On Memos: A Memo About the Memos About the Google Memo

So there’s this Google Memo you might have heard about. As someone that has strong opinions on diversity and someone that has spent and still spends a lot of professional time in the tech sector, I have a point of view on this. Specifically, to get my bias out upfront, I think it’s an MRA-influenced garbage fire of toxic ideas and deeply shitty intentions. But MRA-influenced garbage fires aren’t new and I don’t have time to write blogs about all of them. What really gets under my skin and has spurred me to write this, are the think pieces that have come out of the woodwork defending the memo while patronizing and gaslighting anyone that’s disgusted by it. The Google Memo was written by one guy but now media outlets like the Atlantic, Washington Post, and CNN are now saying “hold on a second, maybe this fella has some good ideas.”

Nah. Fuck nah.

So, I’m responding not to the singular dude that started this but to the hot takes that have defended it. I’m going to do my best to split up my memo to those memos about the memo into discreet arguments I’ve seen or heard people make defending the MRA-influenced garbage fire.

Have you even read the whole thing?

Oh boy. So this is a pretty common tactic to dismiss people’s opinions about something on the internet. First it implies that no one could possibly object to the Google Memo if they just read it and let the Google Memo’s totally rational rationality and science wash over them. If you have read the whole thing, you probably read it wrong, right?

“Which insecure man baby though?”

Disclosure: I’ve read the Google Memo. I wish I hadn’t. It made me sad and irritable and I’ve ranted about it a lot to my friends and my wife. Somehow despite the very soul-shaking terror of impending nuclear annihilation from an insecure man-baby with a bad haircut, this still really upset me.

But there’s more to this argument than just insulting the intelligence of everyone that disagrees with you. There’s an implication that you somehow owe shitty people a chance to finish their shitty arguments and that’s not how it works. If a crazy person comes up to me and starts screaming crazy bullshit in my face, I’m not waiting for the crazy person to finish so I can have an informed conversation about the crazy bullshit. I’m going to walk away. When it’s clear that someone is full of crazy shit, it’s okay to say fuck that crazy shit and walk away especially if you’ve heard a lot of crazy shit and that crazy shit is demeaning and hurtful. The idea that anyone has an obligation to just sit tight and listen to anything is a notion better suited for abusive relationships than open dialogues.

So how about this: if the memo’s author wanted people to have an open mind and read the whole thing before criticizing it, he should not have loaded it with crazy bullshit that literally starts with the title of the memo; “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” That title, a thinly veiled dog whistle using familiar terms and language for anyone that’s had to endure right-wing bullshit, is a pretty clear indication of what’s going to follow. Right there at the title I could have stopped reading it. He could have titled it, “Ideas to Improve Diversity at Google” (because apparently that’s his ultimate goal, you guys) or “I’m Totally Not an MRA Racist (*wink, wink*)” and that might have worked better. So if some folks just saw that title and said, nah, fuck nah, I think that’s totally valid. But if we go deeper, the first line says “I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes.” Raise your hand if an argument that started with “I’m not a racist or sexist but…” ever went anywhere not awful. Again, this is dog whistle shit. He’s saying what MRAs and white nationalists and the whole contingent of privileged white dudes with opinions about people that are not privileged white dudes always say.

#NOTALLPRIVELEGEDWHITEDUDES

Again, you could be forgiven if you read that, had a bad feeling, and said nah, fuck nah and that’s valid. It doesn’t make you a snowflake or intolerant. It makes you a person that has enough self-respect to set appropriate boundaries and leave an argument when you feel you have had enough of it. And sometimes, you guys, that’s before the argument even gets fucking started.

I could go on, bit by bit through this memo and really highlight all the shitty places where a person might tap out that are ALL perfectly reasonable places to stop reading and draw a conclusion but I need to move on.

Pretty, pretty gaslight

Actually, it’s not a screed – he’s being quite reasonable.

This is the close relative of the argument above. I’m going to dive back into my college courses on reason and logical to reply to this shit. First and foremost this argument suggests that if the memo is reasonable than objections to it are probably not reasonable. This argument is a very thinly veiled attack on people that disagree. It also seeks to dehumanize a topic to make it about the validity of an argument structure rather than the validity of the argument itself. It’s argumentative misdirection. Instead of legitimately reviewing the merits of the memo author’s points, the conversation is reframed to make you discuss the style of the argument. The way this works is that once you agree (which you shouldn’t) that the argument is seems reasonable, you find yourself halfway to an MRA rally.

*cough* Insert Godwin’s Law here *cough*

It’s true that the memo author isn’t dropping F-bombs (that’s a polite way to say FUCK, you guys) and is generally delivering his point of view in a very formal and precise way using what seems like very well-considered college educated words but, and this might blow your mind, presentation <> reasonableness. A lot of really awful people with really awful ideas have presented them in a very polished way..

