Irrational Protests against Google

The activist group Counterforce had previously slashed Google employee tires and has now engaged in character assassinations and physical harassment of Google employees.

Here is their justification from the Counterforce manifesto:

After previous actions against the Google buses, many critics insisted that the individual Google employees are not to blame. Taking this deeply to heart, we chose to block Anthony Levandowski’s personal commute. We also respectfully disagree with this criticism: We don’t see one action as better than the other. All of Google’s employees should be prevented from getting to work. All surveillance infrastructure should be destroyed. No luxury condos should be built. No one should be displaced…

We will not be held hostage by Google’s threat to release massive amounts of carbon should the bus service be stopped. Our problem is with Google, its pervasive surveillance capabilities utilized by the NSA, the technologies it is developing, and the gentrification its employees are causing in every city they inhabit. But our problem does not stop with Google. All of you other tech companies, all of you other developers and everyone else building the new surveillance state — We’re coming for you next.

This is blatantly absurd. Their problems with Google are: 1)that Google and other tech companies are part of the surveillance apparatus; and 2)Google employees are well-paid. The first argument rests on at least  6 assumptions: 1) surveillance is always or mostly bad; 2) tech companies provide the primary technology for such surveillance; 3) Google is especially culpable when it comes to such surveillance; 4) a band of anarchists can achieve their goal and significantly disrupt surveillance technology; 5) such surveillance will not continue if tech companies can be disrupted;  and 6) the world would be better off without Google and other tech companies and the many technologies they generate.

One of these claims is debatable (1); two are problematic (2&3); two are almost certainly fales (4&5); and one is self-evidently ridiculous unless one is a committed Luddite (6).

Regarding the second argument it is hard to see why the anarchists oppose good paying jobs. Shouldn’t there be more good paying jobs? Does Counterforce understand that Google employees are the very best high-tech workers in the world? That they were the kind of students who studied and mastered advanced mathematics, engineering, and computer science? The ones at the very top of their classes in some of the hardest subjects in the university? They were not handed money like trust fund babies nor did they steal money like Wall Street bankers or TV evangelists. Counterforce should work for better wages for all workers in an economy where most of the money is going unjustly to the very rich, instead of attacking technology workers.

Furthermore, it is not a Google employee’s fault that they are well-paid. They are well-paid because the supply of persons who can reason and program at a world-class level is less than the demand for those workers. But unlike athletes, entertainers, talk show hosts, and hundreds of thousands of person who contribute almost nothing to society (or in some cases do great damages to it like Fox news pundits), high tech researchers enable your internet and phone to work, make progress on self-driving cars, provide the computing power necessary for modern medicine and, in the case of Google, propel anti-aging research. (And this is but a small list of the applications of computer technology.)

In short the jealousy of Counterforce is misplaced. Unable to find the Koch brothers, wall street bankers, or the hidden capitalist robber barons who are raping the economy, they instead attack knowledge workers in frustration. I understand their frustration at our grossly unjust economy, but they attack precisely the workers of companies whose technologies may one day free us from laborious toil. The fact is that our world would not function without technology nor could most of the world’s population be fed without it.

Counterforce’s Luddite manifesto is eerily reminiscent of the Unabomber’s. He too uselessly and immorally attacked, and in some cases killed and maimed, high-tech workers and researchers. Let’s hope Counterforce doesn’t go down a similar path.

Disclaimer – I do not work for Google or any high-tech company. However, I did teach computer science students years ago at the University of Texas at Austin.

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