March 9th, 2014
Pity Would Be No More: Google The Human Abstract
The public relations profession was created to repair the reputations of the 1%. The robber barons who consolidated control over industry in the United States needed to boost their numbers in the polls, and thus began the professional publicizing of acts of charity. The technology industry and its titans have finally taken that lesson to heart.
Fighting tooth and nail, then threatening to leave San Francisco for more accommodating tax havens, technology companies have negotiated big tax breaks. They're special. Not the sense that they need an extra helping hand to get their business of the ground. It's just that they want to use every piece of leverage they have over the city. When what they've wrought becomes plain for everyone to see, the oldest public relations plan in the book is trotted out. They'll participate in the community, but only on their terms. Here it comes, sweet charity.
Instead of public services coming organically through our tax base and distributed through a public political process, the tech company decides what cause gets money and how much. The money they donate creates capacity within the public budget which is then redirected to other needs. In a few years when the corporations stop giving and the public budget can't accommodate the programs, they're eliminated. What seems to be a windfall is really a death sentence.
Criticism of charitable acts is a rare thing. That's why it's a classic public relations play for the 1%. Google funds a transportation program for low-income youth, Facebook buys a police officer, etc. PR firms are paid big bucks to make sure we all know about it. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
William Blake wrote “The Human Abstract” as part of his Songs of Innocence and Experience. Put this poem on the “experience” side of the ledger. His criticism of pity and charity continue to ring true. Out of the pity of the technology giants comes charity for the poor and disadvantaged. Blake shows us that it's not “pity” and “charity” you want to put up on a pedestal. It's a difficult case to make, but Blake does it. These virtues are symptoms, born of inequalities.
THE HUMAN ABSTRACT
by William Blake
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor,
And Mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.
And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.
He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears;
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.
Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head,
And the caterpillar and fly
Feed on the Mystery.
And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat,
And the raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.
The gods of the earth and sea
Sought through nature to find this tree,
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the human Brain.