An In-depth Analysis of the Crisis at Google
The crisis is a symptom of our hyperpolarized culture.
Posted Aug 11, 2017
This extended blog offers an analysis of the latest battle in the omnipresent culture wars—the dust up at Google resulting in the firing of James Damore. The incident began after he released a controversial memo that challenged the logic of the company's diversity initiatives. It was released to the press and the controversy swelled and Google took action. What follows is a detailed analysis of the scientific, philosophical, and political arguments that are being worked out in this drama from my vantage point of a professional psychologist who has long studied gender issues and differences.
I appreciate Google’s desire to attend to diversity and work to increase it in effective ways. The impact of the Damore memo was experienced by some as harmful and thus was potentially antithetical to the culture of inclusiveness that Google is currently trying to promote, thus I understand why he was fired.
At the same time, I found the thrust of Damore’s views to be reasonable, and I see his firing as clear evidence that there are problems of "psychological safety" in the free expression of reasonable ideas.
My conclusion is that our hyper-politicized culture is the problem. There is no inherent contradiction between progressively seeking gender diversity initiatives that attempt to foster equality, while at the same time being knowledgeable about the evolutionary psychology of gender, and having conservative concerns about liberty and a suspiciousness of top-down social engineering programs. I, for one, hold all of these views with no sense of internal contradiction.
The time is now to transcend the destructive polarization of ideologies in this country. Instead, we need holistic approaches that allow one to see how these perspectives exist in complementary relation to one another and that when they are effectively held together they can foster the rise of our collective whole.
James Damore worked as an engineer at Google and wrote a rather long opinion piece that raised questions about Google’s diversity initiatives, especially pertaining to systematic practices that are attempting to increase the numbers of women in the company. He challenged the idea that when you see discrepancies between groups in positions of power (e.g., that there are far more men than women who work as leaders and software engineers at Google; approximately 3:1) the reason must be a function of discrimination and oppression, and that the answer is to be found in modern diversity and inclusion initiatives (e.g., education about unconscious biases). Damore acknowledged that sexism exists and that when found, it must be addressed. But he claimed that perhaps the reason for the discrepancy is found in differences between the sexes in terms of their evolved psychological architectures (aka “biology”). He stated that although this idea had potential merit, it was suppressed because it was seen as potentially dangerous because of moral and political ideologies and biases that existed at Google. A central point Damore raised was the issue of “psychological safety," by which he meant that anyone who raises such ideas was taking a substantial risk of being punished by ideological “authoritarians” who act as if they already know the truth. He asked for a culture that would provide a safe space for discussing these ideas and the capacity to openly challenge the direction Google was headed in its diversity initiatives without retribution.
The memo was posted on an internal discussion board. Many were offended and hurt and argued it was a sexist screed that depicted woman in an unflattering light. Others were supportive of the idea that the conversation should be had. The memo was the leaked to the press and subsequently became the latest battle in the culture wars. As the heat was turned up, Damore was fired. The reason, according to Google, was that his ideas promoted “harmful gender stereotypes." The event, predictably, has sparked an enormous amount of controversy. There have been many on the left supporting Google and claiming that Damore’s memo was indeed sexist, created a hostile work environment, and was not at all supported by science and thus he deserved to be fired. In contrast, there are many on the right saw it as yet another example of the extreme ideological intolerance of the left.
My Background and Position in the Socio-Political Matrix
As an outsider, I find myself sympathetic to both Damore’s memo and the Google executives who chose to fire him. Once the memo was released, Google executives found themselves in a rock and a hard place or between “a right and a right”. I provide a detailed look here because it raises so many relevant and complicated issues that need in-depth analyses to sort out.
As is always the case in controversies such as these, there is the specific case and there are abstractions regarding what the case means for the culture at large. The specific issue that I must mention in this case pertains to the actual culture at Google. I have never worked at Google, and I am not aware of the climate regarding sexism and gender discrimination. In addition, I have never met Damore and have no knowledge of his intentions other than what was in the memo. Thus I have important blind spots.
