An “ideological echo chamber.” That’s what former Google engineer James Damore said he confronted after he sent a memo to his bosses on the failures of diversity within the company. The decision caused an immediate uproar in Silicon Valley, as people began arguing over the merits of the memo and the firing.
The incident underscores a broader societal problem: if you say something that runs against the beliefs of the majority, you will pay with your professional career.
We no longer live in a society that celebrates differences of views or opinion; we attack those distinctions.
The Google Memo that started everything
The complete memo is ten pages long. Damore’s main points were:
- 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 percent representation of women in tech and leadership.
- Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive and bad for business.
Damore’s memo was submitted to Google’s internal message board for discussion of the company’s diversity hiring problem, an issue they’ve spent $265 million trying to fix.
As quickly as the memo went viral, news sites lied about it equally as fast. Most sites took the above points and presented Damore as a misogynist who claimed women didn’t belong at Google or in tech.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to employees that said that while most of the memo was acceptable, some of it violated internal policies. But as Conor Friedersdorf from The Atlantic noted, absent more explanation, the CEO’s letter implies a firing over political speech the company disliked.
Google’s firing follows a darker societal trend of targeting anyone with dissident views
The hyperbolic response to a ten-page memo meant to prompt internal company discussion is emblematic of a larger societal problem of squashing anyone who colors outside accepted lines. As Rich Lowry noted, this goes beyond mere disagreement:
The witless and inflamed reaction to his document instead underlines his point about “a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”
It is one thing to disagree with the memo; it is another thing to believe the views therein should be forbidden. Former Google engineer Yonatan Zunger says that if it were up to him, the author would be summarily fired and escorted from the building immediately by security (you can’t take a chance with such a danger). Entrepreneur Elissa Shevinsky believes that the memo could run afoul of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — i.e., it might be illegal.
As Michael Brendan Dougherty astutely points out, this is more akin to running against religious creed than it is a discussion. Put another way, Google branded Damore with a metaphorical Scarlet Letter because he dared speak against the accepted orthodoxy of progressive culture.
This problem isn’t limited to Google. Plenty of people have faced the wrath of the new mob enforcers. Numerous professionals have lost their careers or had their reputations tarnished.
Names like Justine Sacco, Colin Kaepernick, Tim Tebow and former Mozilla CEO Brenden Eich come to mind. The new rule in society is that you can’t step out of line, because if you do, you’ll pay for it with your public image and career.
The First Amendment is the law – but free speech can only survive in an open society
We live in a country that boasts some of the strongest free speech protections in the world. Our case law protects the rights of everyone from Nazis to Messianic Jews and everyone between.
However, if a culture decides that censorship is a celebrated virtue, then the law’s impact dwindles. At one point, people joked there were only seven words you couldn’t say in America. Now, there are entire topics that are banned from public discussion.
You can’t expect America to be a melting pot of ideas, people, and cultures if you systematically punish people for viewpoints with which you don’t agree. Banning ideas will only lead to a segregated society. Suppressed ideas don’t go away, they just go underground.
In censoring people and ideas, and punishing anyone who dissents, we are creating a confined cultural bubble – not an open or inclusive culture. What we’re witnessing is a forced segregation of people and ideas.
Google and other organizations issue statements claiming a desire for diversity of thought, but then ban anyone who disagrees. It’s like the old Soviet joke on free speech; a man is asked if the Soviets have free speech, and he answers:
In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., and yell, “Down with Reagan!” and you will not be punished. Equally, you can also stand in Red Square in Moscow and yell, “Down with Reagan!” and you will not be punished.
That’s modern America – you can loudly proclaim how much you hate the things the mob hates, you just can’t dissent. Had James Damore written a memo claiming Google was racist or sexist he’d be on the talk show circuit right now. This isn’t political correctness; it’s just censorship.