The Psychology of Firing a Dissident
James Damore, formerly a senior engineer at Google, wrote an internal memo at Google which went viral. In the memo he spoke his mind about his disagreement with the brand of what he saw as political correctness that is taught in training seminars at the company. “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism,” he wrote and went on to suggest that the gender gaps may be due to biological differences between males and females. Damore was subsequently fired for, among other things, using gender stereotypes.
Since then about an equal number of commenters in the social media have come out for and against Damore and Google.
Damore’s memo was apparently a reaction to a voluntary seminar he attended on diversity and bias. He was later interviewed about his reaction to the seminar and said, “There was lots of just shaming and, ‘No, you can’t say that, that’s sexist,’ and, ‘You can’t do this.’ There’s just so much hypocrisy in the things they are saying. I decided to create the document to clarify my thoughts.”
The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, interrupted his vacation to return and address the issue. He wrote a memo criticizing Damore’s memo for advancing “harmful gender stereotypes.” “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” Pichai wrote. This was later the basis for Damore’s firing.
Google is by no means the only company that is holding training seminars in diversity and bias. Companies, colleges and schools all over the country are conducting such seminars. Sometimes they are voluntary, as they were at Google, and sometimes they are mandatory, as they are for college freshmen at many colleges. Proponents say these training programs are necessary in order to make people aware of their unconscious “micro-aggressions.” These institutions say these training programs are needed to establish a culture of diversity and inclusion.
For example, one exercise in the seminar Damore attended had employees roleplay a situation in which one person greets another person by asking what they did at the company. When the first person told the other, “I’m an engineer,” the second person replied, “You don’t look like an engineer.” This comment, said to a woman, was viewed as a form of micro-aggression, an unconscious form of bias. Many other such scenes were played out. Supporters applaud such seminars, viewing them as ways of teaching people to be more aware of their biases. Opponents call these seminars forms of indoctrination.
Some inside and outside the company came to Mr. Damore’s defense. Eric Weinstein, a managing director at Thiel Capital, an investment firm, said Google was sending the wrong message to women. He tweeted, “Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR.” Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, offered Damore a job. Opponents point out that Google and other institutions that conduct seminars in diversity, bias and inclusion are prone to analyzing the unconscious bias of others, but never look at their own possible unconscious bias. They contend that these seminars have a “my way or the highway” attitude, and are in actually attacks on conservatives, Christians and anybody who disagrees with liberal doctrine. They argue that Google is a bastion of groupthink where people with different opinions are punished, demeaned and shamed into silence.
Supporters of Google’s firing argue that Damore’s contentions about women are not scientifically valid. Supporters of Damore say he was not publishing a scientific paper, but merely speaking his mind.
The psychological ramifications of the firing of James Damore may be varied. On the one side it sends a message that if people do not agree with a company’s belief system they will be punished. On a wider basis, it may may reinforce those who identify with the Google definition of progressive, while at the same time causing people who disagree with the tenants of political correctness, whether they are Google employees or members of the general public, to suppress their true feelings and bottle up their anger. It may also affect not only their mood but also their health. In addition, the firing may provoke more conflict in an already strained culture. Finally, the firing of Damore for speaking out has engendered a backlash and may have unwittingly made Damore into a hero.
Google and others who follow the Google belief system call themselves liberals and they often talk about diversity and inclusion. I don’t doubt that they are well-intentioned. However, their version of inclusion does not match up with the classical liberalism of the founders of America. America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. What this meant was that all points of view should be respected and included. For them diversity and inclusion pertained to accepting all belief systems and treating everybody with respect, whether he or she agrees or disagrees with you.
In psychoanalysis, the term “projection” might be used to shed light on Google and its firing of Damore. Projection refers to an unconscious process in which an individual–or a group–denies having some negative thought, feeling or attitude and instead attributes it to someone else. Paranoid personalities are most prone to using this defense mechanism, but nowadays people on both extremes of the left and right are doing it. Google’s action appears to have been a manifestation of projection; those behind the firing apparently saw Damore as a sexist, but they were unconscious of the sexism in their workshops, which point out other people’s unconscious micro-aggressions but not their own.
History is replete with examples of how groups persecuted those who strayed from the accepted path. Copernicus was executed by the Christian world in which he lived when he stated that the earth was not the center of the universe. Nazi Germans persecuted the Jews for, among other things, thinking differently. Many of the wars that have been fought throughout history grew out of intolerance of religious differences.
James Damore’s memo and its aftermath could lead to more psychological oppression and encourage more divisiveness in our culture. Or it could lead to more people speaking their minds and to a closer look at our values.
Schoenewolf, G. (2017). The Psychology of Firing a Dissident. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 24, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/2017/08/the-psychology-of-firing-a-dissident/