I also know that there are many pockets of engineering culture that have explicitly sexist subcultures. I have consulted with female engineers dealing with these issues, I have treated a female software engineering student who dealt with some sexist comments, and my daughter is going to college for her degree in engineering. I do know that Google is dealing with a lawsuit regarding gender equity pay, but have no idea of its validity. I know that only approximately 25% of the leaders and software engineers at Google are women and the company wants to increase this number, and it recently hired Danielle Brown to help accomplish this goal.
At the same time, it is also the case (emphasized by Damore's memo) that Google’s overall political orientation is progressive and generally embraces a globalist ideology and seeks to cultivate a diverse community.
All of this is to say that I don’t know where Google is in regards to its climate pertaining to sexism. From my distant perspective, it could range anywhere from exhibiting a significantly problematic sexist culture with systematic biases against women to a largely egalitarian culture with relatively few problems with bias and harassment. Indeed, it is likely that within Google there is significant variation along these lines. Only a sophisticated analysis of the organization and its components could determine that. I bring this up because the context of the case does provide an important element in deciphering the meaning of the memo. If I toured Google and did an analysis and concluded the environment did indeed promote sexist attitudes and it was clear it had systematic bias in its decision making systems, then I would feel differently about the Damore memo than if I found the reverse.
Finally, before I proceed to lay out the intellectual case, I think it makes sense to know where I am coming from in terms of my socio-political identity. I am a 46-year-old, heterosexual, married white male with three children. I live in a rural town in southwestern VA that went about 75% for Trump. I, however, tend to vote democratic or independent, and have publicly raised deep reservations about the Trump presidency since September 2015. I am a full professor of psychology, and am an expert in clinical psychology (specializing in depression and the personality disorders) and theoretical and philosophical psychology. In my work as a clinical psychologist, I have primarily worked with individuals from impoverished and underprivileged backgrounds, including African-American individuals from inner-city Philadelphia and more recently rural whites from central Virginia. My first intellectual awakening was in finding feminism. I have developed a “unified framework” that provides a new way to tie together the physical, biological, psychological and social sciences into a coherent whole. I am deeply concerned about the current political situation and see our political institution as essentially losing its mind, with the core issue being deep-seated clashes regarding the socio-political identity of our country. My mission in life is to enhance human dignity and well-being with integrity. I share this to share with you my position in the socio-political matrix.
With this caveat and background clarified, I turn now to a breakdown of the issues regarding the event in terms of the claims of the memo and understanding why they were explosive and how to approach these issues in sophisticated way. The general abstract arguments hold regardless of the specific climate at Google.
I found elements of Damore’s memo tactless and uncouth. And he did not do enough to acknowledge the possibility of discrimination, nor the damage or harm that might be done from his memo. However, at the same time, Damore offered an analysis of gender differences that has potential merit, as long as we simultaneously keep in mind the potentially problematic implications of the arguments. This is the task I set out for myself here.
Here are the three primary claims that Damore’s memo attempts to debunk. As noted in the memo, the first two claims are admittedly extreme and potentially seen as straw men. That is recognized here, but by addressing the extremes, one opens up other possibilities for discussion, which is what I saw as the primary purpose of the memo:
When we see differential rates of hiring, achievement, or power, we know oppression or discrimination is the cause of these differential outcomes.
Modern science proves there are no “biological” sex/gender differences that could account, even in part, for some of the observed differential rates of outcomes between men and women at Google.
The combination of claims #1 and #2 mean that we need diversity initiatives to correct the balance and create a just and fair company.
Damore’s memo challenges each of these claims and the links between them. He largely attempted to undermine the first claim by challenging the second claim. His ultimate message is that if the first two claims fall, then it follows that the third claim is highly suspect, especially if one embraces a conservative political ideology. Finally, Damore’s point is that as a company that promotes openness to ideas, there should be space for this argument to be made at Google without retribution.
