At the center of the Google “memo” controversy is a question of fact: are women characteristically different from men? James Damore, the engineer who was fired for privately writing it (it was shared with confidants and then leaked), is on the side of scientific consensus. Google is in the other corner, forced to deny reality to indemnify itself against discrimination lawsuits. Both of these parties are probably on the same page when it comes to facts, but the company’s bottom line is, well, the bottom line.
The media was the third and most important faction in this fiasco, and it was the unwitting subject of an ideological Rorschach test. Damore showed them an inkblot of mainstream science, and activist-journalists told the world about the voices in their head speaking of sexist conspiracies. In contrast to Damore’s well-cited treatise, those in the media behaved like ideological fanatics: they picked a comforting conclusion before they had any facts and became angry when presented with contradicting evidence. And when people get angry, they lie to hurt the people they hate. Damore made it clear that the purpose of his essay was to help women get hired by retooling the Google diversity by playing to female strengths — but when has nuance ever calmed down a hyperventilating mob?
Damore handled the facts with a few layers of gloves, hedging uncomfortable truths to a mild conclusion. The Silicon Valley/tech journalism overculture still couldn’t abide him, and the unhinged reaction to his writing revealed that his conclusions were perhaps too modest. Besides a few ideological outcasts like Cathy Young and Debrah Soh, their position is uniform: intellectual curiosity and stress in the workplace are not compatible with women in the workplace.
The evidence seems to be piling up. Female Google employees stayed home from work following the leak because it caused them trauma — demonstrating Damore’s point that women are, in general, more prone to anxiety than men. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote an op-ed saying in no uncertain terms that hearing these facts caused her pain.
Those are the relatively tame reactions from inside the company. Media ideologues went further, doubling down on emotion with inverted reasoning: conclusions that make them uncomfortable are ruled out as being scientifically possible. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein at Slate went as far as saying that this incident proves that science is Actually Bad. “It’s 2017, and people are still debating whether or not women are intellectually inferior to men, and whether we are entitled to a workplace that isn’t toxic to people simply based on their gender and sex,” she opened the piece with, making it clear that she disagreed with the moral implications of science rather than the facts themselves.
The Guardian, on the other hand, didn’t even bother having an interesting argument about epistemology. Angela Saini straightforwardly lied by pretending that Damore’s science was “shoddy,” even though all of his points are uncontroversial among experts in the relevant fields. I run an opinion section of a news website myself, and part of my job is to check if writers have their facts wrong. I can’t understand how such unambiguous falsehoods made it past an editor.
Damore, again, didn’t draft a right-wing “screed” like red-faced activist-journalists would have you believe. His goals were left-wing (or at least liberal) in nature. But the rocking-back-and-forth-in-the-fetal-position response only indicates that the former Harvard PhD student’s conclusions were too charitable. Do a great number of women not understand that playing pretend doesn’t belong in an office setting?
Since “women’s liberation,” many of the fairer sex view a career as something that exists for personal fulfillment. Women, in general, have only experience post-industrial employment, where the ends of labor are easily obscured by its non-essential characteristics, such as it being “exciting.” Workplace environments, by that assumption, are supposed to be comfort-and-fulfillment centers that can’t abide anxiety-inducing behavior. But they’re not. This was never the teleology of labor. This was never the male view of employment. Workplaces exist to maximize shareholder profit, not to make anyone’s dreams come true. Employees agree to maximize profit so that they and their families can survive and thrive. The normal cost of being in a workplace is therefore following the standards of cooperation that are instrumental of maximizing profit. Exclusion is the normal penalty to pay for not fitting into a machine whose purpose is increasing returns. Accommodating delicate sensibilities doesn’t fit anywhere in this calculus.
Varied expressions of trust and team camaraderie — even jarring ones like swearing, intra-team competitiveness, blunt talk, raised voices and dick jokes — existed before the mass employment of women, and they almost certainly maximize outcomes. The Darwinism of the market selected for a workplace that is structured for largely male sensibilities. If the two genders are fungible like the ruling ideology tells us they are, then women should be able to participate indistinguishably from men. They should be able to be intellectually curious in the way that James Damore is and understand the importance of seeing that reality doesn’t always fit into any given worldview. But science — and the lunatic reaction to believing in science that we’ve seen — tells us that sensibilities like these will never be equally distributed between genders. But remember the science that Damore cited: these are just aggregates. There’s plenty of overlap in traits, as demonstrated by the male tech journalists who were the loudest voices in this insane chorus.
As long as we let the press play its cringe-inducing game of pretend, perfectly explainable sex ratio imbalances will be painted as a moral emergency. More and more of the social product will be wasted on the world’s biggest snipe hunt, where credulous head-scratching becomes mandatory in the search for solutions to non-existent problems.