When Motherboard broke news of an “internally viral” anti-diversity memo written by a Google engineer, nobody outside the company knew who wrote it. (The memo would later be published in full by Gizmodo, but still without a byline.) Less than a week later, after CEO Sundar Pichai said the memo violated the company’s code of conduct and fired its author, his name came out: James Damore.
Since he was named, we’ve learned a few more things about exactly who James Damore is. His LinkedIn states that he received a Ph.D. in systems biology from Harvard in 2013, though the university told Wired that he did not complete that degree, but received a master’s degree in the same field that year. The more interesting — and maybe more relevant — detail about Damore’s time at Harvard is an anecdote first reported by Gizmodo about a “sexist” skit Damore participated in as a student in 2012. Two of his then-professors sent an apology to his peers following the performance, “we would like to offer our sincere apology for uneasiness, embarrassment, or offense that any of you suffered at the retreat.” A then-student who was present for the performance told Wired that it “seemed inappropriate” and “crossed a line.” (Sundar Pichai used similar language — “portions of the memo … cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace” — when writing of Damore’s memo in an email sent to Google staff.)
Damore performed as Professor Timothy Mitchison, who discovered a concept initially called “Microtube Jerking.” Damore, portraying Mitchison, used suggestive phrases to thank women who had helped with the “jerking” discovery.
Is it surprising to learn that Damore has crossed lines as a graduate student? Someone who was better attuned to institutional social mores likely wouldn’t have composed or published that memo in the first place — but maybe someone who’d been reprimanded for making inappropriate comments should have known better.
Further undermining Damore’s portrait as a bystander in the fraught culture wars of Silicon Valley is his choice of first interviewer. Since confirming his firing, Damore has done very little press, but his first public interview, posted online Tuesday evening, is with alt-right YouTuber Stefan Molyneux.
Damore doesn’t express any beyond-the-pale views in the interview, but Molyneux — a men’s-rights blogger and accused cult leader with, uh, unorthodox views on race — is, well, a pointed choice for a first-interview host. “I went to a diversity program at Google and it was all … it wasn’t recorded at all; it was totally secretive. I heard things I definitely disagreed with in some of our programs, and so I had some discussions with people there,” Damore told Molyneux, explaining what inspired the memo. “There was a lot of just shaming and ‘no, you can’t say that, that’s sexist’ … There’s just so much hypocrisy in a lot of things they are saying.”
He says he wrote the document on a flight to China. “Each side has blind spots and this was definitely one of my blind spots. As a very logical person, I laid out my arguments, I specified exactly what’s causing this, I even outlined what the response may be … you know all this ‘PC’ silencing, but they just did exactly that,” Damore said.
Another blind spot might be that Molyneux is a particularly alienating choice of person to talk to immediately after this firestorm. Then again, maybe not: Damore also notes he showed the document to a number of colleagues earlier this summer and that “all of the responses were just rational discussion.” A number of Google employees told Motherboard it was concerning how many of their co-workers agreed with Damore’s memo.
Damore has since filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against Google for his termination, telling the Times it was his right as an employee to “express my concerns about the terms and conditions of my working environment and to bring up potentially illegal behavior.” (Potentially illegal behavior being what his memo described as “discrimination to reach equal representation.”)