Sunday, January 08, 2006

The New York Magazine has an editorial that theorizes nobody is really afraid of Microsoft anymore and that maybe Gates’ philanthropy is a repeat of Rockefeller’s trying to save his name in the history books as a good person.

The Slashdot crowd caught wind of this and started ripping the man apart. Basically, they stated that he was still a horrible man no matter what he did and always would be. They compared his efforts as pale in comparison to what Carnegie and Rockefeller had done in the philanthropy area.

I’m not defending Gates and saying that he hasn’t done anything unethical, wrong, etc. There is, however, a *big* difference between him and the robber barons – when they were making their fortunes, they were doing it on the backs and the lives of the lower classes. Yes, Gates takes money. The others not only took that but also the lives of the people who worked for them.

How are they remembered now? Largely as builders of society. Their misdeeds are a footnote in history.

The Slashdot crowd called the money Gates gave to charity “stolen.” I have news for them – the money donated by the robber barons that they so revere was blood money.

Do I excuse Gates for his actions in the past? Hell no. Do I think that his charitable donations automatically counter those actions and make him a good man? No.

What I am saying is that I am glad that he *is* doing something positive with his money (ill-gotten or not) and that, since he doesn’t directly run Microsoft anymore, honestly seems like a better person. It doesn’t excuse past actions, but it is sort of an atonement.

They even slammed him for not giving the money anonymously. That’s just silly. By giving it publicly, he’s helping raise awareness of issues that he considers important. Does it get him good PR? Yes. Is that more important that the fact that it raises awareness of very real, very important problems?

Who knows, maybe as he is getting older, he really is starting to realize that the money and power aren’t everything. Not being inside his head, we’ll never know for sure, but we can hope that is at least a small part of it.

Personally, I think that the important part of this is that some positive things are now coming out of his actions. It doesn’t excuse his past actions, but positive change (even for the wrong reasons) is positive change.

I, for one, think that one of the best things which can be done with celebrity is to raise awareness of important issues and helping affect positive change.

Maybe he’s finally realizing this. Maybe not. Maybe all of his donations are for selfish reasons. Either way, positive change is being made.

Current mood: thoughtful
Current music: U2 - Even Better than the Real Thing

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