At this point, there have been quite a few really thoughtful dissections of former Googler James Damore’s infamous memo. Some have explained why the hysteria surrounding it, as reflected in CNN’s twit and a few million feminist and ally rants. On the other side, it was pointed out by people who actually read the memo that it didn’t say what so many tried to reduce it to saying.
The obsession on one side was that Damore was “scientifically wrong” that women were biologically ill-suited to their jobs at Google. The obsession on the other was that the justification for women being given special treatment was that they were, indeed, different, and can’t have it both ways.
In the middle, the question of the accuracy of Damore’s memo was irrelevant. Putting aside that it was impossible to reduce the memo to a one-liner, which many did to argue their bias, as the memo was long and covered a great many ideas, including Damore’s embrace of gender diversity while he disagreed with the mechanisms to do so, so what?
Google’s express employment policy was to encourage free and open exchange of ideas, including politically unpopular ideas. So it fired Damore for doing so.
Google has been targeted for its lack of diversity for years, and the tech industry in general has gotten a deserved beating for sexual harassment of late. Among the things Google did in response was the hiring a VP for diversity. And a VP for diversity has to diverse.
On Saturday, Danielle Brown, Google’s recently appointed vice president of diversity, responded to Damore’s memo and the backlash it generated via an internal memo to employees. Brown unequivocally dismissed Damore’s arguments, noting, “Like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
Declaring that Google is “unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company,” she went on to assert that all employees with “alternative views, including different political views, [should] feel safe sharing their opinions.” “But,” she added, “that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
As Walter Olson explained, there is a regulatory regime that compels companies to take a defensive posture when exposed to claims of a hostile work environment. Invoke “harmful stereotype” and you’re guaranteed a Title VII violation. That explains why the Google Legal Department and Human Resources would go immediately to firing Damore for the shitstorm that followed.
One engineer reportedly wrote that the memo had caused “irreparable harm … to 1000s of Googlers,” and that “going forward, I cannot — and I will not — work with James Damore.” He went on to detail the ways in which he would not engage with or interact with Damore, his code, or his product development.
Others, like Marc Randazza, have noted that this doesn’t change attitudes, but pushes them underground where they fester.
The result of such a lynch-mob mentality fueled by intolerance for different points of view is twofold. First, it winnows out those who might disagree, making the cone of tolerance and ideological pluralism ever-more narrow. Second, it drives holders of minority viewpoints or people with differing ideas underground, and causes them to seek out and communicate only those who agree with them — which can push them to radicalization.
These results destroy our marketplace of ideas — replacing it with a melee of venom.
But regardless of these concerns, Damore had to go, a sacrifice to the mob.
I strongly suspect that more than a few Silicon Valley higher-ups agreed with the broad themes of Damore’s memo. But just as tech titans accept some censorship and oppression as the price of doing business in China, they accept performative progressivism as the price of having nice campuses in the most liberal state in the union and recruiting their employees from its most elite and liberal schools. And for questioning that political performance while defending the disproportionate maleness that makes it necessary, the Google memo-writer simply had to go.
It doesn’t matter whether Damore was right or wrong, tone deaf or boldly saying what others were thinking but lacked the guts to express. What matters is that James Damore was burned at the social justice stake for saying so. But why this matters beyond Google, beyond feminist shrieking, is of far broader, and nefarious, concern.
In response to the litany of political pariahs, like Charles Murray, being dismissed as “brain farts,” Judge Kopf offered a thought experiment:
Because the empirical evidence from 131 studies by a wide variety of criminologists is overwhelming that race is a statistically valid predictor of recidivism, albeit only one such predictor out of a total of 17 (race ranks 5th most predictive statistically), should a person like Dr James Oleson B.A., M.Phil., J.D. (Berkley), Ph.D. (University of Cambridge), a former Supreme Court Fellow, and former Chief Counsel to the then newly formed Criminal Law Policy Staff of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, be shouted down should he appear at a law school to talk about such things? More simply, should Dr. Oleson’s research be dismissed as a brain fart?
In criminal law, the ship is already under sail to shift to a new algorithmic port, where empirical outcomes will produce arrests, prosecutions, jailing, conviction, sentence and imprisonment, all based on the sanitary acceptance of computers predicting which human beings are expendable.
Are these valid? Can we sleep better at night knowing that the algorithms are sufficiently reliable that the prisons are filled with the bad dudes? As we want, and fear, better decisions than we, mere mortals, have proven ourselves capable of making, we rely on the efficacy of people like James Oleson to be right.
But the lesson of James Damore is that we’re allowed to fully and openly discuss the critical questions of our world, our technology, our differences, provided they conform to ideological imperatives. Or, to put it another way, we are free to say anything, provided it conforms to the demands of social justice. This is how technology will approach lives, and ruin them, and we will not only allow it to happen, but be afraid to question lest we suffer Damore’s demise.