The corporate motto of Google, Inc. is “Don’t be Evil.” While this might seem like playful banter from an amazingly successful company, it actually says something deep and meaningful about human society – namely, that organizations; be they corporations, religious groups, or governments; over time become “evil.”
Why is this? No corporation starts out with the intent of becoming evil, governments are not (typically) founded to repress their people. So why does it happen?
To explain this, we need to think of corporations, religious groups, and governments as something more than just “organizations.” When a group becomes large enough, it ceases to be a simple group and takes on a “persona” of its own – in effect, becoming a “person.” (Corporations are explicitly people – they are legally structured as such to protect the people who work for them from being liable for the corporation’s actions – at least, mostly.)
Now, most people are inherently “good,” more or less. So how can an organization built up from good people become evil?
When a group becomes large enough, it ceases to be the sum of the wills and desires of the people within it, and instead becomes the sum of the “wills” and “desires” built into it by the rules and regulations that organize it. In corporations, this is the by-laws and the desire of stockholders for higher profits and a return on their investment. In governments, this is laws and regulations. Even when started with the best of intentions, unless those intentions are explicitly written into the very fabric of the organization (i.e. the rules, by-laws, or whatnot), there will be no trace of those intentions in the final “product,” that is, the organization that is created over time by those rules.
Try to think of an organization you think is “evil.” Maybe it’s Microsoft, or maybe it’s Exxon, or a RJ Reynolds (the tobacco company), or even the United States Government. Now think of that company as if it were a person unto itself. Try to describe it as if it were a person, with feelings and intentions and desires. You’ll see some very startling results. The “person” you’ll find yourself describing is single-minded, with no morals, no concept of right or wrong – just a single-minded intent for profit (in the case of companies) or control (in the case of governments).
This is why they are evil. They were all founded with the best of intentions, by generally “good” people. They may even still be controlled by generally “good” people, but they have taken on a life of their own. Without explicit restraints, they will pursue their goals without concern for anyone or any thing. They are not people, after all – they are something both more and less than a person. A juggernaut, sacrificing whatever stands in their way. Even when people try to do good things, the overwhelming pressure of their “goals” (i.e. profit or control) leads them to do things that no one would expect a person in their right mind to do. Corporations destroy environments, cheat and lie to gain market share, and destroy lives. Governments try to control every aspect of their citizens’ lives, and regulate everything in sight.
Now, you might try and stop me here and say that things aren’t as bad as I’m suggesting. Corporations haven’t reduced the Earth to a smoldering wasteland, after all. However, corporations have external limits and restraints placed on them by governments – generally representing the will of the people, but not always – and these limits and restraints, if you look at them closely, are almost always in the realm of what, for lack of a better term, I will call “morality.” When it comes to governments, we (here in the US at least) are lucky that our particular system of government has checks and balances on its own power built right in to help keep it under control, and representing the will of the people, rather than its own overwhelming desire for power. Although these checks and balances will eventually fail – after all, “morality” was not written into the constitution, and without it, even the best system will fall into tyranny. (The only “outside” influence for governments is, ironically, revolution by its people or, in a lesser sense, conquest by another country.)
This is a sobering thought, but there is a grain of wisdom in it as well, one that Google has taken to heart (although I don’t know if they fully appreciate it). The only way to prevent organizations from becoming evil is to imbue them with a sense of morality from the start – be it a corporate mantra to “not be evil,” or explicit restraints in the form of constitutions, amendments, by-laws, or what have you.
Of course, it is not just the nature of organizations to become evil in and of themselves – there are always some “bad seeds” in there somewhere, people with “evil” intentions do slip between the cracks, and it is their intentions which become amplified and personified by the group. What is the saying, “those who most desire power are least qualified to possess it?” Without explicit protection against “those who most desire power,” most organizations will end up in the control of such people – those who are, by definition, the least qualified to possess it.
It will be interesting to watch events unfold in the near future for me. I predict that we are on the verge of some radical changes in our society. Government has gone from a very good thing into a very “bad” thing. I look at the actions of the United States worldwide lately, and see only an organization seeking to maintain its own power, its “status quo,” while systematically taking control away from its own people, and regulating every aspect of their life – for no other reason than “government exists to govern.” This principle, taken to its logical conclusion, leads us down a road towards a future shockingly like the future predicted in George Orwell’s 1984. Similarly, corporations will continue to behave like spoiled children, with no concern for others – sacrificing innovation, the environment, and employees – all in the name of the almighty dollar. Even with a caring and understanding CEO, a corporation cannot escape its will, because a CEO is typically beholden to a board of directors, which is in turn beholden to stockholders, who are – in a large, publicly traded company, anyway – a large group. And as we have seen, large groups, large organizations without “morality,” always end up being… evil.