To determine overall reasonableness, I think we need to figure out what the author’s intention is with this memo and I’m going to jump ahead here but that intention seems to be to get Google to change or eliminate their current programs that encourage diversity. He has some other ideas but I think even people that think the Google Memo author should get a high five can agree that what he’s really going after. Is that reasonable? Some people might think so. They might think, as the memo author does, that the existing diversity programs are discriminatory or unnecessary or ill-considered in some way. But I don’t it’s reasonable. I think it’s shitty. Reasonableness is not a verifiable thing. It’s an opinion. STFU about reasonableness and just say your opinion on the argument.

Actually, the Memo is right because Science.

I’m just going to tackle this whole thing in one place: no, the Memo is not right. It’s an MRA-influenced garbage fire full of incredibly toxic, awful concepts. The worst of these concepts you’ve probably seen in the think pieces that have condemned the author but I am going to dig into them and comment a bit more here.

Quick side note: I’m not going to refute the sources of the Actually, Science arguments because I’m just one person and don’t that kind of time and also because I understand science well enough to know that science is not a record of FACTS set in stone, it’s a constantly evolving and dueling set of hypotheses. A lot of assholes that want to prove their Actually, Science bullshit are hiding behind a wall of links and organized data. This is a distraction. I don’t mean that research and knowledge is a distraction in and of itself but if you find yourself not arguing about the intrinsic wrongness of the assertion that women are biologically less able to code software but instead are passing sources back and forth, you’ve already lost.

The worst ideas come in the section of the memo that’s titled “Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech.” This is where the MRA-influenced garbage fire really starts to heat up. The first point about this section, and most of the Memo, is how it cleverly tries to shift the narrative to Actually, Science, you guys, as if invoking Science as a grand concept somehow makes the ideas less repugnant and more valid. Except science has been used to justify and explain all kinds of bullshit thinking so it’s important to establish upfront that just because you call it science A) doesn’t make it actually science and B) doesn’t make it right. I mean, look at that cat picture up there. LOOK AT IT. We’ve had wars against people that used “science” as evidence for the superiority/inferiority of certain people.

Did you know that Climate Change is a hoax? 100% of the scientists at Right-Wing Think Tank Science University of Des Moises, IA agree!

Where the memo author really starts making me want to yell at him is when he starts talking about biology. Really, there are fewer women in tech because of prenatal testosterone, he suggests. Women have a harder time learning Javascript and you would understand why if you studied  “evolutionary psychology.” Quick digression on evolutionary psychology – it sounds kind of innocuous and boring but it’s not. It is, at it’s core more of a philosophy or scientific approach that seeks to find evidence for its existing conclusions. It is inherently Right on the political spectrum. It’s also a buzzword for, you guessed it, MRAs.

Anyway, the memo author goes on and writes about women (on average, he’s real careful to clarify it’s not all women – actually, some of his best friends are women, you guys) and how they have (on average, seriously, he’s not a misogynist) lower tolerance for stress and higher anxiety than men. This, our author tells us, can be see anecdotally by reading women’s comments on internal systems. I guess, the possibility that a fucking bro was writing a manifesto about women being prone to anxiety because of Science might make women uncomfortable wasn’t considered another plausible explanation by our reasonable author or that men, on average according to studies I could probably find because there’s a niche study for most things, are less likely to communicate their emotional state in a constructive way?

There’s even a quote he offers from the Totally Definitive And Absolutely Settled Science (Probably Sourced from an MRA Reddit) about how even if there was “greater nation-level gender equity” a gender personality gap would widen because, Actually, Science. His quotes definitely sound like they came from somewhere that makes an effort to seem “reasonable.” I’ll give him that.

There was a book some of you might remember from the early 90s called the Bell Curve. It was really popular with a lot of the same folks that think this Memo is “reasonable.” It used “science” to demonstrate that some races are not as intelligent as others. It was bullshit too.

Oh, and because the author thinks it’s important to verify his Actually, Science by suggesting that the gender gap in tech must be biological, he says that the gap is universal across the world. It’s not. And it wasn’t always like that here. The gender gap is a cultural one and if you disagree you probably haven’t read both of those links and thousands of other studies that support it so you’re point of view is invalid. #ReasonableArgument

But again, all of this science talk is just parlor tricks. It gets us away from the truth: there aren’t more women or people of color in tech because there aren’t more women or people of color in tech. This isn’t an Ouraboros or paradox, it’s how society works. To get into a particular industry you need mentors and connections and peers. Even if you don’t get a leg up on an internship because your uncle works at the tech firm, you can ask your uncle advice on the interview. If you don’t have someone like that to talk to, you’re at a real disadvantage. If you don’t have peers you can’t ask them “hey, is this normal or fucked up?” or “how much money do you make a year?” These are typical conversations I can have and have had with my male peers in tech. Even if I can’t talk to my male peers in tech for advice or leverage their presence to get opportunities, they are still role-models. That NPR Planet Money piece I linked to up above that showed the presence of women dropping precipitously in technology can be directly correlated to how media and 20th Century culture determined that computer were “boy stuff” and presented almost exclusively male role models for tech in movies, TV, etc. If there were more women and POC in tech, they could be mentors, peers, and role-models. You know, just like the ones that help the Memo Author get where he is today. The Actually, Science stuff is just pompous bunk.

