Annals of Imperial Google

  • Posted: August 23, 2017
  • Category: Blog
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Sometime between my Junior and Senior year in high school, I crossed the line. I gave up on school. It probably looked like a simple case of the “lazy’s” to my parents and teachers. I am sure that a submerged character flaw was involved along with steady increasing levels of testosterone, but a sense of resignation had been growing for some time. School just became harder and harder to give a damn about. I liked learning things, but school just resembled a very dull and apparently meaningless job. And like others before me, trapped in meaningless work-a-day routines, I gradually learned to do just enough to get by.

Nerd that I am, my main interest, other than the byzantine intricacies of the opposite sex along with the spiraling descent into wretched irrelevance by the New York Yankees, was books. And that is how I came to be a fan of Publius Cornelius Tacitus. Gradually coming to the realization that I was P.C. Tacitus’s only fan within a five hundred mile radius removed any point in coming out of the closet, but what was I to do? The heart wants what it wants.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus, or Tacitus to his friends, family and nerds, was a well connected, well educated bureaucrat of the Roman Empire – 1st Century CE, Anno Domini to you white supremacists. Looking at him through the lens of my now mature years rather than the hormonal teenager that I was, I see Tacitus as an Adorable of his own time and place. He was smart and ambitious, a good networker. He was born and raised in fly over country, a great disadvantage to be sure, but being a white male at least he wasn’t oppressed. He had been well educated, married well and rose through the ranks. In his time and place, he was in the vernacular of Progressive America, an Adorable.

After retiring from a successful career in the upper echelons of public life, Tacitus wrote a number of books that have survived the two millennia separating us. His works endure as the foundation stones of our present day picture of the Roman Empire. Of particular interest to me is one of his more obscure essays. Titled, Germania, it is a fascinating picture of the German people twenty centuries ago. It seemed my ancestors were noble savages with a weakness for partying and this brown fermented crap (a paraphrase of Tacitus’s words) that the Germans liked to drink. The essay has fallen out of favor among progressive academia, because Tacitus expressed opinions in it that are terribly out of fashion today. Prefiguring Nietzsche, he extolled the virtues of the noble savages of Germany. Of course he was being ironic about the whole noble savage thing. Tacitus was did not idealize anything, especially uncouth barbarians in the dark impenetrable forests of German. Tacitus was simply using the Germans as a foil in making a veiled criticism of the effete Roman aristocracy of his own time. But his ironic picture of the noble German savage was used centuries later to justify the racial purity mythology of the Nazi Party. That is the problem with irony. So many people take it at face value.

But his magnus opus, his life’s masterpiece, was a political history of Rome during the 1st Century titled – Annals of Imperial Rome. This was the time of infamous Emperors; Tiberius, in whose reign Jesus grew up and was crucified, Nero who executed St. Paul and St. Peter, of Vespasian and Titus who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though those events shaped today’s world, they didn’t even make the back pages of the Acta Diurna, Rome’s newspaper of record, the New York Times of the classical world. There was a lot going on in Rome back then and Tacitus took it upon himself to provide a play by play of the action – including what happened behind the scenes.

But thinking of Tacitus now while seeing the stultifying effects of political correctness, I admit to a deep appreciation of him. I even delude myself into thinking I understand him. In my admittedly fanciful mind’s eye, I see him as a fellow traveler, a Deplorable among the Adorables. Of course Tacitus had interesting stories about epochal events to tell, he was a victim of that Chinese curse – “May you live in interesting times.”

But it was also his writing style that made such a lasting impression on me. His style was all his own. I would be reading through a straightforward account of Imperial Rome’s greatness and my mind would just slip out of gear. Going back and re-reading the passage, I would smile, “What did he just say?”

Tacitus was the master of indirection, of neatly disguised ironic commentary on the political correctness of his own day. He would say one thing, but upon reflection you would gradually understand that Tacitus meant something else entirely. While his words echoed party lines, heaping glory and praise on the currently favored great ones, his thoughts neatly skewered the target of his snark instead. For that reason alone Tacitus has a special place on my bookshelf. I suspect that my own writing style owes much to this self-made Roman aristocrat of long ago.

Tacitus comes to mind because of the recent kerfuffle at a modern day Imperium, Google, or as it is legally known, Alphabet Inc. One of the mushrooms, er, I mean engineers, at Google recently did something that only a clueless dyed in the wool engineer would do. This individual, one James Damore by name, questioned the benefits of totemic Diversity, writing critically of the culture of pervasive doublespeak on behalf of the demigod, Diversity, required at Google. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Damore further spoke of an ultra progressive monoculture within Google that stifles all dissenting opinion.

