Protesters, MLK, and Partisan Urges

Young protesters urgently need to go watch “Selma” and in general pause and think, “what would MLK do?” The Selma marchers gracefully expressed their humanity and decency with their faces visible, and created a clear contrast from the opposition’s hate and savagery. The scene and imagery created were more powerful than any weapon, and turned 800 marchers into 25,000 at the end. It was masterful leadership.

Protesters should quickly expel destructive/violent individuals and the idea of using masks or carrying weapons. Masking invites deindividuation and ugly mob behavior. Pulling down a statue by force may get some “attaboys” from their team, but expresses to others that their organization doesn’t respect the law, can’t be trusted to obey it, and doesn’t deserve its protection. All of this turns people away from a cause—even when it’s undisputably just—and creates virulent propaganda to be used against the cause.

Protesters very wrongly assume that the public is willing to forgive bad means to meet just ends, and 2017 America’s hyper-partisanship makes it extremely difficult to build wide coalitions—even against no-brainer causes like white supremacists are bad. It’s a sad state, but many conservatives’ stomachs churn at the idea of working with liberals. That blame is squarely on social media propagandists and on the GOP leadership—for supporting such rhetoric from their media cheerleaders, and while it’s wrong it cannot be ignored. Today, organizations can only build strong coalitions by carefully suppressing partisan urges, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. It would be a tragedy if charities and organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous reduced their abilities to help by gaining political associations.

About those “partisan urges”. They feel good to indulge! Almost nothing feels better than really giving it to the other team, and Trump more than any politician employs this almost as a guiding principle, but it leads to some awful places. The PR folks working for white supremacists will no doubt point out their opponent’s faults, and note there were good people walking beside them at an event they lawfully planned with permits and everything. When cornered, President Trump said all of those on their behalf, to get in some what-about-ist jabs at liberals. When someone with a few beers in them does this at a BBQ it’s unseemly. For a sitting President of a country with our history, it was, as some conservatives rightly call it, “a moral disgrace.”

Questions about the President’s own feelings about race and past denouncements of racists don’t really matter when he gives hate groups fresh talking points. As of Sunday they can say “if you march beside us, Trump will take political risks to point out your goodness” and “his Monday denunciation of us was a hostage tape.” While I don’t think he’s racist, his statements will lead some to pause on that, and I can’t blame them.

Trump could absolutely have expressed almost all of what he did in a graceful way that did not go neutral on Nazis vs. People Against Nazis. Preparing your words isn’t just dumb politician stuff; it gives you time to sharpen your ideas and avoid stepping on them (“…on many sides”). He has to control his fiery hatred of liberals. First, because he’s leading a nation with a ton of them and it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, he needs them in Congress to really solve problems like healthcare. But lastly, because hatred is blinding, and at a moment the country was looking to him for guidance, it led him to treat the liberals’ enemies as his allies.

Monuments to a Government’s Failure

The Civil War is a strange case where the oppressors and terrorists, upon losing, were basically let alone to continue countless awful misdeeds, and the biggest slave owners retained all the power of government. The “freedom” blacks gained was purely notional until many decades later.

Imagine an alternate history where, instead, former slaves had been given real, meaningful citizenship: The right to vote unobstructed, to hold office, to receive the full protection of the law, and the opportunity to really be known and understood by the white population as fellow Americans. In this more just outcome, do we really think the citizens of the South, almost half black, would’ve chosen to publicly celebrate—with monuments and names of counties, towns, and streets—the cause to continue enslaving their children and neighbors?

We can’t know the answer, but I think it’s “absolutely not.”

These monuments exist because of the dismal failure of the government to protect its citizens from abuse; by fellow citizens, police, the courts, and the law.

If a community or its elected representatives desire it, they should come down in an orderly fashion, with the goal of preserving them. Communities deserve the freedom to decide what they will celebrate for the next few centuries.

The Civil War is better documented than it’s ever been, and if American schools and parents fail to teach history, a statue isn’t going to do it. What we’ve definitely failed to teach are the stories of the generations of Americans that lived under terror and de facto slavery after the war’s end, and through Jim Crow.

The Google Memo

I had a great conversation with Kathleen about the “Google memo”. We talked about her experiences and the greater context of several previous generations of women from the trailblazers to those who later entered workplaces in mass to find they were boy’s clubs.

We already had decades of the golden age of “free debate” workplaces where the topic was often whether women–or minorities–were “cut out for this line of work.” See the first few Mad Men eps, or ask a woman who went to work before the mid 80s. The fully “free debate” workplaces were found wanting and we rightly took some topics off the table. Absolutely some censorship in workplaces is critical! Over the years I’ve heard plenty “ideas” at work that created hostile environments, or would have in a more diverse group. It’s a shame the memo writer didn’t run this by a few women, ideally coworkers, before dumping to Google’s whole workforce. It may have sharpened his arguments and led him to a better approach to reaching his goals.

Naturally our culture around work formed under the assumption of women at home rearing children. Over decades millions of decisions were made without the idea of working women and raising families with both parents working. This isn’t a value judgment, but it means that firms who value diversity still have really big levers they can pull that make the consideration of miniscule biological differences just not that important. Firms will of course forever have to balance their diversity desires with the law’s prohibition of discrimination; the memo’s author basically accused Google of discrimination against men, and that’s for the courts to figure out.

I’ll give him this, he’s right that political viewpoint diversity is probably very lacking at Google, as it is nearly everywhere in America due to our acidic hyper-partisanship and geographical self-sorting. He referenced the Heterodox Academy and I’m a fan. In general diversity is so hard because humans don’t want to have uncomfortable conversations or get pushback on their ideas, even if weeds out the weak ideas and yields better solutions.

To some extent each firm has to consider whether actively fighting against a nationwide polarization trend is worth the hassle, but the more politically homogenous businesses will probably be the first to majorly mess up in public and “out” themselves as saying nasty things about half their customers.