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Friday, August 11, 2017

Witch-hunt hysteria at Google

James Damore at Google discovered an uncomfortable fact about human nature

G oogle revealed how far it has strayed from its original motto “Don't be evil” last week by firing James Damore, a young engineer with a background in systems biology. Damore had just attended one of those dreadful “diversity seminars” where the company tells its employees how wonderful it is by adhering to the sacred cows of diversity and feminism.

As any farmer will tell you, adhering to a cow, even a sacred one, isn't fun.

By coincidence I happened to be reading a book called Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), the witch-hunting manual used by the Church during the Inquisition, the week before. It's a great example of how people can justify almost any action, no matter how vicious, by relating it to some principle they hold sacred.

The Malleus was, of course, mostly about women, but men were just as guilty of heresy as women, and people of both sexes were burned at the stake, including philosopher and cosmologist Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600. A quick search on a good search engine like Bing will discover that Bruno said quite a few profound things:

There was in me, whatever I was able to do, that which no future century will deny to be mine, that which a victor could have for his own: Not to have feared to die, not to have yielded to any equal in firmness of nature, and to have preferred a courageous death to a noncombatant life.

The Divine Light is always in man, presenting itself to the senses and to the comprehension, but man rejects it.

Perchance you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it.

More quotes can be found here.

Now, James Damore is more of a naive kid than a philosopher. Maybe by abandoning religious feeling, we've lost something of our willingness to strive for magnificence. Whatever the reason, Damore, not understanding the hollowness and hypocrisy of today's corporations, took Google at their word when they claimed they valued the open expression of opinions. He wrote a memo pointing out to management how the company need not chastise itself for its IT staff being only 20% female: males tend to be more thing-oriented and females more people-oriented, so women self-select to people-oriented jobs.

He ended by saying he was “just pointing out the factual inaccuracy of what's said in the training.”

The memo is touching in its naiveté. Only a fanatic would consider it sexist. But it turned out that many at Google are fanatics. They not only fired him; his fellow Google employees started creating blacklists to target for excommunication anyone who might be sympathetic to him. One even suggested having little “trials” for anyone who might have an incorrect opinion.

Do I even need to say it?

Of course Google knows these indoctrination seminars are not imparting any truth. If they were, they wouldn't have to force people to attend. All universities and big corporations have them. Their purpose is to inoculate the organization from blame when the lawyers or the social justice fanatics decide to hold an inquisition.

But what is most striking is how the social justice fanatics and the Inquisitors use the same kind of self-justifying ideology. The Inquisitors believed that they were always right because God would never let them make a mistake. Today's inquisitors can't invoke God, but they use the same twisted logic: they redefine racism to convince minorities they can never be racist, and they define opposition to their ideas as hate and bigotry, thereby absolving themselves of any need to consider their merits.

The statement from the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, is a good example:

First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.

It seems that there is something in human nature that induces ideological xenophobia. It overrides our logic and our humanity. A passage in the Malleus talks about how the women cry and shed tears when they're told they're about to be executed for witchcraft. The tears are fake, say the authors: the witch is only trying to trick you into believing she's a human being.

Ideological xenophobia can express itself in religion, but it is not religion, and purging ourselves of religion has not abolished it. It is something more fundamental, perhaps an inevitable consequence of being social animals, or maybe part of our reptilian brain that responds to threats with fear and hatred. Until we find the cause, no matter how enlightened we may be, humans will continue to band together to cast out heretics.

When people think themselves as incapable of error, regardless of whether they use ideology or religion to justify it, they commit injustice. What makes them so dangerous is they are unable to recognize they're doing it.

aug 11, 2017; last edited aug 11, 2017, 7:44 am

See also

Book review
Malleus Maleficarum
by Jacob Sprenger and Henry Kramer

Translated by Montague Summers

The intellectual desert on the left
In the victimization Olympics, there is no way to win. Maybe not winning is the goal.

Adventures in diversity training
The smiley face of political indoctrination

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise
Name and address
book reviews