Michael Barone: Google’s ‘tolerance’ requires repression

Michael Barone: Google's 'tolerance' requires repression.

Would a fair society have exactly the same percentage of men and women, of whites and blacks and Hispanics and Asians, in every line of work and occupational category? If your answer is yes, and you think that any divergence from these percentages must necessarily result from oppression, then you qualify for a job at Google.

If not, forget about it.

In your own life, you may have observed that few occupational categories — certainly not that of Google engineers — have such gender and ethnic percentages. You probably guessed that this results in part from people with different characteristics tending to have different interests, talents, and goals.

But you’re not allowed to say that out loud, as Google engineer James Damore did last month in an internally circulated ten-page memorandum entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber. He cited the conclusions of neuroscientists and psychologists that measurable differences between male and female brain structure result in different behavior and preferences.

“The memo was fair and factually accurate,” writes Canadian neuroscientist Deborah Soh in the Toronto Globe & Mail. “Scientific studies have confirmed sex differences in the brain that lead to differences in our interests and behavior.” If you believe in evolution, it’s easy to see how it could make women more nurturing and interested in working with people and men more aggressive and interested in working with things. Which they tend to be.

Paradoxically, non-discriminatory societies may see wider differences. “Research has shown that cultures with greater gender equity have larger sex differences when it comes to job preferences,” Soh writes, “because in these societies, people are free to choose their occupations based on what they enjoy.”

That’s apparent in today’s medical profession. Fifty percent of medical students are women: equity. But as psychiatrist/blogger Scott Alexander points out, male and female M.D.s tend to choose different specialties: 75 percent of pediatric residents are women, 72 percent of radiology residents are men. Pediatricians work with people, radiologists work with things.

Damore’s memorandum became public August 6 when Gizmodo labeled it an “anti-diversity screed.” Similarly inaccurate and slanderous characterizations were published by the Washington Post, CNN, Time, The Atlantic, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, ABC News, Fox News, the BBC, NBC News, Fast Company, and Slate. “I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed,” wrote the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf.

Far from lamenting diversity, Damore called for letting it flower. He criticized Google’s diversity programs as counterproductive and suggested alternatives. But he doubted that the tradeoffs required to boost Google’s engineer employees from the current 20 percent women to 50 percent would be worth the cost to the business.

In other words, he rejected the dogma that a fair society must have gender equality and proportionate ethnic representation in every occupational group.

The punishment for heresy is of course excommunication. Damore was fired Monday.

“Part of building an open, inclusive environment,” said Google’s vice president “for diversity, integrity and governance,” “means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But” — key word — “that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies and anti-discrimination laws.”

Similarly, Google’s CEO said Tuesday, “We strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves. However” — key word — “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

George Orwell would recognize this doublespeak. We totally support free speech except when we call it heresy. Tolerance requires repression.

Ironically, for a company that makes money by transmitting information, Google’s position is intellectually incoherent. What its CEO dismisses as “harmful gender stereotypes” are the conclusions, after years of painstaking research, of serious neuroscientists.

And Google’s tacit endorsement of the quasi-religious dogma that a fair society must produce gender balance and proportionate ethnic representation is at war with both experience and logic.

Defenders of that dogma fear say rejecting it would justify gender and ethnic discrimination. But that’s exactly wrong. Just follow James Damore’s advice: “Treat people as individuals, not just as another member of their group.”

The dogma is needed to justify the elaborate apparatus of gender and racial quotas and preferences and the lavish campus and corporate diversity bureaucracies to enforce them and stamp out heresy. As a reliable transmitter of free thought, Google seems headed down the path toward the Spanish Inquisition.

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