You’re right - SEO, professionally executed, is completely legitimate. The problem remains that not all “SEOs” are legit – in my experience, a good number simply adopt the title and the result is ... well, complex. As you say, many are only out to cheat the system, even after the carnage of Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird et al.
I guess in the end it depends on how you define “the SEO community”. Include the self-anointed element and I stand by my statement; focus only on the professionals and I’m more open to being convinced otherwise. I wrote a post on my own blog a while back that tackled the issue full-on and was intended to encourage debate – take a look if you have a spare minute.
As you rightly point out, the SEO Grail should be the long-term effects of producing great content. Tools like Authorship should be in every content creator’s armoury in order to boost reputation and encourage engagement, and I aspire to those outcomes wholeheartedly.
Thanks for responding - always good to have a constructive discussion.