Google has been a symbol of sorts for the American way. We can still innovate. We can still make a profit and call it good. A couple of bright guys can work hard and build a successful company. And you’re right: no admiring capitalist need care whether the founders are men or women. And you’re also right: any company can manage its people as it likes, although, as practically every worker has experienced, company’s leaders don’t always do so with integrity.
To see a symbolic company of Google’s caliber go down the PC path just depresses you, so you try not to think about where it has chosen to go. Everyone wants to work for Google. I wanted to work for Google about a year ago, on contract. It remained an attractive company even as it grew and grew. It continued to make money, too, which is more than other large companies, including Hewlett-Packard, can say.
Then the PC criticism started to set in. Why do you have so many male engineers? Why does your leadership have so many men? Where’s your fifty-fifty breakdown? Do you discriminate? If not, why those numbers? Do you want to set a good example, or not? If you want to set an example of gender equality, especially in the highly visible field of high tech, don’t you think you should get your gender balance in order? You should be ashamed.
Shame has become the weapon of choice for PC culture. If body shaming works so well for male pigs, let’s make the same principle work equally well as a counter-measure. If we can shame you, we can take away your own voice. Once we have done that, we can push you to do what we think you ought to do. We can even make you think what you ought to think. Persuasion is for intellectual wimps, for people who have more patience than we do. Social coercion, intimidation campaigns, and threats of exclusion work far faster. Numbers and muscle – don’t forget the muscle, both social and psychological – give us strength to make change. To use social coercion to your advantage, make people afraid of you, and of your power to ostracize.
That after all is a sure sign PC culture has taken hold. It overtly says, “You don’t belong here.” It relies on ostracism – what we call bullying now – and actively shuts down free speech. If that doesn’t work, and you live on a college campus or travel to the G20 summit, violence comes next on your list of tools. Google, in tune with PC culture for some time, did not need violence – or even intimidation – to bring it to its knees. From the start, the company seemed to agree that it ought to be ashamed of itself.
So when one of its employees writes thoughtfully about the effects of this destructive, illiberal process on company culture, what happens? The company’s leaders prove everything he says correct! I don’t know the details – perhaps they just didn’t like him, and they looked for a chance to send him out the door well before he published his memo. That’s not how it sounds, though. By their own words, they fired him because he wrote something they didn’t like. They even said he violated the company’s Code of Conduct, without saying how.
Damore’s critics said his words created a hostile work environment. I’ll say! He went from being an anonymous engineer to the most hated man in the country in about two minutes. His words did create a hostile work environment – for himself. That’s how the PC culture operates – through hostility. Only hostile people – in numbers – can effectively ostracize others. For ostracizers to claim that one person in a company of over 70,000 creates a hostile work environment for 69,999 other employees with one memo is absurd. One employee in a company that size? You can ignore him if you don’t care for his opinions or judgments.
Note that’s your own decision, your own response, not organized, public shaming. Don’t make a mistake: PC culture, as I’ve called it here, commits itself to public excoriation of people it does not like. It aims to shut them down, hard, to let people know that if you express certain ideas, you will experience social exclusion, and fast. James Damore was fired about two or three days after his memo became a thing on the internet. That’s pretty rapid retribution from a company you have served for several years.
These methods have had a long time to take root on campuses, but they have not started to spread their puritanical fog of oppressive social norms into business until more recently. Damore writes, in effect, “Let’s not let that happen here. Let’s not let a heterodox, thriving company come under a stifling monoculture that demands uniform thinking from all, and calls it diversity.” BAM!!! Let the hatchet fall. Cut the man’s legs off at the knees. Then send him out the door on his stumps. That’s how we treat people who violate the Code of Conduct. You thought you were part of an open community, but you were mistaken. So sorry.
PC culture – and more particularly resentment of it – partially explains why his Orangeness sits in the White House. Google shows how you can be fired from your job, not for poor performance, but for thought crimes. If you step outside orthodoxy in your thoughts, you also step outside social acceptability. If you think differently, we don’t want to associate with you anymore. We will make an example of you until you have nowhere to go.
Some might applaud the forthrightness of a leader – a college president or a company CEO – who in response to a coercive, threatening campaign would take one of these PC actions and honestly acknowledge, “You know what I’m doing here: I have to take this action because the I have to pay too high a price if I don’t. If social pressure forces you to buckle, then do it, because institutions have to focus on their core mission, not fight these extraneous battles. If we have to sacrifice our integrity a bit under social pressure, so be it.”
The problem is, the sacrifice is bigger than you think. You cast an employee overboard, and everyone else in the company sees it. Everyone outside the company sees it, too. Gradually you have a harder time attracting top talent. People start to think, why would I work for a company where an employee wants to start a discussion, and he’s not only swatted down, he’s fired?
Implicitly, by citing the company’s Code of Conduct, Google’s CEO likened Damore’s speech to hate speech, where hate speech has come to mean anything that could be offensive or outside the pale. That’s the evolution of speech suppression from campuses, after all. ‘We can’t have free speech if it expresses thought crimes, and we decide what’s acceptable. So our speech, where we hate Damore, is free speech. Damore’s free speech is hate speech.’
We’ve begun to think we cannot stem these insidious infections of doublethink at places like Reed, Middlebury, Berkeley, Wellesley, and elsewhere, but now they visit Google, an example of our country’s steady strength in business, and especially in technological innovation. The company built a good reputation on the West coast, and far beyond. Without a thought, the company’s leaders threw their good name away. Social coercion scores another win.
By Firing the Google Memo Author, the Company Confirms His Thesis:
The vast majority of the histrionic reactions on social media and elsewhere have misrepresented not only what the memo says but also its purpose.
Damore’s article above fits so well with my own comments, I decided to quote it in full below, if you would like to read it:
I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”
My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.”My firing neatly confirms that point.
How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?
We all have moral preferences and beliefs about how the world is and should be. Having these views challenged can be painful, so we tend to avoid people with differing values and to associate with those who share our values. This self-segregation has become much more potent in recent decades. We are more mobile and can sort ourselves into different communities; we wait longer to find and choose just the right mate; and we spend much of our time in a digital world personalized to fit our views.
Google is a particularly intense echo chamber because it is in the middle of Silicon Valley and is so life-encompassing as a place to work. With free food, internal meme boards and weekly companywide meetings, Google becomes a huge part of its employees’ lives. Some even live on campus. For many, including myself, working at Google is a major part of their identity,almost like a cult with its own leaders and saints, all believed to righteously uphold the sacred motto of “Don’t be evil.”
Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform.
In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment.
When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.
Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.
Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.
It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.