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The Kolmogorov option (scottaaronson.com)
537 points by apsec112 on Aug 9, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 464 comments



Let's say this is about the Google memo. And let's say, for the sake of argument, you're a person who thinks Damore had some good points and some bad points but you think the hysterically censorious response to him was way over the line. But you don't want to become a pariah yourself, so you stay quiet about it. The argument Damore was making was fiddly, kind of subtle and takes a long time to explain, it's not worth the trouble you're going to get into. You take the Kolmogorov option and decide to wait out this insane time period.

Only it turns out, when you don't decide to argue for that subtle and qualified defense of Damore, a bunch of alt-right internet trolls make some terrible fallacious defenses of things he didn't say. Suddenly, the original censorious instincts seem much more righteous and justified. After all, "Now there are only full-throated red-pillers arguing in Damore's defense! We were right all along!"

Now there are two sides to this issue, and they're both identity politics and brain-dead shouting. Because no one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.


Putting Damore's stuff aside for a while (I haven't even read it yet), reasonably discussing anything and having some sort of "Bohm dialogue" is one of the hardest things in the world. Not only it takes quite a bit of mental effort, but it's also easily disrupted.

The loudest and most obnoxious people in the room can very well misrepresent or ignore whatever you said, take a few bits of it and use it to build their own straw-man to bash. It's as if they weren't satisfied enough to just talk/shout past you, but also feel the need to climb over you and make you their soapbox. And it takes a bit of rhetorical smarts to defuse or avoid this sort of stuff, whereas the people who are in favor of actual discussion tend to be a bit naïve when it comes to rhetoric.

Academics, for instance, are often in danger of being eaten alive by the public if their research is even a little bit controversial. In my opinion, all because of this.


Mostly because our lifestyles rely to much on blurry knowledge and social inertia. People are not ready nor trained to discuss in depth.


The Kolmogorov Option is not to simply stay quiet, it is to not participate in activities where the only outcomes are negative.

So while avoiding the Red Pill brigade, participate in team building and reinforcing relationships with the people you want to keep around you. So you have a safe area (a domain of your life, not a physical constraint) where you relate to people with protected attributes the way they wish to be related to (usually: with respect, openness and with no attention paid to protected attributes)

When dealing with people outside your safe areas, do not mention the protected attributes of those inside your safe areas.

Choose your battles. Don't try sacrificing yourself over a hill that nobody needs.

You can still discuss the nuances with people who are open to frank discussions about contentious issues. Just be prepared to have your own assumptions challenged by the people you think you are protecting.


"Choose your battles" does make sense, and I think the Kolmogorov option is an honorable one. But I'm not sure it should apply here:

First, Kolmogorov lived in a dictatorship. Most people talking here live in a democracy. We have many more options for fighting incorrect but widely-accepted beliefs.

Second, Kolmogorov lived before the internet. Internet anonymity helps minorities speak up and get organized (as we can see across the political spectrum).


> Internet anonymity

With policies similar to Facebook's real name policy and Google's long memory, that veil of anonymity is getting pretty thin.

I'm all but certain that, despite my lack of personally identifying information on my profile here on YC, that my company could trace back anything I wrote here to me as a person. I'm also 100% certain that a state actor could do the same (even if they are less likely to do so).

Is my company regularly Googling my name and my aliases? Beats me. Though if they were concerned about smears against their reputations or leaks of sensitive information, I'm sure they would start.


If this is referring to the google memo though, a company IS a dictatorship.


Fair point, yeah. I took the article here to be talking about society more broadly, but I could be wrong.


I think you are right, as Scott is an academic.

But it is clearly inspired by the google memo, and a larger portion of society sustain themselves by selling labour to micro dictatorships.


>"Choose your battles" does make sense

It's a phrase that implies you should fight less. Which leaves you ill equipped at fighting when it matters to you.


To me it means only pick fights that you have a chance of winning. You don't learn to fight better by getting yourself killed.


I think it rather implies you should fight smarter.

Arguing with people that will only get more entrenched in their oppinion the more the argument goes is couter productive no matter how right you are. So if you need to learn that, by all means, argue with those poeple untill you get it. But afterwards, learn when to save your breath.


No, it assumes you have finite resources and finite bridges to burn, and advises that you do the resource and bridge allocation wisely.


Because no one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.

You're assuming Damore's argument exists in a vacuum. But it doesn't. It had a stated purpose of changing HR and hiring policies at Google, and with that, the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

When you throw that kind of poison grenade into a work environment and back it up with unsupported biological claims, it's not a surprise that any good points in the argument will be ignored.

I'm reminded of Wiio's law, "All human communication fails except by accident." [1]

If you want to make a subtle point, you must communicate it very clearly -- for some reason many writers like Damore take the opposite approach. And if you want an argument to be debated from first principles, isolate it from real-world consequences like stepping on established workplace legislation. (Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiio%27s_laws


> the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

Any criticism of existing hiring policy would logically result in the same implication. If it's fair at all to question a hiring policy, this needs to be not taken personally.

Besides, presumably at one point, all the "pro-diversity" initiatives mentioned in the memo didn't exist, yet someone was able to make the case that they should. This, too, would be an implication that some of the existing colleagues shouldn't be there, because there should have been more diverse selections.

Yet nobody was making lists of people they "can't possibly work with" for having that opinion.


... at one point, all the "pro-diversity" initiatives mentioned in the memo didn't exist, yet someone was able to make the case that they should.

Yes -- the management of the company decided this.

I don't really understand why Google engineers would assume that they should have free rein to debate company policies, on company networks and on company time...? A public corporation is not a democracy.

Publicly second-guessing HR practices is completely outside of a software engineer's job at a place like Google. If you want to make your own rules, go start your own company.

It's strange that the right is always in favor of giving corporations more power over employees -- except this time, when someone gets fired for doing their style of politics on company time.


  > I don't really understand why Google engineers would assume
  > that they should have free rein to debate company policies,
  > on company networks and on company time...?
The memo was in response to a request on the 'coffee beans' Google Group for input on diversity/hiring programs.

A few months later he posted it into the 'skeptics' group and that is when the mob formed.

Therefore, he was explicitly doing something that had been asked for. Because of this your argument is totally invalid.


Ok, I didn't know that, thanks for the context.

It's very hard for an outsider to judge what is appropriate for a forum called "skeptics". In principle I would assume that same rules of conduct apply there as elsewhere in the company, but I wouldn't know.


Now obviously, what he did was injudicious. If you are a white male and suspect a diversity program is going to fail (and there's a lot of evidence that many of them do fail, sometimes even with negative impacts on the people they are meant to help) then you would be wise to shut up. The same would be true if a religious owner asked employees what they thought of their religion. It's best to just avoid disagreeing without showing too much interest.


Sure, that makes sense in the short term. But if everyone did this, over a long period of time, two things would happen:

(a) Diversity programs would at some point stop being ineffective.

and

(b) Identity politics would achieve cultural hegemony.

I agree that it would be wise to shut up if doing so had no long term effects (as in your example of a manager asking about religion), but that clearly isn't the case here. And in the case of (b), I would say that long-term effect is extremely undesirable, for both businesses and individuals.


> Diversity programs would at some point stop being ineffective.

I seriously doubt this will happen unless people criticize the failings of diversity programs, and diversity officer take this criticism seriously.


That's a fair point, and I agree that (if so; those of us who don't work at Google don't really know what's going on) the argument that he should have expected not to talk about this at all is invalid. That's useful context, thanks.

However, I don't think this necessarily excuses him entirely. If there's a company-wide discussion group for future directions on tech stacks inviting input, and I write a long post arguing, in complete seriousness, that the best long-term tech stack for the company is to use Classic ASP on Windows NT 4.0, and I pull some stats about successful companies in the dot-com boom that used ASP, I think it is entirely reasonable for the company to re-evaluate whether they badly misjudged my critical thinking skills. I am not excused simply because they invited feedback from the whole company.

Whether this particular post is a comparable situation is certainly debatable, but I think that we cannot simply excuse it by saying that feedback was requested.


If an employee argues for ASP, you might fire him because this implies he's a really bad technical worker. But you wouldn't (have to) fire him because, in arguing for ASP, he hurt the feelings of the PHP proponents in the company and made them feel they have to justify themselves, provoking some to say they would not be willing to work with him in the future even on PHP projects, and that if he wasn't fired they would resign.

With PHP vs ASP, we trust people to behave civilly and allow space for debate. With men vs. women, we don't. One man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens; draw your own conclusions...


Nope, a "civil debate" about PHP vs. ASP is a waste of time. No reasonable employer will give you space for debate between the two. If there were a company-wide week-long debate about PHP vs. ASP at my employer, I would seriously question whether I should be at a company where these sorts of questions are considered debate-worthy, whether I have to justify every decision I make about common-sense things (why am I writing shell scripts in sh instead of tcl? why am I using UTF-8 instead of EBCDIC?), and definitely whether I want to work with all the people on the wrong side of the debate - and maybe some of those on the right side, who are considering the matter debate-worthy - in the future, lest they pick apart every PR I make because of their lack of critical reasoning skills. I would certainly threaten to resign if forced to work with these people.

The fact is, the primary reason someone is a bad technical worker in this era is that they're a poor coworker. Almost no projects of any significant merit are developed by a lone hero in a corner.


There's an important difference between silencing opinions that (you think) are very stupid for practical engineering reasons, and not wanting to work with the fools who hold them; and between silencing opinions because you think they are morally abhorrent and harmful just by being expressed, and punishing people for holding or expressing them.

Morality is a psychologically distinct category. Being morally wrong is not the same, is not treated the same, as being factually wrong. A core part of the problem here is that something we'd want to be discussed factually, like choice of programming language, instead became a moral issue.

If a programmer advocates for ASP in a PHP company, it's reasonable he'd be fired, although I'd hope he'd be given a warning and a second chance first. However, thousands of people across the company would not get involved, the CEO of a megacorp would not cancel his family vacation to make a personal statement, the news media would not give it prominent coverage. Nobody much would care about a not-very-senior employee turning out to have a foolish or wrong factual opinion and being fired for it. But everyone cares about an employee making a moral stand that some (including other employees) may agree with, and being fired for that.

To repeat my earlier point: advocacy of ASP, here standing for any technical or factual matter, might be very wrong factually; but advocating for ASP would not hurt people's emotions and feelings of safety.


I think that argues in favor of a swifter response to someone who is objectively wrong on a moral matter that's relevant to the company's business objectives than someone who's objectively wrong on a merely technical matter that's relevant to the company's business objectives, no? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

I mean, we could argue that this isn't a moral matter, but the fact is that a huge number of employees at the company do see it as a moral matter, and it affects everything from morale to recruiting to trust to retention. A warning is a luxury we have when this isn't true, but it's not one that's affordable here. To be clear, I am absolutely on board with giving him a generous severance (and a sinecure or PIP if needed to maintain immigration status or something), because I care very much about the wellbeing of all humans regardless of whether I find them to act morally. I'm not here to punish him for his immoral behavior. But the important thing is that he needs to be removed from day-to-day activities and decisionmaking at least as much as someone who seriously and earnestly advocated ASP would.

(In fact, one of the few scientifically-cited claims in the document is "moralizing things that shouldn't be moralized is bad," but there's no strong argument, scientific or otherwise, for "... and this is one of those things that shouldn't be moralized.")


You're right that:

1. What is and isn't in the domain of morality is a matter of culture and history and current events; if enough people feel something is immoral, that makes it immoral pretty much by definition.

2. Immoral behavior is, and in some sense ought to be, punished more harshly and more swiftly than merely being factually wrong or incompetent.

But of course people never agree on what is moral or immoral, or even what should be moralized or amoral. In particular, I believe in and argue for the free discussion of factual claims in the pursuit of truth, and against the moralization of empirically-testable propositions. (So, I agree that moralizing such things is bad).

I can give lots of reasons for why this produces a better society (as well as better science and technology), but in the end it's only a better society for those who care at all about truth (and, inseparably, about working science and technology). If someone disagrees with this on moral grounds, and feels it's better to force everyone to lie if the truth might be offensive, then I probably won't convince them otherwise.


I don't really think it is debatable. Just the fact the the memo and the firing were so controversial, in both directions, implies that a number of strong critical thinkers are on both sides of this issue. Assuming that is the case, it's not reasonable to use the memo as evidence of a lack of critical thinking.

And I think we all know Google didn't fire him because they believed him to be incompetent. In fact, Google didn't even claim as much, they fired him for "advancing harmful gender stereotypes." How can we ever have a genuine conversation about the under-representation of women in tech if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it?


Climate change is controversial. That doesn't indicate that there are strong critical thinkers on either side.


Apparently the idea that there are biological differences between men and women that could result in unequal outcomes is also controversial.

Although, to your point, that doesn't really require critical thinking. It just requires impressive mental gymnastics to dispute.


I don't think anyone is disputing that there are biological differences between men and women (on the average) that result in unequal distributions of some outcomes. An easy example is "fastest marathon" or "number of babies".

The dispute is that there are biological differences between men and women that are relevant to qualification to work at Google in software engineering.


Nobody is questioning their qualification. The memo doesn't.

There quite possibly are biological (and cultural) differences that ultimately affect the representation of women among Google software engineers that are not sexism. As a result, a diversity / hiring policy that assumes sexism is far and away the only relevant cause is not likely to work well.

Is this really that much of a stretch?


That's the argument alt-right folk who actually deserve our hostility are trying to use Damore to make. Damore, however, is instead arguing that those biological differences make women less likely to pursue engineering as a field, not that those difference make them inferior.


Then why are the programs he's criticizing all about either successfully hiring or retaining women who are already interested in working at Google?

He also explicitly mentions ability: "Note, I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” 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."

(Also, let's be clear, someone who seeks out the support of Stefan Molyneux to advocate his viewpoint cannot be meaningfully distinguished from alt-right folks who supposedly want to distort his viewpoint.)


People's qualifications are not all the same. Imagine that Google wants to hire 1,000 people, but 10,000 people apply for a job. Then Google logically ought to take the best 1,000 people that apply.

With diversity quota's, the company may decide to hire a less able woman in favor of a more able man.


The reality is that 2,000 of them are indistinguishably good and diversity programs are intended to make sure that google hires equally able women out of that group instead of choosing all the men.


Imagine a theoretical scenario where they have 500 female applicants and 9,500 male applicants, but desperately want a 50/50 workforce. Then they logically would hire all female applicants, including those who are not part of the 2000 most capable applicants.

