Google didn't "Create this popularity contest." Link popularity was a search concept before Google came along, and businesses were trolling for links before Google came along. If the publication of Page & Brin's academic paper about PageRank resulted in an increase in reciprocal or bought links, that isn't the fault of Page & Brin or of Google; it's the fault of greedy businesspeople and SEOs.
As for what Google's guidelines might mean, they boil down to two words: "Don't manipulate." Are there any Webmasters or SEOs here who really, honestly doesn't understand what Google means when it refers to the "spirit" of the Google Webmaster guidelines? If so, they can expect to hear Darwin knocking at their door soon. :-)