De-empathize Empathy

An anonymous Google employee has written a widely-circulated 10-page manifesto against Google’s diversity policies, claiming, among other things, that gaps in gender representation may be based in part on women’s supposedly more emotional nature than men’s. This controversy isn’t new. Nor is the assertion that the company needs more ideological diversity, in other words, more respect for conservative views.

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17 thoughts on “De-empathize Empathy

  1. The character on the right saying “he should be fired” is somewhat prescient because the engineer WAS fired, and is now planning to sue the company.

  2. Out of curiosity, have you read the “rant” in question? It’s not long. Neither is it really a rant. It’s a very carefully worded and, to my eyes, completely harmless and inoffensive memo… except that apparently in the West it is insulting to even consider the idea, which may or may not be false but as far as I am aware has not yet been completely rejected in academia, that men and women have some innate/deeply-rooted psychological differences that it may be smart to account for. Note that the author also insists that one has to judge people on their own merits, the differences between men and women are broad strokes that often do not apply or are overridden by other factors, blah blah blah, usual fascist racist stuff.

    I am very proud that I do not live in a country where a large quantity of people believes discussion like this is beyond the pale. We have our own problems, plenty of them, but not this one.

    From this comic I cannot tell what Rall’s position on this is. I remember he is not a fan of corporate suppression of free speech. Is he poking fun at defenders of empathy firing someone who disagrees with them about it? It seems like a stretch, and kind of subdued. Besides one may well be empathetic and sincerely rate offense-suppression over obsolete values like free speech…

    • To discuss these issues “freely” you are effectively demanding that the other party giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not just out to legitimize self-declared superiority without consideration on how such “debate” will affect the people around you. Note that you in turn do not really give actually giving anything in return for this benefit of the doubt, such as acknowledging that those are the very subjects that organized groups have fought long and hard to at least create a society-level understanding that these are toxic, in that they have been used as a bludgeon to keep them down.

      If you succeed in actually showing your interest in and respect of (as a pretty clearly white male) likely less-privileged positions, and come across as well meaning, I’m sure most feminists will humor you to talk about such concepts in the abstract (probably without quite understanding why this is so important to you).

      Unless you do that, people on the other side will only hear what you say as thinly veiled dog-whistles, much like rape jokes, and they will have a point. Of course, in a truly post-sexist world, we would be free to discuss these things. But that’s another abstract concept. I sincerely wish that your society did not have this “problem” – as I have heard quite a few males who have been growing up in the Soviet block repeatedly claim – but I hope you do realize that it would sound much more convincing if it were the ladies who were to make such claims.

      I have studied the argument in some detail and will summarize here: To be a good engineer/(computer) scientist/mathematician one has to lock oneself in the basement and subject oneself to hours and hours of grueling, arcane practice, including tinkering, and/or abstract thought subsisting on rice noodles alone. Women are less likely to subject themselves to such a gruesome regimen and single-minded vision because they are hormonally less predisposed to forgo having actual social lives in the vague hope of a deferred big future pay-off. Since the job market is essentially a meritocracy, this would explain men getting the high paying jobs.

      There are at least 4 slight problems with this argument before we’re even getting into the biological bits: 1) This is a horrible vision of what science and engineering is about. 2) We do not actually live in anything remotely resembling a meritocracy. 3) Which “traits” actually matter most is highly subjective (not everyone would prefer to work with risk-taking loners), quickly changing, and can even be self-referential, i.e. when diversity is the goal we’re looking for traits that happen to be uncommon among our team.
      4) Which jobs pay highly and are respected in itself subject of contention, with e.g. caring jobs being hugely underpaid according to any “rational” metric recognizing drudgery and contribution to essential functioning of society.

      Now, sex/gender differences tend to essentially depend on the underlying assumptions. None of which are shared between, say, popular science writers who label themselves evolutionary psychologists, biological anthropologists, cultural anthropologists, etc. The appeal to universalism itself reflects one such perspective (one that looks for similarities rather than differences between cultures). Even if we were to agree that a selected cultural universal is real (and why not focus on a hundred other candidates?), past patterns are not necessarily all that relevant for the future. The lack of air travel has been a human cultural universal for 99+% of our history.

      • I’m not saying we do not have sexism, far from it. I think sexism is universal and eternal; it’s not going to go away no matter how hard you try to repress it or pretend it isn’t there. What we do not have is THIS frankly staggering level of social and economic censorship as regards the difference between men and women, that does NOT make any fantastic “post-sexist” or “meritocratic” society any closer but DOES make any limited improvements in social conditions more difficult and life overall rather more miserable and less free.

        This topic is not, itself, important to me. For all I know and all I care you may be entirely right about it, in fact for the most part I agree with you. The freedom of discussion of scientific topics in public spaces, taken in the abstract, is something I consider both philosophically and socially important, and something in which we, as a society, have an edge over you. I’ll grant you the rest of your points but I consider all of them to be irrelevant to the subject of free speech, which is the only thing I am concerned with in this case. You, of course, can feel free to disagree, as a “presumably Hispanic male” or simply as a human being.