Using your number, with 2k out of 10k applications being indistinguishable elite, that means 1 in 5 applicants are suitable to be hired on merit. Assuming that female applicants are no better or worse than the men, you'd expect 100 of those 500 female applicants to be indistinguishable from 1,900 male applicants.

So then 400 women would be hired who are in fact distinguishable worse than those elite 100 women and 1,900 men.


You clearly have no idea how hiring works at major tech companies like Google.

1: Even if there are a 1000 positions, and only 1000 candidates, if they are underqualified, they do not get hired. Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc, try to have an objective bar, not one relative to the available candidates.

2: Nobody is pressuring for a 50/50 workforce. It's an ideal, and a reasonable-sounding long term goal, but even the most aggressive pro-diversity initiatives do not set a target of 50/50 ratio. In fact, in most cases HIRE targets aren't set at all. The targets are set for opportunities - ie number of diversity candidates evaluated or interviewed. The hiring process remains pure.

Source: Work for major top-10 tech company and do a ton of hiring, and diversity training.


> Imagine a theoretical scenario where they have 500 female applicants and 9,500 male applicants, but desperately want a 50/50 workforce.

I agree with your conclusions from these stats, but why is this theoretical scenario relevant? Do we believe that this more closely resembles the actual scenario than one where there are, say, 4,000 female applicants and 6,000 male ones?


Women get 18% of computer science degrees, so it seems doubtful that Google would get a 40/60 split in applicants.

But the specific numbers are not the point of my comment. The issue is that if there is a lot of pressure to get a 50/50 workforce, but the pipeline is not 50/50, then favoring less qualified men over more qualified women becomes a possibility or even very likely, since how else are you going to achieve this?

I think that it is up to those who desperately want a 50/50 workforce (just for tech, not for most of the other gender-imbalanced jobs) to make the case how they can do this without sexist discrimination in hiring or if they do favor sexism in hiring to make that explicit.


The company may also decide to hire a less able man in favor of a more able woman.

Given that the vast majority of incompetent people I've worked with have been men (if not all of them), I'm surprised to see less attention to this phrasing of the problem. Maybe it is too politically incorrect to bring up?


> Given that the vast majority of incompetent people I've worked with have been men (if not all of them), I'm surprised to see less attention to this phrasing of the problem. Maybe it is too politically incorrect to bring up?

I downvoted this.

Given that there is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; that there is also a significant number of women in tech; that you are not a junior person and that men and women have similar abilities, I find this statistically implausible. Please consider the possibility that you have a subconscious sexist bias against men.


> Given that there is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; that there is also a significant number of women in tech; that you are not a junior person and that men and women have similar abilities, I find this statistically implausible.

Why is this statistically implausible?

There is a fair amount of incompetence in tech; there are a significant number of women in tech; I am not junior; men and women have similar abilities; many men seek tech because it's high-status instead of because of intrinsic technical interest (Damore 2017); many men have a sexist bias towards men.

The natural statistical result is that while both competent men and competent women get hired (as they should!), incompetent men get hired much more often than incompetent women.

Is this logic flawed?

> Please consider the possibility that you have a subconscious sexist bias against men.

I am certainly considering that possibility, and I know exactly why I might have that bias if it is in fact a bias: every single person I've been frustrated at working with has been a man. I don't want to be biased, and would definitely appreciate being talked out of this, if it is in fact a bias.


Agreed, not implausible. Sorry for downvote. Actually after having thought about this a bit, there are many possibilities.

One (the one you seem to be in favor of) is that due to higher hiring standards even if the average abilities are similar, after the hiring filter average woman is more skilled than the average man.

Another is that (just like it was described in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14988086) you have lower standards for women than for men so that you cut incompetent women some slack.

Yet another is that while the averages are similar, men are much more varying in their abilities, so that both ends of spectrum (outstanding competence and extreme incompetence) are dominated by men.

Etc. There can be a lot of explanations besides the bias in hiring and without some empirical evidence it is difficult to choose.

FWIW I've met my share of incompetent women. But I'm not US-based, and that might explain the difference.


> many men have a sexist bias towards men.

Proof? Gender neutralized experiments find a great variety of results, with sometimes a bias in favor of women and sometimes a bias in favor of men. There is no consistency here that can be seen as proof that men are always biased towards men.

I'm not aware of any scientific studies in the tech field, but this layman experiment in tech with voice masking for phone interviews found that women who were made to sound like men were rated slightly worse and men whose voice was masked to sound more like women were rated better:

http://blog.interviewing.io/we-built-voice-modulation-to-mas...

They found that the actual reason why women did worse in their interviews is that women handled failure at the interview worse than men. The women often quit after initial failure, while the men persevered and came back to try again. So it was an issue with how men and women were conditioned to handle failure in combination with the way their hiring practices were set up, NOT discrimination by the interviewers against women.

This kind of discovery is exactly why we need less of the kind of 'common sense' that results in people assuming they know the cause (usually by putting all blame on one group) and more actual research into the causes.

> Is this logic flawed?

Your logic is not flawed, but it's nothing more than a theory when you don't have solid evidence to back it up.

There are equally plausible explanations that you did not consider. For example, we know that men are more willing to take risk, including risk of failing by the Peter principle. So women are often unwilling to take jobs they do not know for sure they cannot do. This latter explanation actually explains the known facts a lot better than the 'men are much less willing to hire women' theory.

> I know exactly why I might have that bias if it is in fact a bias: every single person I've been frustrated at working with has been a man.

That is merely justification for being less willing to work with men, not justification for assuming that men are biased to hiring men AND that this is the main/only cause of the disparity. You have inserted a ton of assumptions to get from A (worse experiences with men) to B (assuming that the cause of the gender disparity is gender discrimination during hiring). The sheer quantity of assumptions necessary should drive a rational person to verify whether these assumptions are true.

I see you as biased for jumping to conclusions and especially for defending retributions against those who question those assumptions. At that point, my charity ends and those who desperately want to blame one group and who are unwilling to consider the possibility that anything they do to that group can be unjust, get lumped in with the other evil groups who desperately wanted to blame one group and were willing to harm that group.


The hiring ratios for Google track the ratios of the applicants, so that could only be true if the female applicants are better than the male applicants. This may be true, but I've seen no evidence of this.

That the vast majority of incompetent people you've worked with have been men can be explained by the gender ratio at Google. If most workers are men, then most incompetent workers would also be men, if men and women are equally likely to be incompetent.

My impression is that female workers at Google disproportionately work in the less technically hardcore jobs, which may actually be easier to be competent at or you may interact with those workers differently. So this may also skew your anecdotal observation.

Damore may have been worried about an increase in pressure to hire women leading to hiring women for the more technically hardcore jobs, which given the few female applicants for these jobs, could then lead or may already have led to worse hires then if there had been no pressure by the company to have pro-female gender bias.


> How can we ever have a genuine conversation about the under-representation of women in tech if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it?

The same way we can have a genuine conversation about the best web stack to use if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it.

(I don't think the fact that other Google employees supported the document is strong evidence that you can think critically and reach the same conclusions. If Google reached one mishire in James Damore, they almost certainly reached many others. If you listen to the YouTube interview with him that was flagkilled off the front page earlier today, he says he was recruited for his puzzle-solving skills and ability to code; presumably Google recruits lots of people that way, and none of them have ever been examined for critical thinking in the interview process. I can certainly attest that at no point in my Google interview earlier this year was I asked to do anything that evaluated whether I could combine a couple of sources and reach a defensible conclusion and defend it, which is a pretty common engineering skill.)

The very meaning of "advancing harmful gender stereotypes" is that he said things about gender that were so wrong that they have only the most tangential connection to reality and would seriously harm the business if time were spent to even demonstrate that they're wrong. That's exactly the same reason that if I advocate for Classic ASP on NT Server, you don't spend the time and effort to set up a test network and benchmark if IIS is getting you better performance.


> The same way we can have a genuine conversation about the best web stack to use if people with a certain "undesirable" opinion get fired for expressing it.

If a bunch of people fired for pro-ASP opinions got together, started their own company that used ASP, and produced a successful product, they would get a lot of money, everyone involved would be happy including Google who would sell them ad services, and perhaps the market would shift in favor of ASP.

If a bunch of people fired for anti-"diversity" opinions got together, started their own company that did not discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring, and produced a successful product, there would be a media storm and probably a boycott and demands for the company to not be allowed to use the Google Ad network.

This is why I think you're wrong when you say the reasons for firing are "exactly the same" in both cases.


Say I work at a business that uses python exclusively. If I see my coworker get fired for suggesting we use haskell (or some other very different stack) for performance-critical code, how likely is it that I would later suggest we rewrite some stuff in go? or even python 3? or use https?

The opinion that biological differences between the sexes result in different career preferences isn't exactly wildly uncommon, extreme, or nonsensical.


I guess the question here is whether we think that the opinions in the memo are more like advocating Haskell or advocating ASP. They seem like the latter to me; if they seemed like the former, I'd agree with you. I don't think it's weird to think that there exist both rare defensible opinions and rare indefensible ones.

Note that the opinion in the memo isn't restricted to different career preferences correlated with gender (at least some of those opinions in the memo, like women wanting better work/life balance and men having rigid gender roles, are so uncontroversial that they're part of the standard feminist position too). The opinion also includes the claim of different abilities correlated with gender, because that's what's relevant to the business practices he's arguing in favor of changing, and in particular abilities relevant to qualification for engineering roles at Google. That's a much more extreme position.


> Yes -- the management of the company decided this.

...yet nobody took personal offense because of the implication that some of them shouldn't be there. That's the point.

I'll agree that the context is questionable... but only because we don't have the details. I don't think there's anything inherently unreasonable about making a case for a change in hiring policy.

If the place where it was posted was specifically used to discuss how company policies can be improved, it seems reasonable. If it's a place only visible to HR and management, it seems reasonable. If it's a place specifically for topics that are potentially political and offensive in nature, it seems reasonable (even if internal). If posts in support of (or proposing extending) the existing diversity policy were effectively allowed in that place, it seems reasonable.

It's the double standard where one set of politics is approved and encouraged, but the other is fireable that is problematic.


> Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law

Could you elaborate on this?


This comment by macrael includes a link that explains the legal issue:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14966388

Regardless of what you think of the merits, a public corporation can't afford a persistent shadow of workplace discrimination. Firing the responsible employee was the only possible option.

It's not a free speech issue, as there is no such thing in a work environment. Here's an exaggerated example: if you call the CEO a "limp-dicked faggot" on the corporate intranet, you can expect to be fired, and it probably won't help much if you explain that you simply wanted to have a frank discussion on whether the CEO should use Viagra and be more open about his possible homosexuality, and that you hope this argument would be examined based on facts rather than emotions.


We'll never be able to discuss this rationally as long as one side continues to make false claims about what the memo said.

The memo doesn't promote discrimination, and in fact, raises concerns about how the existing policy is legally murky because it does--just in the other direction.

Your analogy is ridiculous, and just because some people perceive discrimination doesn't mean any has occurred. That there's a legal issue if you presume it has simply because people were offended is immaterial.


>a public corporation can't afford a persistent shadow of workplace discrimination

I haven't read all of the memo, but it didn't seem to me that he was advocating discrimination. Wasn't the point that he claimed there _was_ discrimination and he wanted it to end?

In any case, I can understand that actually discriminating in hiring could be illegal, but would _advocating for discrimination_ really be against the law, if that's what he actually did?


>(Damore's firing was unavoidable under current US law.)

If he wasn't lying when he said he'd filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was illegal under current US law.


> If he wasn't lying when he said he'd filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, his firing was illegal under current US law.

Only, as I understand, if it was in retaliation for the claim; firing for the memo, and any perceived hostile workplace effects it had, would not be illegal (and may actually contribute to avoiding liability for that conduct.)

Of course, if he made a claim it will be a disputed question of fact as to whether or not it was retaliation.


Google's "pro-diversity" hiring policies also have the unavoidable implication that some of Damore's colleagues actually shouldn't be with the company.

The broader patriarchy/privilege theory behind those "pro-diversity" policies has the unavoidable implication that many of those white male colleagues really shouldn't have their careers (and many other rewarding parts of their lives) at all, because they are based on 'oppressing' others.

There are poison grenades being thrown constantly by every side; only a severe double standard would allow someone to ignore this.

The real solution is to realize that any criticism of hiring policies (including criticism by 'diversity' advocates) means someone shouldn't have been hired. And then, to act like an adult and deal with it rationally anyways.

>unsupported biological claims

The claims are very well-supported by decades of research. Some journalistic outlets removed the links to Damore's sources from the copies of the memo they redistributed, to make the claims look unsupported. Don't fall into that trap.

If you want to see some of the research, Pinker has your back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mYeZ9by-eM

Damore was very clear, neutral, and professional. But, there is no way in any universe Damore could have delivered that message where you would not criticize it like this. No matter how careful he was, you'd simply set the bar further out, increase the emotional sensitivity even more, engage in even more aggressive mind-reading and hostile misinterpretation. His writing could never, ever, in any form, never meet your ever-shifting standard because your standard is designed to be impossible to meet.

The reality is that you want him to be silent and you'll seek any excuse for him to suffer for questioning beliefs you see as morally obligated.

Saying, "He can of course question, but he has to do it better," while actually having impossible standard, is just a way to look/feel like you're being open when you're not.

It actually resembles behaviors you see in abusive relationships - the impossible standard that shifts every time it's met.


> The claims are very well-supported by decades of research. Some journalistic outlets removed the links to Damore's sources from the copies of the memo they redistributed, to make the claims look unsupported. Don't fall into that trap.

I have previously refuted the idea that the claims are supported by research. See the first part of this comment, which is based on reading the version of the document that does have the sources:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14956998

It's true that there's decades of research cited. It's true that he makes claims. It's not true that the research supports the claims he's making.


It's not possible to "refute" or "prove" his claims. There were many specific claims, and scientists still debate many of them.

The bigger point is anyone that thinks his claims are 100% true or 100% false is definitely wrong.


I have not attempted to refute his claims; they're too messy to make it a coherent task.

I have refuted the idea put forth by other people that his claims are supported by the scientific research he links to.

(My position, upthread of that comment, is that the document itself doesn't so much make claims that are wrong as display the deficiency of the author's critical-thinking skills to such an extent that Google should not have hired him. Imagine trying to read a design document or an outage postmortem written to the same level of coherence and with the same level of intellectual honesty.)


Some of his claims are supported by the linked documents, some are not. Again, there are so many, any conclusion of "100% are supported" or "100% are not" is going to be false.


Can you name one claim that is relevant to diversity at Google that is supported by any of the linked documents?

