It is not always easy to predict what will cause a scandal. When Harvard announced that “unofficial clubs” were banned, ostensibly killing freedom of association not only were the crickets silent, but they may as well have migrated to Australia.
But they showed up when James Damore got fired for his Google memo, and they chirped their summer cricket song as loudly as they could. Every publication, be it right-wing or left-wing, made a fuss—The National Review, The Weekly Standard, even CNN.
It makes sense why conservatives rallied: a fear-based culture arises when people are fired for expressing political opinions. Damond was not even fired for some bizarre view. He was fired for a mainstream opinion. And yes—that men and women are biologically and psychologically different in some ways is a mainstream view. The extent of the difference and how this should affect policy has been debated (for instance, state funding for same-sex classrooms), but the view remains mainstream,
Perhaps an even bigger issue: this is not some small startup. This is Google we are talking about. If Google is so left-leaning that it fires moderately conservative employees, then is it biased in other ways as well? Does it prioritize liberal views in its searches? Does it interfere with recommended content? This sort of manipulation would cause for astronomic concern.
For people concerned about the current political climate, Damond’s firing is bad. People already fear the PC police. If people keep losing jobs over their politics, nobody will say anything. If
But from a management perspective, his firing actually makes sense. an immense company headache. Maybe if his memo championed a more PC cause, he too would have been championed, not fired. And that would be a terrible double-standard indeed. But he did act unprofessionally and he did show bad judgment. If Damore had tried this stunt at a company known for its ruthless politicking, such as Goldman Sachs, he would have been fired instantly for his social clumsiness, if for nothing else, and nobody would have questioned that Goldman was in the right. Google, although it tries to play up a playful image, is no different in its level of professionalism.
As for the memo’s content: Damond made some good points—it may well be a pipe dream to reach 50% women in tech like he says (especially quickly), and if people aren’t allowed to say this without getting in trouble, that’s a toxic environment. His argument is simple: women are perfectly capable of performing in technical fields at the highest level. But even if we end bias against women, men are more likely to pursue high-status, high-paying careers (such as in tech or finance) over everything else. When a man’s entire social value is based on his wealth and competence, he is willing to forgo comfort, family, and life balance for pay and advancement. We see this in the rates of men in other professions: men form the bulk of the work force in dangerous professions like mining, because they are willing to risk their lives to earn the money to support their families. Meanwhile, highly gratifying, but low-paying professions like teaching are mostly women.
This idea alone is enough to shirk the idea that a company is only unbiased once it has reached 50% women. And Damore is correct when he says that if people are not allowed to talk about this, then Google cannot come up with the most effective diversity strategies.
He could have stopped there and made his point. But he kept going into the slippery territory of biological sex differences, a territory resembling the Everglades; the occasional specialist can navigate it with grace and style, but most people get chewed up by angry crocodiles. He repeats that he values diversity. I believe him when he says that he is not racist or sexist.
But still, he seems tone deaf and a bit too interested in biological differences. He cites social science without actually citing any social science, instead listing clichés—that women want empathy and cooperation more than results, that women are worse at handling stress. Some of this has backing in social science—but he cites none of it and leans too much on stereotypes and conventional wisdom.
His proposed solutions range from reasonable to downright insulting. He suggests Google make the workplace more “collaborative” to make it more attractive to women. This just sounds silly: tech is already very collaborative, and would this actually make women happier? He suggests that Google cut every single diversity initiative in place. This is insulting to his colleagues who have spent
Damond clearly did not have enough people read his memo and debate his points before sending it out. He addressed none of the reasons why Google started the initiatives in the first place (the strong suspicion that capable, interested women are discouraged from joining the industry). He clearly did not ask any women what vibe they got from it, or what changes they themselves would like to see at the company. This shows a . Not to mention, he suggested that current female and minority employees were held to a lower standard than the white men during hiring. So he created not just an external PR scandal, but an internal quandary impossible to solve: Now that he said this, how can managers assign women or minorities
To sum up: This is more nuanced than just a small guy
It is fine that conservatives are leaping to support this guy. This is not the first time that people supported a less-than-ideal victim for a greater cause. But it is disquieting that too often conservatives stay quiet on some enormous conservative issues, and then zealously defend small things that make them look racist and sexist.
Conservatives cannot speak up for Damond but stay quiet on police brutality. In the 2016 Republican National Convention, not a single word was said even as riots were breaking out, as if violence by the state against the individual is not a key conservative issue. Liberals have their sacred cows, and as Google proved, “diversity” is one of them. But conservatives have them too. When marijuana users are locked up en masse, conservatives are at church worshiping the sacred cops.
Conservatives—rally around Damore. Defend free speech and battle nonsensical diversity programs. But rally for everything else too. Because inconsistency is what makes us look racist, sexist, and generally uncompassionate. Principled conservatism means nothing without principles. Principles mean nothing without consistency.