The case of James Damore: defending the Google engineer who was fired over a ‘controversial memo’

Yesterday, news broke out that Google had fired their engineer James Damore for disseminating a memo which was meant to be an invitation for open and honest discussion on Google’s left bias. CEO Sundar Pichai said the engineer had violated Google’s code of conduct by ‘advancing harmful gender stereotypes’.

DasKapital calls Damore a ‘diversity hater’, and Metro News calls him ‘anti-women’. The Guardian calls the memo ‘sexist’ and shamelessly maintains that the memo argues for the “biological inferiority of his female colleagues, and how this made them less suitable for tech.”

Reading through the 10-page memo myself, I find the memo very reasonable and I stand behind it 100%. Like Damore, I believe that we should stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.

What is Damore arguing against?

Damore argues that “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

The several discriminatory practices that Google has instituted as a result of their left bias are:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race.
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates.
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias).
  • Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination.

In short, Damore argues that:

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression.
  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression.
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

What did Damore write about women?

Damore writes that women and men differ biologically and that this results in different personality traits, preferences they hold, and the career choices they make.

On biological differences

Damore writes that men and women differ biologically in many ways and that not all differences are socially constructed:

I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

On personality differences

Damore writes that women, on average, have more openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. This makes them have a stronger interest in people rather than things and explains in part why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.

In addition, women express their extraversion as gregariousness and agreeableness rather than assertiveness.

Women, on average, also have higher anxiety, and lower stress tolerance which makes high stress jobs less attractive to women.

Compared to men, women on average also look for more work-life balance.

Damore’s overall message

Damore explains his overall message as follows:

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

Again, I think this is extremely reasonable. Unfortunately, in a world driven by irrational and zealous egalitarians, those who use logic and reason are easily labeled bigots.

Reference

Damore, J. (2017). Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber

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11 thoughts on “The case of James Damore: defending the Google engineer who was fired over a ‘controversial memo’

  1. I’m not a libertarian nor do I generally impersonate one. But if I were a libertarian….

    “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

    So what? Google is a corporation. It’s not The Gummint. It’s a rent seeking organization with owners that can generally do what they damn well please. Since I’m a libertarian I subscribe to an ideology that tells me that if Google doesn’t optimize, market pressures will punish said owners and so on and so on…

    Google can have whatever corporate culture it likes. If it doesn’t want to employ obnoxious douchebags like James Damore it doesn’t have to….welcome to at-will employment Jimmy. Wouldn’t want to infringe on Google’s liberty.

    If Google’s politically correct culture is a bad thing then they will be forced to change it by the invisible hand…problem solved.

    • Counter. One can simultaneously think Google, as a private entity, is free to hire/fire as it wishes. In the same manner that a baker may not make cakes for homosexuals, a movie theater may have a woman’s only showing of Wonder woman etc etc.

      However that is independent of the argument that the market will punish taste based discrimination. In a perfectly competitive market we could still see discrimination of X group if a societal level taboo exists. Competition makes it so that no individual firm (or person) can discriminate (relatively!) more than others lest they lose economic (not accounting) profits. But we can still imagine a societal level taboo that serves as a floor mandating a certain level of discrimination against X group.

      Libertarians can therefore be worried that this event signals that we, as a society, are creating a taboo on X ideas.

      • “However that is independent of the argument that the market will punish taste based discrimination. In a perfectly competitive market we could still see discrimination of X group if a societal level taboo exists.”

        Yes but, as a libertarian-impersonator, I don’t care. The Gibson Cafe has the right to turn away blacks, who cares if it reinforces a cultural taboo. The Delacroix Bakery can refuse to bake cakes for Muslims, who cares if it reinforces a cultural taboo. The Amburgey Taxi service can refuse to transport lesbians……

        One of Brandon’s favorite studies show that libertarians are smarter than liberals or conservatives but so lacking in empathy they verge on being ’emotionally autistic’.

        http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0042366

        In order to give a tinker’s darn about undesirable societal level taboos I have to go back to being a progressive.

      • And to be clear: we’re all laughing at Professor Amburgey, not with him.

