Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury

March 21, 2006 10:31 AM

Number 25 of Danny Sullivan's 25 Things I Hate About Google:

I've written before about how your philosophy page has a big disconnect with reality. It feels even further disconnected these days. You're doing 100 different things rather than "one thing really, really well." As for "you can make money without doing evil," you know that's not so when you yourselves created an evil scale to decide just how bad bowing to Chinese censorship would be for you. Give us a realistic philosophy, one that doesn't give you so far to fall from lofty heights. We'll like you more for it, rather than the excuses and spin when you can't do what you say you should do.

Neal Stephenson, writing in The Diamond Age:

"You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices," Finkle-McGraw said. "It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others--after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?"

...

"Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others' shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour--you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

...

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception--he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."

"That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code," Major Napier said, working it through, "does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code."

"Of course not," Finkle-McGraw said. "It's perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved--the missteps we make along the way--are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal , struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power." All three men were quiet for a few moments, chewing mouthfuls of beer or smoke, pondering the matter.
Doug, posting in the Xooglers blog.

Setting the bar impossibly high in a very public fashion would make it clear to employees that the executive team valued integrity and it would make it very painful for the company to settle for a path of good intentions instead of a road of righteous deeds. Google has taken heat for some recent decisions, but it’s too early to damn them for trying to deliver on the most ambitious promise a company can make in an imperfect world.

There's a point there. Google has caught a great deal of heat for censoring search engine results in China, with only a footnote to the articles that Microsoft and Yahoo! were already there and censoring, or in Yahoo's case, shopping dissidents to the secret police.

Microsoft get a free run on the "evil" front because hell, they're Microsoft. That's what they do! Google don't get a free run, they invite debate and ask the world to hold them to their stated principles, and I sort of like that they're not getting rid of that slogan any time soon.

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