Google’s Leaked Memo doesn’t Matter

08.12.17
Google
Culture + Religion /12 Aug 2017
08.12.17

Google’s Leaked Memo doesn’t Matter

The latest debate centers around the release of a Google “manifesto” discussing diversity initiatives and the firing of the employee who wrote it. Those who are aware of the issue have probably already aligned themselves with one of the two camps which have become a recurrent theme in our current political discourse, Pro-freedom-of-speech vs. moral supporters of diversity (or any cause).

The original post was circulated within Google (leaked by Gizmodo). The text, which was published months ago and only gained notoriety upon being leaked, provides a relatively well structured, albeit incomplete, argument against “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” It criticizes Google for dogmatic thinking around diversity by pointing out generalizable and aggregate differences in gender when it comes to job and task preferences. Differences which the author believes are linked to natural/biological differences. The author uses this information to present the argument that strict diversity initiatives and quotas can end up hindering organizational performance and individualist meritocracy.

Looking at this text provides an interesting entry point into how incomplete and purposefully misleading analysis has created a wave of third way-ism. That is, arguments that try to provide a rational middle ground to two opposing ideas — in this case that diversity initiatives aren’t working because of their dogmatism, but we can make it work if we look at the “science backed” facts which have been selectively chosen and anecdotally presented to fit a given narrative and are then presented as an opportunity to pursue dialogue.

In putting together a text pointing at dogmatism, we are supposed to see an opening where discussion can now be had. This would be true if the text had any inquisitive or cross-partisan tones. Instead the text was its own, close-ended, dogmatic proposition. ‘By presenting the text in that way, any dialogue can only be had if the premise of the text was first accepted — “diversity initiatives are failing because they are inherently wrong,” an admission of guilt is expected before dialogue can begin.

This is how these things usually play out 1) a point of view and conclusion is presented on an assumed premise (women are inferior, refugees are a threat, Mexicans are rapists). 2) That premise and conclusion is expected to be provided an equal footing to other arguments. 3) When the premise is undermined (or is proven to have been undermined) stance is masked as having the intention of starting a “discussion” even if this is done through agitation — “free speech.” 4) Victimhood that this call to discussion hasn’t been heeded as proof of dogmatism.

This has played out in our current Google scenario where the right to freedom of speech has been assumed in a corporate context in order to get the full victimhood feel even though 1) corporations have a right to put limitations on what employees can say and do, especially when it comes to the corporation, both in and outside of work (you may want to check if your organization has a social media policy and you can still get fired for being gay or transgender in 28 states) and 2) employment-at-will is still the law of the land in the US.

To be surprised that this would happen in a corporation, where really any challenge to authority would be met with the same result, just goes to prove that those on the defensive side are only interested in having a conversation to the extent that it pertains to the text’s premise, not the remit of organizations on personal rights, or personal rights as a whole. Irrespectively, the writer’s martyrdom will now be taken as proof of dogmatic totalitarianism. The self-fulfilling prophecy is complete.

Moralism

On the other hand, those in the pro-diversity camp have rallied around the decision of Google to fire the employee. As a matter of fact, any organization that takes up some sort of morally principled position is excused of its totalitarian functioning (a functioning inherent to the profit making system of capitalism). We saw this when the travel ban came into effect where in a previous piece I have written that: “It seems that they [Anti-Trumpers] are willing to accept the endorsement of companies that have dodged taxes, used sweat shops, have questionable privacy policies, cause fluctuations in labour and rent markets, and have even been complicit in causing the biggest economic meltdown of our lifetime. This all goes without mentioning the fact that corporations depend on the public image to create revenue and therefore have it in their best interest to manipulate their image.”

This entrenchment on the side of an exploiter that will only support a social direction as long as it is beneficial to its bottom line at a given time, aka the business case, is scarcely representative of a thought out political stance and is also worthy of being attacked as dogmatic (although for reasons very different than the memo writer will have us believe). The dogmatism here lies in the largely US relevant historic context of affirmative action which has transformed into a moral barometer.

The now unemployed James Damore. (via Twitter)

Affirmative action, at its core, presents a utilitarian perspective of morality. That is, it presents a solution aimed at achieving the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. This is particularly true when taken in the context of the US’s dark history of race relations.

Affirmative action then is aimed to assign limited resources, access to university, jobs etc. in a way that best counteracts a previous historical narrative and distribute access to resources in a “fairer” capacity. It is worthy to note that this is beyond the traditional moral statement of “people should not be discriminated against on account of their sex/religion/race etc.”

