James Damore, Google, and free speech

by shwolff

Given what (little) I know about the James Damore story, there seem to be more important issues in the world: potential nuclear war, exploitation of workers, burgeoning nationalism and racism, physical aggression against women, wanton destruction of the environment, etc.

The firing of James Damore falls perfectly in line with the effective dismissal of the Christakis couple at Yale and the uproar at and subsequent resignation of Larry Summers over his comments about women in science [2] (overshadowing his dubious handling of the “Shleifer affair” [3]). Perhaps one could argue that this pattern of squelching alternative (even unappealing) viewpoints is serious enough to merit a spot on the top-issues list.

People in general, and Americans in particular, have never struck me as particularly skillful at distinguishing between hate speech and speech they hate. In America, liberals are often faulted as the main culprits of de facto censorship, but I don’t think self-labeled conservatives do a great job encouraging, accepting, or even tolerating alternative viewpoints. (Look at how conservative politicians talk over people beginning to express a different point of view.)

The most interesting excerpt from Mr. Damore’s document comes from the “Background” on page 2, where he writes (emphasis is mine)

open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow

How many of us embrace or go out of our way to engage in such discussions (growth opportunities?).

A letter by James Damore addressing his firing appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Also worth reading is the BBC article by Angela Saini titled “What Google engineer James Damore got wrong“.

Let’s end this post with a healthy dose of humor, grâce à Bill Maher. Caveat lector: This linked video ends with commentary by “Secular Talk” with some, ahem, “lazy diction” of the four-letter variety.

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