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Fear and Loathing at the Googleplex
The author of the google memo is wrong, but many of his detractors are wronger
So, a google employee named James Damore posted a 'manifesto' round the office. It got leaked, and he got fired. I've read the manifesto, (hereafter the googlememo) and I disagree with it on some major points (more on that below). However, I think it's a well argued and respectfully put. I've seen people denouncing the writing, but they've been of the 'humanities snob' crowd that would rather he'd posted in Latin. I'm sure they will have just as much derision for this blogpost. In fact, the googlememo is one of the least offensive things I've read. This blogpost will be more offensive (humanities scholars have likely already added me to their shitlist).
However, this blogpost isn't really about the memo. It's about the reaction that has done so much to confirm Mr Damore's accusations, a reaction by media and online individuals that has been dishonest, short-sighted and utterly self interested. I'm not going to say it was 'well meaning' as so many have, because frankly I don't think it was. This reaction illustrates what the modern left has become: a rich person's weapon dedicated to destroying the social framework of rights that people struggled generations to put in place. 'Social Justice' is a lie, as anyone who has been paying attention will see that it's always justice for the few, and never for you. For people who actually care about a fair society for all, it's time to walk away. The left is the enemy of the people now.
The memo itself seems to me to be mostly concerned with the toxic working environment at google. 'social justice' always creates racist, sexist environments, claiming it will improve 'diversity'. I've had personal experience of this, as have an ever growing number of others. Social Justice seems designed to radicalize whites, men, and especially white men. It's played a large part in the rise of the alt-right, as I predicted some years ago. I think Mr Damore has been somewhat radicalized, causing him to accept arguments against 'diversity' that are not as strong as he thinks they are. Furthermore the social justice madness is not 'diversity'. Diversity is a goal, social justice promises to deliver it, they are two different things. Diversity then, can be good, while 'social justice' ideology can be bad. If the crops are dying in the fields, then getting them healthy again is good. However, if my proposed solution is 'burn more witches' then that's bad. The goal is good, the method evil, and the method doesn't deliver the goal. However, a bad method can sometimes give the goal a bad name, and I think this is the case with Mr Damore. Seeing things getting worse around him, he's grabbed onto arguments that aren't as strong, or as well aimed, and he thinks.
I'll note one thing here. This whole thing might be a bit of self promotion exercise by Mr Damore. It's certainly brought him massive media attention, and who knows that may have been the intent. I'm not claiming Mr Damore is any kind of saint or martyr. These days few people are. But his motivations are irrelevant to the questions at stake here.
The gist of Mr Damore's memo is not, as others may have told you, that women are no good at tech, or that they are inferior, or whatever. If you read the memo you will see these are lies intended to discredit Mr Damore. His argument is that women are under-represented in computer science because, essentially, most of them don't like it. They prefer to do other things. Men, he argues, are more 'thing' oriented and like to tinker with stuff. Women are more 'people' oriented, and like to be involved in careers that allow them to indulge that interest. Thus, he argues, we should not expect to see a 50/50 split of men and women in tech, and we're not helping the situation by blaming men for 'keeping' women out of tech.
Let me say that I've had a long term interest in getting girls/women into STEM, ever since I tried to persuade girls I knew at school to get a computer back in the 80s. Now I'm far less interested in it, because the situation has gotten worse and worse since the 80s and I think it's hopeless. It's hopeless because next to no-one is really interested in improving the situation, least of all the social-justice warriors. The problem is in the schools and universities, with less than 20% of computer science degrees going to women. This means google's gender divide, which is about 20/80, is about as good as it's going to get. It's a supply problem that needs to be fixed in school, and we've known this for as long as I can remember. But no-one seems to care. The social justice warriors want to attack their Goldstien, white men, and for that they require claiming that the problem is sexism in the workplace. There is sexism in the workplace, there is also sexism in other industries where women are better represented. But sexism in the workplace is not the cause of the problem, because the missing women are missing before they get to the workplace. But SJWs don't care about that, because they're not really concerned about women in STEM. They're about hating white men. Similarly a lot of people on the 'other side' believe that the causes of this disparity are 'natural' and don't pursue the matter any further (I number Mr Damore among these, though not with any particular ill will or judgement, we all have our blindspots).
So, Mr Damore makes the argument:
On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren't just socially constructed because: They're universal across human cultures They often have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males The underlying traits are highly heritable They're exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective
But which differences are we talking here? Because only certain differences are going to be relevant to the issues the memo discusses. Making the airy statement that "men and women are different" is all very well, but if I were to say "And that's why women can't read" or "that's why they can't learn a foreign language", you'd object that this isn't proved from the statement that "they're different". Now, I know the writer of the googlememo isn't saying that women "can't code" or anything like that (though many, who clearly haven't read the memo, are claiming he did). The point I'm trying to make is that we ease into the argument with some statements that seem unobjectionable, but which are somewhat fuzzy.