        Hey Dr A: why don’t you tell us all how your feelings trump the feelings of everyone to the Right of you? Just remember to shore up your point with insults and Leftist dog whistles…

    • I wonder how you would feel if Hobby Lobby fired people who didn’t believe in God? Or if they denied employment to people they found “immoral” like women with children out of wedlock or homosexuals? You see they think that someone having a different way of thinking is immoral. I can’t understand why you think James Damore is an ‘obnoxious douchebag”…in his interviews he is a soft spoken somewhat shy maybe socially awkward computer programmer. I think that type of characterization is completely uncalled for and obscures the true issue which is free speech and thought police.

  2. What your post does not take into account:
    His stupidity: He works for an org that he believes panders to the left, yet uses official machinery to air his unsubstantiated biological determinism against the perceived lefty bias. This is reckless. He had better ways of airing his grievances. He deserves to be penalized for putting the org in a sticky place.
    Market mechanism: Google may or may not be a bleeding heart but what it is a company with a bottom line to take care of. If Google sees its market position being threatened because of this fellow’s post, it has every right to take measures to ensure that it does not lose customers. This is simple economics.

    Your post wholeheartedly supports the biological deterministic claims but provides no proof whatsoever. Your defence of his rights is weakened by your agreement of his message on shaky claims.

    I don’t believe he should have been fired. I feel that he should have been compelled to air a public apology for using official tools to air his personal views. He should have pursued a company discussion in a way more suited to Google.

    Finally, what would have been your position if a woman had passed around a memo in this manner claiming that “violence is male” and thus companies should refrain from hiring males? Would you have supported her right to speech? Even if you would have, would you not ask her to back her claims with proof before agreeing with the premise?

  3. Well on your last point I hear this “patriarchy” “toxic masculinity” talk all the time so that type of speech is common and is accepted as nonsense by those who think about what those terms actually mean. Professionally I am a biochemist with a general interest in evolutionary psychology so I hate to inform you that what this engineer said is almost so well accepted in the scientific community that the argument (at least among those who actually study these types of phenomena) has been resolved 30 years ago. It is only those who still believe in the “blank slate” or what we refer to as social constructionist that hold onto those debunked claims.

    So what you want to say is that although the sexes diverged in metazoans 600 million years ago (divergent evolutionary history), they have genetic differences (Y vs X chromosomes), hormonal differences as a result, obvious anatomical differences (sexual organs and size/weight proportions) and methods of reproduction they are EXACTLY the same. You can believe that if you want but what this Google engineer was trying to due was say “look the sexes are different and we can’t expect women to behave like men if we want them to want to be at Google”. You are blinded by your ideology.

  4. I think you are misrepresenting scientific consensus. It is in no way settled. Refer to the elaborate refutation made by this scientist who is not merely interested but works in the field you claim expertise in.
    https://www.quora.com/What-do-scientists-think-about-the-biological-claims-made-in-the-anti-diversity-document-written-by-a-Google-employee-in-August-2017/answer/Suzanne-Sadedin?utm_content=bufferfa734&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

  5. Further, your personal anecdotal experience (I hear this talk all the time..) does not count as valid evidence. Second, nowhere did I claim that the two sexes are the same. My claim would be: there may be differences in the two sexes but those differences do not amount to quantitative credible differences in ability of both sexes to do the same tasks.
    Your obvious attempt at obfuscation has convinced me of the futility of debating with you, so do not expect anymore responses from me.

  6. The pamphlet seems to have two main arguments. For one, Damore makes a perfectly reasonable and sharp case for honest discussion within Google, Silicon Valley and, evidently, the technology industry in its entirety. His second argument, however, is often ill-informed and foolish, even Damore seems more precair in his language there. However insignificant differences between the sexes might be, I won’t argue that they’re not there, nor that your point is incorrect.What bothers me is that Damore’s second argument overshadows his first. The media, for example, has denounced the memo as ‘shocking’ whilst mentioning Damore’s fair-minded, sensible arguments only once or ignore them entirely.

    That’s a shame since his call for discussion and debate are fundamental – and seemingly overlooked – building blocks in any open workplace.

Please keep it civil

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