It's never healthy to patronize a European.
In Europe, they view looking down from a cultural perch as exclusively their own domain, given that they believe history will always be on Europe's side.
It was, therefore, less than deft of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to muse last week in Munich that, as The New York Times put it, privacy issues shouldn't occupy European minds when their economies are wafting into the can marked "compost."
This, quite naturally, caused European eyebrows to rise and European mouths to open. Indeed, in today's Guardian, commentator John Naughton says that "companies such as Facebook are the corporate world's equivalent of sociopaths."
He describes how risibly Facebook tried to justify its supposed creation of 232,000 jobs in Europe, with a report from Deloitte that was more replete with caveats than an insurance policy. (Sample: Deloitte reportedly worked with information obtained from Facebook and "neither sought to corroborate this information nor to review its overall reasonableness.")
While I wouldn't wish to wallow in a definition of sociopathy, I did happen to ask a couple of Facebook's advertising clients how they found dealing with the world's most powerful brain child.
"They breathe their own fumes," one executive told me. And he is someone who gives Facebook rather large sums of money.
It is in this, surely, that Facebook has its power. It tells us all that in tomorrow's world, everything will be social. If you're not riding in the social Ferrari, you will be but a mere cipher in the commerce of life. Worse, you will be a mere individual, someone with absolutely no friends in the playground.
And who would want to be an isolated individual or part of an isolated company? It's tempting, then to view Facebook's world picture as expressing the mindset of a sociopath--or even a con man.
The driving force of both is that their world is the only one that matters. Their own personal joy lies in dragging everyone else into their vortex and watching as everyone stares rapt in an excitement they can't quite define. There's a lot of fun in that.
Is there some ultimate meaning and spiritual uplift in the proceedings? Not so much. Rather, it's the power of the game and the protagonist's power in the game that matter.
The gullible--that would be us--play along because the game seems to offer something that we will enjoy: success or approbation, perhaps.
But, in the end, it's rather hard to believe that every move Facebook makes is the move of a benevolent association or a social revolutionary, instead of a move by an advertising company.
Who might suspect, in their private hearts, that privacy is not something that enjoys too much philosophical debate at Facebook HQ? Rather, it's simply something that stands in the way of selling more adverts. It's an inconvenience that gets in the way of economic progress.
Because economic progress is far more important than any individual's right to keep herself to herself. That's not Facebook's fault, some might say. That's just the world we live in. We've all come to believe that economic progress matters more than anything.
Naturally, this might all change a little should one of the Facebook management run into some sort of personal bother that becomes public. But, until then, let's knock down those privacy walls and make some money.
It is wrong, of course, to suggest that Facebook's management might be isolated in their apparent views. Google, too, would surely prefer it if you gave it more and more information so that it can sell more and more--and, cute phrase this, "better"--adverts.
For Naughton, sociopaths are "individuals who are completely lacking in conscience and respect for others."
I have a feeling that the people who run Facebook and Google aren't sociopaths in their private lives--should they have them. It's just that when they create one of those social networks we call companies, a strange group-think takes over.
That strange group-think doesn't so much distort reality as try to create a new one.
We are now living in the new reality. It's one in which it all has to start with people. People are products, products are money, and money is power.
Once you have the power, you can even try to tell governments what to do and what to think. And that's so much fun.