Sunday, August 06, 2017

An internal screed circulated inside Google complaining about its "diversity" policies has generated an enormous amount of noise, both for and against (including by some opponents who seem determined to prove it accurate).  Most interesting to me is the document's claim that dissenting views about these policies are actively suppressed within Google.  As I pointed out a couple of years ago, such suppression is usually a symptom of an unaccountable organization, insulated enough from performance standards that it can be hijacked by political agenda-pushers with impunity.  One wouldn't normally think of Google that way, but in fact it makes almost all its money from its Internet advertising business, and many of its other technologies--employing the majority of its employees--may therefore be developing an unaccountable culture similar to that of nonprofit organizations, where various abstract ideals--including political ones pushed by internal factions for their own reasons--compete to replace the bottom line as the primary decision-making factor.

As for the public reaction to the episode, I'm frankly amazed at the number of people--on both sides of the issue--who seem to think that how Google evaluates its current and prospective engineers is a public policy matter, subject to political approval in the same way as, say, oil pipeline proposals.  One could argue that this is a natural extension of non-discrimination law, which first gradually expanded to include such concepts as "disparate impact", which effectively restricts how employers may evaluate job candidates in the name of achieving racial parity in hiring.  But I can't recall a previous instance where such concepts were applied in a white-collar professional context, where evaluation of talent is so crucial to success.  (Imagine, for instance, if medical practices were required to tailor their hiring and evaluation standards to suit current political conventions.)  I personally don't care whether Google adopts an outstanding, average or catastrophically bad set of hiring criteria for its technical employees.  But I shudder to think what will happen to the US economy if companies in general are forbidden to focus on competence in hiring even for positions requiring advanced skills and training.


Daniel said...

See also Lubos Motl - acerbic, grating, highly intelligent physics contrarian - on this affair

My sister was at Harvard at the time of l'affaire Summers (a supporter of his, to this day they are friendly). Motl's right on point with the hang-em-high atmosphere at the time, and the isolation of Summer supporters among faculty and grad students.

In my view, google memo affair fallout is psychological sublimation artifact: Western 'feminists' guilt over self-chosen silence and PC-induced impotency viz actual horrific practices against women (in Islam and other settings). See eg Atlantic's version of J'accuse "Why tech is so awful")

Dan said...

Two thoughts in response:

1) The takeover of major academic institutions by power-seeking political coalitions is by now very familiar. It's also very understandable, for the reasons I've outlined before: an unaccountable, self-governing organization with no external controls will inevitably come to be dominated by a power-seeking political coalition, because that's the most effective way for the organization's members to maximize their power. This law applies equally to groups as small as "Survivor" contestants, and as large as entire democratic countries.

What's interesting is that we wouldn't normally expect this law to apply to a for-profit corporation such as Google, because for-profit corporations definitely don't lack an external control--specifically, the marketplace in which they compete, and the shareholders who expect them to succeed in that marketplace. And yet Google has nevertheless adopted a clearly profit-damaging set of policies as a result of an internal political takeover by a power-seeking coalition. I've speculated that the reason for its emulation of an unaccountable organization may be that it internally views itself as a quasi-monopoly insulated from market forces, rather than a competitive enterprise seeking to maximize its profits. But there are other possible explanations: perhaps the takeover is really being driven from the top, as part of a misguided belief on the part of top management that a radical leftist corporate culture will improve profits in the long run, for some reason. Or perhaps corporate culture is a stronger force than I give it credit for, and can overwhelm a corporation's profit motive if given the opportunity. What I can say with authority is that the corporate picture painted by this episode is not universal among tech companies, at least some of which are much more profit-focused and less PC-focused than Google appears to be.

2) I don't believe for an instant that Western feminists feel the least bit guilty about their political views, however self-serving and self-contradictory. Ideologies are always rationalizations of the selfish interests of a group or coalition, pursued coldly and efficiently through political action. In this respect feminists are no different from libertarians, traditionalist conservatives, radical progressives, neoconservatives, neoliberals, or for that matter communists or fascists: they fervently believe whatever increases the power, wealth and well-being of themselves and their political allies.

LTEC said...

