It Was Mother

It was Even

It Was Even
Wayras Olivier
SEPTEMBER 2017


EVEN THE MOST RESOLVED critic of last month’s “Google Memo” is likely to be unresolved over the near tragic: We Do Not Have Wi-Fi: Talk To Each Other sign when considering how such a terrible inconvenience can be coupled with such an agreeable injunction. Written in chalk, often at burgeoning curated coffee shop entrances, its bidding, which began trending a few years ago, simply wants you to be happy. Or miserable, if one regards it as a political experiment, really—a “things over people” science kind—testing to see how the space, in general, peoples. Given that, no longer able to plug in and engage with their mechanical things, data-driven men would be absent leaving inside only women to leave each other out in the cold. But the female-male distribution, as it appears rather equal inside, would prove the hypothesis inaccurate. So everyone in the end makes out okay. Nevertheless, the injunction is disagreeable as it assumes that people are less divisive without their devices.

A thought, once realized, that delivers a grinding headache. (Was that not what one hoped to remedy in the first place by purchasing a coffee?) The well-intentioned sign does, though, foolishly advocate a nostalgic jog of sorts: Pretend it’s 1995. (Ah, the year Kim Basinger declared bankruptcy after paying out damages to Main Line Studio, which in 1993 sued her for pulling out of Boxing Helena. Her character was required to be trapped in a box after an obsessive male amputates sections of her body. Basinger began to feel that this was a slightly less than agreeable role for her. The film, in essence, didn’t need her; she was being sued on principle, as any women could play the part. Likewise, and brace yourself for this arresting bit of masochism, it was a woman who wrote and directed the film.) 

But here’s what happened to two men in a box after the market put them there for not updating their skill-sets: Google opened it up and took them in. The only scene worth mentioning in The Internship lasts only a minute. A selection committee scrutinizes Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s application against the final preeminent barrier to entry—Google’s diversity ethos. The exchange is eerily and prophetically relevant to what happened to 28-year-old, Harvard educated, Google engineer James Damore several weeks ago.

The scene:

“Can I say something?” asks team manager Lyle (Josh Brener) of the Indian American head of Google’s internship program, Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi) who responds: 

“You can. You will. We will resent you for wasting our time but please don’t let that stop you.” 

Lyle is somewhat fond of the two affable wedding crashers who have zero education but whose experience in sales is deemed, in Lyle’s eyes, a marketable skill. So Lyle goes to bat for them:

“Diversity is in our DNA,” he tells Chetty. “I thought our goal here is to find a different way of thinking.”

Reality:

Think Different, Get Hired; Think Different, Get Fired. Anti-Google guerilla style street art placed the above captions below the respective faces of Steve Jobs and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The art has been popping up in pockets around California after Damore got fired for writing “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” a ten-page memo that outlined how Google’s gender diversity imbalance—which favors men—is rooted, partly, in the agitating and abiding Nature vs Nurture exchange. The former, he makes the case, being the cause of what grants men certain curiosities, preoccupations, and sympathies—and women others. 

The memo was written after Damore had attended an internal diversity program in which they [Google] “were explicitly asking for feedback” he revealed to journalist Maria Bartiromo days after his firing. Making it clear to the general public, who mostly were outraged after the memo was leaked, that it was not written without cause or in bad faith. (I believe, had Damore simply asked those leading the diversity program if they were cops, he could have avoided this whole mess. Entrapment is a valid spin.) The memo, once completed, circulated inside Google for nearly a month, relatively unnoticed, if not ignored. There are, I think, two obvious reasons for this.

One in particular that Damore perhaps himself knew was inevitable. In the table of contents, on the first page, the inclusion of a distressingly perceptive meta tag to symbolically represent how inertia sets in: TL;DR, which is internet slang to describe documents that are “Too Long” and thus people “Didn’t Read.” (Remember back in 1995 when reading comprehension was itself the only issue?) Echo chambers to a certain degree, then, persist in light of new perspectives because of the aforementioned meme.

Two, the original memo (circling internally at Google) was annotated correctly and had 30+ hyperlinks to Damore’s research material. This alone suggests that it was perceived, by and large, as just another inconsequential paper. Entry-level talking points, immaterial and insignificant, in spite of Damore being a software engineer at the senior level. 

