Wearing Your Motivations On Your Sleeve

September 14, 2008

It is common to describe someone as the type of person who “wear their heart on their sleeve”. I’ve been thinking about this idiom since reading Nicholas Carr’s post about The OmniGoogle. Carr’s piece ends with a comparison between Microsoft and Google:

Google differs from Microsoft in at least one very important way. The ends that Microsoft has pursued are commercial ends. It’s been in it for the money. Google, by contrast, has a strong messianic bent. The Omnigoogle is not just out to make oodles of money; it’s on a crusade – to liberate information for the masses – and is convinced of its righteousness in pursuing its cause. Depending on your point of view as you look forward to the next ten years, you’ll find that either comforting or discomforting.

This post is neither about technology nor economics but about the concept of motivations. Google and Microsoft are similar in that they both hold an almost unassailable position of power in terms of their core product (desktop OS and search respectively) but that Google differs in that it cares about something deeper than money and this makes them somewhat scarier than Microsoft (in Carr’s view which I think I agree with).

How can this be? How can we trust purely monetary motivations more than moral ones? I think understanding this paradox is key to certain left-vs-right divisions. 

What it comes down to is whether or not you wear your motivations on your sleeve. I am not taking a left-misunderstands-the-right position here. The reverse can also be true. I believe one of the most important left-vs-right political divisions is a religious one (especially in the U.S.). It is not the belief in a higher being per se that is the root of the problem, it is potential motivations that are hidden from clear view. Small “L” liberals do not generally trust anyone that has religious motivations. The key to having faith and being accepted by people who do not share your faith is displaying a clear record of being able to demarcate the decisions you make in life from the religious doctrine you ascribe to. Catholic politicians must answer questions about contraception. Mitt Romney has to answer whether or not The Garden of Eden is in Missouri.

If you don’t know me, the question most likely going through your head right now is whether or not I am religious… it is important for you to understand my motivations when reading my opinions on the topic. And that is the point. Microsoft, with a history of self-interest based choices, can be more trustworthy than The OmniGoogle because Microsoft wears their motivations on their sleeve.

The “messianic bent” Carr describes is key. Al Gore has a messianic bent when it comes to Global Warming. We add the -ism and -ist suffixes to certain ideas to make this bent clear. Global Warm-ism and Global Warm-ist (who go to battle against Denial-ists). Hilary Clinton is a National-Healthcare-ist. Ralph Nader is a Corporations-Are-Evil-ist. Barack Obama is all of the above. Neocons are Bush-Doctrine-ists. America is imperial-ist. This new -ists are similar to the terms racist and socialist that have been proven over time to be negative forces. Like the word propaganda, the messianic -ism/-ist words are only used by people that are against the -ism or the messianic bent of the supporters of the -ism (the -ists). 

If you are an agent of change, you should check your sleeves often and ensure you are -ism proof.

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2 Responses to “Wearing Your Motivations On Your Sleeve”

  1. tom s. Says:

    I agree with you (for a change!)

    Perhaps part of the reason that M$ is “more trustworthy” is that no one is going to say “I’m in it for the money” and then switch to “hey, just kidding, actually I love helping people and saving kittens”. I am puzzled as to why people take Google’s self-description so seriously.

    Tom – 50% ism proof.


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