August 11, 2017

THE GOOGLE ARCHIPELAGO: In an article at the Weekly Standard that was likely written before Google’s meltdown this week headlined, “You Can’t Say That,” a review of the recent book The Demon in Democracy , Matthew B. Crawford asks, “Has liberalism taken a Soviet turn?”

Through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the new millennium, the phrase “politically correct” would crop up here and there. Among people who were credited as being sophisticated, use of the term would be met with a certain exasperation: It was needling and stale. The phrase had been picked up by the likes of College Republicans and Fox News, and if you had an ear for intellectual class distinctions you avoided it.

Originally a witticism, the term suggested there was something Soviet-like in the policing of liberal opinion. When it first came into wide circulation, was it anything but humorous hyperbole? Is that still the case today?

A sociologist might point to a decline in social trust over the past few decades—they have ways of measuring this—and speculate about its bearing on political speech. One wonders: Who am I talking to? How will my utterances be received? What sort of allegiances are in play here? In the absence of trust, it becomes necessary to send explicit signals. We become fastidious in speech and observe gestures of affirmation and condemnation that would be unnecessary among friends.

It’s a great review, and well worth your time to read the whole thing. Crawford’s question, “Has liberalism taken a Soviet turn?”, dovetails remarkably well with this week’s events. In the article by James D. Miller that Glenn linked to on Wednesday titled “Get ready for the ‘tech alt-right’ to gain influence in Silicon Valley,” Miller wrote:

It will be poisonous if the tech right feels compelled to not only hide their beliefs but also to actively pretend to believe in progressive diversity values. This pretending will embitter them, probably pushing many to the more radical alt-right.

It will prevent the left and right from getting meaningful feedback on their belief. Plus, if progressives never talked with people on the right, they wouldn’t get to learn that most of us do not fit their stereotypes of being sexist monsters.

When SJWs in Silicon Valley realize that their ideological enemies are hiding, they might actively search them out. They might become suspicious of the guy who was the first to stop clapping when a new diversity initiative was announced. Even worse, SWJs in human resources might become reluctant to hire those with characteristics correlated with conservatism, such as past military service.

That line about SJWs becoming suspicious about “the guy who was the first to stop clapping when a new diversity initiative was announced” is Straight Outta the Kremlin, comrade. In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of the fate of the man who stopped clapping first:

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). … For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation, continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop? … After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first! And in the obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly – but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?

* * * * * * * *

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!

The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”

And the world’s biggest search engine is well on its way to becoming The Google Archipelago. In an article Orwellianly titled “Internal Messages Show Some Googlers Supported Fired Engineer’s Manifesto” (heaven Lenin forefend — root out the hoarders and wreckers!) in Wired, which began as a libertarian-leaning publication before being purchased by the lefties at Condé Nast, the writer quotes from an anonymous Google employee. “‘Let’s take a step back,’ the Googler wrote, ‘and look at what is actually making everyone in Google upset on this thread and in general since the start of the 2016 election season.’ He went on to describe how the apparent uniformity of thought at Google led people like Damore to feel ‘like they are being forcibly dragged into [sic] ideological indoctrination chamber,’” including these passages that sound like mash notes smuggled out of the Ministry of Truth:

Weekly public (though thankfully anonymous) shaming of employees for misdeeds as slight as anachronistic use of “guys” for a mixed gender group

Frequent references to documents that stigmatize open disagreement with a a rage [sic] of positions

Call for employees to give each other hugs at an all hands meeting because the wrong candidate won a presidential election in the country, following by a mass mailing on how to help your kids deal with grief due to the same occurrence

In a piece at the Federalist titled “No One Expects The Google Inquisition, But It’s Coming,” Robert Tracinski spots another Stalin-esque element to be found in the above article at Wired:

In the new Internet version [of commercial advertising], we know these big companies are gathering specific personal information about our habits and preferences, far more than anyone has ever done, but we accept it because we think they’re just going to use it to sell us stuff, which might sometimes be annoying but isn’t ominous. But if we think there is a wider purpose, if we think they’re going to use our information for social engineering or political manipulation—will that break the bargain?

In this regard, the most important part of the story is those photographed screenshots intended to out Googlers who agreed with Damore. Why were they photographs of a computer screen rather than actual screenshots grabbed by the computer itself, which would have had much better resolution? I suspect it’s because this would leave evidence behind on work computers, so the leakers might get caught. This implies the leakers know what they’re doing is against internal Google rules—just as leaking Damore’s original memo to the media was against internal Google rules.

I don’t want to get into the debates we see around the Trump administration about which is worse: what we found out about our leaders because of the leaks, or the fact that so much information is being leaked. What’s relevant here is that Google now faces a pattern in which its employees are taking internal information and leaking it to the media, against the company’s own rules and safeguards, in order to achieve political objectives. If the wider public starts to figure out that this is happening, they just might decide this is not a company they want to trust with their information or access to their lives.

And they would be wise to do so. At the conclusion of a post today on the hypocrisy of Google firing Damore over his memo but making billions off of gender-based data-mining and targeted advertising code, Rod Dreher links to this scene from the 2006 film on the East German Stasi, The Lives of Others:

Dreher’s captions the clip, “A scene from the Google cafeteria.” He’s likely not all that far off.