The alt-right darling is suing Google but intolerance based on the results of background is different to not accepting bad behaviour, says writer and activist Laurie Penny
Not all rulings are equal, but some people appears to wish the latter are. Former Google engineer James Damore, who you may recollect as the author of an eye-poppingly sexist company-wide memo about why men are naturally better at computers than women, is now suing the company for discrimination against conservatives. The memo claimed that it was wrong for Google, a company with 80% of its technical roles held by men, to be pursuing diversity. Damore joins a dull retinue of bad actors asking whether, if it’s wrong to magistrate people because of their gender or the colour of their skin, is it not likewise incorrect to judge people because they happen to have certain “unorthodox” minds about social Darwinism?
The answer is no, and Damore was burnt. The 26 -year-old promptly became a martyr for an alt-right that is therefore of the opinion that losing your job for has become a sexist arsehole is an injustice equivalent to facing centuries of structural persecution. Damore is convinced that he lost his chore because of what he reckons, rather than because of how he behaved, and that he is being penalized by a culture of “political correctness”, which is what used to be called human decency.
He is not alone. Donald Trump received his strongest support at the polls among Americans who believed that men, Christians and, including with regard to, white people, were being unfairly discriminated against. The new right feeds off this narrative of victimhood. It’s seductive. It allows the vertebrally challenged to feel justified in their crass and reactionary beliefs, and righteous when they face a backlash. It’s not you, it says – it’s them. You have been used to privilege, so equality feels like prejudice.
The trouble is that, as most children read, there is a material discrepancies between moods and reality. Merely someone who has never faced real racism in “peoples lives” could possibly believe that centuries of violence and injustice are any sort of equivalent to not permitted to be holler and draw your pants down in public. It’s the upside-down logic of individuals so thoroughly swallowed by their own self-regard that they holler censorship when someone talks back to them, and prejudice when someone calls them to account for has become a bully. This type of weaponised ignorance is not just dim, it’s dangerous.
Those of us who actually care about tolerance tend to get thrown off course when someone tells us we’re not living up to our ideals. Let me explain, then, why it’s all right to discriminate against conservatives.
Conservatism is a behaviour, a situated of opinions , not a fixed identity. Biology is not destiny, and it is certainly not ethics. Nobody tumbles out of the womb with decent politics. No , not even in Sweden. Nobody is born expressed his belief that people who die young of preventable cancers because they are unable to afford private healthcare have only themselves to blame for not working harder. That’s a learned, developed standpoint, and one that says a great deal about who a person is, and the choices they’ve made about the world they want to live in.
The new right adoration to harp on about “meritocracy”, but it seems to believe that merit can be judged entirely by the market- that human worth is a matter of what you produce, rather than how you behave towards others. In his suit, Damore compares the qualities of “liberal” and “conservative” individuals in the language of a household instruction manual- as objective qualities. Liberals, for example, value “compassion”, whereas reactionaries value “authority”.
Even if we countenance this Fisher-Price political analysis, one of these things is not like the other. Worship of authority is not morally equivalent to that given to tendernes and concern for your fellow beings , not unless you live in a world where the only thing that matters is the cash value of your raw talent.
It’s perfectly reasonable to judge others by standards of basic modesty. Martin Luther King, in his” I have a nightmare” speech, spoke of his desire to see his children grow up in a world where they would not be judged on the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Some conservatives today seem to occupy a world where those opinions are morally equal.
There is a difference between discrimination on the basis of background and discrimination on the basis of behaviour. The former is a racism: literally, a pre-judgment, writing person off before you’ve even satisfied them. The latter is simply a judgment, and it’s not just alright to judge people on how they treat others – it’s admirable. Fairness and justice are not achieved by calculating the mean average of everyone’s ruling, whatever those opinions happen to be. If my views is that you ought to be eaten by a leopard, and your opinion is that you’d rather not, it does not follow that we should compromise by lopping off your least-favourite leg and feeding it to next-door’s cat.
I discriminate against people who are rightwing and conservative. I’m exclusively happy to say so. I don’t view it as hypocrisy to judge people by their personal qualities, rather than their background and appearing. If people are bigots and bullies, I will judge them for that. And for those who think it’s hypocrisy to refuse to tolerate intolerance, perhaps they should read the philosopher Karl Popper, who got there decades before me where reference is wrote of the paradox of tolerance:” If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant culture against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them .”
It is no accident that the charges the new right loves to fling about in its ballistic culture campaigns- of hypocrisy, over-sensitivity and intolerance of change- are practically the watermarks of its own motion. It’s a very human impulse to always be angriest about the things you’re guiltiest of undertaken in order to other people. I’m late to everything, but if I get stood up for 10 minutes I am ready to put my fist through the wall of my own hypocrisies. I’m working on that, though, and these days I’m rarely more than 10 minutes late, whereas modern morality has been waiting for Silicon Valley to show up at the party for several decades.
It used to be reactionaries who were more concerned with “character”. It is odd that the idea of decency and personal responsibility has now become the domain of progressives. But I believe in fairness, and if the right are going to co-opt its own language of tolerance for their own ends, it’s only fair that we should get at pinch something of theirs in good faith. Character topics. How you treat other people topics. Acts have consequences, and sometimes those outcomes include other people telling you you’re being a dick. And, yes, that’s hard.
It’s OK to be sensitive to criticism. Plenty of us are a bit wet- but it takes a special sort of person to see that as a reason to sue the swimming pool.
* Laurie Penny is a columnist and feminist activist