We're used to predicting that campus snowflakes, unable to tolerate exposure to ideas with which they do not already agree, will have to shape up once they graduate and join "the real world" by getting jobs. No more intellectual mollycoddling!
Not so fast, says Heather Mac Donald. Google's firing of dissident engineer James Damore is a warning that the campus is bringing its values to the work place and not, as we had hoped, vice versa. Mac Donald writes:
A conveyor belt of left-wing conformity runs from the academy into corporations and the government, so that today’s ivory-tower folly becomes tomorrow’s condition of employment. Google’s rationale for firing James Damore perfectly mimics academic victimology—the equation of politically incorrect speech with violence, the silencing of nonconforming views, the refusal to hear what a dissenting speaker is actually saying.
After attending a diversity training session, Mr. Damore wrote a 10-page memo titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” He observed that “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.” Among those traits are assertiveness, a drive for status, an orientation toward things rather than people, and a tolerance for stress. He acknowledged that many of the differences in distribution are small and overlap significantly between the sexes, so that one cannot assume on the basis of sex where any given individual falls on the psychological spectrum. Considerable research supports Mr. Damore’s claims regarding male and female career preferences and personality traits.
Mr. Damore affirmed his commitment to diversity and suggested ways to make software engineering more people-oriented. But he pointed out that several of Google’s practices for engineering diversity discriminated in favor of women and minorities. And he called for greater openness to ideas that challenge progressive dogma, especially the “science of human nature,” which shows that not all differences are “socially constructed or due to discrimination.”
. . . Mr. Damore’s fate was foreshadowed by the sacking of Harvard president Larry Summers in 2006. At a conference the previous year, Mr. Summers had hypothesized that the unequal distribution of the highest-level mathematical abilities may contribute to the sex disparity of science faculties. Numerous studies have confirmed that men predominate at the farthest reaches of math skills (high and low).
Mr. Summers’s carefully qualified speculation infamously provoked MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins to flee the room and tell reporters she “would’ve either blacked out or thrown up” had she stayed. Mr. Summers issued a groveling retraction and ponied up a cool $50 million for more gender-diversity initiatives, but his tenure as president was doomed.
In firing Damore, Google CEO Sundar Pichai asserted that because of Damore's memo many of the corporation's employees were "hurting and feel judged based on their gender." So much for joining the real world and growing up!
Interestingly, the campus-like atmosphere in the workplace may even extend to a refusal to invite speakers whose ideas aren't PC enough. A Google employee spoke to Mac Donald about speaking to the Google workforce about the police, but the idea was abandoned, with the would be host citing “personal/professional matters,” possibly an oblique eference to Mac Donald's criticism of Black Lives Matter.
This lack of diversity may be bad for corporate America, Mac Donald suggests:
America’s tech competitors in Asia are not yet infected by identity politics. The more resources U.S. companies spend on engineering diversity while competing firms base themselves on meritocracy, the more we blunt our scientific edge. Employees are thinking about leaving Google because of its totalitarian ideology, Mr. Damore said in an interview after his firing. While the prestige of elite companies may outweigh the burden of censorship for now, there may come a point when the calculus changes.
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent Alphabet Inc., told a June shareholder meeting that Google was founded on the principle of “science-based thinking.” It says a lot about the corporate world that it makes universities look like an open marketplace of ideas. Research into biological differences may be unwelcome in much of academia, but it proceeds on the margins nevertheless. In the country’s most powerful companies, however, it is enough to disparage a scientific finding as a “stereotype” to absolve the speaker from considering the question: But is it true?
Meanwhile, Damore had an essay in the weekend Wall Street Journal in which he said that he was fired because even though his effort to discuss differences between men and women was made in good faith, it could not be tolerated in the corporate "ideological echo chamber."
An interesting passage from Damore's essay:
Google is a particularly intense echo chamber because it is in the middle of Silicon Valley and is so life-encompassing as a place to work. With free food, internal meme boards and weekly companywide meetings, Google becomes a huge part of its employees’ lives. Some even live on campus. For many, including myself, working at Google is a major part of their identity, almost like a cult with its own leaders and saints, all believed to righteously uphold the sacred motto of “Don’t be evil.”
Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Noam Chomsky has broken out of academia!
Now his ideas seem to be gaining ascendency in "the real world."