Any sentence that begins with a denunciation of the Ku Klux Klan and then the word “but” is bound to end up somewhere awful. That did not stop James Damore, the former Google engineer fired for circulating what some news outlets called an “anti-diversity screed.” On Wednesday, he took to Twitter to ask users if they agreed with him about the coolness of KKK titles such as “Grand Wizard.”
Maybe Damore has not learned from the ire he attracted for suggesting that biological differences between the sexes could explain the gender gap in tech. More likely, he does not care. Damore’s conduct online, in fact, says a lot about why Google was right to fire him in the first place, and why his allies were wrong to take his side.
“You know you’ve moralized an issue when you can’t criticize its heroes or acknowledge any positive aspect of its villains,” Damore defended himself after the rest of Twitter tore his poll apart. Well, yes, Americans have “moralized” the issue of violent racism. That’s a good thing. There is no need to admit that the name “Grand Wizard” is cool because, even if it could be viewed in isolation from all its hateful valences, there’d be no point. It doesn’t change anything about the KKK.
Evidently, Damore disagrees. To him, it is imperative to acknowledge the appeal of a neat name such as Grand Wizard: Doing so will prevent Klan recruitment. “It’s like teaching your child to be responsible about drugs and sex without addressing the fact that they can be fun,” he dug deeper. “If you make the actual KKK the only place where you can acknowledge the coolness of [Dungeons & Dragons] terms, then you’ll just push people into the KKK.”
This, of course, makes no sense. The Klan chose its nomenclature not out of a love of fantasy but to disguise its terrorism with elaborate rituals. And you can play Dungeons & Dragons not by joining the Klan, but by just playing Dungeons & Dragons. Yet it’s possible Damore isn’t simply being dumb. His behavior on Twitter has a lot in common with his behavior at Google over the summer.
Damore, who describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “nerd centrist,” seems obsessed with marketing his status as a member of the minority. He makes provocative statements bemoaning the burdens of being an “outsider” — and then uses the inevitable backlash to his brazen offensiveness as more evidence that he is being persecuted.
At Google, Damore at least had a point about corporate echo chambers. This time, he’s got nothing. As some have said already, Damore’s idea that the KKK holds a monopoly on the appreciation of nerdiness has little basis in a reality where millions of Americans spent their Sunday nights this summer oohing and aahing over Daenerys Targaryen’s scaly “children” on “Game of Thrones,” or where the top-grossing box office title of all time is “Avatar.” Nerds, whatever Damore says, are thriving.
Damore found supporters across the political spectrum — and a guest spot on the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page — after he lost his job at Google. Conservatives were eager to cast him as a bold truth-teller expelled from of a den of conniving liberals; some centrists saw him as a martyr for free speech even if they disagreed with much of his message.
What Damore really is, as his recent tweets prove, is an annoying provocateur. He has bad ideas and expresses them in even worse ways. His defenders backed him because his story seemed to bear out a point they already wanted to prove. Let’s hope they don’t get fooled again.