"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in a series of articles named "The Crack-up" for Esquire in 1936. "One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."
If Fitzgerald's test remains valid today, then I can only conclude that few people with first-rate intelligence are making their voices heard. Instead, firm views from both sides of an argument are more often simply amplified.
Perhaps that's because it's easier and more entertaining to watch two people debate clearly defined and opposing views than to watch (or read) someone debate with him or herself. But, whatever the reason, purity of thought and clear thinking seem to be valued more highly than are complex, gray thoughts that might more closely reflect reality.
Last Friday's memo by Google employee James Damore titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber, How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion," is an example.
The memo led the company to fire him on Monday and resulted in heavy media coverage. While the left and right can each use the paper as an excuse to rally their bases, the rest of us have the opportunity to pause, reflect and see if we have first-rate minds.
Damore wrote, "At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. Political orientation is actually a result of deep moral preferences and thus biases. Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices." His paper did just that.
"Neither side is 100 percent correct," wrote Damore, "and both viewpoints are necessary for a functioning society or, in this case, company...Google's left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence."
Damore went on to lay out his argument. "On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. ... They're exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective ... Many of these differences are small and there's significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions."
"Women, on average, have more: Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas...Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness... Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance)."
He added that his "larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don't fit a certain ideology... [We should] treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism)."
Damore's suggestions to Google included demoralizing diversity, ending the alienation of conservatives, confronting [political] biases, focusing on psychological safety, and being open about the science of human nature.
Goggle is one of many tech firms in the news recently regarding gender issues. In April, the tech giant Uber was the subject of a New York Times Article titled, "It's Not Just Fox: Why Women Don't Report Sexual Harassment," by Claire Cain Miller. The topic: sexual harassment.
"In February, a former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote that when she reported to the Uber human resources department that her manager had tried persuading her to have sex with him on her first official day on her new team, the department declined to take action. It said she could change teams or accept what would probably be a poor performance review from the manager. Uber has a new human resources executive and is doing an internal investigation."
Unacceptable behavior, and Uber is currently under an internal investigation regarding its work environment.
While many are focused on today's work environment, Eric Weinstein, managing director of Thiel Capital, reacted on Twitter to the firing of Damore with a view toward the future. "Dear @Google, Stop teaching my girl that her path to financial freedom lies not in coding but in complaining to HR. Thx in advance, A dad."
Weinstein responded to a negative comment that followed his posting with this: "You don't fire a biologist for noting that the SRY protein could result in social/cognitive differences as if he were promoting harassment."
Can it be true that there is still gender discrimination and harassment, and also true that there are scientific differences between genders?
The world is an amazingly complex and interesting place, as are individuals. Maybe our goal should be to encourage first-rate intelligence and see if we can hold two opposed ideas in our head and function at the same time.