Growing up in the 1990s, a decade that saw a great leap forward in political correctness, you heard this expression a lot: “You can’t say anything anymore.” That sentence doesn’t really begin to cover what has happened with Google’s firing of a top employee over an internal memo he wrote discussing how biological differences might affect their workplace. A better idiom would be, “They don’t listen anymore.”
James Damore wrote a brief, inoffensive internal memo at Google that explained, in part, why he believed there is a “gender gap” in tech fields—namely because, on average, women are, in a variety of ways, predisposed to avoid the high-stress world of technology. For this he was fired. His musings were “not okay,” according to Google’s CEO, because they “advanced harmful gender stereotypes.” So he’s out.
Vox described Damore’s memo as “anti-diversity.” So did The Guardian, Slate, Gizmodo, CNBC, AOL, USA Today, Reuters, CNN—you get the drift. That’s a bit odd, given that within the memo itself Damore claims, variously, “I value diversity,” “I strongly believe in…diversity,” ”I’m not saying diversity is bad,” and so on.
So the media have decided that a man who writes things like “I value diversity” is himself “anti-diversity.” Of course, this kind of shrieking hysteria has immediate practical consequences: Damore has lost his job, and the neurotics who wanted him fired from Google will likely try to ensure that he can’t get a job anywhere else, either. But the long-term effects of this brand of political correctness are even more troubling: it seems clear at this point that if you don’t agree with the progressive arbiters of our public discourse on literally every aspect of literally every topic, you will suffer for it, and greatly so.
They don’t listen anymore: your argument is irrelevant unless it agrees with them in toto. Political correctness in early twenty-first-century America has become not a matter of policing certain words or phrases but a matter of shutting down any kind of opinion that does not conform to an ever-more-ruthlessly narrow philosophy.
Back in the late ’90s it was fun for comedians to joke about this stuff—back when the most pressing politically correct debate was whether you should say “black” or “African-American.” Today it is not so funny anymore. Damore’s firing surely serves as a warning to anyone who might subvert the utterly inflexible pieties of modern progressivism. As a result, our national discourse just got a little less interesting, a little less colorful, and a little more useless.
I happen to think Damore is right: women do tend to experience “higher anxiety [and] lower stress tolerance,” which doubtlessly compels many to stay away from high-stress fields like upper-industry tech. To be sure, as Damore points out, there is “significant overlap between men and women” in terms of distributed characteristics, which makes it pointless to try and conclude anything about a specific individual given these population-wide tendencies. Surely there are plenty of women fit for high-stress tech and plenty of men who are not. But industry-wide statistics (and not just those of technology) suggest, as Damore writes, that “we need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.”
Evidently this utterly uncontroversial and perfectly debatable statement was too much for some Google employees: “[A] software engineer who used to work for Google…says some women who still work at the company stayed home on Monday because the memo made them ‘uncomfortable going back to work.’”
Oookay. So a Google software engineer writes about how, on average, women are subject to “higher anxiety” and “lower stress tolerance,” which caused several women at Google to feel so stressed and anxious that they had to stay home from work. If Google is going to fire Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes,” shouldn’t it fire those women, as well?