Ultimately, I’ve written coded for a living. This author, and unfortunately many others in tech that don’t agree with this author, make tech seem really, super hard. They make software coding seem like you can only do it if you’ve got a PhD and you’re in MENSA. That’s not really true. Coding is a lot more like learning a foreign language than it is doing algebra in your head all day like a math prodigy. Yes, it requires learning a lot of stuff but so do a lot of things. Nurses have to know what drugs will fucking kill you but that’s women’s work and coding Google Maps is real genius stuff, right? There’s a long history of our toxic male-dominated economy devaluing certain kinds of work that women do and deifying work that men do. This Memo Author wants to make it seem like his skills are so super duper rare and amazing (and I’m sure he’s a smart, competent bro) but he’s just not as special as he wants us to think he is. And when he sits down in front of his computer, his penis has no impact on whether or not he does his job properly.

But Diversity Programs Just Lower the Bar and Stuff – or – WHAT ABOUT THE QUALIFIED WHITE MALE CANDIDATES?!?!?

This is a straw man that needs to be thrown into that fucking garbage fire. There aren’t qualified competent men in tech that can’t get good jobs because of diversity programs. That’s a bed time story used to scare insecure bros. It seems to taken as a given by people that believe this is happening that companies, like Google, are choosing because a qualified white male candidate and a completely unqualified diversity candidate and because of the SJWs and Obama they have to choose the unqualified diversity one and the Christmas Party is going to get cancelled because Muslim. That’s the Affirmative Action bogeyman that conservatives have been leaning on for decades and it’s not real. It’s the brother-in-law of the Cadillac Welfare Queen. It’s an excuse for blatant racism and discrimination as an argument about protecting all the qualified white men that are being left out of it all. If a company has a diversity program or an Affirmative Action program it’s there not to hire unqualified candidates but to give opportunities to diverse candidates when they have reasonably equivalent skills and traits for the job. Does anyone really think that the world is full of companies that are so clueless that they will damage their profitability because of PC Culture? And if you think that have you considered that maybe you’re an idiot?

Yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of anecdotal stories about qualified white men that didn’t get the thing they wanted to get that one time but guess what? There are A FUCK TON more stories about women and POC being discriminated against for HUNDREDS of years in this country and also RIGHT NOW. Why is Chad McMayonnaise’s sad story the only one that rates? Sometimes systems don’t work and sometimes, even *GASP!* qualified white men do not get what they want every time. Life sometimes isn’t fair. You know women and POC know a lot about that and they could help counsel these disaffected qualified white men.

Back to the memo specifically there’s one bit that’s worth unpacking in detail. Under the author’s section on the harm of Google’s Biases there’s a bullet point that reads: “Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate.” This is the most egregiously offensive part of the whole memo to me and it plays into the BUT THE WHITE MEN argument. The Memo Author is implicitly suggesting that “diversity” candidates haven’t earned their place at Google like the white men have. This “lower the bar” language is super coded racist and sexist terminology that goes way back. The bar is a subjective and a moving one. Who decides what the bar is and where it should be set? Seems like right now the white men have claimed that bar and, shockingly, they meet it perfectly but diversity candidates would require it to be lowered. Maybe it was set to disproportionately benefit white men and that bar wasn’t even necessary or appropriate for the job at hand? Ultimately, THIS is the heart of the memo author’s argument. Diversity candidates have slipped into Google through the backdoor and they don’t deserve to be there.

In Conclusion.

There are a lot more of these bad takes out there but I’ll leave it with this: there is a clear political and cultural divide in the US right now. It’s between the people that think that all you need to do is grab onto your bootstraps and Ronald Reagan up into your cowboy saddle. People enamored with that American Dream of independence and grit and desert vistas and homesteading and self-made men. The confidence in that idea of American Exceptionalism is so unshakeable, so core to the identity of some people, that to suggest there is systemic inequality in our country and to propose means to solve for it that don’t involve everyone just teeth gritting and pledging allegiance to the flag is anathema. That’s one part of the divide. Everyone else is on the other side.

Throughout this blog post I’ve referenced the memo author but haven’t given his name. That’s partially because my arguments are more with the larger conversation around this memo than the memo itself. But it’s worth thinking about James Damore for a just a little bit. By all accounts he seems intelligent and well-educated. He grew up in a town called Romeoville that has a poverty rate of 1.9% (versus the national 14.3%). He went to one of the top 10 public schools for math and science in the nation. He was a chess master as a kid. He was a graduate student at Harvard. And, obviously, he landed a job at Google, a very competitive and desirable employer. What I’m wondering is when he pulled himself up by bootstraps exactly? Was it in his affluent hometown? Or his local top 10 math and science public school? Maybe he never really had to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Maybe James Damore was born above the bar he wrote about diversity candidates lowering.

Post-posting Edit: There’s a strong chance I will edit this blog post for typos and maybe even add addenda. Don’t freak out. Also, if you like this a great compliment is sharing it with your social networks. 

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