The goal of the rest of this blog is to explain why the basic logic of Damore’s memo has at least some legitimacy. By “legitimate," I simply mean these issues are complicated and reasonable people of goodwill (RPofG) can believe in them and have disagreements about them. (I define RPofG as people who seek to enhance human dignity and well-being with integrity).
Deconstructing the Claims
Analyzing Claim #1: Differential Outcomes Are Inevitably Caused by Oppression
To start to disentangle claim #1, we need to separate the concept of “cause” into different categories, with the most important being the separation of distal (meaning distant or far away) versus proximal (meaning near or recent) causation. In terms of distal causes, the oppression of women and minorities (especially individuals of African and Native American descent) by White Christian Men (WCM) in our country was one of the most central and powerful forces in the land. The United States of America was born as an explicitly racist and sexist country. Practically, it was founded on the notion that all rich, white Christian men were created equal and everyone else was lesser. Because of the enormous power of this distal force, it echoes through to the modern day, often identified in terms of “institutional racism”.
However, when we shift to proximal causation of specific instances of events in recent times, the power of the oppression explanation begins drops off. Starting in the 1950s, accelerating in the 1960s via the Civil Rights movement, and continuing through to today, there has been a dramatic shift in the explicit systems of justification that people have regarding sex and gender, race and ethnicity, and religious commitments. Now the general, shared explicit narrative of RPofG is that on moral grounds we should consider these groups as being inherently equal in terms of dignity and that no group should be conferred special powers, rights, or privileges simply on the basis of membership in these social categories. This shift in ideology has been dramatic, and radically changed the social field, and there has been a surge in the power and place of women, ethnic minorities, and peoples of different faiths over the past five decades.
Currently, there is much variation within the country in terms of in the magnitude and role of sexism in various groups and contexts. As such, the role of oppression as a proximal cause needs to be examined on a case by case basis. This connects directly to my caveat regarding the actual climate at Google. All of this said, the fact that only 25% of the leadership at Google is female is potentially suggestive of a problematic work environment, but is not definitive because of the complexity of the issues.
A problem with claim #1 is that it is reductionistic. It attempts to offer a single lens of causation through which to view phenomena that have enormous “causal density”. Causal density refers to the number of possible factors that might be influencing the outcome. Put in plain language, there is much more to our current world and the factors that go into differential outcomes on things like employment than oppression/discrimination per se.
We can see this is true in a number of ways. The clearest ways to see this is by considering the many areas in which women and other minority groups are currently excelling in comparison to White Christian Men. For example, girls and women are currently outperforming boys and men on virtually every measure of educational attainment. It would be obviously hard to explain this difference in outcome as a consequence of traditional oppressive forces. The point here is that differential outcomes can happen for lots of reasons other than traditional oppression.
Two other examples deserve mention. First, as noted in detail in this blog, consider that there have been almost no NFL kickers who are black. Direct racial oppression is almost certainly not the cause of this remarkable difference in outcome (although interestingly, as noted in the blog, oppression may well be an indirect, historical cause).
Second, consider my field of psychology. Like virtually all other institutions, psychology was painfully racist and sexist up through the 1950s, when it started to become “woke” to the power of the WCM patriarchy. Massive change happened, and women started to enter the field in much greater numbers the 1970s and 80s. Although in the 1970s less than 20% of active psychologists were women, the number is now approaching 70%.
One fascinating element about the field of psychology is how many different kinds of psychologies there are. The American Psychological Association is made up of over 50 divisions that have very different emphases, goals, languages and subcultures. One striking feature is the remarkably difference gender distributions in the various divisions. Consider, for example, I direct an applied program in clinical and school psychology. Consistent with the national average, about 80% of the students we enroll in our applied program are women. I am also an active member of APA Division 24, which emphasizes theoretical and philosophical psychology. The membership in this division has almost the reverse gender distribution: 75% are male and 25% female. The magnitude of the difference in gender distribution is nothing short of remarkable.