Let's pick on a specific point, that "These differences are ... universal across human cultures." Well we don't yet know which differences we're talking about. Anyone would surely agree that not all differences between men and women are universal across human cultures. Furthermore we are being told that women's underrepresentation in tech, specifically computer science, is universal across human cultures because it's caused by biological differences that are universal. But we know this isn't true. The percentage of women gaining computer science degrees in India is far higher than in the USA. Furthermore, it's not constant over time, let alone cultures, the percentage of women in computer science has been *declining* for years.
Even if we concentrate on one culture, the USA, things don't add up the way Mr Damore thinks. He makes the argument that men are more 'thing' oriented, and women more 'people' oriented on average. This may very well be true, but that doesn't mean it explains the lack of women in compsci in the USA. 40% of mathematics degrees go to women, against 19% of computer science. (Figures from here: https://nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsb20161/#/data). But how is mathematics any more 'people' oriented than computer science?
Indeed, what kind of differences between men and women would so devastate computer science, but have so little effect on mathematics? Or let's compare it with linguistics, another course with a lot of 'technical' theoretical content. in 2013 the US grated 1492 linguistics degrees to women, but only 692 to men. It granted 9297 mathematics degrees to women, and 12929 to men. Computer science came in at 9209 degrees to women, and 42377 degrees to men. Biology is another subject that's female dominated, yet even human biology is not people oriented, because it reduces people to things. Human biology is little concerned with our mental states and interactions, far more concerned with our bio-mechanical workings.
Now, I will note here that no-one is arguing that we should boost men's study of linguistics or biology, and one is inclined to wonder why not? However, if computer science isn't like maths, and it isn't like linguistics, what is it like? And what is the difference between men and women that doesn't impact maths, and impacts linguistics heavily against men, but which impacts computer science so heavily against women?
I feel there's a strong case of "correlation is causation" here. It is, for instance, observed that women are more "people" oriented, and that they are underrepresented in computer science, but this does not prove any link, as women are well represented in maths and biology, which are not "people" oriented. To be honest I think this discredits a lot of Mr Damore's argument about why women are underrepresented in computer science.
So let's take a few moments to discredit the argument of his detractors too. The consistent claim has been that 'men in the workplace' or 'workplace culture' are keeping women out of computer science jobs. However, if only 19% of computer science degrees are women, then the problem lies not in the workplace, but in schools. There is sexism in many computer science workplaces, unfortunately there is sexism most everywhere, in every career. There will be a lot of sexism in banks, where women are better represented than in IT companies. So clearly workplace sexism is not the causal factor here. However, I've been making this case for decades now, while the feminist left has made the case that it's those nasty men in tech, and has achieved exactly nothing. I predict it will continue to push this line and achieve nothing for decades to come. Eventually people will see this as proof that the feminists are wrong and the "women can't do tech" crowd were right, and we'll be done. Women in compsci is thus a lost cause.
Which brings me to the real issue here, the issue of free speech. I say it's the 'real' issue because it's the one on which there is still some hope, though the new left wishes to destroy this like everything else. We see that the majority of the memo concerns an authoritarian anti-free-speech environment at google. No sane person can deny this is true. He was fired for saying it, that's proof. Furthermore we see that it's not just google, it extends very far outside our society. The media has whipped up highly mis-representative hysterical witch-hunt of the type that, by now, we are surely all familiar with. Social media has been full of the usual deranged leftist hysteria. We've seen all the tactics of the dishonest left: redefinition of terms (e.g. claims that speech is violence), declarations that this isn't a free speech issue because it's not covered by the first amendment, and the 'me, me, me, me' argument that "I feel unsafe, thus you must be silenced".
Anyway, the core argument behind all this is the suppression of speech they disagree with. This is a pattern we've seen again and again. When the leftist speaks, his or her speech must be protected, when anyone deigns to disagree with them, that person must be fired or otherwise silenced. We see this in the firings of people like Marius Roodt, who trolled the South African edition of the Huffington Post with a fake article. We see it in the attempts to no platform people as diverse of Richard Dawkins, Maryam Namazi or Milo Yiana... Yianopop... Yeeairn... That guy who used to be 'Nero' on twitter. As I write this someone is DDoS-ing Quillette magazine, knocking it off the net. It's crime? Printing an article in support of Damore.
So, let's dispense with some of these arguments. A particularly conniving one is the claim that "this is not a 1st amendment issue". This falsely equates ones rights with the law. Firstly, I'm British, and so not covered by the 1st amendment, but I have a right to free speech. The right to free speech is not a matter of legislation, it is not something that the government gives or removes. If my government passes a law tomorrow that declares I may not speak, or may not associate with other people, or that I should be forced to work as a slave, I have not lost my rights. People everywhere have rights, but oppressive regimes choose not to honor them. The Declaration of Independence does not say "these are the rights the law is going to allow" it says "we hold these rights to be self evident", meaning they exist independent of the particular legislation of a particular country. We do not say that, for instance, those who died in the holocaust had no right to live because the Nazi state declared they had no such right. Indeed, the "it's not a 1st amendment issue" leftist is demonstrating that he doesn't believe in the right to free speech at all. The 1st amendment only protects you from government passing laws that suppress your speech. Thus the "1st amendment" leftist is affirming his support for any non government group to suppress your voice by any means they can get away with. Of course, this means the government can suppress your voice by simply outsourcing to paid agitators or mobs to intimidate you into silence. This would clearly infringe your rights, but most modern leftists don't seem to believe in rights any more, only in 'privilege' that must be removed. However we all know that they are not honest or consistent in this, because when the political pendulum swings, as it is doing, and people on the left find themselves getting fired, they will be screaming to high heaven about their entitlement to the very rights they deny others.
