We have become convinced that only machines and corporations make the future, but I don’t think that is true. In thinking about the role of the humanist in our technology-driven future, I was drawn to a sermon Martin Luther King preached at the National Cathedral in Washington two weeks before he was killed. At the outset he told the story of how Rip Van Winkle had passed a sign with a picture of King George III of England on the way up the mountain where he fell into a long sleep. When he came down the mountain, the same sign bore a picture of George Washington.
With such economic power comes political power. Uber recently hired Obama campaign svengali David Plouffe to help it navigate the political lobbying waters of Washington, taking a page from Google’s bible. Google outspends all but a few financial and military firms in its lobbying efforts. The main financial backers of the Libertarian movement, the Koch brothers, have vowed to spend $900 million in the 2016 election cycle to ensure that the “no regulation, no taxes” principles of the movement are sacrosanct in the corridors of power.
The digital monopolists are not above using the rhetoric of libertarianism to spread the message that they alone are the guardians of freedom in the world. When the media companies tried (in an admittedly ham-handed fashion) to pass a law (Stop Online Piracy Act) that would require Google to block sites that were making millions off of stolen content, Google unleashed an online campaign stating this would amount to censorship. The uproar from the crowd quickly killed the bill.