What causes this radical difference in outcomes of the gender distribution? One explanation that I believe does not hold water is that differences are the result of direct, proximal oppression or discrimination. One reason this makes no sense is because the folks in Division 24 are highly attuned to issues of political power, social justice, and patriarchy. Second, the analysis completely breaks down when we flip it around—obviously it would be meaningless to try to explain how 80-90% of school psychologists are women by virtue of an oppressive male patriarchy.
The only possible explanation that indirectly links the observed gender differences in these outcomes to patriarchy is to look to our historical patriarchy. Perhaps the differences do stem from old sex roles that emerged from the historical, classic WMC patriarchy. That is, for years folks were taught by the system that women were nurturing, sensitive, and caring and men were strong, abstract reasoners and what we are seeing in these differential outcomes are the echoes of these social constructions. There is likely some truth in this narrative. However, it begs the question, where did these socially constructed narratives come from to begin with? Are they more or less arbitrary? Or do they stem, in part, from the evolved psychological architecture of men and women? That is, are these roles somehow rooted in our human natures? This question brings us to claim #2.
We are going to break the analysis of claim # 2 into part A and part B. Part A deals with the science of claim 2 and part B explores the philosophical complexities of making the claim.
Analyzing Claim #2, Part A: The science of gender differences proves that “biology” has nothing to do with differential outcomes.
We can start with a strong dismissal of a literal, scientific interpretation of claim #2. Anyone that states with any kind of certainty that “the science proves” that the observed differential rates of outcomes in terms of job placement at Google has “nothing to do” with “biology” demonstrates, by virtue of making said claim, that they do not know what they are talking about. Let’s deconstruct why this is so.
First, because of causal density issues, there is way too much uncertainty to make claims about proving anything. Science does not work this way (it does not “prove” things, but it generally works to disprove incorrect ideas), but even if we relax our meaning, it is crystal clear that there is much expert debate about these issues.
Researchers have been exploring these issues for many years and there are some things we can say about gender differences. There is a lot on the social psychology of men and women in leadership roles that does point to differential treatment (Sheryl Sandberg has been visible in promoting this work). These attitudes tie back into the notion that discrimination is a cause for the difference, which is a claim that certainly has potential validity.
But the question on the table is whether we know biological/evolved psychological differences do not play a role. Forgiving the negative, the answer here clearly is, no, we don’t know that. And we can go further and begin to point to where there may be some key gender differences are from an evolutionary psychology standpoint.
Let’s start with some gender difference hypotheses we can likely rule out. There is a relatively large degree of consensus that a primary factor in Google’s differential outcomes would almost certainly not be found in differences in cognitive ability. Gender differences on cognitive abilities are generally nonexistent to very small. That is, human males and females have very similar capacities in verbal and math abilities. It used to be believed that females were somewhat better in verbal abilities and males in math and although that assertion is still debated, I think the general consensus is the differences are small. There is probably a notable difference is in spatial rotation abilities (males tend to perform moderately better on average),and some suggestion that women have better spatial memories for objects. But it is unlikely these are major factors explaining the differential outcomes at Google. (For an excellent debate about gender differences between two serious psychologists, Steve Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, see here).
Of course, cognitive abilities are not the only domain of relevance. Personality trait differences, motivational sets, and, perhaps even more importantly, preferences and interests are also likely candidates of gender differences that could contribute to the observed outcomes. The Damore memo summarizes some literature on why there may be some differences in personality traits (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness). He (at times tactlessly) points out that there is some reason to believe that men are lower in agreeableness and neuroticism than women. And there may be differences in trait openness the two genders tend to be relative to “feelings and aesthetics” versus “ideas”. He also points out that there is reason to believe that men have higher drives for social status and are willing to take greater risks to rise in a social hierarchy. Furthermore, he argued that women were more cooperative. He then goes on to suggest ways of using these insights to increase gender diversity in “non-discriminatory ways”.
Damore’s memo, in my opinion, offers a respectable amateur (i.e., non-expert) analyses of these issues. He is not “right” in the sense that there is definitely not expert consensus that everything he says is true, and he does not offer much nuance in the analysis of his claims. But nor is he completely “wrong”, meaning that many experts would in fact concur with many of his claims and conclusions.