Another argument advanced is that this is purely a workspace issue. It's very strange to see people who claim to be leftists arguing that companies have the right to treat employees as they like. Remember when we had a real left, and unions? I've even seen leftists arguing from the principle of 'corporate personhood', as though banks and arms manufacturers had been welcomed into the intersectional sisterhood. But many people who've been fired, like Marius Roodt for instance, were fired for things said and done on their own time, not in the business environment. The claim that it's a google internal issue is a false one, we all know google wouldn't have fired him without the media shitstorm that demanded his head. Furthermore we know that opinions contrary to Mr Damores will be allowed to be expressed at google, so this is a company imposing it's political views on it's workers. This might even be acceptable if it was a rule applied to all, so that if IBM decided it would fire people for expressing feminist viewpoints, we would all say "that's IBMs right". But you and I know that's not the way it works. Few on the left will support arguments from corporate personhood or company rights when it's one of their own in the crosshairs. This hypocrisy is no better than that of the alt-right, who have used the same tactics of getting people fired when it suits their agenda.
Finally there is the 'I feel unsafe, you must do as I say' argument. I find this latter one particularly pernicious because it's one of the most blatant cases of hypocrisy by both the new left and the new right. Most of them never care when they are the ones making people feel unsafe. Indeed, I spent much time the last decade warning the social justice left that hey were making white people feel unsafe. They said "why does that matter, we don't care?" Now we have Trump, Brexit and neo-nazis on the rise due to their radicalization of whites. One might say there's some justice in it, that they bought this on themselves. Only, of course, that's the real kicker here, they are usually rich whites who will not be hit by the lightning they are calling down.
Anyways, I too can assert that any number of things make me feel unsafe (spiders, large groups of people, those nazi checkout machines in Sainsbury's that are always screaming "Unexpected item in bagging area!" at you). However it's not society's problem if those things make me feel unsafe and I cannot ask society to eradicate them. The law does cover outright threats or incitement to murder as things it should suppress, but a differing opinion respectfully put is not something that should make you feel unsafe, and if it does, that's your problem. The far right is in the habit of declaring that Muslims or trans people make them feel unsafe, and they are on the rise. If we demolish the principles that our society stands on, then society will have nothing to resist this coming wave with.
All of this reveals a big problem with the modern political left: they have no ability to make an argument. I've seen few, if any, people making the case against Damore's opinion as I've attempted here. The modern left scores a fail on reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. They have essentially become theologians, only able to view the world through complex theories of patriarchy or white supremacy, and many of them do not even understand the words they use. They've never analyzed the consequences of their own arguments, most of them haven't assembled them themselves, having taken them mostly on faith from others. (The evolutionary psychology crowd also suffer from this. Show them graph of gender difference averages and they'll bow down in worship before it, never bothering to ask why subjects like biology or maths don't line up with the argument the graph is being used to make).
The reason the new left wants dissenting voices silenced is that they can't debate them, they don't have the skillsets to do that. Thus they demand dissenting voices be removed, because they've got no case to make against them. This is a failure of the education systems of the western world. They also lack imagination, as few of them seem able to see that the very arguments they use to silence others will be used to silence them tomorrow. But this is largely because they think "the future belongs to me", and that the taste of power that the new media has brought them will last forever. But this is what the old left thought prior to the 70s, that the march of socialism was written into the dynamic of history, so there was nothing to worry about. If you created new weapons today, it would always be your hand on the trigger. Then the 80s happened and that old left was wiped from the face of the Earth. Admittedly, this is not a uniquely left-wing viewpoint, many on the authoritarian right who demand extensive government surveillance powers, never seem to consider how such powers could be used against them if an extreme left-wing government ever took office.
The left is going to need to appeal to the protections of free speech sooner than it thinks, for the tide is turning against them. The left's crazy wing is alienating way too many people, and it's opponents are hoovering up this lost support. The left is going to face serious challenges going forwards, from people like Damore who provide evidence to back up the things they are saying. Screaming that these people should not be allowed to speak, or should be fired for their opinion, will increasingly lead the populace to conclude that the left has no good arguments to back its positions up, and thus that its detractors are right. Unless leftists return to the principles of free speech and open debate and make their case with good arguments they will find the future listening to other voices than theirs.