No matter how you look at it, SEO is a legitimate, and largely beneficial, business process. Google is seeking to provide best quality service by giving people the search results they're after, rather than links to content that ranks well through an improper process. Most SEO practices work in accordance with Google and assist companies to improve their ranking, but there will always be those who seek to 'cheat' the system, which forces Google to re-evaluate and update their algorithms.
Definitely, the bottom line is that producing great content and increasing your online presence and engagement will ensure your brand profile ranks well, as designed. There will always be an element, or awareness, of SEO required in your processes, but you and Chris are correct - Google are not who you're battling against. Their rules encourage you to produce and engage, which, ideally, should have benefits extending father than just SEO, while also assisting them in providing the best service to their users.
Does the SEO community complicate those rules? I personally don't think so. Like anything, some are more reputable than others, and it also takes some time to test cause and effect for each change, so the answers aren't always available straight up.
Thanks for reading.