while a search on Google.cn for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement directs users to a string of condemnatory articles.” Please keep in mind: this isn’t the fascist Chinese government building these algorithms; it’s Google! Big Brother says these people are disappeared, and Google complies. They fix it so these trouble makers never existed. I know it sounds shocking, but this is the deal Google made.
Microsoft and Yahoo!, by the way, do the same thing. Big surprise, but they aren’t run by two Jews who founded a company with an ethical imperative. The lame argument they make is: “They would do it anyway, so why not make money on it?” What would happen though if the big search engines refused to play China’s game? Government’s wage war but if the soldiers won’t pull the trigger there isn’t much of a war. Is it really better to assimilate and hope for the best? What possible motive would China have for changing? But unless we as Web users agree not to support them, which is almost impossible, why would they ever feel the need to change?
I’m only 230 years old, a young adult in Nation Years, but I remember being a grown teenager and coming out of the shadow of the Cold War, with Rod Serling and Hannah Arendt and Mad Magazine and Edward R. Murrow and Elie Weisel laying bare the cultural shame surrounding what it means to be silent. It was as if a generation of WWII survivors were dedicated to teaching the next generation never to stand by as they come for your neighbors, for they will soon be coming for you. I witnessed a tremendous amount of science fiction and social fiction and social analysis, created in the aftermath of WWII. What Americans learned about human nature after WWII was unprecedented, and there was an unprecedented effort then made to ensure that a society would be able to identify it when the powers that be start to wear these freedoms down. Through melodrama and satire, a new and clear picture was painted of what constitutes an unacceptable un-human response. And yet that is the picture I see today.
It’s tough to watch it all go to hell. I have a particular soft spot for that generation that received giant cultural inoculations of this freedom virus. I am still moved by all the TV shows that have the lone man stand up and shock the community and say, “But I saw what happened…” or who refuses to pretend that all is well. And yet I see virtually none of my fellow ‘liberals’ and ‘activists’ paying attention to this pernicious threat. Indeed, I did all my research for this article on Google. And so when should you begin to doubt its complete objectivity?
For more on the subject, here is Human Rights Watch’s take:
And here’s the original New Yorker story: http://royaldutchshellplc.com/2007/05/31/the-new-yorker-kremlin-inc-why-are-vladimir-putin%E2%80%99s-opponents-dying/