On Monday, senior software engineer James Damore was fired from Google after a memo criticizing the company’s “ideological echo chamber” that he posted internally became public this weekend. This story has created a great deal of controversy and has been badly misrepresented by many media outlets.
Here are five things to know about James Damore’s “manifesto.”
1. Blasting open the “ideological echo chamber.”
Contrary to many reports, Damore’s manifesto actually championed diversity — but he mostly focused on ideological diversity, in addition to sexual diversity. He accused Google of having a close-minded culture that “shames into silence” opposing views, creating “an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.”
Damore’s document is worth reading in its entirety, but his central call is for ideological diversity — for open dialogue between conflicting viewpoints. He presented the biases of the Left (compassion for the weak, disparities are due to injustice, humans are cooperative, change is good) and those of the Right (respect for authority, disparities are natural, humans are competitive, change is dangerous), and explained that both sides need the other.
Google — and the culture of political correctness in general — emphasizes the Left biases over the Right, until they no longer seem like biases, Damore warned. “We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values.”
The former software engineer pointed out the Right’s biases against evolution and climate change (since these theories allegedly run counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy), and the Left’s biases in denying biological differences between men and women. While climate scientists and evolutionary biologists tend not to be on the Right, “the overwhelming majority of humanities and social sciences lean left (about 95%),” he argued.
This imbalance “creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap,” Damore wrote. “Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.”
Damore’s manifesto focused on how this ideological slant blinds Google on the issue of why women aren’t more represented in STEM fields. “Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression,” he explained. “As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of ‘grass being greener on the other side’; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is being spent to water only one side of the lawn.”
Damore argued that women tend to focus more on empathy, work-life balance, and cooperation, while men focus more on leadership, things they can control, and competition.
“The same forces that lead men into high pay/ high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths,” he argued. This is because “status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail.”
Contrary to “intersectionality” theory, there are many reasons that can explain the gender imbalance in programming, without resorting to the alleged oppression of the dreaded “Patriarchy.”
2. Media mischaracterization.
Despite Damore’s constant calls throughout the document for more intellectual (and sexual) diversity, not less, his memo was blasted as an “anti-diversity screed” throughout the media. The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf compiled a helpful list of examples:
That is how Gizmodo characterized the now infamous internal memo when publishing it Saturday. Similar language was used in headlines at Fox News, CNN, ABC News, the BBC, NBC News, Time, Slate, Engadget, The Huffington Post, PBS, Fast Company, and beyond (including a fleeting appearance in a headline here at The Atlantic).
As Friedersdorf rightly noted, the memo is not “anti-diversity,” by any means. In fact, Damore’s manifesto explicitly championed diversity of many different kinds.
Indeed, in an interview with YouTube personality Stefan Molyneux, the software engineer explained that his memo was inspired by a “diversity program at Google” that was “not recorded, totally secretive.”
Damore recalled, “I heard things that I definitely disagreed with in some of our programs. I had some discussions there. There was lots of just shaming and, ‘No you can’t say that — that’s sexist,’ and ‘You can’t do this.’ There’s just so much hypocrisy in the things they are saying. I decided to create the document to clarify my thoughts.”
Perhaps for this reason, the document insists on the high value of diversity.
“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” the memo opened. “When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at the population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.”
Ouch. Remember, Damore was fired for this, suggesting an “honest discussion” may indeed be impossible.
As Friedersdorf noted, the memo presented many different means to address “the problem,” but also suggested that the necessary tradeoffs to make sure the staff becomes 50 percent male and 50 percent female may not be worth it overall.
Indeed, Damore presented concrete solutions for Google to “increase women’s representation in tech and without resorting to discrimination.” Such ideas included making software engineering “more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration,” and changes to “allow those exhibiting cooperative behavior to thrive.”
“Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women,” the software engineer wrote. “For each of these changes, we need principled reasons for why it helps Google; that is, we should be optimizing for Google—with Google’s diversity being a component of that.”