      • I’ll add a personal note to explain the true cause of my bafflement at this situation. The reason it surprised me is that I’ve heard all of his arguments before from… an anthropology professor at my university. An old woman, since labeling people is apparently so very important to you, but one who seemed very clued in to the current state of the science. After her lectures I looked some of this stuff up for myself and came to the conclusion that she was probably wrong. Scientists (especially female scientists – nah, just kidding) often are, and I will admit to having a personal twitchy, irrational bias against essentialism.

        However, one of the Google people had commented in response to this that they are not aware of any institution that is not intrinsically committed to some kind of wrongthinkery where expressing such horrible views would be acceptable. Well, my university is one of the more liberal and (culturally and politically, though not geographically) “Western” in the country. People here somehow manage to express a wide variety of feminist and essentialist views and encounter nothing worse than disbelief and mockery from the other side. No one gets fired. Society somehow does not collapse. Perhaps it will from something else, but not from this.

        If you want to talk privilege, then yeah, but I don’t think it’s so much male privilege as affluent middle class and living in a big city privilege. I have no idea one way or another how feminist ideas would be encountered in some more backwater and impoverished region. If I may speculate in your own vein, I imagine some of the people there would be willing to humour such a discussion in the abstract if approached with basic respect, but probably would not get why it matters so much either.

      • Sorry for getting rather snippy. It occurs to me that I did get somewhat fired up and also failed to give you any benefit of doubt, heh. Still though, you were talking right past me here. All I’m saying is that over here, anyone, men and women, Slavs and Tadjiks, can talk about differences between men and women and nothing particularly bad happens as a result. They spout all sorts of things on the topic that In My Privileged Opinion is sheer nonsense, but they spout it without any social repercussions, and this I regard as a basically good thing. Perhaps this sort of social freedom would not be a similarly good thing to expose Americans to, if they are really as easily oppressed and beaten down by mere words as you appear to me to be implying here, but this I honestly do not and cannot know. I doubt it though.

      • > , but they spout it without any social repercussions, and this I regard as a basically good thing.

        There might not be repercussions for the speaker, but if they’re spreading prejudice then there *are* repercussions for those being discriminated against. I regard that as a bad thing.

        Example: Gay rights. Russia is far behind a lot of the world. We have made homophobia socially unacceptable in our country – mostly by suppressing hate speech. I regard that as a good thing.

        So yes, there *should* be repercussions for the speaker if he advocates treating some humans as better/worse than others. That’s how we make progress towards the equality that is supposedly part of our culture.

      • I should add that the ‘suppression’ I spoke of above is between citizens – not mandated by the government.

        Although certain forms of hate speech are illegal; talking about others’ shortcomings is legal – but inciting your fellow bigots to violence is not.

      • @ Daniil
        Thanks for taking time to write multiple responses – which actually would indicate that you do care about this topic 😉

        Good to hear we agree on most things content-wise – still we also agree that we are talking past each other a bit 😉

        My main point was less about content rather about being self-critical and understanding who benefits from “freedom of” discussions on certain topics (which can closely be followed by actions). Let me give you 2 examples:

        In, say, 1780 white U.S. gentleman could discuss whether slaves constituted chattel property, and/or 3/5 of a person, or should be acknowledged as full human beings. There were no repercussions in the sense of P.C. brigades. Well, actually, there were, since this discussion directly implicated the most profitable industrial sectors in both the South and the North so (white) people did get quite touchy.

        Needless to say, freedom to talk about slavery without repercussions isn’t by itself a good thing, it just shows that the enslaved people did not have a place on the table to defend themselves.

        Much closer to our present discussion: 10 years ago the board of directors of the big silicon Valley companies, google, apple, intel, lucasfilm, started discussing freely about the problem of rising wages of software engineers. They noted that – surely in hypothetical terms – if their companies would stop hiring employees away from each other that problem would magically go away. Which it did.

        Nobody at the meeting objected to the discussion apparently – yay freedom of speech? -> but only since software engineers like the one so worked up about reverse gender discrimination were not at the (boardroom) table.

        However, talking about not hiring workers away from one another is a crime of collusion – even in the land of free speech – and the companies settled to the tune of a few hundred million $ in 2014. Depending on the field you’re working in, this case might have affected your pocketbook directly since rising wages in one sector has rippling effects on other sectors and countries.

        Do you want apple, google, facebook CEOs to be able to more freely talk about how to screw their workers even more, and by extension, you and your friends? The CEOs sure would like to – and must experience this as an intrusion in their freedom of speech – but they don’t make that call.