I do agree (and admit as much in that comment!) that there are claims that he correctly cites, e.g. "Women score higher for 'neuroticism' as defined by psychology." My contention is that none of those claims are relevant to any plausible thesis of the document.

(I think that saying "there exist irrelevant claims that are supported by science" is completely pedantic. If I write an nonsense essay about garbage collection vs. refcounting and correctly cite a scientific paper on the acidity of apple juice, I think it's perfectly justifiable to say that none of my claims are supported, since it's not an essay about apple juice.)


Sure, here is a concrete example of a linked document that supports his position http://www.bradley.edu/dotAsset/165918.pdf and the references therein. In particular,

> sex differences in personality traits can be detected in early childhood [..] and remain fairly constant across adulthood [..] The effects of these sex differences lead to predictable differences in men’s and women’s leisure behaviors, occupational preferences, and health-related outcomes [emphasis mine]

Overall I think it's possible for reasonable people to disagree on whether group differences in neuroticism and agreeability or an affinity to people vs. things etc. etc. are or are not not relevant to the thesis. I respect your point of view that they do not. I'm just saying a reasonable argument can be made for the other side too.

(To be clear, he also makes several bad arguments, I'm not defending him. I'm just saying that some of his claims are supported by science.)


As a side note, the first author of that very paper (Schmitt) says that Damore has reached conclusions not justified by the paper:

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/google-fires-engineer-over-a...

He's making the same counterclaim that I am - that while there are biological differences and they almost certainly affect interest, there's basically no rationale to conclude that they're the cause of the specific situation Google is attempting to change with the specific initiatives he's denouncing (and calling illegal), and there's also no rationale to entirely discount cultural factors, including both gender roles and sexism, as causes of the situation.


Yes, I agree his suggestions to stop those initiatives is a bad idea. And that it doesn't follow we should stop those because of that study.

But regarding

> and there's also no rationale to entirely discount cultural factors

He doesn't do that. First, the section's very title is

> Possible non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech

and

> I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes

(emphasis mine in both). Proposing that biology may play a role is not the same as saying that biology is everything.


geofft,

By your reasoning brighteyes has just proven that you have reached conclusions not justified by the paper, so will you resign from your job, given that you think such incompetence on the part of Dalmore is inexcusable and makes him incapable to do his job?


If this were an internal company forum where I were making serious policy proposals that I expected the company to take seriously -- that is, if this were something I were doing as part of my job, and I were paying as much attention to detail as I should for every part of my job -- and if I had a senior title, then yes, definitely, I would offer my resignation or at least request a demotion. I would be letting my coworkers down if I continued to insist on a senior title and senior levels of respect. But I am being much less rigorous here than I would be for work. I don't try to be deliberately wrong on HN, but my standards for accuracy and professionalism (and copyediting, there are incomplete sentences in too many of my comments) are less exacting than they are for my employed work.

(And if I have done such a thing, which I don't believe I have. I'm really not sure why you say I've reached conclusions not justified by the paper?)


During his interview with Jordan Peterson, Damore explained that he was looking for criticism/push back against his claims, which was why he posted it to a Skeptics forum within Google.

He didn't actually present it directly to management, nor did he publish it publicly. Many people improve their work by asking for feedback, so you seem to demand the impossible: for him to create something great, but without allowing him to refine his work in a way that many people need to create something great.

BTW. I am not aware that Damore had a senior job title and even if he had, his job didn't involve writing rigorous papers. So I'm not sure how you can say that this document proves that he was bad at his job. In his interview he said that his last performance review put him in the top few percent of performers at Google. So if we assume that he is not lying, you seem have drawn wild conclusions based on weak evidence, that far stronger evidence actually contradicts.


> BTW. I am not aware that Damore had a senior job title and even if he had, his job didn't involve writing rigorous papers.

What else is a design document or review, a non-LGTM code review, or an outage postmortem beyond a rigorous paper? The skills are exactly the same: you have to take external research and internal data about your business practices, and explain why the observed facts were as observed, what the company should do about it, and why your proposed approach is correct.

This is a significant part of every job I've had, and Google tried to hire me earlier this year at only L4 and not L5. (The fact that Damore was L5 is well-attested by both pro-Damore and anti-Damore sources.)

When I'm not sure about something, I'll generally ask a question like "Hey, why are we using Debian instead of Fedora" or "Hey, why are we structuring on-call like this, the SRE book says we should structure it like that," and look for an explanation. I won't write a document saying "This is why Fedora is better than Debian and why all the attempts to use Debian are based in a fundamental misunderstanding of reality" and then ask for criticism.

> In his interview he said that his last performance review put him in the top few percent of performers at Google.

Who were his reviewers? Did they deserve their jobs either? Given what I know of Google's hiring practices, I would be entirely unsurprised if there are many pockets in the company consisting of incompetent people propping each other up.

This is a well-known phenomenon in large companies. Quoting Guy Kawasaki recalling something he learned from Steve Jobs:

Steve believed that A players hire A players—that is people who are as good as they are. I refined this slightly—my theory is that A players hire people even better than themselves. It’s clear, though, that B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players. If you start hiring B players, expect what Steve called “the bozo explosion” to happen in your organization.


Occupational preferences are not the subject of the document, though. The subject is occupational qualification. The specific things he criticizes Google for doing are actions taken once minority candidates have already applied for a job, that is, once they have already expressed interest in the occupation they're applying for: they're about reducing unconscious bias in hiring, reducing the false negative rate in Google's notoriously noisy interview process, ensuring that internal groups meet standards of representation, etc.

I just reread the document to confirm I read it right the first time. The subtle implication, and I'd argue one of the most harmful effects of the document, is the claim that biases (whether from nature or nurture) in interest also translate to biases in ability. There's a huge difference between saying "More men than women are interested in the job but we've got to hire the most qualified people regardless of either gender or interest" (and he almost gets there in his discussion of men seeking high-status jobs!), which I don't think I could really complain about, and "More men than women are interested in the job so our efforts to hire women are 'effectively lowering the bar' and probably illegal."

If you are at the point where you have 10 resumes on your desk from 10 qualified women, and 10 resumes on your desk from 10 qualified men, and you put together a team of 9 men and one woman, no matter how true it is that women as a whole are less interested in the job, it's not relevant.

(Incidentally, that's a quote from the portion of the abstract where they're mentioning existing research instead of their own, and it cites three sources, the first of which is a book by a lawyer that appears to be targeted at the general non-fiction market. I'm rather surprised that this is a permissible citation in a scientific paper, and I'm wondering if my standards are wrong or this isn't a super reputable journal.)


> Occupational preferences are not the subject of the document, though. The subject is occupational qualification.

No, he talks about both:

> 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.

and

> These two differences in part explain why women relatively prefer jobs in social or artistic areas.

(emphasis mine in both cases). And that linked document does support that claim of his.

(Again, I'm not defending all his claims; just that one.)


Sure, I agree that he consciously talks about both preference and ability. Why is he talking about preference? Does that have to do with his thesis?

I think it's because he wants to write sentences like that one about "preferences and abilities" in an attempt to pretend that arguments about preferences translate to arguments about abilities.

That is, I would have agreed with a claim that he has two distinct theses (preferences and abilities), except that the actual purpose of the essay is indisputably about abilities, and there's no reason to also add a thesis about preferences other than to muddy the discussion about abilities. A similar essay about preferences alone wouldn't have drawn nearly as much attention because it wouldn't be suggesting that the women already at Google shouldn't be there and it wouldn't be relevant to the Google D&I programs he mentions.


> Why is he talking about preference? Does that have to do with his thesis?

If preferences partially explain why psychology is dominated by women and why computer science is dominated by men, then preferences can partially explain part of why psychologists tend to be women and tech employees tend to be men.

And that's a big part of the memo: why is there a gender gap, what causes it, etc. So it's not surprising that one issue he focuses on is preferences. And he's not alone in doing so, that preferences are important in the tech gender gap discussion is something agreed upon by both sides:

* A lot of important diversity work done by progressives focuses on increasing interest in tech among young girls: girls' preferences matter.

* And on the other side, conservatives tend to say that preferences explain most of the tech gender gap and not discrimination.


Preferences are important. I'm not disputing that. And there are definitely gender correlations in preferences (I agree with at least three of his points here, namely that women seek better work-life balance, that men seek high-status position, and that there's more work to be done in dismantling the patriarchy's oppression of men who don't conform to gender roles).

I am disputing that preferences are relevant to the business purpose of this memo, which was to claim that what Google does with applicants once they have applied is both unlikely to work and illegal.

I am also disputing, more directly, that he or anyone has shown that preferences are relevant to the gender gap for engineering roles at Google; I'd think that there exist both more qualified men and more qualified who are interested in working at Google than Google has positions for, and the difficulty is in identifying these people. This is supported by how the specific diversity initiatives that the author calls out are all about properly evaluating applicants, and none are about encouraging people to apply or have an interest in the field. (And anecdotally, as someone who received a job offer from Google in May and spent three months going through team selection and ended up accepting another offer, both my own experience and the stories of others I've talked to both inside and outside Google is that headcount is sparse.)

These two claims I'm making (that preferences are irrelevant, and that the memo does not argue that preferences are relevant) are definitely falsifiable, so I'm interested in evidence to the contrary.

Note that this is a different point from the gender gap in tech as a whole. I'd definitely believe that preferences are much more relevant there, especially if we count things like wanting better work/life balance (or wanting better maternity leave, etc.) as preferences.


The memo does care about the gender gap in tech as a whole, while you are focusing more on Google's specific policies regarding applicants.

Clearly both are important topics, and they have some obvious connections - for example, the gender gap as a whole often motivates specific corporate policies, that's one reason he brings it up - but they can also be debated separately.

So I think it's fair to say the memo does make some valid points, but it looks like you think it's wrong on other points that it makes in other areas (which could well be true).


Damore was very clear, neutral, and professional.

He wasn't professional because it is not his job to debate this at work! I don't understand how this very simple point gets lost. A public corporation is not a democracy.


His (and all Googlers) opinion was solicited. His mistake was accepting that solicitation and having a politically unacceptable position.


The context of his memo is an internal gender studies mailing list, which is supposed to serve exactly these kinds of discussions. It's not like he sent this document to unsuspecting employees.


It's hard not to be reminded of Mao's Hundred Flowers Campaign (百花运动) [1] and Anti-Rightist Movement (反右运动) [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundred_Flowers_Campaign

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Rightist_Movement


Once its crimethink to entertain a certain position, the cost of defending such position must be balanced with cost of just accepting this position and moving on. I don't think you can change cultural values and entire political climate with just facts and logic. Its a naive reductionism to assume "right ideas always win". Most people don't 'believe' in that, they have ideas, beliefs and emotions. Facts and logic come second to rationalize the above.


A problem with this kind of analysis of the situation is that everyone thinks they're in the "subtle and qualified" camp.


It should be obvious that anyone arguing against having a rational discussion is wrong about being in that camp.


The US has a long history of using the "rational discussion" argument to shut rational people up:

https://aeon.co/essays/how-cold-war-philosophy-permeates-us-...

Also, any sentence with "it should be obvious" raises a red flag with me - usually it is uttered by people don't actually want to reflect on whatever they are asserting to be true.


> The US has a long history of using the "rational discussion" argument to shut rational people up:

The chancelor in the article you cited is arguing in favor of censorship. I am arguing against it. I don't understand why you think there are similarities, unless you are comparing us because we both use the word rational.

> Also, any sentence with "it should be obvious" raises a red flag with me - usually it is uttered by people don't actually want to reflect on whatever they are asserting to be true.

If you have an actual argument to present I would have happy to "reflect" on it, but this sort of meta-argument usually raises a red flag for me because they are usually made be people who are unwilling to discuss the content of the argument being made.


You're responding to a comment that almost literally says "opposing sides of any discussion always consider themselves the rational half" and you don't see the connection?

You imply that it is obvious to decide who is rational or irrational. It is not - everyone is biased to be blind to their own irrationality.

People are not as rational as they think, and the more someone is in denial of having an irrational side to them, the more irrational their behaviour; people who admit they are wrong more often are the least wrong on average.

Nobody here is claiming that irrationality trumps rationality, so your response is tautological, akin to "obviously the side who is wrong is wrong." It doesn't add anything to the discussion, other than implying that one camp is clearly the irrational one as a counter-argument to the problem that it is hard to decide who is rational and who isn't, without actively trying to overcome your own biases and comfort zones.


First off, when you quote something, please actually quote it, or at least be specific. I had a quite a time trying to figure what "a comment" and "Your statement" were referring to.

> You imply it is obvious to decide who is rational or irrational. It is not - everyone is biased to be blind to their own irrationality.

Yes, that is why having a discussion is important. So that people can be exposed to arguments that challenge their irrationality. It is only obvious that one side is being irrational when they refuse to have a discussion (and by extension refuse to consider the possibility that they are wrong).

> Your statement is tautological, akin to "obviously the side who is wrong is wrong."

And yet some people are still against having the discussion. If you believe that my post is a tautology, then it follows logically that anyone who disagrees with it is trivially wrong.


It's possible to disagree with your post as in "this post adds no information and doesn't make the point that it thinks it makes" in contrast to "this post is logically invalid".


Not obviously.

Or at least not if we're talking about having public rational discussions about it. The validity and correct interpretation of evidence is extremely hard for a lay audience to judge.

Putting a climate scientist and a climate science denier on a podium to have a rational discussion is not likely to lead the audience to a more rational decision. Ditto for creationists.

Does this concrete case fall into this category? My initial guess would have been no, and that a more rational engagement would have been the better way to go about it.

But after reading parts of the memo, and skimming the rest, I am not sure any more. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that most of the gender structure we see today is cultural. This is not in contradiction to the existence of innate differences. The problem of the memo isn't that it differs from this consensus, the problem is that it doesn't acknowledge it (and rather treats it as a misguided "extreme and authoritarian" ideology).

I believe there are many things in the academic consensus worth criticising, I also believe that there are many more things in the political consensus built around it to criticise. But that's not really what this memo does.

For example, it selectively cites a tiny corner of the research literature, conveniently ignoring the mountains of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.


> conveniently ignoring the mountains of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.

This is a tricky subject: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/12/beware-the-man-of-one-s...

As a (relative) laymen, I think he makes a good effort. And he doesn't even seem to assume his conclusions, instead inviting further discussion on the topic.


There is a difference between not wanting to participate in a discussion because you believe it to be unfruitful/counterproductive, and trying to actively shut down other peoples discussions. I was criticizing people who do the latter. Does that address your issue with my assertion?


Maybe. I am arguing that one shouldn't participate in "rational discussions" with people who don't adhere to the standards of rational discussion themselves, especially in public.