Given this, journalists proclaiming the science shows him to be flat “wrong” are in error. Several other experts have weighed in with general support regarding the thrust of the argument. I should mention that a psychologist who does know what he is talking about, Adam Grant, weighed in critically on the content and tone of the Damore memo and argued that differences between men and women are vastly overstated. Importantly, Grant’s piece was challenged by Scott Alexander, and a sophisticated debate ensued. Folks can see the long, detailed exchange here.
The point here for non-expert outsiders to grasp is that the issues regarding the science of gender differences and how they might play out in a context like Google are enormously complicated. To have a reasonable working grasp of the issues, one needs to have an understanding of evolutionary biology in general and parental investment theory in particular; the work of evolutionary psychologists and others on gender differences and human universals; the critiques of evolutionary psychologists on gender differences from more social structural perspectives; awareness of theories of human personality and cognition and motivation and their relation to gender; awareness of gender from anthropology and sociology, as well as feminist and critical theory perspectives (we will get to these issues when we shift to part b of claim 2). In addition, one needs to understand research, meta-analyses, and workplace climate. I teach about gender from all of these perspectives, and it is complicated.
One of the great scientific problems in sorting out these issues is that science does not offer much of a broad, synthetic framework that allows folks to integrate across domains of inquiry in a way that yields a coherent picture. Instead, things are often framed, as they were in the Damore memo, as explanations that pit evolution and biology versus learning and social constructionism. This is unsophisticated for too many reasons to get into. I will simply note that I developed my “unified framework” in part to deal with problematic and false dichotomies. (For an example of how the unified framework is applied to one of the great mysteries of gender difference—the fact that women are notably more religious than men—see here and here).
The basic “take home” message I teach my students when discussing the evolution of differences is that the genders are far more alike than they are different in their respective psychological makeups (AKA the gender similarities hypothesis). However, there are some important differences and one key personality-cognitive style difference that I believe is crucial to understand. I argue men and women do differ in what I call their “cognitive relational styles”. This is the idea that, at the aggregate level, women are more focused on and interested in relationships and they experience the world more in terms of a “self-other” relational matrix. Men, in contrast, are more agentic and instrumental and experience the world more in terms of problem solving and pragmatic outcomes. There are lots of forces that give rise to this, and evolutionary forces are a part of this equation. (This blog explains this and looks explicitly at how my wife and I experience the world as examples, and this blog makes a similar point).
I don’t share this claim about gender differences as “the truth”. It is one expert’s opinion about the core gender differences in terms of evolved psychological architectures. But the point here is that, contra Damore’s dismissive critics, it is relevant to at least consider the evolved psychological architecture of men and women in the explanation of differential outcomes in employment. Consider, for example, that this formulation potentially does helps to explain why, on average, men are more interested in things and women are more interested in people and relationships. Go back to my comments about the vast differences in the gender distributions regarding the different divisions of APA. The program I direct is all about people, working with people, helping people, nurturing people. The APA Division 24 I am a member of is about abstract ideas and solving abstract problems. It seems clear this could have relevance for in accounting for some of the differential outcomes at Google.
But is it ok for me to say this? Does this “really” translate into saying men are better suited “biologically” to being engineers than women? No, not at all. But it is complicated, such that we are now ready to move into part B of claim #2.
Claim #2; Part B: The Philosophical and Moral Implications of the Claim
The institution of psychology emerged at a time when the White Christian Male Patriarchy was explicitly endorsed (i.e., the second half of the 19th Century) by the culture at large. As such, psychology participated in and sometimes advanced the explicit racist and sexist ideologies of the day. For example, for much of the first 50 years of the discipline, only individuals who were male and White were granted unrestricted access to higher education in psychology. In addition, many of the practices, lines of research and conclusions of psychologists were blatantly racist and sexist. Especially egregious were psychologists participation in the eugenics movement, but the list is long and a potential source of shame and embarrassment for modern scholars.
