The Google memo and culture war rules of engagement

The Google employee’s memo on gender and tech has ignited a wider debate. But can it go beyond the destructive cycle of the culture wars?

Unless you’ve been on Mars or hiding out in a bunker waiting for the Trump-Kim Jong Un nuclear alley fight, you know about the memo written by a Google engineer, James Damore.

He criticized the company’s diversity programs and, most controversially, argued that some of the gap between male and female employment in the technology sector may be based on biology, not discrimination — that men were more naturally drawn to these specialties.

He was fired Monday. CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees that the memo violated the company’s code of conduct “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” Damore may sue. Google has scheduled a “town hall” on the subject for 4 p.m. today. (UPDATE: The town hall has been canceled.)

The actual memo is worth reading. It’s thoughtful and well argued (which makes it all the more dangerous to those on the left who police thought crimes). Yet while it makes some important points, it’s ultimately not persuasive. The tech sector does have a gender-equality problem, many years in the making, one even acknowledged by the New York Times’ conservative columnist Ross Douthat.

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Meanwhile, the so-called alt-right has rallied to Damore’s defense, bringing the culture war to Silicon Valley and, by extension, Seattle. Thinking people everywhere should be concerned about the level of venom in American society, the limits extremists on both sides want to impose on debate in the public square. “Privilege!” “libtard!” “white entitlement!” “snowflake!” — this is not the way a self-governing nation can perpetuate its experiment.

As a columnist, I’m given wide latitude to write my opinions, ones I hope are backed by facts and persuasive writing. I’ve never shied from criticizing overreach on the right or the left, while holding the powerful to account and explaining complex events and concepts. But this is not license. It’s based on a trust I hold with readers and the Seattle Times. I would never write and make public a memo criticizing…

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