If you disagree with me, and want to enter into such discussions, I obviously can't stop you (and might aid you). But if I had a platform, I might not lend it to you to have your discussion in public. Would you count that as shutting down other people's discussion? If not then we have no significant disagreement.

And for the record, I think shaming people into being silent about their opinions, even if they are demonstrably incorrect, instead of trying to change them, strikes me as a big mistake.

So there is a difficult balancing act between not allowing people to propagate irrational believes that don't engage with the available evidence (and promote views that are actively harmful to a part of the population), and engaging with people to convince them of the evidence and the rational view.


> standards of rational discussion

> views that are actively harmful to a part of the population

Unless explicit clarified, these are too open to abuse and scope creep.

Consider - one of the few "loopholes" to free speech is speech considered "hateful"; As such we see an active effort to expand what is considered "hateful", and any call to censorship will now begin with a justification of applying the label to its target, however contrived that link might be.


First of all, this has nothing to do with free speech. Rational discussion is a very specific form of speech. It's a great cultural achievement that needs to be defended, it is not a natural or even inevitable outcome of free speech.

Habermas for example studied in depth the conditions for speech to produce reason:

E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_rationality

Secondly, yes, drawing the line is difficult, there are grey areas, and we should be careful, but refusing to draw a line is the opposite of being careful or rational.

And it's not like free speech is the only value humanity ever came up by which to judge things. Taking for example the human rights declaration, freedom of expression is one of the basic rights. But sometimes rights are in conflict with each other. Then we have to make a choice how to weight the various rights.

That's why we have libel and defamation laws everywhere.


> It's a great cultural achievement that needs to be defended

I agree, but in the context of an opponent capable of censoring you that doesn't appreciate this, all you can do is fall back on legal protections. In this case, the potential for a rational, productive discussion was cut short.

A level of freedom to speech is required to promote rational debate. It's a necessary, bedrock requirement, even if not a sufficient one.

> refusing to draw a line is the opposite of being careful or rational

I don't think a line was drawn. The google rep alluded to "false assumptions" but didn't specify what they where, and even refused to link the memo. They clarified nothing but an atmosphere hostile to open discussion.

> we have to make a choice how to weight the various rights

True, but the rights are somewhat solidified. There is a longstanding right to "freedom of speech". There is no such right "freedom to not be offended". Whatever right is being asserted here (by the offended parties) appears to be something new.

> libel and defamation laws

I think the author has been defamed - there are plenty articles "summarizing" the memo in ways that are not representative of it's content - even the label "anti-diversity". I was shocked to find a fairly sober article on the issue in the Atlantic, of all places: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/the-mos...


There'll no doubt be many responses along this line but...

> There is a longstanding right to "freedom of speech"

...is only true in certain limited circumstances, all pertaining to the government (fed, state, local), I believe.

You do not, generally, even in the USA, have a right to "freedom of speech" wherever you are. And you definitely don't have "free (from consequences) speech" anywhere.


Since I'm not American, I'll leave this one for others.

But, I'd ask what "freedom from consequences" means?

There are certain consequences arising from free speech that are, in some sense, protected.

Can I (as a non-government entity) fire someone for choosing a certain religion, for example? Wouldn't that be a "consequence" of their choice?


> Can I (as a non-government entity) fire someone for choosing a certain religion, for example?

Yes. Can you do it without consequences to yourself? No, because that is almost certainly a protected case in law.


Then I'm not sure what your point is. "freedom" in this context usually relates to the law. As such "freedom to X" usually implies the legal framework to support X.

If you are saying "freedom to X doesn't mean no legal consequences" then the phrase would be meaningless.


> "freedom" in this context usually relates to the law.

Then where is the "a right to freedom of speech" enshrined in the law? The USA doesn't have that - only limited protection from the government. The UK certainly doesn't.


> only limited protection from the government

^ Here, this is it.


Yes, a certain level is required. I see no indication that freedom of speech _in the legal proper sense_ is restricted to anywhere near the level that it would be threatening rational discourse.

Indeed the types of speech targeted by laws typically is far removed from rational discourse.

And I am not aware of any laws, real or proposed, that would grant a "freedom to not be offended". So again, in this context, that's a red herring.

In this branch of the thread I was replying to the discussion whether anyone arguing against rational discourse is automatically irrational (not in the "subtle and qualified opinion" camp). A stance I disagreed with.

The whole freedom of speech issue is a complete distraction, as far as the discussion I was answering to was concerned, as well as as far as the case of the memo is concerned. Nobody was threatening legal actions against the author of the memo, were they?

So please, clean up your argumentation. I agree that there is too much shaming for unpopular opinions going on, but stop going to war under the free speech banner.

Admit that this is above all a cultural issue, not an issue of constitutional principles. There are all sorts of things that you are allowed to say (freedom of speech) while you definitely shouldn't say them, and you certainly can't expect a company, or anyone else for that matter, to not shun you for what you say (no freedom from consequence of speech).

If you argue that slavery should be reinstated, and Hitler did nothing wrong, he just wasn't thorough enough, then the consequences of this are on you.

I do believe that there is definitely a culture of shaming people into silence going on that has gone to far. I find the concrete case hard to adjudicate. It definitely at least straddles the boundary. The memo is ill informed and naive, but it's also not evidently written by someone immune to reason, and it does take some effort to minimize harm/offense to others.

If somebody on my team would write something like that I would ask them to come in for a discussion. I would force them to read the Pinker/Spelke discussion.

So by all means, let's push back against shaming people into silence, but let's not do it under an utterly naive banner that says "I should be allowed to say whatever I want". We all want to build a society that works for everyone. What the correct attitude to certain speech acts (like this memo) is, is not a matter of legal principle. It is a matter for rational debate.


> For example, it selectively cites a tiny corner of the > research literature, conveniently ignoring the mountains > of evidence that don't fit the stated thesis.

You really should provide some sort of reference on that claim.

I would say, that the consensus among psychologists in academia is the opposite of what you suggest: A majority of those people would admit that genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.

Haidt & Jussim, May 16, 2016, Hard Truths about Race on Campus. Wall Street Journal. http://www.businessforum.com/WSJ_Race-on-Campus-05-06-2016.p...

Jussim, L. (2017). Why do Girls Tend to Prefer Non-STEM Careers? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201707/wh...

Jussim, L. (2017). Gender Bias in STEM or Biased Claims of Gender Bias? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rabble-rouser/201707/ge...

Ceci & Williams (2011). Understanding current causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 3157-3162. http://www.pnas.org/content/108/8/3157.full

Duarte et al (2015). Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, doi:10.1017/S0140525X14000430, e130 https://journals.cambridge.org/images/fileUpload/documents/D...

Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate. New York: Penguin Books https://www.amazon.com/Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial-Nature/dp/0...

Wang et al (2013). Not lack of ability but more choice: Individual and gender differences in choice in careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Psychological Science, 24, 770-775. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797612458937

Williams & Ceci (2015). National hiring experiments reveal 2:1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 5360-5365. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/17/5360.abstract

(this list was copied from http://quillette.com/2017/08/07/google-memo-four-scientists-... I have myself read 'The Blank Slate' by Steven Pinker. A very recommendable book)


I don't have time for an in depth response, but:

> A majority of those people would admit that genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.

This is in no way in contradiction with anything I said. I specifically said the majority of the gender patterns we see are cultural. Not anything else.

I did not say either that "All human differences are cultural." nor that "All gender differences are cultural."

If you enjoy The Blank Slate, then you might be interested in reading Pinker debate with Spelke:

https://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.htm...


So given the "consensus" that "genes have a significant influence on differences in human behaviour, interests, capabilities etc.", you're basically saying that a significant and spontaneous, yet undetected, mutation appeared in the human female population, during the '80s [1] ?

[1] https://m.imgur.com/t/the_more_you_know/pkZPrOI


Nobody is arguing against rational discussion. The problem is, you can not have a rational discussion about what rational discussion means, since all parties would need to agree on a position in the first place to have a rational discussion.


Why?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of race-based slavery?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of child-slavery?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of childhood labor?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of racial discrimination?

Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of gender discrimination?

For some things, allowing that rational discussion is a reasonable option legitimizes things that should not be legitimized because they are against the very nature of human rights. For example a rational discussion of race-based slavery is something that legitimizes it as something within the bounds of reasonableness.

I don't know where the boundary is, but I'm sure that is isn't obvious that anyone arguing against having a rational discussion.


> Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of the benefits of X

Yes, it is wrong for any topic, no matter how immoral you consider it.

If someone of "the other side" is willing to engage in discussion then this in itself already is a huge win since you're not at each other's throats or creating bubbles lined with strawmen blocking the view of the other side.

And maybe you consider the chance small, but they might be willing to concede a few points, even if you're not going to overturn their entire worldview. And you might gain a little better understanding of them so you don't have to attack a strawman and might be able to address whatever underlying issue actually drives them.

Even in actual wars - you know, where people are busy killing the other side - you can still have negotiations. Why not consider rational discussion a negotiation of viewpoints long before you start murdering each other?


This is an equivocation. There's such a thing as an is/ought distinction. The fact that there might be some rational description of morally abhorrent behavior doesn't lead to the conclusion that that behavior is acceptable. Understanding doesn't mean accepting. Darwinism, for instance, doesn't imply Social Darwinism. Neither do theories of criminal behavior attempt to legitimize crime.

And if anything, anyone who's appalled by these things should actually be interested in studying the conditions under which these things might happen, or under which they might be beneficial, so as to insure that these conditions are never met.


And if anything, anyone who's appalled by these things should actually be interested in studying the conditions under which these things might happen

I agree with this very strongly.

I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas.

It's interesting. I used to believe that abhorrent ideas should be confronted. But I'm not longer convinced - it seems to me that attention is adequate in many cases to allow abhorrent ideas to spread.


>I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas

Besides the difficulty of working alone, how can anyone challenge something they aren't willing to talk about? If anything is to be done about it, then people will have to start talking eventually, even if only for the purpose of political coordination.

I get that there's the issue of trying to present anything to an uninterested or uneducated audience in a way that they won't get the wrong idea. But assuming beforehand that they will get the wrong idea regardless of what you might do is just assuming failure. If everyone thought this way, nothing would ever be done: slavery, serfdom and child-labor wouldn't ever have ended.

Besides, ideas don't spread like that. Specially morally abhorrent ideas, because being "morally abhorrent" usually implies being politically unfeasible. Even the most terrible regimes tried to whitewash themselves because they knew what they were doing wouldn't fly with the populace.


> I'm not sure if (or why) this leads to the requirement to have a rational discussion with proponents of abhorrent ideas.

Who decides what is abhorrent? In what sense? Rational, yet undesirable?

> abhorrent ideas should be confronted

This is an entirely different think. A constructive (cooperative), rational discussion is different from an adversarial debate.

> to allow abhorrent ideas to spread

Again, who decides which ideas are to be silenced? And without discussion, in this case.

You are essentially advocating restricting individual choice, by restricting available information; pushing individuals towards the "correct" viewpoint by banning advocacy of any other. The US, in particular, and many other western countries, were founded on opposition to this philosophy.


I'm reluctant to get drawn into a discussion of who decides what ideas are abhorrent because it's a pretty big topic on its own.

BUT, I do think (hope?) we can agree that there are some ideas that are abhorrent. I use the example of race-based slavery above.

Why should I have a rational discussions about the economic benefits of race-based slavery? The cost/benefit analysis just doesn't seem to make sense - the cost is increased visibility of the arguments for race based slavery, and I'm unsure what possible benefits there are.


> BUT, I do think (hope?) we can agree that there are some ideas that are abhorrent. I use the example of race-based slavery above.

Well, if you feel confident that race-based slavery is in no way justifiable then it should be relatively easy to find arguments why it is not justifiable, no?

An obvious one would be pointing out largely overlapping intra- and inter-race variances in genetics.

If your race-based-slavery-advocate could actually show that specific races have attributes that make it the utilitarian choice to choose them then they would be making a valid point - on the assumption that it is necessary to have slaves in the first place - and you might want to shift to finding arguments against slavery in general instead of the slaver's specific choice of slaves.

Or you could argue that merit-based slavery is superior to using race as a proxy. E.g. genetic testing or performance evaluations of individuals.


And you believe that a paper arguing that "black people are genetically suited to being slaves and therefore we should not expect them to become managers at google in a demographically representative proportion" is a reasonable statement to make about Google promotion practices and should not lead to the speaker being fired, so long as he adds references to the Bell Curve and the lack of black executives America?


If he can back his arguments with research and they don't contain any logical flaws then one should at least entertain them for a few minutes. After all he might be (partially) right and do his employer a favor.

If he is wrong in ways that could be honest mistakes then one should first try to point out the mistakes so he can retract his document until he can find stronger evidence or truly see the error of his ways. For that to happen people need to respond with rational arguments, not with outrage.

If he is wrong and does not respond to counter-arguments and -evidence, then some HR response would be appropriate. And note that I say "HR response", not dogpiling and not necessarily firing.

Argument-by-firing will only harden the ideological frontlines and further extremes.


After all he might be (partially) right and do his employer a favor

So your point is that if a racist argument is partially right and good for an employer then it's all good??!


It appears that my words must be doing a terrible job at conveying my intent.

My point is that you should engage in rational discussion even if you think the other side holds an abhorrent, immoral, inhumane viewpoint. And there are many good reasons to do so. And just one of those many reasons is that the other side might be right about some things. Another is that engaging them in discussion is a much better approach of showing them where they are wrong, just punishing someone for holding unpopular views is unlikely to achieve that goal. Another one that I have not mentioned yet is simple reciprocity, you want others to extend that kind openness to discussion towards you when they think you're holding some view that is abhorrent according to their moral value system.


I'll be honest - I think your example is contrived and/or a strawman, because you chose a "topic" that already seems to have assumed its conclusion e.g Can we have a "rational discussion" on "The benefit that 2 + 2 = 5"?

> Why should I have a rational discussions..

I think the question here is whether you can censor other people who want to have that discussion, not whether they can force you to participate.

> I'm unsure what possible benefits there are

But you want to veto the topic anyway? It sounds like you want to win the game without playing. To be considered "right" you must bear the burden of the argument.


So which on my list isn't contrived?

I'd note that I'm asking question, and I keep getting "we don't need to discuss that" responses.


I think you got your answer early in the thread.

> Is it wrong to be against a rational discussion of (.+)\?

Yes, it is.