Of course, as the country changed its ideology regarding race and gender and sexual orientation, so too did psychologists. By the 1960s a massive attempt at correction was underway, and since that time psychology as an institution has been deeply concerned about diversity and equality. Currently, the APA sees the enhancement of social justice issues as one of its central missions.
This brings us back to the Damore memo and what it might mean. Is the implication of the Damore memo that men are biologically better engineers than women? Several critics on the left stated explicitly that this was the implication. And it seems that this the primary reason for firing Damore, that he expressed ideas that advanced “harmful gender stereotypes”.
There is a real philosophical and moral problem here. What if ideas that offer explanations of why things are the way they are do what some theoretical and philosophical psychologists call “epistemological violence” to vulnerable others? Epistemological violence, as defined by current president of Division 24 Thomas Teo, “refers to the interpretation of social-scientific data on the Other and is produced when empirical data are interpreted as showing the inferiority of or problematizes the Other, even when data allow for equally viable alternative interpretations”.
Does Damore’s analysis harm women in unfair ways because it emphasizes some explanations over others that might result in the (twisted) conclusion that women were somehow inferior to men? There are no easy answers. Certainly some people experienced the memo as communicating this. But does this fact in and of itself mean it should not have been stated? I do not believe so, and Steve Pinker offers good guidance in thinking about these issues. Moreover, walling ideas about how the world works off as morally unacceptable because the implications are upsetting also carries a great moral risk.
What we are dealing with here is the problem of how we might offer possible explanations for what is going on, while at the same time keeping in mind the impact those explanations might have on the people and phenomena we are trying to explain. It is important to understand this problem, so I will explain it here. Technically, this is called “the problem of the double hermeneutic”. A hermeneutic refers to a method or system of interpretation. In psychology and the social sciences, hermeneutics refers to the ways people develop systems of meaning and justification that allow them to make sense out of the world.
Anthony Giddens is the scholar who identified the problem of the double hermeneutic. According to Giddens, physics, chemistry, biology and other natural (i.e., nonhuman) science disciplines are "single" hermeneutic disciplines in that scientists must develop shared systems of thought about the appropriate way to describe the natural phenomena in question. He noted these scientists can generally be safe in their assumption that the discourse about the objects per se will do little to change the phenomena under investigation. Thus, the observer and observed remain in their rightful places in natural science disciplines (complications from quantum mechanics notwithstanding), and natural scientists generally do not need to concern themselves with the question of what their knowledge justifies because their subjects will not co-opt this knowledge and change their very nature in the process.
However, the situation changes radically when we are talking about people. According to Giddens, “The concepts and theories invented by social scientists circulate in and out of the social world they are coined to analyze”. In other words, the justifications generated by human scientists to explain some human behavioral phenomenon are digested by human actors with genuine causal consequences. Thus human sciences are fundamentally different from the natural sciences because they confront a “double” hermeneutic.
The double hermeneutic then refers to the problem that theories of human behavior (in this case, theories of gender differences that pertain to working as an engineers) will interact with existing public justification systems, with potentially harmful consequences. This has lots of complicating ramifications for how we think about scientific facts, values, philosophy, and what theories we "ought" to promote more generally.
So where does this leave us? It means we have much work to do in clarifying our values and belief systems. It means there are no easy answers in cases like the Damore memo because there are deep ethical issues at play across a number of factors and forces. However, if this can be accomplished if one has a more holistic understanding of facts and values, and, in this case, evolution, learning and social roles. This holistic understanding is what the unified framework attempts to achieve.
Analysis of Claim #3: The Current Diversity Initiatives are an Important Solution for Google
My analysis of the first two claims does not lead to direct advice regarding what Google should do about its current diversity initiatives. It all depends on their values, the kind of programs and their logic, which is information I do not have direct access to.
What the above analysis does do is state that Google’s executives should not simply assume that the failure to achieve parity in ratios of men and women in software engineering should be taken as evidence of sexism, discrimination or oppression. The fact that only 25% of individuals in leadership positions are women is potentially low. And, undoubtedly, work can be done (and is being done) that can potentially increase these levels. But honest discussions about why and how to do so should be part of the discussion.