        In the same manner, as a white male, you and I don’t get to make the call at what point it is finally societally ok to freely talk about race and sex differences. Making that call from the wrong side of the table, even if sexism was finally over (which you apparently deem impossible, which I don’t follow, why would it be impossible?), is self-serving at best.

    • andreas5–
      A heartfelt thanks, albeit from an emotionally unstable human (i.e., female).

      I did not read the entire screed in question, though I did come across this quote from it in a news report:
      “I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership,” the author writes.

      Ignoring the subject/verb agreement error it contains, presumably because males lack the verbal acuity of females, 😉 I might find the specious assumptions risible; instead I find them appalling and dangerous. It’s possible, however, that this one sentence is misleading out of context, although unless the following sentence is something like “Clearly this is not the case,” I’m not sure how much the lack of context misrepresents the writer’s position.

      • @ lburanen

        hehe, thanks 😉

        I think this one sentence perfectly encapsulates the gist – must be your verbal mojo showing again 😉

        I think the trick is substituting “differential preferences” for “differential capacities”. Like saying “I never implied that Blacks/Jews/ginger haired people have less intelligence, they’re just enjoying dancing more so they spend more time and money at dance clubs which just happens to nicely explain why they end up having less money”.

        What baffles me is how anyone can for a second expect that this rhetorical trick would steer a conversation to a different place than a straight superiority/inferiority frame?

        I certainly agree that this is dangerous (and also risible…).

        My point was also that if we are to take seriously the preferences bit for a moment, we’re basically saying: (1) men are more anti-social and combative, (2) anti-sociality and combativeness are rewarded on the job market, therefore (3) men end up making more without any foul play (apart from the one implied in point 2).

        Needless to say, why is (1) or (2) anything to boast about? Rather, those are really inadvertent calls to action to make society a better place where the male role model is less of an asshole and renumeration is less obnoxious…

        Spelled out, it also becomes apparent that appealing to deep biological roots is rather ludicrous, since differential predispositions, however robust, wouldn’t necessarily lead to differential renumeration in a saner system. The argument implies that really it is our economic system, not just biology, that is immutable. This I find to be both risible and dangerous, as you well said…

  3. HA!

    I interview & hire people into hi-tech. The people who get in are smart, well-educated, and open to new ideas. IOW: the exact opposite of conservatives. The most conservative people around me are responsible gun owners who were raised in rural areas; all of whom are closer to center than Hillary. One of my “conservative” friends was thoroughly opposed to Bush & the Bush Doctrine and aghast at Trump. He says, “There ain’t no neo in my con!”

    I’m surprised Google hasn’t gone Microsoft’s direction. Microsoft is all for diversity – that means hiring H-1B workers who come cheap & don’t have any silly-assed ideas about their “rights.”

    The real elephant in the room is ageism. If you’re over fifty you’re either a manager or unemployed. (I’m over fifty and not a manager)

    • On H1b, Trump suckers his base again:

      Extreme Vetting makes the H1b system for bringing in STEM workers redundant.

      Corporations will love the glut of STEM workers and the plunging salaries that will accompany unbridled competition of US citizens with an unregulated influx of vulnerable foreign workers.

      But don’t look to Democrats to oppose this. I talked to Obama about this when he was running for senator and I can only surmise that he pretended that this went over his head.

      I don’t oppose highly qualified people of any nationality taking jobs in the US, as long as they get paid MORE than domestic workers because of their qualifications, and not paid less because they have no recourse for whatever shit gets slung in their direction.

      • Well, if they got paid more then that is certainly a disincentive for preferring them over citizens. I have a very strong dislike for all the sob stories I hear, “Oh, gee, we have to hire foreigners because we can’t find any local talent”

        BullSHIT they can’t. Take a look at all those over-fifty engineers they pushed out the door.

      • @CH

        You get it. That’s my point.

        I kept in touch with a couple of EE Masters and PHDs for years while one was opening a restaurant and another took a job at a big box hardware store because it had employee health insurance.

        Obama didn’t get it.

      • «Obama didn’t get it. » → «Obama didn’t want to get it» (as, indeed, Glenn, you pointed out in your post prior to the one I cite….

        But to me, apart from the question of what basis this (former) Google employee had for the positions he took in his memo (he likely never met Margaret Hilda Thatcher), there is the question of whether he should have been fired, i e, if just cause existed for terminating his employment. To my mind, this depends on the position he held prior to being terminated ; in the event he worked in the Google equivalent to his mother’s basement with minimal contact with other human beings and was good at what he did, then I’d suggest he should not have been fired. If, however, he held a supervisory position or one in which contact with fellow employees played a significant role in his duties, than I suggest that there was just cause and indeed, that it was necessary to fire him (or offer him that basement job). His attitude towards one half of humanity rendered him unsuitable for any job in which he was likely to come into contact with that half, or influence the half to which he himself belongs to adopting the same attitude….

        Henri

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