The rest is the discussion why - in particular by pointing out that rational discussion does not automatically imply that abhorrent conclusions will be reached or accepted. The primary thing about rational discussion is that some (or all) participants may be wrong. It's also the difference between discussion and shouting through each other.


The assumption of the right to decide what idea should be permitted to spread is an idea that's abhorrent to me. How can I combat it?


> legitimizes things that should not be legitimized

But how can you come to the conclusion things "should not be legitimized"? The topics "tolerance of homosexuality" or, "that god might not exist" both fell into that category. In absence of rational discussion, there is just sentimentality and bias.

I also think you've biased/unbalanced you topics with specific conclusions: "The benefits of X" - why would you insist on only discussing the benefits? It's a topic that makes certain assumptions.

> they are against the very nature of human rights

And atheist is against god, and homosexuality against nature. I think "human rights" is a more subjective concept than you might think.

> a rational discussion of race-based slavery is something that legitimizes it

How? What do you mean by "legitimize"? It only does so in a society that considers only "legitimate" topics to be up for discussion. If anything can be discussed, there would be no such perception that talking about something assigns it validity.

To summarise; Why is it harmful to discuss the above, unless you expect the outcome to be desirable. There is a difference between assuming a rational discussion, when the participants are incapable of a reasonable level of discourse; and an actual rational discussion. I would gladly hear Hitchens, Fry, Harris etc talk on the above topics.


I won't say whether it's 'right' or 'wrong', but it does suggest that you believe rationality is flimsy and elusive, and therefore censorship is required as a first line of defense, lest people think dangerous thoughts.


If you find a rational person willing to defend any of the points you made, then yes, it is wrong to be against that discussion.


A rational discussion of it does not mean defending it!

As Aristotle apparently said "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

If we can't even discuss certain topics, if we can't even think things through, then we've entered the realm of thought police.


But if discussion of abhorrent ideas is enough to spread them, is the benefit of that discussion worthwhile?

I ask this in a bit more depth here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14967029


It's obviously difficult to prove any position on this matter, but I definitely think it's worthwhile.

I think the idea that we should suppress mere discussion of certain topics is very dangerous, and could lead society down a very dark path.

Let's not forget that things like interracial marriage, gay marriage and equality for women were once widely considered "abhorrent ideas".


Well..

Your comment was marked as "dead" and I just vouched for it, so does that count as not trying to censor every idea that disagrees with me? ;)

But I'm not convinced. There have been plenty of racists with arguments they consider rational. I think they are factually wrong, but surely the real point is "what you are saying is offensive and immoral" rather than try to argue that (eg) the costs associated with keeping black slaves is too much for the income the bring.


If a viewpoint is censored (or controversial), it is human nature to seek it out, end even compensate it with more "weight" than it might otherwise be given. This is why the latest in rhetoric is not to censor something, but to explicitly acknowledge it and damn it with faint praise (or claim it is mediocre, boring, denounced etc).

Furthermore, another way to damn a viewpoint is to associate it with poor arguments; or to strengthen a claim surround it with strong (or at least battle-tested/accepted/familiar) arguments. You should be happy that a true claim is discussed, creating stronger arguments, and making those better known; and that false claims are also discussed, explicitly demonstrating the poor arguments used to defend them.

Now, whether a poor/strong argument is recognised as such, that is another issue, and goes to the "rational literacy" of the general public, which certainly is an issue (on both sides).


But there are no points, just topics.


Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion", since it's inherently a restricted format which has implicit rules about what does and does not count as "rational". It also tends to presume its own weightlessness. Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.


> Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion", since it's inherently a restricted format which has implicit rules about what does and does not count as "rational".

I don't see how this follows. Are you suggesting that some topics can only be discussed if the discussion includes a non-sequitur.

> Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.

On the balance it seems like trying to censor the discussion causes way more harm than having it. Particularly since trying to prevent the discussion inevitably produces a significantly more intense discussion.


No, the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

Most of this discussion outrage is based on people on all sides not realising they start from different, inherently subjective premises, and then believe they can build a universally true objective claim on that card house.

EDIT: This is why I believe people in STEM fields would really benefit from spending some time learning about the qualitative sciences and the philosophy of science it builds on. Because unlike physics or maths it is not based on the often implicit notion of an objective external truth - it cannot be. In some ways it is much more challenging to do good science it in.

To me, appeals to "rational discussion" represent an unwillingness to accept that humans are messy, irrational creatures, and that rationality itself is but a tool, not an end-goal (and by extension, a denial of one's own irrationality). We're not modelling our society on Skinner-boxes for a reason.


> No, the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

A core part of "rational discussion" (as I understand it) is separating premises from arguments, so that when someone comes to a conclusion you disagree with, you point out whether you disagree with the premises or the argument (or both) and then you can go into more detail to pinpoint where exactly the disagreement comes from.

The statement "Because Jews are possessed by mind-eating demons from Xzdrgs, the Holocaust was justified." is probably both too absurd in its premise and too abhorrent in its conclusion to warrant serious consideration, and yet if someone wanted to engage it in a rational discussion, they could do so, e.g. by stating that mind-eating demons from Xzdrgs don't exist or that assuming they did exist, you couldn't defeat them by killing the host, or any number of other arguments. Those arguments themselves are then subject to counterclaims based in the same principles of rational discussion, and so on.

Now I wonder whether you could turn "absurdist rational discussion" into a game and whether it would be any fun to play.


> No, the suggestion is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion.

This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

> Most of this discussion outrage is based on people on all sides not realising they start from different, inherently subjective premises, and then believe they can build a universally true objective claim on that card house.

This is easy to discover and correct for if both parties approach the discussion without being disingenuous. Building a universally true objective claim is not the only possible end goal of discussion.


> This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

You're literally reversing your position here:

> Are you suggesting that some topics can only be discussed if

We were not talking about all discussions, we were talking about how some topics don't play nice with this method of having a discussion.

> This is easy to discover and correct for if both parties approach the discussion without being disingenuous.

You mean like not pretending you were talking about the opposite thing you were actually talking about one comment ago?


I'm not reversing my position at all. I am arguing that some topics can be discussed with context-free universally true premises and some cannot. Nothing I have said is inconsistent with that.

> This is not a prerequisite of all discussions.

is equivalent to:

Some discussions do not have this as a prerequisite.


if you throw out the concept of objective truth (a staple of postmodern philosophy) then there is no debating at all, because the whole point of debate is to get to the truth at the heart of a matter. With postmodernism all you have is interest groups waging war on each other to pursue their own benefit.


This implies discarding how people feel about subjects, because feelings are inherently subjective.

It also leads you into certain kinds of blindness about gender, because of the search for objective metrics. You end up measuring less relevant things - chromosomes - rather than more relevant things - gender presentation and socialisation - simply because they're easier to measure.


> This implies discarding how people feel about subjects, because feelings are inherently subjective.

If you believe, as I do, that the nature of reality is an objective matter, and people's subjective feelings are part of this objective reality, then the following are true:

- That certain people feel a certain way is an objective matter.

- Why people feel a certain way is also an objective matter.

Both of these things can be either very difficult or impossible to determine (at present at least), but that's a separate issue - it's epistemological not ontological.


that's true, people will always have their own feelings towards subjects and we humans don't have the ability to cleanly separate our rationality from our emotions. However, denying an objective truth just because we find it hard to get to is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We have tools available to us to get to the truth (science, logic, reason, open debate, etc), and to discard these tools leaves us with nothing but subjectivity and tribalism.


So which "objective" truth do you think has been discarded in all of this? Be rigorous.


if you lay out which viewpoints you think are both objective, true and need to be discarded then I'll tell you. At a guess, I think the idea of tabula rasa has proven to be untrue and there are biological roots to some gender differences.


>To me, appeals to "rational discussion" represent an unwillingness to accept that humans are messy, irrational creatures, and that rationality itself is but a tool, not an end-goal (and by extension, a denial of one's own irrationality). We're not modelling our society on Skinner-boxes for a reason.

Whoever told you Skinner-boxes were the end-point of rationality was... deeply wrong, and probably doing such damage to public discussion that they should be reprimanded.


> the claim is that you cannot have context-free universally true premises for every type discussion

Thankyou, this is exactly what I meant.


I'm genuinely curious as to how rational discussion about the contents of the memo is harmful.

If reasonable people are having a rational discussion (difficult on the Internet, I know), surely we can still talk about disagreeable facts and theories without causing harm.


if you have a norm where people don't discuss certain things because it will cause offence to a group then having a discussion about things that will cause offence to that group is massive slight against that group. not only will it offend that group but it also shows that no-one cares about offending that group. i know this is a tautological argument. but i feel we do have a norm of not discussing things that will cause an offence to a group and even if you think this norm is wrong it is very difficult to change because the initial breaks in the norm are going to be resisted very heavily by those who feel they are being unfairly targeted.


Offense and harm are different things.


The problem is that they are being seen as one and the same. Words that people don't like are being seen as causing material injury. That's why professors are giving warnings before class that certain topics may be "triggering" and that students don't have to have their fragile minds assaulted by differing opinions.


By regular definition of "rational discussion", subjects not amendable to it are, frankly, not worth discussing. Because the opposite of the "restricted format" of rational discussion is just talking out of one's ass and using one's emotions as arguments. Which, I guess, may be a fine social activity for some, but is otherwise not very useful for the society as a whole.


> Men seem very unwilling to recognise

Honest question: Are we willing apply micro-aggression theory in a uniform and consistent way, or are presumably privileged groups immune to them?


Oh, that was entirely deliberate. But are your feelings of upset about that generalisation rational, in the sense used by the memo author?


> Men seem very unwilling to recognise that the memo and the discussion itself is harmful.

...you realize where this goes, right?

Like -- suppose you're right; and suppose you're given the power to suppress all such harmful discussions. You apply it. No more such discussion. Great.

Now suppose this occurs but in fact you're wrong. We must then ask: How would you find out that you're wrong?

Well, in such a case, you probably wouldn't. I guess you might find out when the chickens, whatever they are, finally came home to roost. But ideally one wants to find out before then. Better hope the chickens are merely bad rather than catastrophic, seeing as you've been doing absolutely no planning for this case. And hopefully they come sooner rather than later.

(And that's assuming you're a reasonable person who would actually admit error at that point; see below.)

I mean, really... illiberalism, it always goes the same way. You think it's discussion that's harmful? Have you seen the alternative? Because, I mean, examples abound, and how it goes is pretty clear. You're talking about going down a path dominated by humanity's worst tribal instincts. I should hope that's not what you want -- but that's where that path leads. By the time the far-off disaster occurs, do you think it'll be people like you, who are capable of thinking clearly but just think certain discussions should be suppressed, who are going to be running the show? No, it'll the people who are the least reflective, the most tribal, the most doublethinky.

Liberalism, free speech, when working properly, is supposed to work as a negative feedback loop. If you're wrong, you find out. Someone contradicts you, supplies arguments, and then you can consider them and see whether they might be right. As a lot of people have noted, it... doesn't exactly always succeed at this. But suppression of speech... hoo boy, that fails so much harder. That's how you get positive feedback loops. As the professed beliefs of the group get further and further from reality, simultaneously the requirements that you agree, the punishments for disagreeing, get stricter and harsher. You sure as hell don't find the truth that way.

Truth, now... I notice that's something you didn't even mention at all. Because some of the points made in that memo, are, as best as people can currently tell, true. You haven't made any claims about to truth or falsity, only about harmfulness. But do you think the harmfulness of the claims in that memo exceed the harmfulness of shitty civilizational epistemic practices? (Nature can't be fooled, as they say!)

Like, OK, bad epistemic practices might not seem that bad, might seem like a worthwhile tradeoff, if you imagine suppression of specific facts or claims or discussions as an isolated thing. Maybe we don't need to know literally everything. But that's not how it goes. Free speech, liberalism, these are ideas that are unnatural to people, they had to be learned, and they are constantly seeking ways to slip them off or and go back to full-on tribalism (or pervert them in service of it). You may want suppression of particular claims... you will get the bad old days. The positive-feedback loop of doom.

Claims don't exist in isolation, after all; claims have relations between them. You can't just suppress one claim, because people will rederive it from other claims. And if the claim you suppress happens to be correct? Then people will definitely rederive it. So either surrounding claims have to go, or the process of inference itself has to go. Likely both. In fact definitely the latter; you can peel off surrounding claims all you want but eventually you'll have to attack inference itself. And hey, it happens already that people are constantly eager to do that anyway! They only need a little push... and then oops, there's your positive feedback loop. Once you encourage people to use bad methods, they'll use them to reach all sorts of bad conclusions... I expect many of them will surprise you!

(And what is the scope of this suppression? Shall the hidden truth be kept alive in the academy, say, with a strict cordon, so that the facts may be known by the chosen few but never applied outside where it might be necessary? Shall those who wish to learn a subject have to first learn only the public parts, and then apply to join, to learn the hidden secrets? Or shall it extend even to them? Is the pursuit of truth itself something that must simply be forbidden?)

It's a dark road you're suggesting here -- and not a new one; an old one, an ancient one, one whose failures we know very well. I'll take whatever harmfulness the truth might pose over that any day. I don't think it can really hold a candle to that.


Excellent comment.

> suppose you're right; and suppose you're given the power to suppress all such harmful discussions.

I would suggest an additional thought experiment:

imagine that 200 years ago people had suppressed what they considered harmful discussions.

Why are so many people who are interested in progressive causes so against the things that have and do help progress such causes?


I wish I could upvote this comment multiple times, you've laid out very accurately the common underpinnings between all these anti-free-speech ideologies and what they end up as (hint: it's Nazism/Stalinism).


Well, those are extreme cases. Things don't usually end in mass murder. The less extreme version is still pretty terrible though.


they are the extreme case in that they're the result of walking this line right to the end. Here's hoping that the tide can be turned long before it gets to that - there's already mass brawling between the left and right in places like Berkeley and that's too far as it is.


> bad epistemic practices

The idea that some groups of humans are intrinsically inferior to others is one of these "banned" "facts" that has been excluded from civilised discussion for a reason, and that lies in the history of so-called "scientific racism" that was used to justify genocides in the 20th century.

The idea that "some groups of humans have a statistical average of some attribute that is higher than some other attribute" is an idea that people are basically incapable of not turning into "all X are inferior to Y". The idea that women are statistically less likely to be programmers gets used as justification for itself.

Let alone trying to distinguish between "wrong" (morally) and "wrong" (factually incorrect with relation to the observable universe).

Also, at no point did I mention suppressing the discussion. But you've simply turned your own argument around: you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

And indeed we're also back to the question of whether being fired by your employer actually is a free speech question or not. There's no suggestion of government involvement in this speech, is there? Are you going to say "employees should be protected by the state from fear of being fired for any statements they make in the workplace, no matter how offensive their co-workers find them"?


