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Google’s fired “politically incorrect” engineer has sparked a broad ideological debate

The alt-right has rallied around the man they view as a hero for arguing against diversity in the workplace.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

James Damore, the now-fired Google engineer who wrote a viral memo stating that women are biologically unsuited for engineering and other tech industry jobs, is at the center of a polarized internet debate about whether such arguments, however controversial, should be entertained in the context of free speech.

Damore has confirmed to multiple news outlets that Google dismissed him for “perpetuating gender stereotypes.” His memo, which argues that women are innately incapable, unwilling, or unfit to perform a wide range of engineering and tech industry jobs, has left many people angry and appalled. But it’s also garnered plenty of support among those who agree with his arguments and those who sympathize with his claim that Google has fostered an ideological echo chamber. Such supporters feel he’s fallen victim to what many on the right perceive as the progressive social justice movement’s “politically correct” groupthink.

Even before he was fired, Damore was hailed as a hero by many right-wing news outlets, some of whom accused progressives of “[stringing] him up.” And members of the alt-right have praised him as a brave soul speaking truth about fundamental differences between genders they believe are ignored by a rigidly suppressive leftist culture. But he’s also found support among people from a broader range of political range of political backgrounds over issues such as free speech and censorship. His termination has even become a rallying point for conservatives and libertarians — some of whom believe the media played a role in demonizing him to the public.

Damore’s supporters argue that the media distorted his arguments and that he had the right to express them

Support for Damore’s viewpoints has proved wide-ranging. Bloomberg columnist Elaine Ou argued that the backlash against him reflects a progressive authoritarian hivemind. Before news of Damore’s firing broke, a First Amendment lawyer named Marc Randazza argued at CNN that while Damore’s First Amendment rights hadn’t been violated, a “lynch mob mentality” had kicked in to punish Damore for his beliefs that women lack the inherent ability to do the same kinds of jobs in the same kinds of environments as men.

On Reddit, a massive, 10,000-comment thread revealed a hefty amount of outrage directed at Google for firing Damore because he spoke freely about his views, as well as considerable support for those views.

“This is not the ‘poor white male’ speech,” wrote one user in support of Damore. “This is the ‘the workplace might suffer because we're judging people on the color of their skin, religious beliefs, sex, etc and we're hiring them over qualified people for the sake of diversity’ speech.” (This argument, however, has been routinely challenged by reports and studies indicating that a diverse workforce is beneficial for a company’s growth and decision-making.)

Among the most upvoted arguments on the thread is one that accuses Gizmodo, which was the first news outlet to publish Damore’s memo in full, of omitting its hyperlinks and two charts to deliberately make Damore’s argument look weak and unsourced.

A full version of the memo with hyperlinks — many of which cite research that has been questioned or discredited by the scientific community — has since been widely circulated.

Many of Damore’s supporters believe that in firing him, Google proved his point

A core tenet of arguments made by both conservatives and the alt-right against progressive politics is that the mainstream media and “politically correct” liberals routinely misrepresent or try to suppress more conservative beliefs at the expense of free speech. This criticism frequently applies to outwardly progressive work environments like that of Google, a tech industry giant that publicly touts its goals regarding diversity and gender equality in its workforce (even as it continues to flounder in achieving those goals).

Thus, many conservatives and members of the alt-right view Damore’s choice to publish his memo to Google’s internal employee forum, in what they view as a suppressive community, as a solo act of bravery and defiance — an assertion of his right to freely speak out against progressive groupthink.

And his declaration that Google has created an ideological echo chamber which quiets any kind of dissent is, to them, a bold moment of truth-telling that was ultimately validated; to his supporters, Google proved Damore’s argument by firing him.

This belief has resulted in a number of showy ideological stands. Even before his dismissal became public Monday night, the social media platform Gab, which touts itself as “free speech-friendly” and has become a digital haven for racist, sexist rhetoric, was offering him a job.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has also publicly offered Damore employment:

His supporters have been vocal in judging Google for its quick move to fire Damore:

In an email to Google employees on Monday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai made it clear that despite the company’s commitment to fostering an environment where employees can speak their minds on Google’s ambitions and policies, “portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

In other words, from Google’s point of view, firing Damore was not motivated by the fact that he had criticized the company, but by the hostile work environment his memo encouraged.

Even so, his dismissal has sparked widespread debate over Damore’s actions, beliefs, and what rights he had to express his beliefs in the workplace. And while Silicon Valley leaders have been quick to openly condemn Damore’s arguments, the public debate they’ve generated shows no sign of waning — nor does support for the man who many feel has spoken uncomfortable truth to power.