It also means that, although understandable, firing Damore on the grounds that his memo perpetuated harmful stereotypes of women is highly problematic and works against open conversation about reasonable ideas. First, executives (and others) should know there are serious scientific arguments to be made about possible differences in evolved psychological architectures that are helpful in explaining gender differences in behavior at the aggregate level. Individuals should be able to hear about these arguments without either sex/gender feeling inferior or wounded. Second, individuals should know that these arguments do not mean outcomes are fixed or determined. They simply are pieces of the puzzle to understand. Indeed, Damore makes clear suggestions on how to increase diversity based on the ideas.
Third, as Damore notes and supporters like myself of the heterodox academy agree, political ideology should be one of the domains of diversity that is embraced. It offers important checks and balances and challenges groupthink. That he was fired for expressing these ideas highlights that Damore’s concerns with “psychological safety” are real. And it means that some reasonable ideas are off limits. Although Google does not have the same kind of concerns regarding open intellectual inquiry as a university, it still is likely that they value intellectual integrity and a culture that promotes an open exchange of ideas. Thus, this is a hit against that value.
Going forward in dealing with the memo, I would advise Google’s executives that work should be done in deconstructing what the memo really says, as opposed to simplistic or twisted interpretations of it that are used to dismiss it out of hand. Consider, for example, the argument that it made some women feel inferior. These feelings do need to be attended to, but at the same time the content of the memo needs to be considered for what it claims. The memo definitely does not say that the women who currently work at Google as leaders or software engineers are somehow lesser or inferior to the men working there.
To see why, let’s return to my discipline and the fact that only about 20% of practicing psychologists are men. I just reviewed analyses above that suggested that, perhaps, there are some evolved psychological differences between men and women, such that women may be more relational (and thus potentially more attentive, sensitive, empathetic and nurturing) and men may be more physically aggressive or self-oriented. I am a man who is also a professional psychologist. Does this mean I am arguing I am less attentive, relational, empathetic or nurturing than most psychologists? That I am more physically aggressive or self-oriented? No. Not at all. The general difference is already accounted for by the differential rates so there is no argument being made about the skill levels of the current participants. Also, everyone needs to remember that aggregate level analyses are completely different than individual level analyses, a point Damore rightly makes.
I also think the positive aspects of the memo need to be highlighted, not glossed over, and the assumption that there is a nefarious sexist motive at work should not be presumed. In fact, in the memo Damore repeatedly states that he desires diversity in the workplace and that sexism exists and needs to be addressed. By my read, Damore never directly demeans the contributions of woman or claims they can’t or shouldn’t be engineers. Of course, if he had done did that, then he definitely should have been fired, no questions asked. Instead, the memo can be readily interpreted as a reasonable person of goodwill asking hard questions about a very complicated issue. An effective processing of these issues can be healing and can lead to a much deeper and more robust ideology, as opposed to one that is reactive or hyperpolarized.
I was drawn into this drama because it exemplifies some of the very real conflicts, trials, and tribulations our country is facing. As the November election highlighted, the forces of white male resentment are deep, strong, and real. At the same time, we have seen a clear emergence of a deeply problematic strand of hyper-left politically correct thinking that is both righteous and hostile to open intellectual inquiry.
I believe our country is in desperate need of clear thinking and strong leadership during these complicated times. We urgently need reasonable people of goodwill who seek to enhance human dignity and well-being with integrity to help guide the system forward while avoiding unnecessary polarization. Unfortunately, exactly at a time when we need to be able to hold the complexity in the world we live in a sophisticated way, our socio-political identities are going in the opposite direction. They are devolving to ever more simplistic, primitive narratives that are held to be good or right simply by virtue that they are one’s own or supported by one’s political team and are opposed by the (evil) others. The current ideological path of political divisiveness is unsustainable and endangering this great nation. We must work effectively toward constructive solutions that synergize the key insights into a coherent, effective whole.