I think The Atlantic‘s Emily Chertoff is onto something:

These two ideas share one very deep philosophical root — a concept of progress that originated in scientific rationalism. But technological change is not necessarily politically progressive, as we define the latter term today. Many liberals are worried about the use of drones for surveillance and policing. The technology is drastic and fairly new, but very few people would argue that its newness makes it politically progressive at all. (It is more likely either a neutral tool or ethically suspect because of the powers it gives us.)

Technology companies like Google benefit when we conflate those two types of progressivism, the political and the technological. Consumer technology needs young people to adopt it, and the young often like to be associated with the political left. So do intellectuals. Tie technological advance to left-leaning politics and you have all of a sudden made the former more appealing to two large and vocal groups of people — and, of course, given them a reason to feel an affinity for your company.

Think too about the kind of progressivism Chavez represents: Not only is he a hero of labor; he’s also an icon of Mexican-American identity politics. Expression of identity is already a major part of the culture of social media. This is a form of progressive politics that sits easily alongside Google’s corporate status (more easily than would, for instance, the politics of that other Chavez who has been in the news recently…) So does the type of liberalism implicated in, say, the project of mapping North Korea’s prison camps.

If Google markets itself as an ideologically progressive corporation, it can play on this analogy between technological and political progress even when it introduces products that patently have zero progressive political implications.

In other words, it helps Google’s image when it is seen as the kind of company that would post an image of César Chavez on Easter Sunday. Look at the readers of this blog who praised Google’s progressive gesture, versus the right-wing particularist Christian bigots who were bothered by it. It’s a culture war win for Google. Think about it: if you’re Bing, do you really want to get the reputation as being the right wing’s preferred search engine?

Advertisement