Like a good engineer, Mr. Damore used facts and figures in his arguments. He was making his case in a logical and scientifically sound way to a group of fellow engineers on a special interest Google bulletin board. Given Google’s stated policies, Mr. Damore had every expectation of privacy as well as the freedom to express his thoughts on this forum. As you may have heard, other Google employees with access to the bulletin board marshaled their own facts and figures to rebut Mr. Damore’s paper. A good spirited technical discussion ensued, the objective merits of which soundly refuted Mr. Damore’s logic, proving the value of Diversity. Everyone involved shook hands or hugged in a gender neutral manner afterward and went out to share a locally sourced artisanal chai mead infusion.

Yuk, yuk, as if. In the real world, Mr. Damore’s memo, now officially declared a racist, sexist screed of demonic intent, was denounced as “hate speech”. He was immediately put into chains and given over to the twin Star Chambers of the modern Inclusive Inquisition – Facebook and Twitter. A righteous fury erupted against Mr. Damore, demanding he be publicly drawn and quartered, or at least fired. No one dared to defend Mr. Damore who suddenly found himself in a very lonely place. It may be that only a 16th century heretic, watching the screaming crowd in the town square as the first wisps of smoke swirl up around his face, could comprehend a similar isolation.

As we know from criminal cases, the wheels of Justice and Due Process grind slowly in America. One day after the memo became public, James Damore was summarily fired. Of course it is said that Justice delayed is Justice denied, but so much for due process. Google CEO Sundar Pichai rushed home from vacation upon hearing of the memo and promptly fired Mr. Damore for “violating Google’s Code of Conduct”.

Of course, Mr. Pichai had to explain his milquetoast action to the company and key stakeholders, Mr. Damore was only fired, not drawn and quartered. Mr. Pichai’s memo went on for some length pledging his, and Google’s, support for the free expression of ideas at Google. It reads almost like a Silicon Valley version of the Declaration of Independence. On the other hand, the message was clear. Heresy will be punished. Certain ideas can only be answered with the stake, the faggots and the matches.

It’s easy to poke fun at Google fiasco, though Mr. Damore’s career prospects in the elite precincts Adorable America is kaput. Perhaps he might find a job at a coal mine, working a “fracking” well site or other enterprise equally contemptible as himself. I suspect that Mr. Damore’s education, a Harvard education, didn’t instill in him the lessons to be learned from Tacitus.

The example of Tacitus’s life and writing is, “easy does it”. Try a little humor and playful irony if you want to speak truth to power. Perhaps Yale does a better job with Tacitus than Harvard does, as William Buckley Jr. gave master classes on the subject of using truth to fight dogma. But at least Mr. Damore now knows why the caged bird sings, even though Mr. Damore might not care to sing that particular song himself.

If Mr. Damore had read Tacitus and more importantly imitated the example to be found there, he might have not alarmed the sensibilities of Emperors about their wardrobes, or lack thereof. But then Mr. Damore is an engineer, a species notorious for pointing out deficiencies in an Emperor’s wardrobe. Engineers have a naïve faith, a touching belief in logic, in facts and figures. This is why engineers find themselves housed in plain utilitarian quarters, physically and organizationally as far away from Mahogany Row as possible.

I find it hard to find much sympathy in my heart for Mr. Damore. He is obviously a smart man, a Harvard graduate and a non-legacy one to boot. Nailing a list of 95 theses on the door of an important and powerful church, even if done in the belief of both anonymity and permission to do so, is the act of a fool or a madman. Saying what he did, where he did, is the act of a fool. If he expected understanding and forgiveness because he was a fool, he really should have known better. James Damore is a “two-fer”, the wrong sex and the wrong skin color to be accorded mercy or grace.

I do feel sympathy for Mr. Pichai. A Tamil born to a middle class family in southern India, he is a stranger to the violent riptides roiling the oppressed classes suffering under the monied interests twisting the American economy to their own nefarious ends. Becoming the CEO of Google from such a humble beginning speaks volumes of Mr. Pichai’s business acumen. But imagine yourself on the type of vacation afforded to a Silicon Valley CEO and then waking to hear about an HR issue, of thermonuclear dimensions, brought on by one of your engineers.

Of course, any CEO worth his salt knows that engineers are walking organizational time bombs. Their ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time is the stuff of legend. But also I expect that like almost every other CEO in the world, Sundar Pichai relishes the opportunity to deal with HR. I would imagine that his face lights up with pleasure every time Eileen Naughton, Google’s Head of Human Resources comes into his office. I am sure he begins every morning imagining a special time with Danielle Brown, Google’s VP of Diversity. He probably fondly remembers his heart to heart chats with Daisy Auger-Dominguez, Global Head of Diversity Staffing, at Google.

It is my experience that CEO’s live in fear. Yes, they have the perks and the power. Mr. Pichai’s lifestyle is the stuff of fantasy I am sure. But I am reminded of a common practice in the tribal societies that modern business organizations increasingly resemble. An individual, chosen as tribal chief, is given all the perks and power that the tribe has. He lives a life of ease and comfort with every wish taken care of – until the gods are displeased. And then the chief is thrown into the smoking volcano. He is sacrificed. The gods must be appeased. CEO’s live in fear of the wrath of the gods.