3. Google’s response.
On Monday, Damore announced that he had been fired from Google. Many Google executives had criticized the memo over the weekend, and but Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent out a memo to employees explaining the situation Tuesday night.
“First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it,” Pichai began.
Nevertheless, the CEO insisted that “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in the workplace.”
“Our job is to build great products for suers that make a difference in their lives.” He argued that “to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK. It is contrary to our basic values and our Code of Conduct, which expects ‘each Googler to do their utmost to create a workplace culture that is free of harassment, intimidation, bias and unlawful discrimination.'”
“Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove that they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive,’ showing a ‘lower stress tolerance,’ or being ‘neurotic,'” Pichai wrote.
Indeed, the CEO understated his case. In one part of the memo, Damore wrote that “the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g. IQ and sex differences).” This passage seems to suggest that women have lower IQs than men, something even most conservatives would contest, even if they agreed with the generic character dispositions Damore suggests for men and women.
While Pichai acknowledged that some women “are hurting and feel judged based on their gender,” he also admitted that other co-workers “are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace. They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK.”
The CEO insisted that “any points raised in the memo—such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all—are important topics.”
On a personal note, Pichai said that he cut his family vacation (after work travel to Africa and Europe) short in order to return to the office and address the memo.
This approach seemed rather balanced, but besides the bit about IQs (which could be interpreted differently), Damore’s memo was clear that stereotypes are not all-inclusive. He insisted that the generalizations he made about men and women do not apply to all, and that it is unfair to any individual to boil them down to their demographic group.
Damore would be the first to acknowledge that he did not intend to make any women feel uncomfortable about their work ethic or ability to work in STEM fields.
4. Women played hooky on Monday.
It seems that women at Google did indeed take Damore’s memo personally. Kelly Ellis, a software engineer who used to work at Google, told NPR that some women at the company stayed home on Monday specifically because the memo made them “uncomfortable going back to work.”
Ironically, this seemed to back up Damore’s basic point. The memo suggested that “women on average are more cooperative” and “more prone to anxiety,” and that this often involves a search “for more work-life balance while men have a higher drive for status on average.”
What could demonstrate these arguments more clearly than women staying home (focusing on life over work and accepting a cut in status) in solidarity with other women (more cooperative) and feeling “uncomfortable” going back to work (more prone to anxiety)?
Meanwhile, the men did not reportedly refuse to go in to work on Monday, even though many of them likely were disturbed to see a memo questioning their progressive worldview.
Furthermore, NPR’s reporting on the subject (and the general bias of the media, as discussed above) suggested that the women at Google were victims, demonstrating Damore’s point that society tends to be more protective of women.
“In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females,” the memo argued. “As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more cooperative and agreeable than men.”
Woah! He called men “biologically disposable! Where’s the outrage? Where are the men at Google going into work every day worrying about proving themselves not “disposable”?
This undercuts two major attacks against Damore’s memo: one, that it promotes unfair stereotypes; and two, that it is sexist against women. If anything, Damore’s memo seems to suggest that women are wiser than men, in opting for more of a work-life balance and in making themselves more valuable through cooperation. Furthermore, the memo also makes it painstakingly clear that Damore is not generalizing about all men and all women.
5. Legal action.
Late Tuesday night, news broke that Damore had fired a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Business Insider reported. While the NRLB website did not list Damore’s name in the complaint, it did list Paul Hastings LLP as the law firm representing Google.
A Paul Hastings representative confirmed that the firm was representing Google in the Damore case. The actual filing is not yet available online, so the exact substance of the complaint remains unclear.
Nevertheless, the NLRB site listed the general classification for the type of allegation — “Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.).”
The filing is not a complete surprise, as Demore had told Reuters and The New York Times on Monday night that he planned to file an NLRB complaint accusing Google’s management of trying to silence him.
This will be a key free speech case to follow in the coming months.
Click “Load More” to see Damore’s interview with Molyneux.