Bill Gates did some shady shit, and hell, we’d all like an apology. But he also made powerful personal computers financially tractable for the middle class, and for that he’s a god damned hero.
The world is a complex set of overlapping categories in a massive Venn diagram. We don’t get to call most people who have achieved anything “good” or “evil” because it just isn’t that simple.
That is not to say there aren’t (very) occasional saints in the world (they don’t tend to run businesses or invent things, but instead apply their talents in other ways) and there are also evil people (most criminals never get too far in life, unless they go into politics). But people who are marshaling the forces of dozens of programmers, engineers, and technicians, to invent consumer electronics and software products that enable creativity and global communication in forms and at scales never seen on earth before don’t get to be saints or trolls. Not entirely. They have too much work to do and they can’t always avoid getting their hands dirty.
The important thing (for all of us) is to acknowledge when we’ve done something wrong, and then make efforts to repair it. We’re so pissed at Microsoft and Bill because he didn’t back down the moment anybody pointed out that what he was doing was unethical. He probably did this because he genuinely felt it was necessary. Given that Microsoft is still around even after dropping those practices, we can see that it wasn’t necessary at all. Let’s hope this makes it easier for the next CEO to be called to task to acknowledge their mistake and correct it.
Which brings it back to us. We have a responsibility to call CEOs to task. And to my delight it’s happening. The dynamic between Uber, Lyft, and the White House in recent weeks has been fascinating to watch. Now how about every other tech giant that is still meeting with Trump? We’ve got to hold their feet to the fire.
I believe it is possible to make things of value in the world and sell them without abandoning ethics. While maintaining high standards through a principled approach. I believe that maybe, just maybe, a compassionate form of capitalism is possible, and desirable. It probably doesn’t involve much advertising. When it does involve advertising, it probably tries to speak more to our minds and our hearts than to our urges and fears. This is a capitalism that takes responsibility for its actions, and makes reparations when it does wrong. This is triple-bottom-line, where there are no “externalities” and everything is accounted for.
I believe this is something we can progress towards. I have to believe in it. Because I don’t see any other path for forward progress. The alternative is to watch the world burn.
I’ve been in a rant-y mood lately. Almost everything that comes out of my mouth sounds like this right now. It’s annoying me. I hope it isn’t annoying you TOO much. Sorry. Gotta figure out how to say these things without getting on a soapbox.