James Damore, the Google employee who wrote the viral Google manifesto, was fired yesterday for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” From the various reactions I’ve read, you would think Damore wrote the next iteration of Mein Kampf. Gizmodo labelled it an “anti-diversity screed.” Mashable called it a “racist/sexist manifesto” when reporting that the author’s identity had been revealed. Tweetstorms were fashionable, with one user even positing that Damore was saying “Your gender means that you’re biologically incapable of doing this job and should never have been hired.” A popular response by a Yonatan Zunger chided the author as causing “significant harm to people across this company,” and for being incorrect in everything — except Damore’s points on the male gender role being inflexible. Even the respectable Atlantic managed to pipe up with a “Googler’s Would-Be Manifesto Reveals Tech’s Rotten Core,” by an Ian Bogost. Another Mashable piece complained “the text of that Google employee’s manifesto is just like every other MRA rant,” with the writer of the piece strangely going on to say, “The biological arguments get into some weird assumptions around gender that are also offensive for reasons unrelated to the tech industry.”
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Weird assumptions, you say? The sciences of sex differences and their results on cognition and behavior are not the purview of a fringe group of men operating in bunkers to prove their sexist fantasies about subjugating women. They are established, respected fields. I’m not sure what I can say to convince those who have reacted so adversely to Damore’s claims about biological, developmental, and hormone related male and female differences in behavior and personality, except to try to marshal the relevant information — and hope that their ideological biases don’t impinge on their willingness to accept scientifically arrived at truths.
The reactions from hyperventilating journalists and bloggers has been akin to: “What Damore wrote goes against everything I know and my worldview. Which means… that he’s a sexist and racist.” Yonatan Zunger’s much read opinion is even undermined by his first point:
“… if anyone wishes to provide details as to how nearly every statement about gender in that entire document is actively incorrect, and flies directly in the face of all research done in the field for decades, they should go for it. But I am neither a biologist, a psychologist, nor a sociologist, so I’ll leave that to someone else.”
Well, here are the details, though I presume they won’t make Zunger and like-minded writers happy: Prenatal and pubertal organizational hormones have an effect on individual behavior with “good evidence that exposure to high levels of androgens during prenatal development results in masculinization of activity and occupational interests, sexual orientation, and some spatial abilities.” Girls exposed to high testosterone levels in the womb have more male-typical career interests. Men are more interested in things, women in people. Newborn male and female children, (scientists use newborns to rebut the objection that children are socialized to behave in certain patterns) show a distinction in what they find interesting. Male infants exhibit a stronger interest in the physical-mechanical-mobile while female infants show a stronger interest in the face (the proxy for “interest” here being the time of fixed gaze). Men and women in 55 different countries show clustered patterns in the big five personality traits — with women reporting higher levels of neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness than men do across most nations.
These sex differences are also seen in nonhuman primates in play and grooming, and object manipulation patterns also emerge in rhesus monkeys, with toy preference paralleling those of human children. Sex differences in mate preferences and status-seeking have also been studied heavily across cultures. To add to my position, here are the opinions of four scientists — agreeing with nearly every one of Damore’s claims.
Chart these findings onto Damore’s manifesto. Does it still seem sexist? It goes without saying: noting different patterns in male and female cognition says nothing about the moral distinction about equality or treating people as individuals — a point Damore makes himself. But the reactionaries don’t seem to understand this. Pointing out aggregate differences in population does not mean we can justify discrimination.
I’ll also note that the objectors in this instance are usually the types to say “we should trust scientists, they know best,” when it comes to issues like climate change, but when it comes to taboo topics like sex differences in behavior between men and women they are the first to plug their ears and cry out: “sexism, misogyny, biological determinism!”
I recently read The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker. One sentence, pertaining to the idea of social constructionism (everything is controlled by society, and only by changing society can we ameliorate the oppressed — the policies Damore wrote against to a degree), has stayed with me. It is especially relevant in reflecting on the response to the Google memo:
“This is the mentality of a cult, in which fantastical beliefs are flaunted as proof of one’s piety.”
The mentality in this case being the belief that men and women are equal in all traits, tendencies, and talents. When people say some (Western) feminists and considerable parts of the mainstream left are anti-science, this is what they mean. Why the cult reference? From Gloria Steinem and congresswoman Bella Abzug’s insistence in 1998 on the very idea of sex differences as “poppycock” and “anti-American crazy thinking,” this meme has carried itself into our discourse and saturated our milieu. There is a blank-slatist belief that only equal representation, 50/50, can cure discrimination.
And for challenging this idea, many pay the consequences.
James Damore lost his job. Evolutionary psychologists are often tarred as MRAs and sexists. Scientists wishing to study human nature and behavior have to contend with slurs of “Social Darwinist” and “Eugenicist.” Though Damore was even careful in couching his words when plying his claims, writing:
“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,”
“… many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions,“
from the retorts to his words, you’d think he called for mass scale exclusions from women in STEM. His writing was hardly an “anti-diversity screed” and “sexist, racist propaganda.” Never mind that he offered alternative policies, whatever their merits, to decreasing the gender gap in tech fields as well. How one arrives at the conclusions some commentators drew seriously baffles me.
Damore’s points about micro-aggressions are also true. Read this, by Scott O. Lilienfeld, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Emory College in Atlanta, who suggests a moratorium on micro-aggression policies by calling attention to the shaky foundations of micro-aggression theory. Where was it published? Not some right-wing blog, but on Aeon Essays.
Sex differences and their results are intensely politicized topics. Mainly because those who thwack keyboards for a living generate revenue by fomenting outrage. The simplest way to create that is to feign sexism and racism whenever possible. If I were barely keeping up with the headlines, and earnestly believed everything I was reading, I would be led to accept that Google was in the business of employing alt-right woman hating trolls. Also consider the moral implications that have been snuck into nearly every seething response to Damore’s document: You can’t agree with this memo, unless you’re some type of misogynist. Can you? You don’t believe it, unless you hate women and minorities, right? Are you aware of the harm you’re causing by believing and writing this? I don’t even doubt that surely, some reader, somewhere, is angrily thinking to themselves that this is just an angry MRA rant.
Before this uproar, I was somewhat skeptical about those who claimed that “social justice warriors” and their beliefs had infiltrated important institutions and voicing unpopular opinions could mean the end of your career. I am reconsidering. To know that an individual was released from his employment for stating verifiable facts confirmed by hundreds, if not thousands of studies about male and female sex differences is highly concerning. While it’s fair to have disagreements with the memo in terms of how to increase representation of minorities in tech fields or whether affirmative action is actually akin to discriminating against whites, the reactions have clearly passed the bounds of sanity, and, ironically, proven Damore’s point.
This flare up to the Google manifesto was needed in a way. It has uncovered a highly illiberal style — showing that the left can be just as vicious against scientific truths as the right is when it is their specific orthodoxy that is challenged.