Let’s ponder a disturbing question: What if the crisis of free speech on college campuses, with their often extreme intolerance for conservative points of view, represents the high point for free expression in a student’s life? In other words, what if the “real world” is more repressive, more ignorant, and more punitive toward dissenting speech? What if entire corporations adopt the ideologies and norms of the most ruthless campus social-justice warriors, ruining careers and depriving employees of their livelihoods when those employees dissent from the dominant ideology?
In other words, what if the rest of corporate America starts acting like Google?
Yesterday former Google employee James Damore filed a class-action lawsuit against Google, alleging systematic race, gender, and political bias against white, male, and conservative employees. Damore, you may recall, was summarily terminated after writing a lengthy memorandum noting that disproportionate male representation in tech fields may be more the result of individual choice and innate differences between men and women than of invidious discrimination. He also suggested some non-discriminatory methods for increasing diversity at Google. Scientists argued about his conclusions — some agreed with Damore, others vigorously disagreed — but rather than engage with Damore, Google proved one of his points (that Google is hostile to dissenting views) by summarily terminating his employment.
Damore has now answered Google with a legal broadside, and it’s extraordinary. Most people don’t have time to read his entire 181-page complaint, but those who do will find a comprehensive argument that Google’s corporate culture encourages, sanctions, and facilitates an extraordinary amount of abuse against conservative white males. And he has the receipts. Much of the complaint consists of screen shots of internal Google communications and postings on internal Google message boards that would constitute strong evidence of hostile-environment race-and-gender harassment if the the races and genders were reversed.
For example, “Googlers” (that’s what employees call themselves, using Google’s silly corporate language) relentlessly enforce a so-called “Googley” culture where employees blacklist conservatives (blocking them from in-house communications), actually boo white-male hires, and openly discuss committing acts of violence against political opponents. The “punch a Nazi” debate is alive and well at Google, and the definition of “Nazi” is extraordinarily broad. In one posting, an employee proposes a “moratorium on hiring white cis heterosexual abled men who aren’t abuse survivors.” In another, an employee advertises a workshop on “healing from toxic whiteness.” Another post mocks “white fragility.” The examples go on and on, for page after page.
Damore also alleges (and again, provides screenshots of emails and other communications to support his claims) that managers actively attacked conservative employees, encouraged punitive actions against dissenters, and even awarded “peer bonuses” for speech attacking conservatives.
At the same time that Googlers crack down on standard conservative speech, mock white men, and deride whiteness, they exhibit a remarkable level of tolerance for unusual behavior. For example, Damore claims that “an employee who sexually identifies as a ‘yellow-scale wingless dragonkin’ and an ‘expansive ornate building’ presented a talk entitled ‘living as a plural being’ at an internal company event.”
It’s important to remember that Damore’s complaint represents his side of the story, and Google has yet to file a response, but the screenshots and images present a compelling prima facie case of racial and gender bias that would be intolerable and illegal in the vast majority of American jurisdictions, including under federal law. It’s important to remember that American civil-rights law is generally color-blind. In other words, it protects white employees every bit as much as it protects black employees, and conduct that would be unlawful if applied to African Americans or women is also unlawful if applied to whites or males.
Google is of course disproportionately male, but even disproportionately male organizations can commit unlawful acts of discrimination depending on the measures taken to diversify the workplace. Claiming a desire to diversify a workplace can’t justify, for example, hostile-environment harassment; nor can it justify explicitly discriminatory hiring and firing decisions in any given department.
In addition, California (unlike many states) provides a limited degree of protection against political discrimination. Damore cites California labor codes that prohibit employers from “controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees” and prohibiting employers from coercing or attempting to coerce “employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.”
I’m withholding judgment on the legal merits of Damore’s claim until I see Google’s response (the law should be broadly protective of employers’ rights to freedom of association), but the evidence he provides is damning indeed — and it’s not just damning because it raises legal concerns about Google’s behavior. The cultural implications are profound. For a generation the American public has been conditioned to think of Silicon Valley as a special place where American ingenuity is at its apex. Silicon Valley billionaires have enjoyed special status, and the men and women who work creating the apps and devices that have changed our nation are often seen as a breed apart, America’s best and brightest. They’re the lovable nerds who enrich all our lives.
Googlers may have special coding skills, but much of their discourse represents a special kind of pettiness, stupidity, and intolerance.
Well, the emperor has no clothes. Googlers may have special coding skills or may fit seamlessly in the company’s Googley culture, but it’s now plain that much of their discourse represents a special kind of pettiness, stupidity, and intolerance. It’s often fact-free, insulting, and narrow-minded. In other words, a Silicon Valley monoculture produces exactly the kind of discourse produced by monocultures everywhere. While there are certainly kind, courteous, and civil progressives at Google, the existence of the monoculture also enables the worst sorts of behavior.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t limited to Google. Talk to Americans in industries ranging from software to insurance and beyond, and you’ll hear tales of internal naming and shaming, and even social-media monitoring that privileges one side of the debate and considers conservative discourse inherently problematic. I have conservative friends in Nashville who agonize over their social-media posts while their progressive colleagues hold forth without fear. Conservatives are held to the highest standards of civility and reason while angry, threatening progressives are merely deemed to be full of “righteous indignation.”
This kind of culture doesn’t exist everywhere. There are countless thousands of work sites free of such bias. But to those who claim that campus social-justice warriors will be humbled when they encounter the “real world,” I give you Google. Sometimes social-justice warriors change the real world, and when they make it “Googley,” they often make it more intolerant and ignorant than the campuses they left behind.