Is meaningful or useful to have emotional reactions to business organizations? Right now there’s a lot of that going around; the atmosphere swirling around my employer and That Fruit Company a short commute away in Silicon Valley grows steamy. Which pales compared to the global outpouring of fear and loathing directed at a certain English oil corporation. I’m going to argue (after some personal digressions) that hating on BP is perhaps actively harmful.
Personal Digression · Recently I tweeted (and I apologize for the coarse language): “Unlike apparently everyone, I’m not pissed at BP. You gonna live on fossil fuel, shit gonna happen. BP drew the short straw.” Which didn’t seem to me that radical a thing to say. It’s far from established that BP is significantly worse (or better) in its practices than the rest of the industry. Seems to me that it’s not one oil company that’s befouling our species’ only nest, it’s our systemic addiction to cheap energy and aversion of our eyes from what that does to us.
I can see perfectly well that others might not agree with me, seeing BP as a unique malefactor worthy of unique punishment; for example, a large number gathering on Facebook. So I wasn’t surprised at getting lots of pushback.
Angry at Google · I was a little surprised at this, which opens with “Google mouthpiece Tim Bray...” A couple of clicks reminded me that I was reading someone who hides behind the (albeit stylish) alias Kontra and who has previously hated on me with considerable glee.
While everyone knows that there’s a lot of perfectly-reasonable worry about Google’s pervasiveness and reach, the company itself seems too inchoate and chaotic to hold any particular single feeling about for any length of time. But Kontra genuinely loathes Google right down to the ground. (I can testify with some force that at Google there is a notable lack of conspiratorial intent to Do Bad Things With All That Data, but then you might choose to discount that testimony because of the logo on my paycheck.)
Having said all that, I think Kontra is something of an anomaly. I wish he’d decloak though; anonymous polemics leave a very sour taste.
What About Apple? · Hating (or loving) them seems about as equally unreasonable. I’ve been vocal about my loathing for their app-store regime but they’re my favorite computer manufacturer, and the iPhone is a terrific product; challenging fun to compete against. Apple marketing irritates me but then so does 90%-plus of all marketing. I have emotional reactions to certain of their design values (positive to the general design of the OS X interface, negative to the shiny-black-and-silver color scheme of recent MacBooks) but design values should provoke those. Apple as a whole? I look into my soul and honestly can’t scare up much in the way of feelings, positive or negative.
It Happened To Me · For some number of years I loathed Microsoft, but then on the other hand I’d been the target of a direct attack during which that company sincerely tried to ruin my career, and my wife’s because of her relationship to me. So that was an unusual situation no matter how you look at it. These days Microsoft is irrelevant to anything I care about.
And at the end of the day I can’t see really getting emotional about commercial organizations. That Our Philosophy stuff does lend me some comfort here at Google, but my passions, positive and negative, center on people and projects, not the commercial organizations that house them.
Back to BP · Hating the company has the potential to distract from a larger problem, the immense number of other poorly-regulated oil platforms in the Gulf; is it 4,000 or only 1,500?
And it’s bigger than that; both the current spill and the whole Gulf problem, the more I look at them, seem like symptoms of a deeper disease. You have to treat a disease’s symptoms or they might kill you, but suing BP into oblivion (a good idea if there’s a decent legal case) isn’t going to reduce the big-picture damage contingent on our addiction to unrealistically-priced fossil fuels.
And hating the company, or any company, will just reduce the quality of your life.