Your top five dreadful people the Google manifesto has pulled out of the woodwork
'Bad human being' alert
Comment There are a lot of theories about why human beings can, on occasion, be terrible assholes. Social psychologists have been working on the issue for a while and even have a number of useful terms.
"Behavioral contagion" for example describes a strange human trait where people copy the behavior of someone they are in close proximity to – or, increasingly, in the internet age, whom they hear about or "follow" after that person gains some kind of notoriety.
"Deindividuation" is another key idea that seeks to explain why people stop applying social norms in a group, described largely as a loss of self-awareness. Most of us experience it when people are incredibly unpleasant in online forums.
But this article isn't about that. Because this author is not a social psychologist. Moreover, yours truly only learned about those two terms earlier today while trying to understand why people say dreadful, ignorant, hurtful things in response to a debate about dreadful, ignorant, hurtful things.
It takes about eight years to become a social psychologist. It took less than 15 minutes to read all about the life's work of many of them and then figure out how to boil it down to make it useful for the purposes of this article.
And yet, here I am, confidently relaying my very-short-term knowledge, strangely confident that despite having not read the work of Ladd Wheeler or Philip Zimbardo, and without having spoken to Joanna Birsky or EJ Lee, I am now somewhat informed about what makes people behave like assholes online.
The key lesson here is an old adage: a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And the internet makes acquiring that little knowledge incredibly easy.
The sexist Jerry Maguire
And so it was with James Damore who, it is fair to say, did not expect to be fired, condemned by his own CEO, held up as a martyr by right-wing ideologues, and lambasted as the very worst sort of privileged white boy within days of posting a 10-page document on an internal noticeboard.
Damore has now filed a formal complaint against Google to the US National Labor Relations Board, we note.
The ex-Googler did a very stupid thing. He decided to let his intellect drive his internal biases and ended up producing a document that he no doubt felt at the time was a powerful corrective argument to what he sees as a misplaced assertion within Google that the company needs to hire more women and more people from different races and backgrounds to balance its dominant white, male Caucasian culture.
The document is an embarrassment. It views everything and everyone in black-and-white terms: you are a man or a woman; you are white, or you are not; you are right-wing or you are left-wing.
It pushes a narrative. It uses highly subjective language to push demeaning or mocking arguments. It provides "evidence" as an afterthought or not at all. Overall, it is insulting to pretty much anyone who isn't James Damore.
But then again, he is also a software engineer who is not even 30 years old. Damore's CV reveals an extremely privileged existence: a chess champion with a degree from the University of Illinois, a master’s in systems biology from Harvard, an intern at Princeton, a researcher at MIT and then a software engineer at Google. It is a veritable list of elite US establishments.
That life, that existence, has never had to deal first-hand with the inequities that exist for the vast majority of people. He has never had to build an objective, evidence-based argument for something other than programming a logic machine. His understanding of computer code is greater than the vast majority of people on the planet but it has come at a price: a staggering level of ignorance about who those other people walking around him really are.
Unfortunately, being young and having lived a sheltered life, James Damore has not had an opportunity to learn the depth of his ignorance. It seems the beginnings of that awareness started with Google's diversity efforts.
In his piece, Damore repeatedly mocks the idea of "unconscious biases" – utterly resistant to the idea of imaging himself as anything but the very best sort of person. It's all of you who harbor unconscious biases. Challenged, he feels victimized. And so decides to do what he does best: use his mind to argue the case logically.
He does a spectacularly bad job of it. Mostly because he is wrong and acting out of bitterness and ignorance – never a great start point.
We have been here before many, many times. The world's most revered politician, Winston Churchill was an appalling racist. An incredibly intelligent man, he felt, for some reason, that Indians were somehow sub-human and his bias directly lead to two million of them dying in the preventable Bengal famine.
Another incredibly clever man is James Watson. He co-discovered the structure of DNA. He was also apparently convinced that black people are, somehow, inherently intellectually inferior.
The instances of deeply ingrained sexism in the minds of very brilliant men are simply too numerous to even begin to list.
The bigger question to ask is probably why highly intelligent, accomplished, lauded white men feel the need to draw distinctions of superiority in the first place. Why does someone already sitting high on the hill feel the need to point at those below him and explain why they don't deserve to be where he is?