I agree that trying to make statistical arguments to someone who isn't capable of correctly interpreting the statistics can be harmful.

However, I disagree with your original claim that `Not all subjects are amenable to "rational discussion"`, since this is not independent of with whom you are discussing a subject. I am fairly sure that for any possible subject, there is someone you can rationally discuss it with, without causing any harm.

> you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

I don't interpret Sniffnoy as calling the discussion itself harmful, rather they thought you were the kind of person who'd advocate preventing harmful things; thus they argued that a policy of suppressing "harmful discussion" would be harmful. (As opposed to just discussing such a policy.)

If you are not in favor of suppressing harmful discussion, then the free-speech issue also becomes moot; if it's just you saying "I really don't like this discussion." then that's an opinion you are entitled to, but everyone else is free to ignore it.


> The idea that some groups of humans are intrinsically inferior to others is one of these "banned" "facts" that has been excluded from civilised discussion for a reason

Have you ever heard the quote "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it"?

I think it's much better to be able to discuss bad ideas, and discuss why they are bad, rather than to prevent (or apply strong pressure against) anyone from publicly bringing them up.

If we make it difficult to discuss about certain topics, who decides which ideas can't be talked about? What if a bigoted group comes into power? Won't this norm to hinder certain discussions hand them a powerful weapon for oppression?


OK, this I can work with a bit more! :)

So in your first three paragraphs you are listing out more explicitly what the harms are. OK. I don't disagree with you much here. Further suggestion that we don't actually disagree as much as I thought is what you say next:

> Also, at no point did I mention suppressing the discussion.

Indeed -- strictly speaking, no you did not!

So it looks now like what you intended to convey, when you wrote that discussing such things is harmful, is that discussing such things has downsides. I.e. it is not all-upside. I'm in agreement there! I just think that the downside is so much vastly smaller than the upside.

Whereas I took you as meaning that it is net harmful; and yes, I'll admit I implicitly read in there a call to suppress such things. Given the context, I think that was a reasonable inference for me to make? That is to say, the original question this came up under related to the firing of James Damore. If you didn't intend people to infer that you meant that, I think you should have been more explicit there. Similarly you should have been more explicit that by "harmful" you merely meant "has downsides" rather than "is net harmful". (Note that "has downsides" is a very weak statement -- everything has downsides! If you've been having to argue who won't even acknowledge that discussing such things has downsides, well... sorry you've had to deal with that!)

Anyway, one way or another, while I don't think you were the most clear, we do both seem to agree that the discussion has both upsides and downsides. I'm just arguing (as I've said above) that the upside is much, much bigger than the downside.

> But you've simply turned your own argument around: you're arguing that saying "this discussion is harmful" is itself a harmful discussion!

This is why one needs to distinguish the object level from the meta level. Yes, the rules need to be different between the two. (Although, in a world where everyone understood that discussion is not to be suppressed, I wouldn't have any problem with people merely saying that discussion should be suppressed, so long as they took no action to do so!)

> And indeed we're also back to the question of whether being fired by your employer actually is a free speech question or not. There's no suggestion of government involvement in this speech, is there? Are you going to say "employees should be protected by the state from fear of being fired for any statements they make in the workplace, no matter how offensive their co-workers find them"?

...OK, I hate to say this, but this part reads like you didn't actually read my comment above. The point of free speech here, so far as I'm concerned, is to prevent the awful default human tribal positive feedback loop of posturing and wrongness. Whether the government is involved is irrelevant. What's relevant is, is this going to deter people from contradicting the consensus when they think something's wrong? Is this going to damage the negative feedback loops we need, and strengthen the positive feedback loops that have destroyed so many groups? I'd say yes, this is.

I'm not making any claims as to whether Damore should have been protected by the state! I didn't make any claims about the government at all. And honestly state protection might be helpful to Damore himself but it wouldn't do very much to alleviate the real problems in this situation anyway. It wouldn't really do very much to defuse the deterrent.

And that's what I'm concerned with here -- are the negative feedback loops that we need working? Or are we headed for unseen disaster?


Even by the standards here, this is an excellent post.


You make a good point, but it would have more impact if it wasn't so verbose.


Christ, what a shitstorm.


So: subtle and qualified defence under a pseudonym; stay quiet under your own name?


The ability to doxx is too great today for pseudonyms to work well enough. The necessary opsec is more akin to that used when publishing illegal things the (real) government actively persecutes.


What would you need to do to limit doxxing potential?


Most of all, consistently apply the maximum level opsec right from the beginning. Even if the first hundred posts on your new blog are inoccuous, you can't let them be connected to you when five years from now you find out that you actually want to write about something controversial for once. The hardest part is planning ahead and investing a lot of time and effort before the point where you actually publish the dangerous thing you don't want to be doxxed for.

A blog (or any other publishing mechanism) needs an audience, assuming your goal is to affect public discourse. You can post anonymously or using a short-lived pseudonym on Hacker News and other forums, or on any blogging/publishing platform like Medium, and this is very secure if you never use the same identity before or after. But you're very unlikely to affect many people with your writing that way.

You can't use your regular identity's reputation to drive attention to a one-off post ("Steven Pinker responds to the Google Memo controversy!"). And you can't (reliably) produce one or a few posts so well written and timed that they spread virally and affect many people even though you've never published under that identity before.

So you need to spend a lot of time and effort publishing other things under that identity to acquire a following. You need to be able to consistently write things that attract the kind of people you want to reach and give you the right reputation.

Obviously regular good IT security is needed: don't let your server / publishing account be compromised, vet your hosting service's security, etc. Access it via Tor, setup posts to go up at unpredictable times not tied to your timezone or what you're doing at the time (work/leisure), cultivate a style of writing that's clearly similar across that identity's posts and dissimilar from other things you write. Don't refer to the pseudonym when in any other identity; even if others mention it, don't say you've read it or discuss it. And so on.


Is there some kind of guide about this?

How can you beat a linguistic analysis? If you publish elsewhere and someone guesses to compare your work, are you screwed? Are there any programs that scan writing to determine if the writer's english is Canadian or American or British etc? Or maybe your gender? Could you use that to weed out any regional phrases, or use regional phrases from other places to confuse the text? How do you make sure you don't sound the same in your real life, using similar phrases (For example, if Scott Alexander from Slate Star Codex had another blog that was not anonymous, would it be nessecary to not use expressions like 'Steelman' or refer to effective altruism?

Should you look in the academic literature about language, and try to make it so your style can't be detected by theoretical methods of linguistic analysis that haven't yet been implimented computationally?

How do you deal with private communication? Does it make sense to simply have no possible way of privately emailing you, making all communication public (thus giving you plausible deniability if you click any links phishing for your identity). Should you not even interact with public comments?

What about any information you might giveaway even when you are being a VPN or something (browser info? Some kind of computer associated seriel number? internet cookies?). Is it overkill to simply have one device dedicated to researching/blogging, and restricting yourself from doing normal day to day work on that computer? What about a virtual machine?

Can you buy and pay for a domain anonymously?

Should you make a list of things you are willing to reveal about yourself, and stick to it? For example, A/S/L and then make sure never to reveal other details (former locations, trips with dates, schooling, etc) Should you change details of anecdotes if you share them?

If you trust someone, perhaps a girlfriend, or wife, or really good friend, is it too risky to share with them your identity, even if you agree to never discuss any of it digitally? Assuming they also keep a wall between themselves and that identity (not sharing posts, not telling friends, etc) is that safe? If you do break up, should you create a new blog, and if so, is it worth it to make the writing style clearly different from the old blog? Are there any high profile, clearly psuedonymous people who have remained so for long periods of time?

By making this post, should I now do none of these things?


I'm not any kind of expert on this. I don't have personal experience (obviously I wouldn't admit it if I did, but still); I'm just making educated guesses based on my knowledge technology, people, and the way that previous doxxing campaigns have succeeded. I hope someone else can answer your questions better; I don't want to mislead by sounding more authoritative than I should.

I can't think offhand of someone in the Internet era who became famous (for writing/posting) under a pseudonym, where people had incentive to doxx them. That I can't think of such cases is very weak evidence they don't exist; the majority of cases would occur in non-English media which I don't read anyway.

Scott Alexander is a good example of someone who has succeeded in having large and diverse online following behind a pseudonym. But he's not an example example of what you're looking for. He is very weakly pseudonymous, trivial to doxx. He often refers to his personal life on his blog (more so on his Tumblr), his pseudonym is linked to his real name, and many people know him in the flesh as the author of SSC.

There is good information online on correctly, securely using Tor and VPNs to remain anonymous and on securing (and ideally segregating) the computer you're using for this. This information is often targeted to whistleblowers and to people whose thread model is their governments, but it works equally for anyone.

Interacting with public comments on your own blog should be fine if your connection to it is securely anonymized.

You can register a domain anonymously using bitcoin or prepaid CC without providing your contact info, but then the registrar is the owner of record of the domain and you have to trust them. The biggest danger may be that in the event of a dispute or wishing to transfer to a different registrar, you won't be able to assert control over the domain name without revealing your identity. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_privacy

Making a list of things you're willing to reveal about yourself and sticking to it sounds like a good idea: precommit to clear rules, use checklists.

The linguistic analysis questions depend heavily on both your threat model and on future technological development and I don't dare to try answer them.


thanks!


Linguistic analysis is sometimes called stylometry, and (although I've never tried it) there's a tool to analyze your anon-posts against a corpus of your non-anon language to see how to unique it is and how to anonymize it: https://github.com/psal/anonymouth

My impression is that the average Joe doesn't have enough of a public corpus for this to make a difference. But if you're an academic who blogs both publicly and privately? You might want to check it out.

There have been a several recent cases of political doxing of pseudonymous users. Blogger "Delicious Tacos", alt-right Youtuber "Millenial Woes", /r/the_donald user "HanAssholeSolo", and several members of the alt-right blog "The Right Stuff" have all been exposed at varying levels by various organizations. , As far as I understand, they were all exposed through OPSEC violations in their content, rather than technical violations. In the US, calling out the SWAT team when the target forgets to VPN before logging on to IRC is reserved for black-hats and child pornographers, at least so far.


If you're behind a VPN, any cookies along with your browser fingerprint will still be bright red: https://panopticlick.eff.org/ If what you're doing is really sensitive, do it in a clean VM + Tor. If you're posting, you also need to consider keystroke fingerprinting although with language profiling: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keystroke_dynamics

Most threat models don't require considering these things.


Thanks


Memo authored used his own name, was fired anyway. What is the point? While he may still have legal options, what does opening yourself up to harm prove?

It's only reasonable to insist you use your own name is a rational, fair system; which the internet, and court of popular opinion is not; As such, anonymity is something of a right, and should be a standard on the wild-west environment of the internet.

Plus, since the author provided citations, there is no value in providing his own name - the authority doesn't come from the author. He is inviting a discussion on the topic, and it doesn't really matter who he is to do that - anyone wanting to join the discussion should still be free to do so.


I think it's more that his argument was muddled and I'm not going to bother arguing for or against a paper that isn't saying anything particularly new or interesting.


"Speak out or remain silent" is a false choice. The assumption is that writing competently about complicated hot-button subjects is somehow easy and it's just a matter of courage.

What if it's actually hard, and most people will screw it up? Resharing the best stuff out there often makes more sense than writing something new.


Damore is himself deeply buried in identity politics, as can be determined by his use of the codeword "Marxist intellectuals" in one of his footnotes.


rather than edge around your accusations, it might be better to state plainly what you're accusing him of. You're suggesting he's using "Marxist intellectuals" as a codeword for Jews, and that he's actually a Nazi (or at the very least a conspiracy theorist anti-semite) who is carefully wording his ideological diatribe so it sounds less ominous?

This is usually the accusation that's thrown out by ideologues to silence the middle ground by accusing them of being secret ideologues on the other side. Every communist is just "punching Nazis" and every fascist is just "stopping the red threat" when in actual fact they're both just oppressing moderates. Maybe think about that before you casually accuse people of being Nazis based on subtle inferences.


So why is he referencing Marxism in a discussion on gender? He's not actually referencing Marx, he's just .. labelling a bunch of people as Marxist? And therefore he is "accusing them of being secret ideologues on the other side", is he not?


because of the idea of "cultural Marxism", the lineage between Marxism and modern progressivism via critical theory. The story goes that the Marxist struggle was pivoted from economic to social when the working class in MEDCs didn't revolt in the 1900s.

[edit] also the fact that oftentimes the proposed solution to systemic oppression of women/minorities is ever-increasing power to the state to "even things out", which is a very Marxist concept.


> The story goes that

Ah, the story. But what about the facts? Aren't we supposed to be having a rational discussion here rather than telling stories?


agreed, and I think him talking about "Marxist intellectuals" poisons his own well to an extent because he's bringing an ideological conflict into what seems to have mostly been a reason and science-based argument.

[edit] also as a side note the lineage between Marxism and progressivism is open and provable. The story about how it came about, not so much (as far as I'm aware).


For those unfamiliar with "Cultural Marxism":

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_School#Cultural_Ma...

"This conspiracy theory version of the term is associated with American religious paleoconservatives such as William S. Lind, Pat Buchanan, and Paul Weyrich, but also holds currency among alt-right/white nationalist groups and the neo-reactionary movement.[65][56][66]

At Weyrich's request William S. Lind wrote a short history of his conception of Cultural Marxism for The Free Congress Foundation; in it Lind identifies the presence of homosexuals on television as proof of Cultural Marxist control over the mass media and claims that Herbert Marcuse considered a coalition of "blacks, students, feminist women and homosexuals" as a vanguard of cultural revolution.[55][64][69] Lind has since published his own depiction of a fictional Cultural Marxist apocalypse.

...

The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that William S. Lind in 2002 gave a speech to a Holocaust denial conference on the topic of Cultural Marxism. In this speech Lind noted that all the members of The Frankfurt School were "to a man, Jewish", but it is reported that Lind claims not to question whether the Holocaust occurred and suggests he was present in an official capacity for the Free Congress Foundation "to work with a wide variety of groups on an issue-by-issue basis".

...

