The Google Memo

I thought I’d wait a while to comment on the, now infamous, memo “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” until I had a chance to read the actual document (which is here) and to find out a bit more of the background and see Damore himself discuss it.

Here are just a few random thoughts:

I think Google should have a legal right to fire him for this, or almost anything, but I think less of them for having done so.  I understand that there are legal and public relations reasons for firing him, but it shows that Google doesn’t actually support open discussion and criticism as much as it would like us to think.  Ironically, its actions demonstrate that the criticism of it as an “ideological echo chamber” was largely correct.

I doubt that whether or not Google takes the memo’s criticisms seriously will have much of an effect on the quality of their employees or products (in the near-term, at least).  Google has enough money, and enough qualified applicants, that they can afford to be a little inefficient and irrational in their hiring practices and cultural intolerance.  But, I suspect, that they could also afford to be a bit more loyal to their open-society ideals and weather the storm of criticism.  That would have been much better for the world; but I don’t really expect much idealism and moral courage from an institution of Google’s size. Even if the memo was wrong in all of its particulars (and I don’t think that’s true) it wasn’t out of the bounds of reasonable criticism.  And, reasonable criticism is something that it would be good for Google to support and defend.

I think the memo was largely mischaracterized as misogynistic and sexist.  While it could have been more delicate, I don’t think most of the critics (including Sundar Pichai) tried to give a fair reading of the memo (if they read it at all).  It was far easier and more convenient to just label it as sexist and harmful and beyond the pale, and dismiss it without taking its arguments seriously.

After hearing Damore speak about it in some interviews, I got the sense that he was genuinely trying to improve the company that he loves by steering it towards what he understood to be the scientific consensus to explain some of the gender disparities in tech employment, and also to call out the environment of ideological intolerance that makes people who disagree with the “progressive” consensus feel that they need to pretend to agree or withhold their actual judgements.  He meant well, and was punished for it.  He knew that others were afraid to voice these criticisms and was brave enough to try it himself.  He trusted in the character of Google executives to defend his well-intentioned attempts to improve the company.  But, his trust wasn’t justified.

That’s a shame.