Just to be absolutely clear here: If you ever make a statement about what a broad group of people are like, especially in comparison to another group of people, you are going to be wrong. And the bigger that group, the more wrong you will be.
And, no, simply inserting the word "average" does not excuse you from making such false generalizations about groups of people; in the same way adding "allegedly" does not let you accuse a random person of being a child molester.
But let's get to the top five dreadful people that this Google manifesto and surrounding hubbub has pulled out of the woodwork.
5. Eric Weinstein
Eric is the managing director of Thiel Capital. For some reason, the news that Google had decided to fire James Damore inspired him to write the following on Twitter:
"Dear @Google, Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR. Thx in advance, A dad."
There are several problems with this response which, combined, push Mr Weinstein firmly into asshole territory. It's fair to say that Eric didn't say what he really thinks because he squeezed not one but two straw men arguments into just 26 words.
First, if there was anyone complaining to HR it was in fact Mr Damore who was arguing that he was being silenced by "Google's ideological echo chamber." Second, no one benefitted financially from him being fired. In fact, money has nothing to do with the entire saga.
And then there is the construct of supposedly writing as a father and taking issue with Google over what it was seemingly teaching his daughter. If genuine, that would be an extremely odd way of parenting – by posting messages to a public forum rather than talking to her in person.
But that also ignores the fundamental fact that Damore literally argued that women were biologically unsuitable to do certain types of jobs. If Mr Weinstein wants his daughter to be a coder – and we'll ignore the fact that parental pressure to do a specific job is already a bad idea – then it would make sense for Google to have fired someone who implied a woman couldn't do the job.
The fact that there is not a single genuine or reasonable word within Mr Weinstein's response and considering that as the head of Thiel Capital, he is a very rich and powerful figure in the tech industry, his response firmly places an ASSHOLE stamp on his head.
Was this an example of "behavioral contagion" at work? Quite possibly. Although it continued on for a while as Eric doubled-down after receiving abuse for his appalling response.
Rather than STFU, in his next tweet he decided, unfathomably, to talk about race. "Ever watch mixed-race kids made to cry for not being brown enough? Family bullied for standing up to racism? It doesn't mean what you think."
As asshole meters across the world started to be recalibrated, he offered more of the same: "You don't fire a biologist for noting that the SRY protein could result in social/cognitive differences as if he were promoting harassment."
And as it gradually dawned on Mr Weinstein that lots of people did not agree with him, he attempted a backtrack: "It's far more likely that women will one day be found to be better at coding than men, than that both genders will be exactly as good at it." Most bizarrely he then exclaimed that he had voted for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. And then when it couldn't get any better, noted: "And I fight for women in tech fields because we need them. Is this April 1?"
Nope, it is not April Fools Day, Eric, it is "Holy shit, did you just use the equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black' argument" Day.
Mr Weinstein looks very much like the embodiment of pretty much everything that is wrong with Silicon Valley VC culture. And he proved it with his own words thanks to James Damore's ignorant thesis.
4. Michael Gray
It's probably worth pointing out that most of the dreadful people who have emerged as a result of this situation are old, white, rich men.
Why? Because as dreadful as Damore's text was, he is still a young man. He hasn't lived much of a life yet and he's not in a position of power. He made a stupid mistake that, with luck, he will learn from.
Not so men in the 50s who should have become better human beings by now, who have families, who oversee others, who develop work cultures that have a big impact on younger, more impressionable people, and who have resources and influence. If you're still an asshole in that position, you are actively encouraging the creation of more future assholes. You are the lead asshole.
Michael Gray is President at Atlas Web Service. It's not a big company. It does SEO work, social media work, and reputation management. But what he lacks in influence, he gains in being a terrible person.
For some reason, the issue of a foolish young man being fired by claiming women are biologically inferior was sufficient cause for Mr Gray to take what felt like most of the day off work to post seemingly endless aggressive responses online.
A significant number of them were posted in response to Google's own tweet highlighting its CEO statement on the firing of Damore.
Again, the issue of sexism and racism was instantly connected: "You hate white families"; "You hate white women"; "You hate white men"; "Your diversity is a lie" ran a series of four tweets, each attached with a screengrab of Google image searches for "white families", "white women" etc.
In one, Gray is infuriated that when he searched for "white men with white children and white wives", the images returned lots of non-white people.
