Pragmatic Second Thoughts at Google

The International Herald Tribune has reported that Google has had second thoughts about their pragmatic self-censorship to placate the totalitarian government in China.Avid fans of this blog (you know who you are) know my feeling about Google’s kowtowing to censorship. I even wrote them an angry letter about it. Wouldn’t it be nice to thnk my letter made a difference? I know, though, that it did not.

Google’s potential change of mind, if it actually occurs, will still be based on a pragmatic philosophy. One of the company’s co-founders, Sergey Brin, was quoted as saying, “Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense.” Translation: we only act on principle when it looks like it might work better than what we’re doing.

According to the Herald Tribune, “Brin also said Google was working to improve the censored search service before deciding whether to reverse course. If the company cannot strike a balance between an information service and accommodating the Chinese government’s demands, it would re-evalate, the company said.” Translation: let’s look for an acceptable compromise before we try a full-blown “principled approach.”

Ayn Rand was the major defender of businessmen. She said, “Businessmen are the one group that distinguishes capitalism and the American way of lfe from the totalitarian statism that is swallowing the rest of the world. …If and when they perish, civilization will perish.”

She also noted that, “As a group, businessmen have been withdrawing for decades from the ideological battlefield, disarmed by the deadly combination of altruism and Pragmatism.”

That was 35 years ago. The businessmen at Google remain disarmed by their rotten philosophy. Any government these men are involved with can manipulate them at it’s whim.


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2 thoughts on “Pragmatic Second Thoughts at Google”

  1. Excellent analysis. Pragmatism continues to be the dominant philosophy today in America, perhaps even more dominant than altruism. Altruism cannot be practiced in its pure form since it is suicidal, so it is the dominant proclaimed philosophy (or lip-serviced philosophy), while pragmatism is the dominant practiced philosophy. Still, altruism is practiced just short of suicide every day as well, especially in our foreign policy. I wonder if you would agree that these two are the most common today, and which you would consider dominant.

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  2. Greg. Thanks for the feedback.

    I’m not sure what “dominant” means in this context. In any case, I don’t think it’s applicable, if I understand you correctly. Let’s see if I can say why.

    What first comes to mind is that altruism is a moral code. Its concern is with ethics, good and bad, right and wrong. Altruism specifies that one has no right to live for himself. Its guiding principle, what makes a man moral, is self-sacrifice.

    Pragmatism is more an epistemological matter. The pragmatist says there are no principles (and, presumably, if there were we couldn’t know it). The pragmatist advocates doing the practical, “whatever works,” without positing any standards or set of values that would define practicality.

    When it comes to ethics, then, pragmatism by itself has nothing to say. The pragmatist has to settle on a value code formulated by some other moralist(s). In today’s world, in America and probably in Europe, the predominant ethical code is …altruism. Hence, the majority of pragmatists are altruists. Notice Ayn Rand’s words, quoted above, “businessmen have been withdrawing for decades from the ideological battlefield, disarmed by the deadly combination of altruism and Pragmatism.”

    Pragmatism is what saves the altruist from the suicide you speak of. This is not to disagree with you, but only to explain why I have trouble proclaiming “dominance” for either philosophy.

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