The culture of intolerance at Google is hardly unique. It exists at most large companies and other elite institutions. Folks are sick of it.
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) August 8, 2017
This is unquestionably true. And it’s not just a coastal phenomenon. Companies are imposing groupthink in offices across the land. https://t.co/PKG63gbYDK
— David French (@DavidAFrench) August 8, 2017
Worth noting that religious institutions are essentially defined by the imposition of groupthink. If it works for them, why not Google?
— Alan Levinovitz (@AlanLevinovitz) August 8, 2017
Given the creepy Google lingo and employee hysteria, the better analogy is to a cult. Honest cults define their faith. Google should also. https://t.co/oOyOiEq7kZ
— David French (@DavidAFrench) August 8, 2017
This is Twitter exchange concerns a leaked internal memo by a now former Google employee. The memo concerns the lack of intellectual diversity within Google. It also touches on the way Google ought to achieve over kinds of diversity (e.g., how to get more females to work for Google). Along the way it offers opinions and critiques the reigning assumptions about why things are the way they are. For this, the memo writer was fired by Google.
As you follow the link to read the ten-page memo for yourself (ad fontes!) I hope that you will see how unjust Google’s reaction has been. I hope that you will see what Google’s reaction to the memo says about where Google is as a corporation and where the Technical-Bureaucratic Complex (to modify Eisenhower’s famous warning about the “military-industrial complex”) is. George and French are certainly right. Millions of people in this country live and work in fear that their bosses will discover that they think the reigning politically-correct ideology is vapid and even dangerous.
I also trust that you will see for yourself how unfair and misleading the Gizmodo headline is. This memo is not an “anti-diversity screed.” A screed is a long, tedious essay on a single topic. That the 23-year olds at Gizmodo labeled a screed tells us more about them than it does about the memo. It tells us about their attention span. It also reveals their lack of tolerance for competing ideas. It reveals that the first impulse of political correctness is to crush opposition by characterizing it as odious. One may agree or disagree with his argument but it is not ill-mannered nor is it opposed to diversity. The author repeatedly argues the contrary. One wonders if the Wunderkinder at Gizmodo actually read the memo. The Gizmodo headline and Google’s reaction to the memo seems like prima facie confirmation of the memo’s argument. The echo chamber exists. The emperor is naked and Google fired the fellow who pointed out those facts.
George is certainly right that, over the last decade, there has been an intellectual coalescence between big government, big academia, and big business and the new coalition is, as Stella Morabito has been noting, is bad for open inquiry and for human relationships—check out the Heidelcast episodes and other materials from Stella. Levinovitz, however, makes a point (as does French in response). Religious institutions do impose creeds upon their faculty and sometimes their students. As a teacher in a religious school I voluntarily subscribe a set of creeds—I literally wrote my name underneath them and took an oath to say that these documents summarize my personal theological and moral convictions. As French implies, however, there is a difference between what we do at my school and what Google and other corporations are doing. My school does not pretend to entertain every idea as potentially true. We promise each other a certain freedom of inquiry within agreed boundaries. At my school, one is not entitled to take the Remonstrant view of perseverance, however, and retain his position as a teacher. Google pretends to be company that fosters open inquiry and at least a certain degree of free-thinking. The memo was not, after all, advocating bestiality. One wonders whether the author might still have his job had he done the latter rather than to challenge the reigning ideology.
What this episode shows, in fact, is that everyone has a creed even if they do not admit it. Everyone has a religion. Google’s religion is political correctness. Google’s creed was not written by the Ancient Church (e.g., the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) nor by the Reformed Churches (e.g., the Heidelberg Catechism). Levinovitz is right. Google does have a religion but French is also correct, it is more like a cult than orthodox Christianity. What Levinovitz may not appreciate and what French understands is that there is freedom within the boundaries. In a cult, however, the boundaries are always shifting because the point of a cult is the leader, not the truth. The reason that cults exist is because someone found a way to use religion as a way to control to an inordinate degree other people. There is a great difference between saying that Christians ought to marry other Christians and saying “The leader says that you must marry this man.” All religions exercise moral influence over their members but there is a great difference between saying, “We believe x” and “You must only think about diversity in the approved way.” Remember, the question was not whether Google should achieve diversity or even whether there is a certain lack of diversity within Google but why the lack of diversity exists and how to remedy the problem. Google’s response to the memo is a lot more Orwellian than anything one might find in a confessional Reformed denomination, which is a kind of corporation. Google’s response to the memo is the sort of one might expect to find in a small Utah town run by a renegade, old-fashioned Mormon (who did not get the memo about polygamy).
Cults are attractive because they exercise absolute control over both the great questions (life, death, and eternity) and the minutiae of life. They tell one when to get up, how to dress, how to speak, how to think. For some people and perhaps for some personality types, this sort of intellectual, spiritual, and social control is a relief. They no longer have to deal with those questions. They are settled by what the medievals called fides implicita (implicit faith). Implicit faith does not know for one’s self but knows that someone knows. Everyone had implicit faith in someone or something. Pagans have implicit faith in nature or in themselves. Fools! American evangelicals tend to place implicit faith in religious experience. Confessional Protestants have implicit faith in holy Scripture. Romanists put implicit faith in the church. This is one reason evangelicals and fundamentalists are tempted by Romanism. Never mind that the current pope does not agree with the previous two popes and never mind that the previous two popes did all they could to distance Rome from the decisions of a magisterial council (Vatican II). According to implicit faith, the convert neither has to know what Rome believes (at the moment) but only that Rome believes it, whatever it is.
Like the Vatican, Google is asking for implicit faith in the corporation’s leadership and ethos. Its source of revelation is some version of radical subjectivism (there is no objective truth), radical egalitarianism (there are no differences), anti-intellectual (the memo writer was fired for asking people to think), quasi-Platonic (empirical sense experience is an illusion). Pay no attention to universal sense experience. Pay no attention to history, to objective reality (rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated), trust only what the Great Leader says. Scientology is a model of transparency and open inquiry compared to mega-corporations like Google.
Finally, this whole discussion, as disturbing as it is, is fascinating because of the medium by which it came to light. I learned about it late last night on Twitter, where, this morning, I saw the reaction the reaction posted above. In some circles it is fashionable to decry Twitter as a medium inappropriate for serious people (thinkers) or academics. To be sure Twitter has its limits (140 characters at a time), nevertheless, Robert George holds a chair at Princeton University, David French is a Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute, and Alan Levinovitz teaches at James Madison University. These and other of the Twitterati defy the stereotype about social media.