And, again, the firing – even though it was about disparaging women as inferior – is instantly connected in Gray's mind to politics and "liberals." A quick review of his online postings show Mr Gray to be a strong supporter of President Trump and pretty much everything appears to be seen through that filter.
Gray even mocked up a version of the Google logo with its changed to the word "Goolag." Because firing a staff member for posting an offensive document internally is morally equivalent to forced detention and work camps introduced by Joseph Stalin.
At least according to Gray, who, we would venture to argue, is a Grade A asshole.
And just in case you were in any doubt, the decision to retweet a message from "White Outreach" that read "Refusing to teach White children about their racial heritage & history strips them of their natural sense of identity," complete with a picture of Vikings coming off a boat sort of sums up where he is coming from.
3. Christina Sommers
A member of Washington think-tank The American Enterprise Institute, former philosophy professor and self-described "factual feminist," Christina has used the Damore firing saga to repeatedly reveal herself as a dreadful person.
Just as Weinstein is the embodiment of everything wrong with Silicon Valley VC culture, Sommer does an excellent job flagging herself as everything wrong with Washington white woman culture.
In essence, Christina has a strong opinion about absolutely everything and seems to be a firm believer in approaching every issue by finding someone to aggressively mock.
She has a "feminist" slant on the Damore firing: women should quit moaning and just get up and carry on.
"If the memo upset you, write a tough reply. Don't run away crying," she advised before going on to attack and malign anyone who disagreed with her, the media, Chelsea Handler (on an unrelated race matter) and President Trump.
Ms Sommers is a non-stop stream of mockery and finger waving where everyone is either weak or malicious and all of them are wrong.
Capturing this relentless aggressive posturing, she responded to Google CEO's response by saying: "No sane woman is going to have those worries cause a guy wrote a memo. To suggest otherwise is patronizing."
In just 20 words, she manages to malign men, women who don't agree with her, and any organization or publication that even suggests her approach of having no emotions except anger is unhealthy.
She is, in short, like all awful Twitter users, a scar on the skin of society.
2. Toby Young
Long a resident of the UK's Asshole Index, journalist Toby Young is using the internet to spread his particular brand of revolting rhetoric internationally.
Like a less successful Piers Morgan, Young relishes the opportunity to take any current event and find some take on it that is guaranteed to upset as many people as possible and then revel in the hatred thrown back at him, like a boy in class who masturbates under the desk and hopes someone sees him.
He wrote a book called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
So what is Toby Young's hot take on the Google firing? He's decided to go the alt-right route of claiming that "the media" is misrepresenting Damore's manifesto.
"The Google ‘anti-diversity’ memo isn’t anything of the sort," he claims in his own blog post on the issue. He then goes on to claim people are misrepresenting the 10-page document while simultaneously misunderstanding the document as some kind of perfectly reasonable discourse.
The firing of Damore was not, according to Young, the result of someone saying something so offensive that female employees threatened to quit and kept some away from work on Monday; no, his firing only "confirmed Damore's point" that it had "become dangerous to challenge the progressive orthodoxy within the company" – Young's words, not Damore's.
Fortunately, because Young is British and not American, he didn't go the well-worn route of claiming the firing was a free speech issue (because it isn't).
Instead, Young chose to seize what people were saying about the memo and then attacked them for what they didn't say. He claims that Damore was only ever pointing out that the average woman was different to the average man and that everyone had failed to noticed this. "Ninety-nine per cent of those who’ve condemned the memo have made this schoolboy error," claims Young.
But of course this is itself complete bunkum. Because as anyone who wasn't writing simply to antagonize people by being contrarian would have noted, Google doesn't just grab women off the street and interview them for software engineering posts.
It's a pretty safe bet that the women being interviewed for specific posts at Google are in fact highly qualified to do those jobs. What is so infuriating about Damore's mindset – and what Google is trying so hard to unravel – is the immediate assumption that because the person going for the job happens to be a woman that they are somehow immediately less capable of doing it.
The reason Young is such a dreadful person and makes this list of dreadful people is because he is also a very intelligent, highly articulate individual who uses his skills to demean and punish people for his own gratification.
He derails discourse and muddies waters and so long as people hate him for it, he'll keep emptying his blood-specked excreta on the page.
1. Guest of Ecuador
Last, and in many senses least, in this list of the top five dreadful people to have emerged from this week's Google saga is Julian Assange.
In case you were wondering, yes, he is still an egomaniacal asshole. ®