A recent report in The Wall Street Journal chronicles the drama of a thoroughly politicized and tribal workplace at Google, where activist employee groups stage competing talks on their pet issues, and a growing number of former employees are suing the company for discrimination and bias.
The article opens with an incident that took place in January, when Ingrid Newkirk, the co-founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was slated to give a presentation at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters as part of the “Talks at Google” series.
The subject of her talk, which was organized by the “Googlers for Animals” employee group, was how animals can be subject to discrimination and bias just like people are. But another employee group, the “Black Googler Network,” understandably found the premise of the talk offensive and protested it. The talk was canceled at the last minute, as Newkirk was waiting in a parking lot outside Google.
“Such is the climate inside the tech giant, where fractious groups of employees have turned the workplace into a virtual war zone of debate over all manner of social and political beliefs,” wrote the Journal. “Google has long promoted a work culture that is more like a college campus—where loud debates and doctrinaire stances are commonplace—and today its parent, Alphabet Inc., is increasingly struggling to keep things under control.”
Welcome to Google, microcosm of America in 2018. Like nearly every facet of American life these days, Google’s workplace has become politicized, which means the company must now constantly adjudicate every offense that arises from an ever-growing roll call of the aggrieved.
Google reportedly has employee groups for every conceivable cause: “Activists at Google,” which is anti-Trump; “Militia at Google,” which is pushing for the ability to carry guns in the office; “Conservatives at Google,” which claims the company discriminates against right-leaning job candidates; and “Sex Positive at Google,” which doesn’t want explicit content removed from Google Drive file-sharing software. Like other tech companies, Google has cultivated a college atmosphere in the workplace. It seems the company has succeeded, but only in the sense that its workplace has fractured into competing identity groups.
But it’s not just Google. BuzzFeed News reportedthis week on a group of female staffers at the BBC who clashed over transgenderism. Screenshots from a WhatsApp group called “BBC Sisterhood” showed older feminists arguing with younger feminists over whether transwomen (men who identify as women) should count as women when calculating equal pay and representation.
According to BuzzFeed, one senior producer wrote, “If transwomen self-ID are eligible for maternity pay or leave, it means the sex discrimination claim of being fired or badly treated for pregnancy is erased. One loses that resource to a claim for sex discrimination—though of course the discrimination would still happen.” To which a younger employee replied: “Shouldn’t trans women qualify for maternity leave though?”
When Everything Is Political, Everyone Becomes Tribal
It’s easy for conservatives—or really, anyone who hasn’t gone all-in for identity politics—to laugh at this stuff. But what it portends for the country at large is deeply troubling. Even the conservative Google groups clamoring about bias are part of a larger dynamic. A completely politicized workplace turns the office into a political scrum, just as a completely politicized culture turns civil society into a bunch of warring tribes.
That’s how you get the spectacle of online outrage over Kanye West saying nice things about President Trump, or the absurd Vanity Fair article about how Kanye got “red-pilled” by the “far right,” which, according to reporter Tina Nguyen, includes such fringe figures as “publishing exec Steve Forbes, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, and National Review editor Jonah Goldberg.”
And not just them. She lumps together media personalities all over the ideological spectrum: Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich—as if the racist ideas of Spencer and Cernovitch has anything to do with that of Shapiro or Peterson. Goldberg responded yesterday, saying Nguyen presents herself as knowledgeable about the inner workings of the “far right” but obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
To be fair, Nguyen’s contention is that we all qualify as far right because we’re critical of identity politics in one sense or another. If you think that’s all you need to qualify as being ‘far right,’ then I guess that’s defensible. But if you do think that, you also have to think most liberals — and a great many socialists and Communists — prior to about 20 years ago were far right, too. Nor is opposition to identity politics anything new on the right — what’s new on the right is the sudden embrace of identitarianism by the likes of Cernovich and Spencer, a development Nguyen seems utterly oblivious to.
But of course Nguyen is not tremendously unique in this regard. Like most reporters and editors in the mainstream media, she looks at everyone outside her liberal tribe as the conservative other, to be feared and shunned if possible, and never to be taken seriously or engaged on equal terms. This is why Kevin Williamson was run out of The Atlantic after three days on the job, and why The New York Times got pilloried by its liberal readership (and its own staff) for hiring Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss.
Political Tribalism Is an Existential Threat to Our Republic
This is the tribal mentality at work. The same impulse that drives Google employees to split into insular little groups is driving the media to create echo chambers where their audiences never have to be challenged.
It’s not confined to the left. Conservatives are increasingly prone to doing this as well, in reaction to liberal bias—refusing to read the Washington Post or watch CNN, writing them off as “fake news.” Indeed, Trump’s entire political career is based on stoking grievances and indulging the tribal impulse to think the worst of those outside the tribe.
What all this creates in otherwise tolerant and broad-minded people is fear, doubt, and a loss of confidence in ourselves and our institutions. A recent report from Pew found that “a 56% majority say they have little or no confidence in the political wisdom of the American people.”
That’s down from 64 percent who said the same in 2016, but back in 1997 the share was only 35 percent, with nearly twice that share saying they had “very great/good deal” of confidence in the political wisdom of their fellow Americans. As our politics have become more tribal, we’ve lost confidence in our powers of self-government, with good reason.
Make no mistake, political tribalism and populism, whether on the left or right, aren’t just annoying or disagreeable trends in American life. They are an existential threat to our republic, and if we don’t figure out a way to reverse course, we’re going to turn the country into a massive, fractious, ungovernable Google office.