Google, Political Correctness, and Much Ado About Nothing.


A few thoughts on the Google controversy:

First, thank you Donald Trump for dialing it back long enough for me to turn my attention toward something else. It is nice to have a break.

An engineer at Google named James Damore circulated a controversial 3,300 word memorandum, decrying the hyper-liberal bias of Google and suggesting that women are less suited for advanced careers, particularly in software engineering, due to their biology. It sounds to me like he struck a few notes that are by definition "sexist." I want to put aside the details of his memo and look at the bigger picture for a moment. 

Had Damore published that memo on a personal blog prior to applying for a job with Google and been denied the job for no reason other than that publication, it would in principle be no different than relieving him of his duties solely for circulating the memo while employed by Google. Therefore, it is in principle no different than NFL teams refusing to hire Colin Kaepernick because they are afraid of the effects his presence will have on team morale and cohesion. It seems you may either agree that NFL teams and Google Executives are both within their rights or both are exceeding their rights, but not one without the other.

Google is being accused of "group think." This seems obvious. Yes, they are engaged in group think. They have invested millions of dollars in what their critics pejoratively call "group think," only they call it corporate culture. To be honest, I don't think they fired Damore because he thought these things. I think they fired him because he circulated those ideas in a memo, which threatened both the Google brand in the court of public opinion and the corporate culture they have cultivated over the years. Google's interests are first and foremost with their bottom line, not social issues. They are far more interested in protecting their brand and the culture of creativity and productivity that has made them one of the most successful companies on the planet. Perhaps, you don't believe their decision is in the interest of creativity and productivity--and you might be right--but the evidence rests with Google's success.

Furthermore, people talk about "group think" like it is a new phenomenon. I would remind them of religion, which issues the harsh punishments of heresy and excommunication for breaking from the mold of their group thought. In recent times you can look to the Southern Baptist Convention's handling of Russel Moore's criticism of Trump for an example of religious group think (as well as political), though it did not reach the severity of heresy and excommunication.

The world religions--for better or worse--are the most sophisticated examples of group think this planet has ever seen. Coming in a close second is political parties. Both overlap in another favorite target of group think accusations, universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton all began as institutions with loyalties to one denomination or another. Group think at our places of higher learning is hardly a new thing. Ralph Waldo Emerson was practically excommunicated from Harvard for 30+ years after giving a speech the Divinity School administration found distasteful in 1838. Yes, many of our institutions of higher learning exhibit similar biases toward politics now. I think it often gets blown out of proportion by adherents--student bodies rioting in protest of a disagreeable speaker--and conservatives who bemoan it as some new form of political correctness.

In my estimation political correctness is sometimes confused with just being a decent person. But there certainly are instances where it is taken too far. People should have the right to respectfully offer thoughtful criticism without fear of being labeled a bigot. Often this is an attempt to hide a particular position behind a taboo, an attempt to make it improper, for example, to question Islam. However, this is not new either. Religions have long since tried to hide their beliefs behind taboos, claiming for them a special class of ideation that is off limits. Skillful right-wing politicians like Ted Cruz try to hide their politics behind religious beliefs because in casual conversation the ban on questioning someone's religious convictions gives his politics extra shelf life. Similarly, left-wing politicians try to hide their politics behind certain social sensitivities. It is our job to sift through this garbage and figure out when "political correctness" is really a call to respectful of others rights, and when it is a political devise being used by politicos to advance their agenda.

It is not that I agree with either side of this debate. I think both sides often blow it out of the water. I am simply saying it is not a new phenomenon. In fact, I think if we look at it through the lens of human history we will find "group think" is probably getting a lot better than worse.

What do you think?

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