It may have also damaged his credibility, I believe, that five of the 30+hyperlinks directed to Wikipedia, a site that regularly has neutrality issues and thus constantly has to flag its pages for biased content. But the condemned memo’s five links, it turns out, were not redirects making research citations. They were merely employed to clarify terminology. For example, in case someone wanted to know the definition of a “Classical Liberal.” Any rational reader, I can only assume, would regard Damore as self-aware and precise in just two of the eleven footnotes respectively:

Page 2:

“Of course, I may be biased and only see evidence that supports my viewpoint. In terms of political biases, I consider myself a classical liberal and strongly value individualism and reason. I'd be very happy to discuss any of the document further and provide more citations.”

And page 3:

“Throughout the document, by “tech”, I mostly mean software engineering.”

However, Gizmodo, the site that posted the leaked memo, removed the 30+ hyperlinks, one chart, and one graph, which Gizmodo did mention, and reformatted the eleven annotations. Annotations that were no longer—such as the two above—in an “as you read” format for the reader to quickly reference at the bottom of each page. This is normally done for the author’s benefit, so their intent is not mischaracterized during their hearing. And also for the reader, who, to be fair, may find it choppy, but may lumber over ‘motive’ without them, and thus misread the clearing made by the author who had an axe to grind. As it were, Gizmodo aggregated them all and put them in their place. Death row. The very end of the memo, where the reader will most likely not go to begin their due diligence after they’ve just read the last sentence. The proof was in the putting.

Not to mention Gizmodo assumed a certain attitude regarding Damore’s intent, and regressed readers with it—who may have genuinely gone in with a grown-up’s mind—in their rather babyish headline: “The Anti-Diversity Screed.” An arraignment before the curtains were even drawn. Screed, the placing of one’s attention on an obvious point, a lengthy angry rant. A clear misrepresentation of Damore’s tone. Also his focus, software engineering, is just one role—tech is a multifaceted industry. A distinction unpicked by most readers, yet one that Damore was picky enough to make clear. 

Even the most amateurish due diligence would reveal, quite quickly, how meta-analytic reviews are not predicated exclusively on PhDs, nor is the latter required to understand the former. (Or further. Despite having an MS in Systems Biology, Damore has been criticized for not completing a PhD.) Furthermore, various peer-reviewed meta-analyses on the subject Damore set out to argue do exist. The one consistently enthroned as epistemological bedrock to disprove his theory is the one by Janet Shibley Hyde, published more than 10 years ago. 

Other reviews, not all, but a comfortable amount, concur with Damore, yet are meticulous, if not stringently careful on this point: implicit interest and inherent capacity are not the same thing. Workplace politics do play a role in shaping the economic landscape but, again, Damore never said this salient factor was to be ignored. (Grace Hoper, Katherine Johnson, and Margaret Hamilton are sufficient, although they have nothing to do with Google or Damore’s reflection, to undermine his memo with their staggering accomplishments, if the interest/ability difference made above is not kept in the back of one’s mind.) 

Convicting Damore’s composition, then, as inimically hostile is nothing short of a psychological projection manufactured by both laziness, which lowers intuition into a state of emotional indulgence; and incompetence, which drives logic even lower, into a state of irrational hysteria. Laziness and incompetence, I now recognize, are one and the same thing.

Can you really have one without the other? Cops who lose their direction, it’s infamously known, due to their inability to police their own projections about robbers is a vivid example of how they wind up wearing their own cuffs. Diversity managers and HR departments are required to be the psychological pathfinders here, yet they accept no blame for their month of inaction after opening Damore’s spout, (they did ask for feedback) which they only gave a damn about after they discovered there was a leak.

The US Department of Labor, coincidentally, were and are investigating Google for wage discrimination. Make of that what you will. 

Biology, the condemned discussion, because of the crimes it may or may not have masterminded in utero, should be in formidable hands. Considered one of the greatest intellectual capitals of the world, Silicon Valley rightly earns the lavish notice it receives for every one of its innovations. (By “innovation” I mean any product or service that increases value, while simultaneously decreasing complexity, for both the company and the end user.) There’s no reason why discussion can’t be a category along with products and services. One would expect.

