Opinion: Daily Journal

Don’t be evil? In ironic twist, Google steps all over its own motto

Last summer, Google fired a software engineer named James Damore for posting a controversial memo on an in-house message board. This week, Damore and another former Google employee filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and “all Google employees discriminated against …  due to their perceived conservative political views … their male gender … and/or their Caucasian race.”

The complaint, filed in the Superior Court of California, paints a vivid picture of life within the global internet giant. The more I read it, the more I found myself asking, “Do we really want these people determining what we see on the internet?”

Take, for example, the collection of posts from Google’s in-house message boards attached to the complaint as Exhibit B. Here are a few examples (out of hundreds along the same lines):

 “[L]egitimate world views” “Conservative Christian” … pairing those two phrases still sounds like an oxymoron to me.

 I personally believe that a majority of self-identified “Republicans” can be placed in the bucket of idiots.

 When the Republican Party talks about “freedom of speech” these days, what they mean is “freedom to dehumanize.” … I could have said “Republican,” “conservative,” “alt-right,” “neo-Nazi,” doesn’t matter. They’re all working together for the same goal.

We are beyond the point of opening dialogue to win hearts and minds we are at the point where the only way to change peoples (sic) minds is to make being a f**king nazi (sic) have consequences.

I’m in the mood to punch some Nazis.

I am 100% pro punching Nazis & sick of hearing it debated.

If you want to increase diversity at Google fire all bigoted white men.

Life is sweet for computer programmers. … But being a computer programmer is even sweeter if you have a d**k.

We’re done watching this invention called whiteness bury black people out of sight. Equal Rights + Equal Justice or we will restructure their function + ours.

I am considering creating a public-inside-google document of “people who make diversity difficult.” Please share here any suggestions.

Messages like these were part of what inspired Damore to write his memo, which is called, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion.” The memo, which is also attached to the complaint as Exhibit A, begins with the following summary:

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.

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.

The memo goes on to discuss each listed point in detail with links to supporting evidence. It is respectful and conciliatory throughout. The following excerpts are typical:

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices.

Only facts and reason can shed light on these biases, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. …

I’m not saying that all men differ from all women … or that these differences are “just.” 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. …

Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I’d be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations. …

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).

When Damore published the memo on an in-house message board, Google’s employees responded by subjecting him to a torrent of abuse and by demanding his termination. In a typical example, one fellow-employee said, “You’re a misogynist and a terrible human being. I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. F**k you.” When someone leaked the memo to the public, Google’s senior management joined in the attack. On Aug. 3, in a widely distributed email message, a Google director called Damore’s memo “repulsive” and “intellectually dishonest” and promised an HR investigation. Four days later, Damore was terminated for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” The manager who phoned to tell Damore he’d been fired said the decision was final and there would be no discussion.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that Damore was fired for posting such a polite and conciliatory memo on a message board that was otherwise teeming with angry, intolerant, and hateful messages. And that irony is compounded by the fact that Google’s collective response to the memo provided a dramatic corroboration of one of the points that Damore makes in the memo, i.e., “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”

Google’s tribalistic response to Damore’s plea for less tribalism isn’t the only ironic thing about this case. In addition to Damore’s suit, Google is also facing lawsuits brought by plaintiffs who claim that women and non-Asian minorities are underrepresented at Google because of bias in Google’s hiring and workplace practices. The irony arises because the data and analysis in Damore’s memo suggest that the sexual and racial disparities referred to in these lawsuits may be due, not to bias at Google, but to other factors over which Google has no control. That data and analysis could have provided Google with a powerful defense against the charges of sexual and racial discrimination. However, having publically described that data and analysis as “repulsive and intellectually dishonest,” and having fired Damore for discussing that data and analysis and thereby “perpetuating gender stereotypes,” Google has effectively foreclosed that line of defense.

Ever since its early days, Google has been boasting about its corporate motto — Don’t be evil — and about its commitment to innovative thinking and the free exchange of ideas, and, more recently, Google has attempted to demonstrate that commitment by encouraging its employees to post their thoughts and suggestions about corporate policy and corporate culture on in-house message boards. And yet, when James Damore did precisely that — by posting on one of those message boards a thoughtful and respectful memo in which he gently criticized certain aspects of Google’s corporate policy and corporate culture and offered constructive suggestions for their improvement — Google summarily fired him. That’s not just ironic; it’s downright evil.

Jon Guze is director of Legal Studies at the John Locke Foundation.