Did you happen to catch Bill Gates talk at TED ? I'm no fan of Mr. Bill, so I
approached that with a lot of built in prejudice, but I really
tried to give him a fair hearing. Unfortunately I was in a bad
mood just after reading the "About Bill Gates" blurb. That informed us
that Bill is:
A passionate techie and a shrewd businessman, Bill Gates changed
the world once, while leading Microsoft to dizzying success. He
plans to do it again with his very own style of philanthropy.
I had to hit the pause button while I digested that. We all
know that Microsoft achieved its domination by dirty deals: squashing
competition, lying to supposed partners, bullying distributors.. this is
NOT a "nice" company! I
simply can't imagine how the same tactics could be applied to
philanthropic efforts. Perhaps I'm not creative enough - if anyone
can find a way to make unethical behavior pay off in philanthropy,
Bill probably has the best shot.
Most of the comments lauded Bill as a hero. I'm not the only
one who doesn't quite see it that way. Admittedly, this post about the foundation's unethical investments has an axe to grind, but
the reality of the Gates Foundation is hardly what most people think it
is. In fact, some say it sounds more like a scam than a legitimate philanthropy.
In fairness, the foundation reacted to that "ethical investing" story by saying that
they would re-examine their investments.
I have to ask this though: why is it that Bill never seems to do the right things until the bright light of scrutiny turns upon him? Could it be
that his moral compass just naturally spins toward money rather than what is
obviously right? I think so.. at the end of the day Bill decided that
"divesting from firms that harm society would make little difference." Good call, Bill: money IS what is important!
(See the "Criticisms" section of the Wikipedia entry on the foundation for more
I also thought that the business of releasing live mosquitos was a bit over
the top. I left a comment about that and also complained that the
obvious hero worship annoyed me a bit. Specifically, I said:
Did Mr. Gates have blood tests taken from each mosquito to be sure
they weren't carrying ANY disease? Did he poll the audience ahead
of time to be sure none would have any allergic reactions to mosquito
I think what galls me the most is the automatic hero worship. Gates
wasn't a "shrewd" businessman, he was a ruthless and brutal
businessman. So you make billions of dollars by methods many consider
immoral and possibly illegal but you give a little bit back and
everyone applauds you?
Frankly, that shows a lot of what is wrong in this country. A robber
baron who gives back is still a robber baron. Bill squeaked past
the Justice Department but in my eyes he's still no hero - far from
I was a little surprised that one person reacted rather violently:
Mr. Anthony Lawrence ,please shut your idiotic ignorant illogical
mouth and stop behaving like a 3 year old religious evangelist.
Thank you very much.
I checked his profile - he's just twenty years old so of course he
could only know about Microsoft's shady history if he has read about it -
he didn't live through it as I did. Maybe he works for the great benefactor,
I don't know. Or maybe he does know about Microsoft's business shenanigans
and thinks that the ends justify the means. I'm not sure which explanation
would bother me more.
Of course not all comments praised Bill or his talk. There were
a few of us who don't think Bill is quite the saintly soul to deserve
such adulation. Still, most people applaud loudly whenever any rich
person speaks - it's a bit of hero worship that I find puzzling
and disheartening, but it's all too easy to observe.
I am happy that Bill is doing something - as paltry and self-serving as
it is. That's certainly better than doing nothing. Still, I refuse
to give him an overall pass because of these little efforts. It isn't
enough and frankly never can be. I also can't give him a good grade
on that talk - and I don't think that's entirely due to my prejudice. I
didn't find it inspiring or even educational - it wasn't up to the
standards I expect from TED. That's just me, though; you should feel
free to disagree in the comments.
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