Adherents of the theory often seem to mean that the existence of things like modern feminism, anti-white racism, and sexualization are dependent on the Frankfurt School, even though these processes and movements predate the 1920s. Although the theory became more widespread in the late 1990s and through the 2000s, the modern iteration of the theory originated in Michael Minnicino's 1992 essay "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'", published in Fidelio Magazine by the Schiller Institute.[53][87][88] The Schiller Institute, a branch of the LaRouche movement, further promoted the idea in 1994.[89] The Minnicino article charges that the Frankfurt School promoted Modernism in the arts as a form of Cultural pessimism, and shaped the Counterculture of the 1960s (such as the British pop band The Beatles) after the Wandervogel of the Ascona commune.[87] The Larouche movement is otherwise mostly known for believing that the British Empire still exists, is trying to take control of the world (mostly, but not exclusively by economical means), and, among other things, also controls the global drug trade. [90] [91]

...

More recently, the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik included the term in his document "2083: A European Declaration of Independence", which along with The Free Congress Foundation's "Political Correctness: A Short History of an Ideology" was e-mailed to 1,003 addresses approximately 90 minutes before the 2011 bomb blast in Oslo for which Breivik was responsible

...

Philosopher and political science lecturer Jérôme Jamin has stated, "Next to the global dimension of the Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory, there is its innovative and original dimension, which lets its authors avoid racist discourses and pretend to be defenders of democracy".[54] Professor and Oxford Fellow Matthew Feldman has traced the terminology back to the pre-war German concept of Cultural Bolshevism locating it as part of the degeneration theory that aided in Hitler's rise to power.[96] William S. Lind confirms this as his period of interest, claiming that "It [Cultural Marxism] is an effort that goes back not to the 1960s and the hippies and the peace movement, but back to World War I."


if you are trying to imply that I'm a follower of any of these people, I can assure you that I'm not. For what it's worth, my opinion is that there is some lineage between Marxism and progressivism, but that's about it. Nothing to do with holocaust deniers or murderers or white nationalism or any of that nonsense. Not sure what the fact that there are horrendous people who hold this sentiment has to do with the idea itself.


Do you think the author of the memo, like yourself, just randomly mentioned cultural marxism but doesn't actually believe in it?

Was it a specially coded message intended only for the reasonable, middle-ground, rational people who think there's some lineage between Marxism and progressivism, but certainly not in any way intended for the racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, white nationalist, Christian supremacists who invented and popularised the terms modern usage?


"Cultural Marxism" is just the idea that progressivism is a pivot from economic Marxism. That's it. So yeah, I do agree with that because if you look at the academic literature that defines progressivism you'll see that much of it is derived from Marxist thought. So what? Because I can read some academic literature and know the word for this idea I must be a radical anti-semitic white nationalist? A ridiculous idea. You might as well suggest that VW drivers are all Nazis because the company was created by Hitler.

In case I haven't spelled it out for you clearly enough: I'm not anti-Semitic, I don't deny the holocaust, I'm not a fascist or a Nazi, I'm not homophobic or any of that other bullshit. There are plenty of classical liberals like myself who are extremely skeptical of the progressive movement.

[edit] and if you're wondering where I learned the term, it wasn't from the depths of StormFront or some other alt-right cesspool. It's from a video made by Bill Whittle, who is a pretty mainstream conservative. I've equally seen the term used by Joe Rogan and Dave Rubin. None of these people are radical alt-right Nazis.


I didn't say you were. I said that you mentioned "cultural marxism" which you think is a perfectly reasonable thing for someone to mention, as it simply means, according to you, that there is some linkage between modern progressive thought and Marxism.

And I asked if you think the person who wrote the memo was using it in the same way. That seems to be the position the other replies are going for. Just no-one seems to like getting pinned down on this, about what exactly the big bad Marxists are up to with their plans to not discriminate against gay people. Apparently we just mention that Marxists think gay people were oppressed in a footnote to our very sciency memo on what's wrong with diversity and we mean nothing by that at all.

Or he could be intendeding it to be taken in the sense that it is commonly used, in which the jews are held responisble for all the "problems" of modern society, such as environmentalism, gay-rights, civil rights, athiesm and so on.


OK, well I'm glad you're just inquiring genuinely. It's hard not to get defensive when you trot out some pretty horrible characters.

I'm in strong agreement that discrimination against gays, minorities and women is bad. I think most reasonable people are. My issue with the progressive movement is how it doesn't seem to want to stop in the middle by just stopping racism, but instead wants to flip it over by making discrimination in the opposite direction the social norm. For example, diversity quotas explicitly stating that e.g. the engineering department's demographics must closely align with the general population's demographics. It refuses to account for different groups' inherent different tastes and interests by pushing forward the idea of tabula rasa (the human being is a blank slate and all differentiation is socially learned) which doesn't seem to be a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm not sure how the idea of a link between Marxism and progressivism has anything to do with Jews aside from that fact that there are a lot of Jewish intellectuals. If cultural marxism is some kind of anti-semitic dogwhistle now, that's a new one on me.


Here's Bill Whittle's version of Cultural Marxism:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n8wQceQq_Y

Bill Whittle seems like an asshole by the way. But a slick asshole so he stays within the bounds of what's acceptable to say, though even that has some real craziness in it.

Apparently you're not allowed to tell homosexuals that Iran mistreats homosexuals. "Marxist Critical theory" stops him from saying that somehow. I'm not sure why you want to say that to homosexuals, or get annoyed that they don't listen. Presumably the real message is "don't complain, as it's worse elsewhere?" Maybe casually bringing up people exactly like them being killed for being exactly like them is to make them feel welcomed and cherished. He doesn't exactly spell it out, because, as I say he's kinda slick even though he says lots of crazy stuff.

Also, black people in 1920s America, didn't realise there was a problem until the Marxists told them they were getting a bad deal.

I guess this stuff explains why over 50% of Republican's think Higher Education is bad for America. Direct quote: "You are paying people to teach your kids to hate you".

But since "mainstream" Republicanism include Trump and Birtherism (which is totally not racist at all, just asking questions as you would for any President), Climate Change denial etc. I guess you're not wrong to call him mainstream.


I can imagine you find Bill Whittle to be an asshole, because it seems you are pretty far away from me on the ideological spectrum. That's fair, you have every right to think so, but I find him to be reasonably interesting.

Not sure what you're saying with regard to Iran and their mistreatment of homosexuals?

Do you genuinely think that Marxists are the primary reason for black people realising that getting treated like dirt is a pretty bad deal? That strikes me as a rather low opinion of African Americans.

I wouldn't know much about Republicans and their opinion of higher education. If they're skeptical of Marxism though, I at least share that sentiment with them. But then I dislike any ideology that has killed millions of people.

[edit] Birtherism is a weird phenomenon and as a Brit I'm not close enough to it to know whether it's based in racism or just bad info. I hear the same questions were raised about Ted Cruz and whether as a born Canadian he would be allowed to be president.


"Do you genuinely think that Marxists are the primary reason for black people realising that getting treated like dirt is a pretty bad deal? That strikes me as a rather low opinion of African Americans."

That's Bill Whittle's claim, from the video I just watched. Take it up with him.

He says there were no African-Americans, no Italian-Americans etc. in the 1920s, just "Americans", but the Marxists didn't like that. So they told the African-American's that the white people had stolen everything from them, and made them angry (because they "didn't know any better").

Are you seeing how, even in this watered down form, where he leaves out explicit mention of "the jews", how this is a conspiracy theory? Divorced from any kind of facts?

Personally, I wouldn't go around dropping the phrase "Cultural Marxism" casually and I would be very, very skeptical of anyone who does.


that's not quite the same as saying "black people didn't know they were being mistreated until the Marxists told them they were" though is it? It's pretty clear that black people were badly treated at that time though, so I'll have to re-watch the video later to see if that's what he's actually saying or your interpretation. The idea about progressives trying to divide people up into smaller and smaller groups of oppressor vs oppressed is one I agree with though.

> Are you seeing how, even in this watered down form, where he leaves out explicit mention of "the jews", how this is a conspiracy theory? Divorced from any kind of facts?

Firstly I don't think it has much to do with Jews at all, it's more of a philosophical position. Secondly, it's not like I just accept everything Bill says in the video - there are parts I agree with and parts I disagree with. I'm not even a conservative. There are parts of what he says that are clearly backed up by facts about the academic history of progressivism.

I don't tend to drop the phrase casually but I was trying to establish the link for the previous user who was questioning what the memo had to do with Marxists.


> It's hard not to get defensive when...

I thought classical liberals were incapable of emotional involvement in a rational discussion.


I've seen what happens to people who are falsely tagged with certain labels. Id like to discuss politics calmly but when the big words get trotted out I feel the need to defend myself.



What about it? It's not mentioned by the original memo in that footnote about Marxism.


> You're suggesting he's using "Marxist intellectuals" as a codeword for Jews, and that he's actually a Nazi (or at the very least a conspiracy theorist anti-semite)

Do you genuinely believe that the only anti-Semites in the world are Nazis or conspiracy theorists?


of course not, but they're prominent examples, especially when it comes to the "identity politics" that the GP references.


I disagree. He seemed to be trying to avoid identity politics as much as humanly possible, without mincing words. And I'm not sure which identity you think he is supporting.


The male biologically suited to being in tech, obviously.


I think using "deeply buried in identity politics" is overstating facts. And I'm sure you can find many people in academia and otherwise who will clearly identify as Marxists and who advance the points of view that he was against.

If being against a certain current of thought makes you "deeply buried in identity politics", then count me in.


I've now seen several defences of this, and it confuses me.

The whole "Marxist Intellectuals are destroying our society from the inside by promoting the gay lifestyle" thing only makes sense in terms of being a dog-whistle for people who don't like jews or gays or liberals generally.

It doesn't make any sense to me if I take it literally. How is Peter Thiel or Tim Cook being able to be open about their sexuality bad for capitalism? Why is it basically large corporations that are holding the line against anti-LGBT legislation in the united states. Has the devious Marxist plan backfired totally?

Can you outline for me exactly what these "Marxist intellectuals" are up to in terms of supporting gay rights, and how it differs from say the Log-cabin Republicans?


Your comment is dishonest. That isn't a quote from the memo. It is:

[7] Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”

I can find some meaning in his footnote which isn't anything like a dog-whistle. He is saying that the group of people fighting for a economically left system changed tactics. Instead of arguing about class, they are coopting gender and race to try to change society. I'm not sure I buy it, but it's reasonable to suggest.


"[...] the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy."

This is a dubious claim to say the least. There was little to no pro gay rights or gender equality activism in the traditionally very conservative little corner of the Earth where I live (ex communist, eastern European country). However, coinciding with the recent rise of the alt-right, we've had a sudden surge of anti-gay rhetoric packaged along with strong anti-establishment speech - this seems conspicuously similar to the ultra-conservative speech (both Russian and American) attacking liberals. To the point where the governing, majority, LEFT party initiated a referendum for changing the constitution to define the "Family" as the result of the marriage between a man and a woman. Interestingly, the referendum is supported by most (I think all) political parties and a vast majority of people. The "Marxist warfare against the white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy" doesn't and didn't exist here, yet we have the same alt-right crap being used by the governing party to "feed" the masses, distract from their image of a deeply corrupt party and thus grab more power. Similar things are probably going on in other places, the "Marxist threat" is mostly a boogie man used for a plain old power grab.


You admit the mainstream contemporary left is not advocating for Marxist class warfare. So why do you call them Marxists?

The talk of "Marxist intellectuals transitioning into gender and race politics" is bizarre because any such shift would have happened around 40 years ago. Those individuals are mostly dead or retired. What do they have to do with working conditions at Google?


I'm still not clear what they're actually supposed to be doing that is bad. Do you not know either?

edit: I just realised you thought I was providing a direct quote, I was just paraphrasing, but I think it accurately captures the spirit of this footnote. I'm happy for someone to provide clarification on how this isn't a reference to the widespread conspiracy theory.


You seem to be reading more into it than is there. It isn't the point that left ideology is necessarily bad, but that the fighters for it are shifting tactics because Marxism wasn't working.

Your paraphrasing is totally off (IMHO) because the footnote is neutral about the desirability of the gay lifestyle.


I think it's meant to evoke Marxism in terms of being dogmatic and not tolerating dissent, rather than actually anti-capitalism? Either way it's an extremely poor choice of term.


To go back to the post under discussion here, how does your comment interact with Aaronson's Amendment to his Law? His Law is he will work to discover & share the truth, no matter what, while his Amendment is that he'll go to lengths to avoid hurting people.

I really am not sure myself.


Let's say this is about the Google memo.

Let's just say this - whatever one thinks about Google's snap decision to fire that guy, he ain't no Kolmogorov. Or even a "little Kolmogorov". And as to the suggestion that there might be some thematic overlap between his "struggle for the truth" and the struggles against Stalin or the Nazis... let's please not go there.

No one stopped and offered a third option: actually discussing his argument, acknowledging where he was right, and discussing what he got wrong.

Probably because it wasn't cogently presented, and has some quite glaring gaps in the basic logic of what it does present. And in its tone, was more than a bit inflammatory.


Having read the memo, I disagree. I think the censorious response was warranted, and I think there was little subtlety in his arguments or worth in debating them per se. Obviously, these issues are worth discussing, but why on this one disgruntled software engineer's terms?

There is an equal and opposite danger to the one you're describing, which is that one cranks musings get vested with undue dignity just because the mainstream media does condemn him.


Counterpoint: even if you want to defend a "middle" position, that doesn't mean every argument roughly in that area is worthy defending. I didn't read the memo, so I have no opinion its merits on their own, but considering the immediate response it had, I'd argue it's not worth defending, because it clearly wasn't written in a way that could ever have a hope of convincing anyone not already on the fence.


>but considering the immediate response it had, I'd argue it's not worth defending

That is only a valid stance assuming immediate responses are rational. When anything gets anywhere near a topic like this, the immediate responses that are shouted out will almost never be rational.


This is well supported by research [1].

System 1 is based on quick, emotionally based assessments. It's where your flight-or-flight response lies. Only once System 1 has sufficiently engaged, can System 2 take over and slowly chew on it.

Apparently, the best way to change someone's mind is if you engage them in a way that doesn't (apparently) activate their threat system.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_process_theory#System_1


> Apparently, the best way to change someone's mind is if you engage them in a way that doesn't (apparently) activate their threat system.

This is one of the best takeaways from this whole sorry saga.


I disagree; a text that agreed with the overall company position on the topic would not get shouted at. I may be wrong, but I think one could take that and push a bit in any direction without arousing intellectual antibodies. I personally know people who got quite a few "dangerous" ideas past the censors of a fascist dictatorship, where the stakes were incomparably higher than writing a memo at Google. It's a skill, though.


It's a skill, that's right. The article actually alluded to it by mentioning Kolmogorov's approach to criticising Lysenkoism.

