The ascent of Google employee James Damore to free speech martyr was inevitable.

The ascent of Google employee James Damore to free speech martyr was inevitable..

by Michelle Goldberg · August 8, 2017

The Googleplex in Menlo Park, California, on Nov. 4.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

James Damore, the Google employee fired for circulating an internal memo decrying the company’s gender diversity efforts, is well on his way to becoming a right-wing martyr. Julian Assange has offered him a job with WikiLeaks. The right-wing social media platform Gab has offered him a job as well. As of this writing, WeSearchr, the alt-right crowdfunding tool, has raised more than $8,000 for him. A National Review piece equates the hapless engineer with Martin Luther, saying he’s nailed 95 theses to the door of the “Church of PC.” Some people are tweeting the hashtag #JeSuisJamesDamore.

I groaned when I read that Damore had lost his job, as much as he probably deserved it, because this reaction was inevitable. There are few things the right loves more than basking in its own sense of victimization, especially when it can claim the mantle of free speech while doing so. Indeed, one of Steve Bannon’s great political innovations lay in realizing that the rage of atomized men who live online could be harnessed for political ends. As Bannon’s biographer, Joshua Green, writes in his best-selling Devil’s Bargain: “He envisioned a great fusion between the masses of alienated gamers, so powerful in the online world, and the right-wing outsiders drawn to Breitbart by its radical politics and fuck-you attitude.” Damore’s firing is the sort of thing that cements this squalid alliance. It’s a gift to the troll armies.

That’s true even though Damore’s firing doesn’t mean what the right says it does. As conservatives see it, Damore lost his job for a thought crime. He opposed Google’s “politically correct monoculture” and articulated, in a nonconfrontational way, what a lot of people probably believe: that at least some occupational gender differences are biologically based. “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,” Damore wrote, adding, “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.”

That sounds, if not right, then at least not unreasonable. “One could describe the tone of this memo as ‘cooperative,’ ” writes Michael Brendan Dougherty in the National Review. “The author doesn’t make any claims that he is victimized. He doesn’t accuse anyone in particular of being unqualified. But the response it received wasn’t argument, it was anathematization.” This isn’t quite true; Damore laments that the shaming of conservative views creates a “psychologically unsafe environment,” an ironic complaint from a critic of political correctness. But Dougherty is correct that Damore repeatedly nods to the value of diversity. He presents himself as an open-minded sort who is just trying to be helpful, though he seems to think that rational conversation begins with everyone accepting his premises. “Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems,” Damore writes.

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To his supporters, it appears as if Damore was fired for refusing to take the position that all gender differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination. “Silicon Valley has a very peculiar definition of diversity that requires proportional representation from every gender and race, all of whom must think exactly alike,” writes Elaine Ou in Bloomberg View. But this is a red herring. Damore wasn’t fired for harboring stereotyped views about women. He was fired for putting those views into a memo and disseminating it throughout the company in a way that calls his colleagues’ competence into question. Damore describes women as having more “[o]penness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.” Noting that women suffer, on average, more “neuroticism” than men, he suggests, “This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.” Damore has every right to believe this. He should have a right to express these beliefs outside work; there are countless online communities where men are welcome to discuss women’s inherent shortcomings at length. Whether Damore has a right to express his views about women internally, and then expect women to be willing to work with him, is another question.

This incident put Google in a difficult position. Fire Damore, and it seems to affirm his complaints about the company’s intolerance for conservative ideas. Keep him, and deal with the internal effects on morale, cohesion, and recruitment. As Yonatan Zunger, who until recently had a senior role at Google, wrote in an open letter to Damore, “Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them.”

Getting rid of Damore thus might have been the right thing for Google. But the fact that he will now be a reactionary culture hero is bad for the rest of us. He is a familiar type—one who postures as a brave truth-teller passing around sexism like samizdat. These men draw power from being censored. We flatter them when we treat them as dangers rather than fools.

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