I agree that feminists are hardly self loathing. But why does Dan insist that "ideologies are always rationalizations of the selfish interests of a group or coalition, pursued coldly and efficiently"? Why isn't it possible that many people really believe their (ever-shifting) ideologies? After all, people often make great sacrifices, including giving up their lives, for their cause. Even if feminists think they are being coldly efficient, no one wants to hire them (except as "diversity officers") instead of normal women.

Dan said...

1) I never said that the followers of ideologies don't fervently believe in them. What I'm claiming that the "ideology" in which they believe is (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) an embodiment of the interests of their tribe or coalition, rather than any specific set of abstract principles that that tribe or coalition might currently be claiming to embrace. It's not all that uncommon, for instance, for proponents of "ideologies" to turn on a dime and embrace policies that they vehemently opposed not so very long before--and for their bitter ideological opponents to do the same. (The examples are numerous and well-known: the consensus of leading ideologues' views on race-consciousness, international interventionism, executive vs. legislative vs. judicial authority, personal sexual morality in politicians and so on routinely morph along with the interests of the faction to which they are truly loyal.)

2) The conventional wisdom is that soldiers are almost never willing to sacrifice their lives for their country or cause, but are willing to engage in feats of extraordinary bravery and self-sacrifice for the sake of the buddies in their unit. I believe political martyrs are similarly motivated.

3) I'm quite confident that the vast majority of radical feminists fervently hope for, and indeed believe they are working devotedly towards, a world in which jobs as diversity officers are plentiful and lucrative enough for every single one of them to live very comfortably.

LTEC said...

1) I said "ever-shifting", you said "turn on a dime". Tomato, tomato.

2,3) With enough imagination, just about ANY action can be viewed as rational -- 72 virgins, an infinite supply of high-paying "diversity" positions, etc. But this trivializes the concept of "rational". For example, when the leaders of BLM (black lives etc) sir up a violent, destructive, lynch mob, this is in the interests of those leaders since it yields them power and influence. Without the violence and threat of violence, no one would pay them much attention, so these actions are rational. However, the members of the mob risk arrest and imprisonment, in return for nothing. I'm sure the mob members think they have something to gain -- on the rare occasions they think at all -- and so there's some sense in which they are "rational", but there is some sense in which everyone is. I think there is a VERY the leaders and the rather trivial rationality of the mob members. IMPORANT DIFFERENCE (note the caps) between the true rationality of The mob members will think what they are told to think by the leaders of the tribe, they will say what they are told to say, they will do what they are told to do. Once they become members of the tribe, rationality has nothing to do with it. If self-immolation is required, then so be it.

Similarly, "diversity" officers are being very rational when they promote policies that require their services. White, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis-gendered (did I leave anything out?) males are NOT being rational when they promote the policies of a tribe which literally demands that they be n-th class citizens (where n is 1 more than the number of intersections of all the things they are not).

In short I am agreeing with you about tribalism, and for this very reason, I am disagreeing with you about rationality. Cannoneers and their fodder appear to have similar goals, but they cannot be said to be equally rational.

Dan said...

I agree completely that individuals may not always be pursuing their own personal rational self-interest in affiliating themselves with, and accepting the goals and opinions of, a particular political tribe. For example, some people get irrational emotional benefits from joining a tribe--social status, acceptance from desired peers, a sense of loyalty to family, and so on--that can overwhelm more rational calculations of self-interest. Also, people can easily miscalculate their own interests--assuming, for instance, that some anticipated desirable outcome of joining a tribe is more likely than it really is. Finally, the tribe as a whole may miscalculate its own interests--pushing too greedily for itself, for instance, only to cause a stronger tribal coalition to form against it and defeat it, causing all its members to lose out.

But I don't think any of these caveats undermine the overall model, in which tribes generally seek to advance their members' interests, using claimed ideological principles as convenient rationalizations and rallying cries rather than actual guides to action. The army may have cannoneers and cannon fodder, after all, but it is still pursuing its clear collective interest--victory in battle. As for your example of white, heterosexual cis-gendered males who support a leftist identity politics that relegates them to low status, I think of Evergreen State College president George Bridges, who kowtowed and self-denigrated and relegated himself all the way to the prestigious, cushy and well-paid job of college president--a post he almost certainly would never have attained had his politics been very different. And I wonder how many earnestly self-flagellating white cis-het males imagine themselves (quite possibly unrealistically) following a similarly desirable career path.