Engineers like Mr. Damore, cossetted in their cubicles manipulating facts and numbers, do not believe in gods, powerful beings given to irrational behaviors and emotional tantrums. That is why they are engineers, kept out of the public’s eye and isolated from the levers of power. CEO’s like Mr. Pichai know better. There really are gods. They are very powerful and they are irrational and prone to emotional tantrums.

Consider Mr. Pinchai’s position. Of course he is the head of a fabulously wealthy corporation with a near monopoly in its market, Google. But to maintain that wealth and to retain that monopoly, Google needs technical talent, technical talent of a very specialized nature. Like all technical talent, it is a rare commodity. Mr. Pinchai is also keenly aware that technical talent, unlike nearly all other professions required to make ritual genuflection before the altars of the gods, cannot be faked. Engineers can either do it, they can make things work, or they can’t. To compound the problem with technical talent, there also exist engineers with a rare gift, artistry in their craft, a mastery of their profession rather than mundane technical competence. This artistic mastery, this genius, allows them to break the bounds of what is thought possible, to work magic with concrete and steel, or computer code.

Mr. Pinchai needs these people. His organization is absolutely dependent upon them. But in a cruel twist of fate, most of these are the wrong sex and the wrong skin color. They are nerds, even worse they are engineering nerds. They are content to live on the luxurious mushroom farm that Google has created for them. But – a big but here- they control the mushroom farm and Google is completely and totally dependent on the mushroom farm.

The mushroom farm is a strange place. You know how to grow mushrooms of course, dark places rich with a pungent steaming mix of management wisdom and promises? To a remarkable extent, the mushroom farm is color blind, gender blind, age blind, everything blind. But unfortunately it is not blind to ability. To be a mushroom in good standing you have to be able to play, you have to be able to make things work. Otherwise the mushroom farm becomes a hostile work place very quickly.

In some respects strangely enough, the mushroom farm resembles a wolf pack, complete with an Alpha Wolf. Engineers have enormous conceptual difficulties accepting anyone other than the Alpha Engineer as their leader. Alpha Engineers, in addition to an artistic mastery of their craft, also tend to have the temperament of an artist. Understandably organizations would prefer their engineering groups to run more like mushroom farms than artist’s workshops, hence buttressing Mr. Pichai’s belief in gods and their emotional tantrums. Mr. Pichai has disturbed the mushroom farm and the gods therein are growing uneasy.

It is hard enough managing an organization totally dependent on engineers and all their foibles, but Google sits in the middle of the San Francisco Bay area. It is as if Berlin was a Jewish enclave during WWII. The Gestapo is constantly prowling Silicon Valley looking to do something about these Jews. Of course the Gestapo is outside looking in, but Google is also completely and totally infiltrated by informers to the Gestapo as well.

The Gestapo would like to put all these misogynists and bigots on trains to the nearest concentration camp, but the progressive war effort needs the rivers of money being created by these degenerates. But when one of these companies becomes vulnerable, the humorless agents in black trench coats and steel rimmed glasses strike. Ask Uber what can happen. And the engineers in these places. . . . Well they act like engineers. Instead of quietly walking around with downcast eyes obediently wearing the required large yellow stars on their clothing, they engage in pranks, thumbing their noses at the Gestapo “in secret” and then running away giggling.

I am sure that Mr. Pichai has attended many many functions, fundraisers all, where he rubs shoulders with luminaries of the Left Coast. I would be surprised if his Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, needs to schedule an appointment to spend time with him. I would expect that the diversity of Google’s mushroom farm is often a subject of pointed mirth in such times and places, with joking references to “solutions”. In tribal mythologies, the gods frequently make jokes about that which angers them.

I do not know Mr. Pichai’s politics or thoughts on Diversity. I expect he is like most CEO’s, apolitical and pragmatic. He knows that being “right” is very very expensive. Being “right” about Diversity has a definite “Joe Versus the Volcano” flavor to it.

One Response to “Annals of Imperial Google”

  1. jeffrey Esbenshade says:

    I was young dumb single early 1970.s with White Motor Co they needed new leadership

    Hired some General Motors blue bloods. They did nothing so I wrote a letter to the

    management told them if you don’t replace truck plant that had wooden floors

    we cannot compete. The GM guys got fired, new team started on new plant but

    all US industry faced 18% rates of intrest and White filed chpt 11.

    The Pres of company sent copy letter to my boss.

    Race, corp policy, public relations, do not allow average employee to protest

    the corp policy.Some times the troops in the trenches can see the problums

    better than someone at the top.

    The risk takers don’t care what anyone thinks Ted Turner Fred Smith received C

    for his paper on founding of Federal Express. Howard Hughs nut job,but did many things.To be effective in schools, business, public policy, we need people who are
    not worried of what the public thinks

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