The author of the Google memo obviously didn't have that skill. He approached it in exactly the wrong way - by writing a solid, coherent piece, full of links to actual research, which politely but assertively argued that current Google policies around diversity are wrong and harmful. That's direct disobedience, and direct disobedience gets you a hammer.


You've clearly missed the point. The people doing brain dead shouting on each side will never be convinced anyway, so it is ridiculous to criticize the memo for not being able to convince them.


The goal isn't to convince the shouters, it's to convince those who might follow the shouters. Moderate positions must have their own advocates, because people aren't sufficiently informed on all issues to tell the difference between extremists and moderates.


My point is that you could write something that can push in a certain direction without alerting the shouters. It generally requires pushing only very gently, but it's not impossible if you're skilled.


Slightly off-topic, but what seemed so extremely surprising to me is that googlers who are supposed to be extremely smart were the shouters here. Blatant mis-representations were memed, demonstrating lack of both reading comprehension and basic statistics, not to mention biology. Where are the supposedly smartest people of the planet!


It always makes me sad to see people that think employees of any corporation are "the smartest people on the planet." It shows how effective PR can be.

Of course google employees are just the same as everyone else in the Valley. Which means: generally smart, and also including the same political and psychological quirks - some good, some bad- as everyone else. No better and no worse than other people in the area.


> Where are the supposedly smartest people of the planet!

Who thinks that corporate drones working for an evil megacorp are the smartest people?


Then please go read it. I personally was surprised at how careful and level-headed it was. But due to space constraints his message is often dumbed down by the media to "google employee has said that due to biological differences women can't become decent engineers" which then gets the response it gets.


I read it on the advice of your comment. It is neither careful nor level headed.

The whole thing is a motte-bailey between differences in statistical group averages and individual hiring decisions.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Motte_and_bailey

If there's such a large overlap between populations, as he claims in the first couple pages, why bother enumerating those differences in such extreme detail?


> If there's such a large overlap between populations, as he claims in the first couple pages, why bother enumerating those differences in such extreme detail?

My major problem with the presentation (as opposed to the content) of the ideas in the memo is actually that he doesn't give the effect sizes when he hypothesizes alternative explanations. They may be given in the linked references, but so far I have not bothered hunting them down; and I have no idea whether it's worth my time before I have checked them all.


Well at least now after you have read it you can form your own opinion.

Small initial differences are capable of causing great divergences down the line so discussing them is not pointless.


"I don't know what the theory of evolution says, but considering the response it gets, I'd say it's not worth defending"


No, I'm saying that a particular text presenting the theory of evolution may not be worthy defending. There's a distinction between the idea and a particular representation of it.


Not a very big distinction. In some circles any defense of evolution would be treated similarly, no matter how reasonable. The beef is fundamentally with what was said, not how it was said.

What tipped me off was that almost nobody who criticised the memo was doing so by quoting from it. If the memo was truly as terrible as was suggested then surely quoting from it would be the best way to prove that. Then I read that an internal google poll showed that half agreed with the memo. So I decided to read the memo and found it civil and not inflammatory. Why not read the memo yourself?


I don't know what Darwin's Descent of Man says, but considering the immediate reaction, I'd say it's not worth defending.


It probably wasn't. Better to write and defending texts that can actually change the public position until the Descent of Man becomes not quite as unpalatable, and therefore eventually worth defending.

I'm prefer effectiveness over martyrdom.


How do you judge whether Descent of Man is a text that can change the public position, or too radical and not worth defending? If you only defend things that don't get a negative reaction, and anything contrary to the current dogma gets a negative reaction, you'll likely never get anywhere.

Also, the strength of the reaction against a non-conformist text is not really strongly correlated with the degree to which it's non-conformist. Dogmatics police small deviations precisely because they don't want an incremental strategy to work.


I'm sorry, I know that I'm reading a dead discussion. But your comment shows that you have no idea what impact The Descent of Man had. Both good and bad.

You can argue for or against it on many grounds, ranging from Darwin's sexism to the importance of treating humans as just another animal to its misuse by the eugenics movement culminating in the Nazi excesses.

But arguing against it because it did not impact the public position shows an ignorance of history.


The problem with the line of argument you've been making is that it involves judging the argument's worthiness of defending solely on the response to it. People are often so ideologically driven that there's no means -- no better way of putting the points -- to get them to respond reasonably to something they don't like.


It's still making up your mind by proxy, and the "best" part about that is, you don't know how many people whose proxy impression you take into account depend in turn also haven't made up their own mind, and whether they are reaction to the piece or reacting to what they think is expected of them. I don't distinct between one person and one billion people claiming or thinking something, what matters is why they do, what their axioms and conclusions are. If those are second-hand, follow the reference and let GC handle the now useless pointer.

> There's a distinction between the idea and a particular representation of it.

And it's generally a bit silly to get hung up on a bad representation of something and hold that against any points that may be buried in it. E.g. I don't like Trump at all, I don't think a lot of things he said even before the election are forgiveable in the least, and so on. But I can't completely dismiss the resentment and disenfranchisement he rode in on, not all of that is racist sore losers, and to ignore that just because Trump was made to win and Sanders made to lose would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Similarly, whatever there may be worth discussing in all this, why leave it to resentful misogynists or whoever?

There are too many issues already that get carved up into two or more sides all of which holding grains of truth and plenty of BS, where there is little discussion and lots of signalling what side you're on. Like, I'm generally against xenophobia and for immigrants, certainly for those from countries our allies and us are messing up. But on a demonstration, I'm automatically also with people who yell about smashing all borders!!1 and I'm like "hold on, that has to scare a lot of people who are nowhere near the page you're on". I can live with that much better than with things I would see on demonstrations against immigrants, for sure, but I still am not happy, you know?

And I have to kinda walk to eggshells to bring that up, to criticize "my own", and make sure to signal "I'm not a racist, I just think this is a bit too much". Which is kind of childish, really. It's like saying I'm not a heretic, I just noticed this thing when I looked through my telescope. Yeah okay I'll do that to not get killed, fine, but it's still silly. I don't like the tug of masses no matter the direction they pull me in, and even if I get pulled into a good direction by people who have good motives today, what will happen tomorrow? Can I get away from the undertow when it changes direction? I'd rather be away and stay away from it, and swim parallel to it as long as I agree with it.

When it comes to this discussion, my opinion is probably beyond the scope anyway, since I think "boys like things more" just means "boys are easier to fuck up". I don't believe in a spectrum where you're either very rational or very emotional, just because you can't be both in the same instant doesn't mean you can't have orthogonal capacities for both. So I don't care how to get more women in tech, I care about getting more men to be nurses, I interested in the dysfunctions that make them hide in boys' clubs and behind money, that make them prefer non-threatening women. I think females in the military are a step backwards, progress would be nobody in the military. And so on, I'm kinda keeping out of this because I'm completely off to lala land anyway. But still, there's not even much of an interesting discussion to read.


> And I have to kinda walk to eggshells to bring that up, to criticize "my own", and make sure to signal "I'm not a racist, I just think this is a bit too much".

Does this ever work? Recently all I seem to see is "but you are, though, and twice as much if you try to deny it." The only acceptable position is in the direction of the groupthink position, with equal or greater magnitude.


In person it can work, on the internet with strangers never. But if I can't convince someone, I still have to hold my ground, and I can do that without anyone's cooperation or permission. I don't believe in the burden of convincing anyone, not when it comes to social things rather than new inventions or such. If you're older than 20, you had plenty time, roughly speaking, and some people don't change as much as come up with new excuses. Been there, done that, and I don't follow into rabbit holes anymore, they just slip to the back of the queue of people I support. Unless they're close to my heart, then I have as bitter fights about it as necessary. Each one teach one, and if I can't save the world there are still degrees to my own depravity within it, and over that I have control.

The question whether a group accepts me is much less important than whether I accept the group, from my perspective. And the thing about people who are in groups is insecurity, and the thing about people who don't need groups for identity is that they actually have and are what groups are only faking. So one on one, in person, people eat chalk or pout and avoid at worst, or open up at best -- but in faceless groups or the internet it's kind of bleak, I agree. But when all you have is a swamp and a spoon, using the spoon is still better than just sitting by the swamp, right?


I think 'considering the immediate response' used to be a valuable heuristic, but isn't any more. Too many people have become too polarized.

There are a bunch of folks from the tech industry on Twitter that I have followed for years, including some HN regulars, that are now, IMHO, in the 'too polarized' group. I no longer trust their opinion on various 'political' subjects to be the result of deliberate consideration, like I did for years.

Scott Alexander wrote another one of his great considerations of this sensitive subject [1], but he wisely disabled comments. To quote Scott:

  A lot of people without connections to the tech industry 
  don’t realize how bad it’s gotten. This [he quotes an 
  example before this paragraph] is how bad. It would be 
  pointless trying to do anything about this person in 
  particular. This is the climate.

  [..]

  This is the world we’ve built. Where making people live in 
  fear is a feature, not a bug.
Every suggestion that maybe this Google guy wrote something reasonable was met with derision, including by these people I follow, effectively shouting down anyone who responded in a moderating way. They are implicit in creating this climate, this world.

I bet none of them actually read the memo and know if the things this guy was saying were actually that bad. They were reacting this way because others were reacting this way, assuming someone down the line would be correct that there was a good reason to be angry. Yet I doubt anyone not already polarized knew.

As far as I can see this was a lynching and whether the guy was actually guilty, and how guilty, is irrelevant.

[1] http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/07/contra-grant-on-exagger...


> There are a bunch of folks from the tech industry on Twitter that I have followed for years, including some HN regulars, that are now, IMHO, in the 'too polarized' group.

Thank god, I thought it was just me. This place (or at least, popular members of this place) seems to have become more ideological in recent times. I used to be pretty comfortable in knowing that most here were of the classical liberal/enlightenment ilk and would discuss the majority of reasonable ideas with open eyes and ears. Now I see a lot of angry and dismissive reactions that would have been uncharacteristic of this community only a few years ago.


> I think 'considering the immediate response' used to be a valuable heuristic, but isn't any more. Too many people have become too polarized.

It's also the medium. Social media...now that I think about it, actually today's media landscape in general is a self-reinforcing catalyst for this kind of polarization and emotionalization.


> Every suggestion that maybe this Google guy wrote something reasonable was met with derision, including by these people I follow, effectively shouting down anyone who responded in a moderating way.

You could also consider the possibility that they're right to deride the memo. Many studies are easily read incorrectly or have counter studies showing the effects aren't what they thought.

But even if the memo were factually correct, I think a lot of this comes down to miscommunication. The current tech culture may drive women away for some reasons, even possibly benign ones having nothing to do with discrimination. Some, maybe most people like this culture without being biased against women in any way. That's all perfectly reasonable.

Other people think this culture could change so that it's more attractive to women, presumably thinking that we can preserve what's great about the current culture, but simply introduce new perspectives and so on.

That's also entirely reasonable, but obviously can't be true in all cases. Some changes will be inherently incompatible with existing culture. Certainly this will grate on some people who don't see the need for change. Whether the change needs to happen is a separate issue I won't touch.

The memo's arguments that women are inherently disinterested in the current tech culture are then completely moot, because the goal isn't to try and fit women into the existing culture, but to change the culture so that women want to join it. So you can maybe see why people can be so derisive of the memo's arguments: it's a complete straw man from their point of view.

I personally don't even think each side realizes what they're arguing for and how they differ. They're all talking past each other, and the derision just gets in the way, but I suppose that's human nature.


They may be right to deride the memo. They are not right to deride anyone who wonders whether writing something like that, and sending it internally to a mailing list intended for discussions of this subject, is maybe not an offence that deserves the outrage it garnered. Nor what basically amounts to a social death sentence.

Otherwise I'm with you until your last sentence. This is not a kind of human nature that I think we should accept. Especially because, as you say, it just doesn't work.


Certain topics, that otherwise might be interesting to discuss, are surrounded by minefields. One such topic is the distribution of intellectual ability within subgroups of the population. In contrast to the minefields that Kolmogorov deliberately avoided, this minefield was not put in place by a repressive government. Nor was it secretly put in place overnight by a fanatic band of social-justice zealots.

My observation, which I will offer without citation, is that this particular minefield was put in place, mine by mine, over a period of decades, through a process of fairly broad societal consensus.

To those who suggest clearing the minefield, thus permitting this topic to be discussed freely in public, I will invoke the principle of Chesterton's fence [1]: Before you talk of removing the mines, you need to show that you understand why the minefield was created in the first place, and you need to explain why now is the time to remove it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Chesterton%27s_fence


Besides ideological self-righteousness, Aaronson left out one important component of oppressive regimes, which I think is actually far more important: it takes a relatively large amount of people to topple a regime, while small groups as well as individuals do nothing but expose themselves by rebelling. So no individual with any regard for his own personal safety has any incentive to rebel, and will instead go along with the flow for as long as it's tolerable to him.

But this, on the other hand, would create an odd situation where actually the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish. Which I also think is actually much more likelier than what he's putting forward. True crusaders are rare, most of people are "just following orders".


I don't think you need something as serious as an oppressive regime to get into this state. It sounds like an instance of the Abilene paradox - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox



Indeed, it probably doesn't. Thanks for the link, by the way.


> the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish.

You're talking about Mutual Knowledge[0]. Basically, the Emperor's New Clothes scenario: I know the emperor is naked, but does everyone else know and do I want to risk myself finding out?

This short Stephen Pinker video[1] explains it really well:

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutual_knowledge_(logic)

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-son3EJTrU


Is this situation really odd? I personally believe it is the norm.

The conditions to have a rebellion are two: 1/ Sufficient people around the place dreaming/hoping/yearning for change; 2/ An unusual event that cannot be managed by "just following orders"

As soon as the two are reunited, it's like throwing a lit match in a black powder keg. The larger the keg or the more powerful the match, the more spectacular the resulting rebellion will be.

In the case of the Soviet Union, the match was Chernobyl.


As I said, I also believe it's much more common. I meant "odd" in the sense that it might lead to unintuitive situations if we only consider the preferences of the people involved. For instance, there might be situations where not a single person in the room might be in favor of the status quo, but not a single one of them dares to say it either, all out of fear that one of the others might be.

Of course, it isn't "odd" if we also consider the incentives involved.


This is kinda a feature. If the response was linear authoritarian regimes could calibrate / plan the response.

The reason Ukraine was able to have a successful revolution is because it didn't look too bad until it was and then it flipped like a light switch.


"But this, on the other hand, would create an odd situation where actually the vast majority of people might actually wish for rebellion, but none of them actually acts out on that wish."

AKA, collective action problem. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_action#Collective_a...



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