Hey, Google, How Do You Prepare a Country for Totalitarianism?
Millions of Americans—most of us, probably—have grown to rely on Google as our default search engine for finding information online. Thousands more have even gone so far as to buy Google Home, an Internet-connected microphone plugged into Google's computers that is constantly monitoring your home, waiting for voice commands that begin, "Hey, Google." To the extent we bother to think about it, we accept that Google gathers our data and eavesdrops on our homes, because we assume that they only want to use this technology to sell us things. If the cost of free access to a really great search algorithm is that we have to see a few banner ads, that seems like a very small price to pay. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, now we know. Google could decide that its mission is not to provide us with access to information but to police our views to make sure they are Politically Correct.
The warning shot is the way Google recently fired one of its high-level engineers, James Damore, for posting on an internal discussion board an anonymous memo making a measured argument against the company's approach to "diversity." The big irony? He began the memo by warning that "Google's political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology." Everything that happened subsequently at Google, on Twitter, and in the technology media has validated this warning a thousand times over.
For those who point out that Google is a private company that can hire or fire anyone it wants—and for all those "liberals" who have suddenly embraced big corporations' power to dictate terms to their employees—this is absolutely correct. It is also beside the point. A country does not have a dictator pop up spontaneously, out of nowhere, and suddenly push the bonds of repression down on everyone. The people have to be ready for dictatorship. They have to learn to embrace its habits and practices voluntarily, or at least to show no resistance. In that regard, what is more important than Damore's firing was the reaction to it, which show us how many people are willing to cheer on and participate in the ruthless suppression of dissent against the prevailing orthodoxy.
We are being given a preview of all the steps necessary to prepare a country for totalitarianism.
1. Create an ideological dogma immune to factual or logical criticism.
I don't agree with everything in Damore's Google memo—a somewhat rambling piece that strikes me as pretty typical writing for a 28-year-old engineer, a mixture of sensible notions with unexamined assumptions. But I don't have to agree with all of it to think the issues are worth discussing and that Damore shouldn't be fired for bringing them up.
The central argument he makes, and for which he has been attacked, is eminently reasonable: that there are differences between men and women that cause them, in aggregate, not to enter the same fields at the same rates. And if that's the case, then the attempt to achieve full 50/50 equality in hiring, particularly in very narrow technological specialties, is misguided.
Note, I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are "just." I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.
That such natural psychological differences exist seems to be uncontroversial among scientists who study sex differences. Moreover, the current Politically Correct dogma on sex differences lacks basic internal consistency. Why is it so important to encourage "diversity" in employment? Because, we're told, women have different experiences and priorities that would be missed in the "bro culture" of a male-dominated workplace. So therefore, in order to achieve this "diversity," we have to pretend that there is no difference between men and women in their experiences and priorities.
We can have a lively debate about the extent of sex differences, what they mean, or the degree to which they are the product of evolution (which tends to be stated in a crude and oversimplified form), or the product of different experiences relating to sex and child-bearing, or the product of artificial social conventions.
But the whole point of this incident is that we can't have such a debate. Note that when Gizmodo published the text of Damore's memo, it deliberately excluded his graphs and footnotes to scientific research—dangerous information that its readers must be shielded from. Or decode the message from Google's VP of Diversity in her official reply to the memo: "Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws." Notice how the second half of that statement negates the first, which is reflected in the outcome.
That has been the dominant theme of the response: that it is wrong even to discuss this issue. Heck, it's wrong to discuss why we're not discussing it. Which leads us to the next step.
2. Make discussion itself into an offense.
I remember a memorable press conference during the Gulf War in 1991, when a Pentagon briefer told reporters that he couldn't discuss a particular military operation. The reporter asked why, and he responded: "I can't tell you why I can't discuss it, because then I'd be discussing it." This rule of military secrecy has now been applied to gender politics.
So according to a writer for one of the more openly leftward technology magazines, to discuss the Google memo in any way, even as a "devil's advocate," will get you shunned and may raise questions about whether you're qualified to do your job.
For others, even to ask what's wrong with the memo is sexist: "To go through the emotional, and physical, labor of explaining the misguided memo would only be to validate it, and opens the door further for somebody else to raise the same 'arguments' later."
It doesn't matter whether you agree with the dissenter, or what your own views are at all. To even want to discuss the issue, to even want to ask for reasons, makes you a wicked dissenter, too.
A dictator needs the people to get used to acting like a howling mob. He needs them to skip the part where they think about what someone has to say and judiciously weigh its merits or the reasons for saying it. Instead, they have to view the dissenter's evil as a subject that is outside the realm of discussion, already settled and decided upon by the mob's leaders.
Which leads us to our next step.
3. Get the press to smear dissenters.
The uniform description of the article in the media, particularly in the technology media, was that it is a "rant" or a "screed" (it isn't) which is "anti-diversity" (it explicitly isn't) and which argues that women are "biologically inferior" (it doesn't). My Federalist colleagues have already collated numerous examples.
The central lie is that Damore is "anti-diversity" and thinks women don't belong in technology jobs. He actually goes out of his way to list better ways for Google to make its workplace friendlier to women, and he makes numerous disclaimers like this one.
I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices.... These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions.
But you see what the misrepresentation accomplishes: everyone can just say (as they have been saying all day), "You can't possible agree with this bigot who thinks women are inferior." And that's it, end of discussion. We already know what James Damore said, because the media has summed it up for us.
4. Recruit and reward citizen volunteers for informing on dissenters.
Hear a couple of airline employees privately expressing unapproved views about transgender children? Report them to their employer. Get a Google guy fired for expressing wrongthink? Make sure he can never work again.
Get citizens used to working as informants for the current orthodoxy, and as its enforcers—particularly the employers. For decades, the left has claimed to be horrified at the Blacklist that tried to keep Communists out of Hollywood. But it turns out they aren't against a blacklist, they just want to be the ones who get to decide who's on it. They want us to get used to the idea that anyone can find himself unemployable at any moment, so simple prudence dictates that you watch what you say at the risk of finding yourself kicked out onto the street.
5. Make threats of violence acceptable, when they're against the wrong people.
I remember back when the liberals made the distinction between speech and action—the one should be free while the other is controlled. It was always a bit of an artificial distinction, and now it's obsolete (as Jeet Heer recently found out). Speech is an action, the action of creating a "hostile work environment" for those who disagree with you. Now they're going a step further than that, knocking down the distinction between speech and violence. Speech is violence.
So naturally, it justifies violence in return.
Notice one last thing about all of these steps: all of them have already been put into effect on many of the nation's college campuses, as we saw in the campus insanity a few years back. Now the wave of students brought up on ideological conformity has gone from the college campus to the Google campus, and they have brought this new totalitarian mindset with them.
To be sure, there are a great many more steps we need to go through before the country is remotely ready to submit to the new totalitarian rule. Maybe we could have a single central service that monitors everyone's information requests and places surveillance devices inside their homes. Let's just say that from now on, I'm going to think twice about letting a giant corporation have eyes and ears in my household.
So far, we're only talking about uniformity of opinion within a relatively small slice of the population. Given the size of the rebellion against Political Correctness in the last election, the PC left doesn't represent a majority of the population. Yet somehow that's not so reassuring. One of the lessons of history is that those who prepare the way for dictatorship, in the hope of finally getting to implement their ideal plan for society, are rarely those who actually end up wielding the power. The institutions and culture of a free society need to be preserved by both sides of the debate, and for everybody's sake.
Those who knock them down now, in their glee to get at the devil, are pushing us all toward the most hostile environment of all.