David Brooks being clueless again

Oh good. Superb. David Brooks has weighed in, as usual with an air of omniscient authority as if he were au fait with all the relevant research as well as all the arguments, and he comes down with a thud on the side of poor oppressed James Damore. And his piece is at the top of the Times’s trending links.

There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but I’d say the one who’s behaved the worst is the C.E.O., Sundar Pichai.

The first actor is James Damore, who wrote the memo. In it, he was trying to explain why 80 percent of Google’s tech employees are male. He agreed that there are large cultural biases but also pointed to a genetic component. Then he described some of the ways the distribution of qualities differs across male and female populations.

Note that credulous “he was trying to explain why 80 percent of Google’s tech employees are male” – as if it were a deep mystery as opposed to just another iteration of the commonplace fact that employers favor men in hiring. Note that minimizing “but also pointed to a genetic component.” Note the assumption that Damore was up to the job of describing “some of the ways the distribution of qualities differs across male and female populations.” Note the way he frames the whole thing, and then pause to swallow bile.

Damore was tapping into the long and contentious debate about genes and behavior. On one side are those who believe that humans come out as blank slates and are formed by social structures. On the other are the evolutionary psychologists who argue that genes interact with environment and play a large role in shaping who we are. In general the evolutionary psychologists have been winning this debate.

That’s a very simplistic and manipulative way of framing it. I don’t think it’s the case that everyone who emphasizes the role of culture / social structures / environment discounts genes entirely, and I don’t think it’s the case that evolutionary psychologists are the only ones who argue that genes interact with environment.

Brooks quotes a couple of Damore-approvers and none of the other kind.

We should all have a lot of sympathy for the second group of actors in this drama, the women in tech who felt the memo made their lives harder.

Oh fuck you, Brooks, and your “we.” News flash: half of us are that second group: the women in and out of tech whose lives the memo has made harder. We don’t want your lot of sympathy, we want you to go write another book about yuppies.

What we have is a legitimate tension. Damore is describing a truth on one level; his sensible critics are describing a different truth, one that exists on another level. He is championing scientific research; they are championing gender equality. It takes a little subtlety to harmonize these strands, but it’s doable.

Puh-leeze. Damore is “championing scientific research” only in the sense that he used the words; he didn’t actually include any citations. He’s not a scientist and he doesn’t work in genetics. What he’s championing is the use of cherry-picked research to prop up his preference to keep the numbers of women in tech small. And “they” are not championing gender equality as opposed to scientific research, so quit painting “them” as akin to creationists.

Then he rants about mobs, then he quotes Conor Friedersdorf, then he rants at the CEO.

Which brings us to Pichai, the supposed grown-up in the room. He could have wrestled with the tension between population-level research and individual experience. He could have stood up for the free flow of information. Instead he joined the mob. He fired Damore and wrote, “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.”

That is a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo. Damore wrote nothing like that about his Google colleagues. Either Pichai is unprepared to understand the research (unlikely), is not capable of handling complex data flows (a bad trait in a C.E.O.) or was simply too afraid to stand up to a mob.

Brooks is unprepared to understand the long and prolific history of Damore-like “memos” and posts and tweet sequences that has built up over the past few years (and echoes a history that goes back decades and centuries before that). He thinks Damore wrote a sober, disinterested, research-based piece well worth reading and discussing. He didn’t. As so many people have said over the past few days: what he wrote is all too familiar and stale and flimsy and wrong. That Brooks takes it so seriously is laughable…or would be, were it not for the fact that the Times has elevated him to a position of authority he hasn’t earned.

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