A searching child asked the near ubiquitous and supposedly heartbreaking question, “Mom, is it true that there are biological reasons why there are fewer women in tech and leadership?” The child, (no age was given), was YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki’s. The quote was headlined in a post of hers where she recounted an exchange with her daughter after the memo went viral. 

Moral virtue, while certainly a value, does not prevent tragedies, nor is it increased by merely saying there’s a problem. It sounds terrifically glib when Wojcicki laments “…how tragic it was that this was now being exposed to a new generation…” If anything, it expresses an underlying irritation—possibly about identity politics failing to settle the Nature vs Nurture debate in the first place—and having to answer a question that is beneath her, in the second. Irritation usually surfaces when one is called upon to reduce complexity. But that’s what children do, and it’s a curtain-raising event, anytime they ask for it. (Assuming, of course, the question was even asked of her.) Either way it makes for a crackling puff piece. 

But one is still slightly bound to take Wojcicki less seriously here as had she taken a moment to consider what her quote implied she would see how unforgivingly quick whimsy succeeds pity. A “child,” as set forth by the United Nations, is “a human being below the age of 18 years.” A spread taken advantage of—dare I say—to intentionally keep the age of her child ambiguous, heightening the likelihood that everyone will shriek in wretched terror and assume that the child is indeed an impressionable, five-, six-, or seven-year- old. Which makes the entire “incident” prodigious, not poignant. Such a child, at that age, Wojcicki’s claim would naturally imply, is gifted with a weakness for politics, if truly she was so clever as to be preoccupied with issues regarding leadership. (Mom, is it true?) On the extreme other hand, and to be less amiable yet merciful, if the child (or any child) was indeed 18 years old and ran to a parent after reading (or worse, just hearing about) the memo, then the leadership they’ve received up until then is of the sort that does not advocate self-education, let alone self-reliance.

As for the compelling argument of gender roles being socially engineered, people constantly maneuver their “voice” to suit the predictions and assumptions of others. How high or low should my octave rise or fall to best serve the expectations of the choir is incalculably stressful. Anyone who believes baton waving is not considered cultural stereotyping, are one, either tone deaf or two, hopelessly dim to the presence of a nagging and taxing societal maestro. I do, however, also believe that Biology itself can achieve escape velocity from culture.

As a kid, anytime I crossed the line, it was mother who rather abruptly turned muscular and disciplined me with force. While on one occasion, actually more than one, I saw my father—who himself never drank soy milk but was a stern critic of demure rubbish—wipe a tear from his eye after he was made weak by piffle. An episode of Coronation Street, Britain’s ghastly and interminable soap opera had him pining for god knows what. Critics and skeptics of biology, (this includes hormones) to determine and/or compel certain masculine or feminine “traits” are simply building a case against their own argument anytime they say: I’m not feeling like myself today.

Research and evidence do not always cohere so concretely; it’s one of the fundamental hallmarks of science that keeps us on grovel road. Only one-way mendacious dogmatism seems to pave so smoothly while paradoxically blocking discourse that goes the other way. To travel this way is to ensure a future destination where people who ‘don’t feel like themselves’ are summoned and mandated by pathetic and desperate street signs to Talk To Each Other

One is not a drip, if inside a coffee shop, one swaps gender perspectives for reciprocal value: men who feel deeply offended by the memo and women who can rationalize why it was written. I would see this as a great place to make a pit stop. Even if I myself didn’t much anguish over weeping male fragility or trickling female stoicism when it can no longer clot. The wavering private and public opinion about the memo, one day this, the next day that, which differs greatly depending on the crowd one keeps, could use a good closing. 

And if Damore’s conclusions on software engineering—drawn from his personal observations and measurements (and those of others)—are not, it may be argued, shared by the average classical liberal, there’s still a voice to notice on this occasion. One that perhaps in truth was searching, with great folly, for who on the spectrum remains slightly wobbly as a classical liberal, and is thus weak and misaligned, one engineer who authored an exercise, or a sore mob of indignant readers who couldn’t handle a stretch.

W.