Since the passing of affirmative action the moral norm has become to accept this form of discrimination, or “reverse discrimination” as some like to call it, for the greater good. This idea proliferated with the rise of feminism as well as the business-case evidence for all sort of diversity and has been pushed and promoted by corporations, business schools, and those who fight for social justice as real victories.

However, affirmative action has done very little for race and gender relations as a whole. One could even argue that affirmative action is to race relations what trickle-down economics is to poverty. An idea that allowing some segment of a society to get ahead will benefit all others, a notion disproved in both scenarios.

Nevertheless, this form of diversity and inclusion has cemented itself as a moral barometer with an infallible status. With this moral assumptions of infallibility those who advocate the hardest for social justice, those who claim that injustice is found at a systemic level, have somehow also become those most passionate of defending non-systemic interventions like affirmative action and diversity quotas that don’t provide systemic changes that tackle the source of inequality.

This reduces their stances to issues such as our Google scenario to defensive stances, one not grounded in a politically thought out pursuit of truth and opinions unaware of the historical development of “custom” reinforced by institutions informing us of what ‘good’ is.

Further proof of this dogmatism reveals itself when we look closer at the “business case” for diversity which, according to the Financial Times, is the general agreement that “Teams of mixed gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age and sexual orientation are more representative of customers. They offer a variety of viewpoints and a wider range of experience, which improves decision-making and problem-solving.”

(Google)

Pretty much this means that the only reason diversity is viable is because of the differences based on gender, ethnicity, etc. That is there is an implicit acknowledgment that these differences exist and it because of them and the representation of a greater group through the individual (employee/customer segment) that diversity provides a sensible business pursuit. That is, if these differences didn’t exist, there would be no need for greater inclusion or diversity on business teams.

It would appear then that the backlash is concerning why these differences exist as opposed to the fact that they do, and this would be because only a natural/biological explanation for these differences will undermine the premise for affirmative action, making its defense all the more morally necessary. However, it should be clear that should these differences disappear tomorrow, which is the ultimate aim of those on the nurture side of the debate, organizations will no longer have any interest in diversity beyond what is mandated by law.

Self-identification as law

What is peculiar about the Google case, and ones similar to it, is the speed in which individuals seek to self-identify, to make clear which side of the divide they stand on. This is indicative of the dissolution of the standard process of social meritocracy, i.e. the process in which a person’s idea is evaluated and refined in a social setting for its merit, has been replaced by the democratic ability to, with relatively low consequences and low barriers to entry (need for defence of an opinion) be proposed in a public and open setting.

Ironically it’s this break down in meritocracy that also empowers people with reactionary views (team free-speech) to believe that their opinions hold equal water to those tried and historically tested. This empowers the commoditization of opinion where moral alignment with a perceived social group takes precedence over forging personal formative opinions, entrenching both sides in dogmatic and irrelevant discourse.

This can further be understood when we take the view that industry has led to the breakdown of traditional interpretations of status and social merit. This is to the extent that self-validation is sought through moral categorization ‘virtue signaling’ in an attempt to forge some sort of social bonds to replace diluted ones.

The issue that isn’t

Having said all this, ultimately, the reasons why what happened at Google doesn’t matter is that it has very little real world implications beyond feeding our pseudo-intellectual and alarmist tendencies. A person lost a job, some people will feel shaken up, Google’s shares might drop, but eventually, all will return to status quo till the next event.

In the meantime, it’s important to remember the following:

Whether willfully or ignorantly, the original author’s presentation of his argument left no room for discussion and set them up for martyrdom, a martyrdom that will now be used to validate their initially questionable (at best) premise.

Standing behind or against Google’s decision to fire obfuscates the fact that corporations are tyrannical entities as a norm, not an exception. Corporations as tyrants is inherent to the capitalistic model. If anything, this should be an indication of how tyrannical even the most “progressive” organizations are. Fighting a battle on the grounds of industry limits the argument and the progress that we can make and encourages us to adopt short-term goals mistaking symbolic wins for actual ones.

The court of public opinion has taken an unprecedented scale empowered via social media and the spread of news. Ultimately, the fact remains that the simple proliferation of an idea and frequency of its presentation doesn’t make it any more right. Diversity, meritocracy, and capitalism are complex topics that deserve discussion away from commoditized moral allegiances. More importantly, they deserve discussion away from these episodic “gossip” bubbles that have no impact on the source of the issues we naively assume are being tackled.

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