The death of Socrates and the sacking of James Damore

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More people in the world today probably know who James Damore is than know who Socrates was. No problem – for there is a strong possibility that Damore may be the Socrates of our age. Just as the death of Socrates at the hands of the Athenian Democracy was the call back to truth for the civilization to which we still are holding on by our fingernails, the sacking of James Damore by the authorities at Google may be what will bring our civilization back to its senses again.

Western democracies – and the corporations which populate them – are in the grip of a lie. They are, year after year, making their way towards some oblivion in which truth no longer matters, where the foundations of science and philosophy, the work of great minds and inventors over millennia, are being torn asunder and replaced with dreamy emotion-generated ideology.

Socrates was put to death for corrupting the morals of young Athenians by an oligarchy whose moral sense had as much substance as that of the statues of the Gods they thought they worshipped. James Damore has been sent off into the desert to die by one of the greatest corporations on the planet. The culture which pervades that corporation, we can probably assume, pervades all the similar corporations for which Damore’s skills were a perfect fit and where he might have hoped to find employment. For calling out that culture and telling the truth which his scientific mind and expertise helped him to understand and explain, he will be no more welcomed by them than he was by Google.

The modern Athenian jury is still out on Damore. He has stated his case for the defence but the prosecutors of the New Morality of Political Correctness are still arguing their case. Public opinion is not smarter today than it was in the time of Socrates. Athenians two and a half millennia ago let the authorities there have their way with one of the greatest thinkers the world has ever seen. The culture of political correctness – which is at the heart of everything that Damore is questioning, and really all he has done is ask questions – has such a hold on our political institutions that nothing is certain about the outcome of this trial of truth.

Watch this space.

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James Damore
Damore has put his case and commented on the public response and misrepresentation he has had to suffer in the past week.

I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

Despite what the public response seems to have been, I’ve gotten many personal messages from fellow Googlers expressing their gratitude for bringing up these very important issues which they agree with but would never have the courage to say or defend because of our shaming culture and the possibility of being fired. This needs to change.

His summary of his analysis of the problem with Google is as follows:

 

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.

  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

  • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression

  • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression

  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

He concludes his memo with specific suggestions:

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

My concrete suggestions are to:

De-moralize diversity.

  • As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”

Stop alienating conservatives.

  • Viewpoint diversity is arguably the most important type of diversity and political orientation is one of the most fundamental and significant ways in which people view things differently.
  • In highly progressive environments, conservatives are a minority that feel like they need to stay in the closet to avoid open hostility. We should empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves.
  • Alienating conservatives is both non-inclusive and generally bad business because conservatives tend to be higher in conscientiousness, which is require for much of the drudgery and maintenance work characteristic of a mature company.

Confront Google’s biases.

  • I’ve mostly concentrated on how our biases cloud our thinking about diversity and inclusion, but our moral biases are farther reaching than that.
  • I would start by breaking down Googlegeist scores by political orientation and personality to give a fuller picture into how our biases are affecting our culture.

Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races.

  • These discriminatory practices are both unfair and divisive. Instead focus on some of the non-discriminatory practices I outlined.

Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs.

  • Discriminating just to increase the representation of women in tech is as misguided and biased as mandating increases for women’s representation in the homeless, work-related and violent deaths, prisons, and school dropouts.
  • There’s currently very little transparency into the extend of our diversity programs which keeps it immune to criticism from those outside its ideological echo chamber.
  • These programs are highly politicized which further alienates non-progressives.
  • I realize that some of our programs may be precautions against government accusations of discrimination, but that can easily backfire since they incentivize illegal discrimination.

Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity.

  • We should focus on psychological safety, which has shown positive effects and should (hopefully) not lead to unfair discrimination.
  • We need psychological safety and shared values to gain the benefits of diversity
  • Having representative viewpoints is important for those designing and testing our products, but the benefits are less clear for those more removed from UX.

De-emphasize empathy.

  • I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Prioritize intention.

  • Our focus on microaggressions and other unintentional transgressions increases our sensitivity, which is not universally positive: sensitivity increases both our tendency to take offense and our self censorship, leading to authoritarian policies. Speaking up without the fear of being harshly judged is central to psychological safety, but these practices can remove that safety by judging unintentional transgressions.
  • Microaggression training incorrectly and dangerously equates speech with violence and isn’t backed by evidence.

Be open about the science of human nature.

  • 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.

Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

  • We haven’t been able to measure any effect of our Unconscious Bias training and it has the potential for overcorrecting or backlash, especially if made mandatory.

  • Some of the suggested methods of the current training (v2.3) are likely useful, but the political bias of the presentation is clear from the factual inaccuracies and the examples shown.

  • Spend more time on the many other types of biases besides stereotypes. Stereotypes are much more accurate and responsive to new information than the training suggests (I’m not advocating for using stereotypes, I am just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what’s said in the training).

For this he was sacked.

Here is a fifty-minute interview with Damore by Dr Jordan B Peterson, himself a victim of the thought police in his own country. It reveals both the stupidity and injustice of what has happened as well as something of the character of the victim.

 

One thought on “The death of Socrates and the sacking of James Damore

  1. Pingback: James Damore – down but not out – Garvan Hill

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