The Database Culture of “Google Guy” James Damore


By now, you’ve no doubt read about (and probably formed an opinion on) the ten-page manifesto that Google employee James Damore posted to the company’s internal message forum. The essay, entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, objected to the corporation’s diversity initiatives and made claims that men were better disposed to careers in tech than women. Damore has subsequently been fired in the wake of the memo going public.

As a longtime observer of fringe and extremist cultures, reading Damore’s essay I immediately recognized the familiar arrangement of talking points and rhetorical constructions which can be found in almost every online exposition on innate differences in sexual or racial ability. Damore’s was a collage of opinions clipped from an online subculture fixated on racialist and anti-feminist interpretation of pop genetic science. There are many facets and factions of the subculture reflected in Damore’s essay, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it “Human Biodiversity” (HBD) subculture.

A solid overview of the HBD subculture may be found here.

Ideological collages like Damore’s manifesto are often the product of what Japanese critic Hiroki Azuma has termed “database cultures”—online groups based around the collection and organization of a class of data points according to an informally agreed-upon grand narrative. Azuma explains, the internet comprises a vast reservoir of data, but each data point is quite meaningless absent its selection and juxtaposition relative to other data points. Azuma calls this process of selecting, juxtaposing, and giving meaning to the data of the internet the act of “reading up.” When groups of people collaborate online or imitate one another in the “reading up” of data, a database culture is born.

The HBD database culture is effectively a phylum of the alt-right, which means that its pet data points typically pertain to IQ distributions, crime statistics, and employment numbers. These are subsequently arranged by HBD bloggers and forum-posters according to a narrative structure that asserts male analytic superiority, female irrationality, African-American criminality, a contempt for non-STEM fields, and an adolescent, Randian economic ideology.

Damore’s essay did not address the racial angles common to the HBD subculture. Perhaps he knew that was a bridge too far, or perhaps he dislikes that aspect of the HBD discourse. Otherwise, however, Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber is a rather orthodox “reading up” of the HBD data pool, in accordance with the grand narrative of the still-emergent post-millennial right. The data presented was nothing if not rote, as the HBD database culture draws from a single, rather small, pool of data to support its intended conclusions.

Damore claims that his memo grew organically out of a critical appraisal of a workplace diversity seminar. However, his memo’s obvious rhetorical kinship to the HBD database culture severely undermines that claim from the outset. Damore’s subsequent appearance on longtime HBD advocate Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio podcast, and his rapid incorporation into the ecosystem of alt-right personalities, further confirm that the memo was anything but the innocent musings of a neutral, ideologically naive observer.

It is far more likely that Damore realized his manifesto would bear strong negative consequences, and he sent the piece hoping to prove a point, either internally at Google or, as turned out to be the case, in the larger public discourse. Indeed, the low-key yet self-satisfied tone of the piece, with its “just asking questions” pretense, is an integral feature of alt-right content intended for public consumption. This is the same pretense that frames fascistic provocation as an ideologically empty exercise in testing the limits of free speech. It is a contrivance and subterfuge, intended to shift attacks away from the substance of the message being put forth, and onto the question of free speech itself. And it works.

I believe the point Damore was trying to make was that Google is not a neutral business, concerned only with producing the best digital applications it can. Google is, frankly, a political force, and as such operates with an ideology. Of course, this is true. However, Damore, like all reactionaries, can only criticize capital if he does not criticize capitalism. Instead of understanding that Google’s egalitarian ideology serves as cover for economic authoritarianism, Damore and his ilk believe that egalitarian policies stand in the way of an economic authoritarianism of which they are the rightful beneficiaries. This is the bait and switch of the alt-right, Trump, and reactionary politics in general. It promises to solve the problems posed by capital through the purging or punishment of a scapegoat. But once that purge has been performed, the problems of capitalism inevitably remain. A few low and mid-level drones—the James Damores of the world—see benefits by seizing some of the economic space vacated by purged minorities. But fundamentally, the system, with its contradictions and cruelties, is unchanged.