30 January 2006

On Being Evil

Yikes! Instalanche!

I've dealt with a couple of the anti- google.cn arguments: that they are complicit in the Chinese Government's oppression, and that there is a clear difference between obeying a bad law and denying basic human rights.

I haven't addressed the point that, while the behaviour I defend might be OK for your average money-grubbing nasty capitalist goliath, Google has presented itself has having a higher morality.

That's partly because I never took that idea too seriously in the first place. I instinctively shy away from any product marketed as "fair", "organic", "0.01% is donated to..." or whatever. Google's attempt to distinguish themselves from the likes of Microsoft or SCO was mild enough to be not actually off-putting, but not something that I valued particularly. In fact I believe the offenses of Microsoft etc. are not due to the "evil" of their management, but are the more-or-less inevitable result of bad legal structures.

If I thought what Google was doing was evil, then I would denounce them, whether or not they had publicly expressed an opposition to evil. But I don't. The grey area for me starts where they start helping the government track down dissidents. Even that is grey, because, even in our own, open, societies, the distinction between criminal, terrorist and dissident is occasionally controversial (I think the Religious Hatred bill here in Britain is as clear a denial of the "human right" of free speech as one could ask for), but like the military action I considered in my previous post, if you're unsure whether your actions are causing net harm or benefit, the best course is to leave well alone. So, once they find they are stepping into the grey area, I think they should stop. Google have so far been explicit that they believe they are bringing benefit, and, until they start being asked for access logs, I agree with them.

I would like to see an open, democratic China. I would like to see it tomorrow. If some Chinese reckon they can have a go at organising and overthrowing the current government, I would hate to feel I was on the other side. But the Chinese people are in a better position than they've been since the Cultural Revolution, and it's improving, and there is good reason to hope that the end result will be a free society obtained non-violently. To actively help the government against the people would be to work against this end, but to help the country, people and oppressive government together, by trading and providing services, is bringing it closer.

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