The Google Diversity Memo: A Question Of Framing

For the last couple of days I have been reading a great deal of hand-wringing over a memo written a now-former employee at Google.  It is not my interest here to talk about the memo itself, much less to comment on the internal business practices of Google.  I do not have any knowledge about the inside goings on of the business–I use their website and it forwards many readers to my blog through search engine optimization and that is the extent of my dealings with them.  Nor is it my intent to question the way in which the author’s name was revealed and he was fired for violating the sort of company policy that many of us do on a daily basis [1].  What I would like to talk about today is discuss the matter of framing.  How is it that we view this petition?  I must admit to being the petitioning person myself–as a high school student I was upset about how the IB students at my school had shoddy textbooks and were stuck in portable classrooms despite the prestige and money we were bringing the school, and was, in retrospect, not sensitive enough to just how bad all of the students had it in terms of education where I grew up.  My solution to being irritated or frustrated at a situation usually involves a lot of writing, much of it public.  Clearly, this is an area where I can identify with others.

Be that as it may, it is my understanding that the essential problem that the writer of the memo had was that diversity of a superficial kind was celebrated while diversity of a more difficult but also more meaningful kind was not.  Our day and age likes to spend a great deal of time talking about diversity and inclusivity on matters that are fairly superficial and not usually particularly important to getting along with others.  Most of the identity issues that writers on culture and politics like myself spend a great deal of time wrestling with even when not writing about concern issues that are barely skin deep–questions of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and social class.  To be sure, these questions divide nations and communities.  But ultimately, these issues are not particularly deep–not least because they deal with defining people by their desires or the color of their skin or whether they have an XX or XY set of chromosome 23, or whether they come from wealthier or less privileged backgrounds.  At lot of people suffer in this world for very stupid reasons, but that does not make the sort of diversity offered here fairly trivial in nature.

On the other hand, questions of ideological diversity are much more troubling.  The sort of identity politics mentioned earlier can deal with ideological diversity, although they need not.  Theoretically, someone could recognize within themselves all sorts of romantic longings that were highly problematic in light of the laws of God and man, openly acknowledge such desires to themselves and to others, and still affirm a legal order and moral order that stigmatized and criminalized the fulfillment of those longings, although admittedly we would not expect this to be a common situation.  Likewise, we would not expect everyone who would use identity politics in order to seek privilege as a way of trying to redress real or alleged historical wrongs, although we might recognize that this would be a common temptation.  That said, though, ideological diversity springs from a different worldview, and this is a much deeper sort of diversity to wish, not least because our worldviews are often formed to justify ourselves and to bring our ideals into realization.  These worldviews, moreover, are typically in conflict.  The conflict of worldviews over the past few decades has made life in the United States and other nations somewhat unpleasant.  Conscious attention has been placed on worldviews and the need to defend one worldview as opposed to others, and to resist a legal order that stigmatizes our worldviews.

Moreover, the author of the memo has a point in that this diversity of worldviews is not always present when it comes to institutional culture.  Many cultural institutions, including universities and whole professions like the law or journalism, do a terrible job at representing multiple perspectives.  Given the monolithic and not particularly good worldviews such professions often possess, and the pervasive biases that result from groupthink, the need to have genuine ideological diversity is a serious one.  Yes, it creates conflict, but that conflict forces people to examine their biases and presuppositions and come to terms with their own corrupt nature.  Living in ideological cones of silence where only the sound of one hand-clapping, namely that hand of our own perspective, leads us astray by giving us the illusion that we are more enlightened and more rational and more objective than we are.  Complicated people, and I speak as a particularly complicated person, are aware that they are not very cohesive internally and that there is a great deal of tension if not contradiction in our lives.  People who live with biased filters, though, are often unaware of their bias and think, wrongly, that they are far more objective than they are.  Questioning and overturning these biases is immensely important, even if we do not change our positions and worldviews as a result.

The foregoing discussion has explained how the case of the memo, at least as it has been presented, is definitely a reasonable one if perhaps a bit embarrassing and irksome.  How, though, has this memo been framed?  Most of the news sources that find their way to me have viewed the memo as an anti-diversity memo, when it is nothing of the sort.  Biased journalism, what is impolitely called fake news at present, often seeks to frame issues to justify its own perspective, one that we have already seen is rather ideologically not diverse.  Given the interests of people on the left who aspire to rule as cultural gatekeepers to avoid giving legitimacy to other worldviews beside their own, this sort of false speaking is all too common.  It would be one matter, for example, to deny that certain fields or institutions represent a monolithic cultural perspective, or to deny that this is harmful.  This would be a factual claim that could be properly disputed with evidence.  On the other hand, it is highly misleading to mislabel a memo that is nothing if not a pro-diversity memo as an anti-diversity one in order to delegitimize it without addressing its claims.  That, and not a memo that points out an embarrassing but all too real problem in contemporary society, is the problem here.  The very misguided framing that the author of this diversity memo has suffered is itself evidence of the truth of his claims, and of the danger of those claims being made to those who seek power corruptly within our culture.  This is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, of such problems concerning these matters that will reach the public sphere.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to The Google Diversity Memo: A Question Of Framing

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