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Why I Was Fired By Google, by James Damore

Special to the Wall Street Journal

I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.”My firing neatly confirms that point.

How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?

We all have moral preferences and beliefs about how the world is and should be. Having these views challenged can be painful, so we tend to avoid people with differing values and to associate with those who share our values. This self-segregation has become much more potent in recent decades. We are more mobile and can sort ourselves into different communities; we wait longer to find and choose just the right mate; and we spend much of our time in a digital world personalized to fit our views.

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.”

But echo chambers also have to guard against dissent and opposition. Whether it’s in our homes, online or in our workplaces, a consensus is maintained by shaming people into conformity or excommunicating them if they persist in violating taboos. Public shaming serves not only to display the virtue of those doing the shaming but also warns others that the same punishment awaits them if they don’t conform.

In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment.

When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.

Looked at superficially, people appear to function well enough in economic and social life; yet it would be dangerous to overlook the deep-seated unhappiness behind that comforting veneer. If life loses its meaning because it is not lived, man becomes desperate. People do not die quietly from physical starvation; they do not die quietly from psychic starvation either. If we look only at the economic needs as far as the “normal” person is concerned, if we do not see the unconscious suffering of the average automatized person, then we fail to see the danger that threatens our culture from its human basis: the readiness to accept any ideology and any leader, if only he promises excitement and offers a political structure and symbols which allegedly give meaning and order to an individual’s life. The despair of the human automaton is fertile soil for the political purposes of Fascism.

Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom

Artists cannot be trained. One does not become an artist by acquiring certain skills or techniques, though one can use any number of skills and techniques in artistic activity. The creative is found in anyone who is prepared for surprise. Such a person cannot go to school to be an artist, but can only go to school as an artist. Therefore, poets do not “fit” into society, not because a place is denied them but because they do not take their “places” seriously. They openly see its roles as theatrical, its styles as poses, its clothing as costume, its rules conventional, its crises arranged, its conflicts performed, and its metaphysics ideological.
—  James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

to the trans and gender non-conforming people of color who can’t or choose not to bind/pack/tuck:

you’re still 100% you, even if you don’t/aren’t able to outwardly present the way you feel. i know how hard it is to not be able to express your true self for your own safety, or to not have access to the things that would make you more comfortable. someday we’ll all be able to express who we are if we choose to do so.

just because you defy expectations of what a person of your gender “should” look like, doesn’t make your identity any less real. by no means do we have to look “as cis as possible” or follow white beauty standards. we are wonderful just the way we are, and no one can take that away from us.

It’s clearly a crisis of two things: of consciousness and conditioning. We have the technological power, the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, to feed the hungry, to end war; But we lack the intellectual vision, the ability to change our minds. We must de-condition ourselves from 10,000 years of bad behavior. And, it’s not easy.
—  Terence McKenna

Leah and I were chatting this morning about the differences between branches and denominations of Christianity. She was looking into some angel lore and expressed how, while she was glad to be a Protestant and more or less agreed with the values of the Reformation (and the need to be continuously reforming), there was richness in Catholicism and Orthodoxy that she wished she could be a part of too. I said that was my favorite part of identifying both with Catholicism’s deep traditions and ancient literature and tie to the Saints as well as with my brand of Protestantism’s “democratic” leanings and constant striving for improvement…

…and together a thought dawned on the two of us: that when we as Christians bemoan the existence of denominations (as opposed to one united Church) we too often lament the wrong things. We focus too much on the thought that these divergences mean that some Christians must be getting it wrong (whatever “it” is), and we try too hard to figure out which group is “Right.” 

The violence and prejudice that spring from our divisions should be lamented and confronted, absolutely. And there are some variants of Christianity that are not defendable – if homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of bigotry are intrinsic to a denomination (i.e., these things are so built in to its dogma that without them it would not be itself), then it is a denomination unworthy of the claim of following Christ.

But the diversity that the abundance of different denominations brings us might just be a gift. We have a God who delights in diversity! A God who challenges us always to think vaster, to think beyond what we’ve been taught, to seek truth in new and surprising forms. Denominations that emphasize different things and interpret things differently help to foster all that.

There are groups that preserve some of the most precious and most ancient aspects of Christianity as a whole. There are other groups that are keen to move forward to new ways of interpreting scripture and worshiping God and seeking Truth. Groups that seek to repair the damage past (and present) Christians have done. Groups that focus on the inner life of faith and others who emphasize community relationships.

We balance each other out and complement each other and I don’t think it’s a matter of figuring out which of us has things “Right.” We all do. None of us do.

Unity is not conformity. We are one Body with many parts, after all. Why can’t the Church rejoice in our diversity and learn to treasure what other branches preserve or attain, rather than supposing that God means for us all to think and worship and pray exactly the same way? 

This post is just some messy musings on this topic, but I’d love to hear what others think.