The recent “Google Memo” controversy and last weekend’s deadly riot in Charlottesville, Va., involving neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are from opposite sides of the political spectrum but demonstrate similar irrational thinking.
Both rely on bullying to ensure adherence to their particular ideology; one of them overt and condemned by anyone with any moral fiber, the other far more covert and insidious but largely accepted under the guise of political correctness.
Both claim they are doing what they do in the name of free speech. Yet both are nothing more than ill-disguised efforts to limit free speech and free thought by coercing “groupthink,” either through violence or social pressure.
Let’s look at the events in Charlottesville first.
That was a riot waiting to happen from the time the permit was granted to those who wanted to protest what they referred to as an “anti-white climate” in the country.
The neo-Nazi, white supremacist rabble were looking for a confrontation to enhance their own self-esteem and bolster their stature among those who might be persuaded to subscribe to their groupthink. They got exactly what they wanted — violence and publicity.
But those who display the Nazi flag or Nazi symbols in their protests are in reality spitting on the graves of all those American, British and French soldiers who died during World War II to rid the continent, and the world, of the Nazi scourge.
They are insulting men such as my father, who died last weekend at the age of 96, the psychological scars of surviving the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45 in a division that lost two-thirds of its numbers killed, captured or wounded haunting him until the end. He never had any doubt that Nazism was on the wrong end of the moral spectrum and to see Nazi flags and salutes at these rallies is an affront to his service and his life.
During my newspaper career I spent several years reporting on right-wing groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity Movement and The Order, the latter also known as “The Silent Brotherhood,” a violent, extremist faction of the far right that promoted race war and somehow believed their actions were biblically sanctioned.
When I interviewed members of these groups or listened to them testify in court, I found them to be highly motivated but not particularly intelligent or interested in listening to views that countered their own.
They had subscribed to a “groupthink” mentality in which any views other than their own were wrong and had to be stamped out, even if it meant doing it through violence.
They were not unlike the American version of the Taliban and Islamic State, but without all the faux religious trappings.
Members of these groups were then, and continue to be, small-minded people frightened of change and of such concepts as diversity, women’s rights and gay rights. Opposing opinions are not welcome and those who espouse any are bullied into complying with the groupthink or are quickly weeded out through violence.
Which brings us to the “Google Memo.”
For those who have not had the pleasure of reading the memo or heard the reaction to it, it was basically an internal missive by a Google engineer named James Damore. He took the company to task for suppressing conservative viewpoints, and suggested that women think differently than men and that may explain why there is such a dearth of women among software engineers in the tech field.
To read and listen to the reaction to it you would have thought that Damore had just emerged from Hell as the emissary of Beelzebub himself, proclaiming women to be nothing more than baby-making machines who should be confined to the kitchen or the bedroom.
Of course, he said nothing of the sort. He offered the opinion — however incorrect parts of it may be — as a starting point for a discussion on why they are not more women in the tech field, an issue with which my wife, who has been in the tech field for more than 30 years, would strongly disagree.
The discussion never got started, though. Damore was promptly fired for not marching in lockstep with Google’s groupthink policy.
Danielle Brown, the head of diversity at Google, wrote in response to Damore’s firing: “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
The fact that those two sentences are totally contradictory apparently was lost on Brown. The translation of the Brown memo: “As long as your opinions match our opinions you can work here.”
The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichal, wrote much the same jibber-jabber. His memo to employees indicated that the company values diversity, as long as there are no views diverse from the company’s view of diversity, which is groupthink.
As a private company, Google has the absolute right to hire and fire anyone it wants. Free speech carries no weight in private enterprise. You can’t publicly — or in Damore’s case somewhat privately — badmouth your boss or your company and expect to stay employed.
What the “Google Memo” controversy reveals, however, is how there really is no room for diversity of thought in Silicon Valley, especially when it comes to political opinion. Like the neo-Nazis and the extreme right, that groupthink mentality in the tech industry is that “we will either bully you into thinking as we do or we will banish you. We won’t necessarily run you down with a car as the far-far-right goon did in Charlottesville, but we will bully you mercilessly on social media and assassinate your professional life.”
The tech industry, of course, is not the only one where this occurs. The two with which I am familiar, the newspaper business and academia, do much the same. If you hold any sort of conservative views in either of those industries or express viewpoints not in line with groupthink, you are considered a demented fool and cast into outer darkness professionally and socially.
The bullying to conform in these industries is usually sub rosa, but it is quite real, especially in big-city newsrooms.
We seem to be at a point in this country where we can no longer have rational political discussions, where expressing an opinion contrary to what is accepted as part of the groupthink is virtually committing professional and social suicide, where “if you don’t think as I do, speak as I do, believe as I do, you are not worthy of space you take up on this earth.”
Getting rid of dissenting views and forcing groupthink were hallmarks of the Nazis under Hitler, the Communists under Stalin and Mao and the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.
I’d hate to think we’re heading in that direction but those of us in the middle seeking some rational solutions to our problems feel more and more frustrated by actions of the overt thugs on the right and the covert thugs on the left.
Ron Martz is Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia and writes monthly commentaries for The Times. Email, email@example.com.