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'I See Things Differently': James Damore on his Autism and the Google Memo (theguardian.com) 682

"James Damore opens up about his regrets -- and how autism may have shaped his experience of the world," writes the west coast bureau chief for the Guardian. An anonymous reader quotes their report: The experience has prompted some introspection. In the course of several weeks of conversation using Google's instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he experienced with his memo. He believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people... It wasn't until his mid-20s, after completing research in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder version of the condition known as "high-functioning autism"...

Damore argues that Google's focus on avoiding "micro-aggressions" is "much harder for someone with autism to follow". But he stops short of saying autistic employees should be given more leniency if they unintentionally offend people at work. "I wouldn't necessarily treat someone differently," he explains. "But it definitely helps to understand where they're coming from." I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult experience with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum. "Yeah, there's definitely been some self-reflection," he says. "Predicting controversies requires predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And that's not something that I excel at -- although I'm working on it."

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'I See Things Differently': James Damore on his Autism and the Google Memo

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2017 @04:12AM (#55579861)

    ...and stop pussing-out and crying autism. You didn't do anything wrong. Have a backbone.

    • by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @04:25AM (#55579893) Journal

      Did he say that? All I see is that he might have misjudged the fallout. Doesn't mean he would have acted any differently though.

      This is primarily a person of interest talking about a personal issue, nothing more.

    • by Two99Point80 ( 542678 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @06:07AM (#55580113) Homepage
      Ironic that this directive comes from someone posting as an AC...
    • I think this is building up to an ADA claim (among others) against Google. And frankly, he deserves to win on all counts.

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @08:06AM (#55580497) Journal
      This baloney about "micro-aggressions" can be pretty hard to follow for regular un-autistic rational beings as well. You're not alone there, Damore...
  • by sittingnut ( 88521 ) <sittingnut&gmail,com> on Sunday November 19, 2017 @04:15AM (#55579871) Homepage

    implication that a rational argument should not be offered (and should be regretted once offered)because it would hurt feelings is not acceptable. autistic state of author of argument is irrelevant.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @04:25AM (#55579887)

      That's why when I attend funerals, I make a speech suggesting that there is no evidence of an afterlife, and that the deceased's death was objectively meaningless. Don't even ask what I say at weddings.

    • Observing reality as it is should override "seeing things differently". So there's something to work on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If anything the problem is that his memo tried too hard to be rational, to the point where it blinkered him to issues that don't have simple statistical definitions.

      For example, he says that women are on average more neurotic, and that explains some of the gender gap. The problem with this argument is that it minimizes the other issues that cause the gap, which was in fact the entire point of his memo. It's also a huge generalization and the conclusion massively exaggerates the significance of the test resu

      • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @09:46AM (#55580879)

        For example, he says that women are on average more neurotic

        Actually, he quotes well-established and absolutely solid science that says that "women score higher on neuroticism". That is a bit different from your statement. And it happens to be a verifiable fact. Your whole wording screams "lie" when seen in comparison to what he actually said.

  • This sounds like Asperger's Syndrome to me (which I'm aware is on the Autism spectrum), I'm wondering how that's different from "high-functioning Autism."

  • by nyri ( 132206 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @04:31AM (#55579911)

    I don't he's right in this regard. His original analysis of intellectual monoculture was better. I say this because also normal people are also having similar problems. I think the line of reasoning proposed by Mr. Damore here is dangerous as it implies that difficulties to conform to the lunacy of this new authorian left is some sort of mental illness. We've seen that before and it wasn't pretty.

    Knowing what angers the modern intelligenzia requires constant following of their social media environment. I believe that is, in part, the purpose of the whole thing. For example, they don't make noice about trans-people because they are worried about their well being. (If they would, they would ask them for an opinion and figure out quite quickly that they don't want to be the battle ground of the next proxy culture war. On the contrary, they want to be left alone.) The whole point is to signal ideolgical group identity and demand conformity.

    • it implies that difficulties to conform to the lunacy of this new authorian left is some sort of mental illness.

      Who is calling high functioning autism a mental illness? It's a mental condition, but not an illness.

      (If they would, they would ask them for an opinion and figure out quite quickly that they don't want to be the battle ground of the next proxy culture war. On the contrary, they want to be left alone.)

      You're just putting words into trans-people's mouth as you are accusing "the modern intelligentzia" of doing. Some trans-people do want to be left alone. But quite a lot more want to have equal rights. Kind of telling to call fighting for equal rights a "culture war".

      • by nyri ( 132206 )

        it implies that difficulties to conform to the lunacy of this new authorian left is some sort of mental illness.

        Who is calling high functioning autism a mental illness? It's a mental condition, but not an illness.

        Right. The most reflective method of virtue signaling of the new authorian left is done with correctly chosen words. A "mental condition" you say? That is a new one I haven't heard before. I think the correct term was (in the beginning of the year, at least) "mental disorder." Your interest in policing language gives you immedeately away as a follower of authoritarian left.

        (If they would, they would ask them for an opinion and figure out quite quickly that they don't want to be the battle ground of the next proxy culture war. On the contrary, they want to be left alone.)

        You're just putting words into trans-people's mouth as you are accusing "the modern intelligentzia" of doing. Some trans-people do want to be left alone. But quite a lot more want to have equal rights. Kind of telling to call fighting for equal rights a "culture war".

        Be careful. That's not what I'm claiming. I'm claiming that the modern intellegenzia are repeating fashionable drivel. They don't even b

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      The ideological/political Left is notoriously bad at conforming (even with itself), which is why it's splintered into so many factions, and conservatism can easily consolidate power into one political party. Conservatives have their own virtue signaling song and dance, it just has different names (e.g. 'National Defense', 'tough on crime', and 'Patriotism', all of which conveniently give more power to the elite).
      Disclaimer: I distrust ALL modern USA political parties/movements, and evaluate individual polit

  • by Alan R Light ( 1277886 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @05:39AM (#55580069)

    Damore's memo was not only factual but about as uncontroversial, well-written, and polite as a memo could be. The fact that one of the world's most powerful companies is being managed by emotional infants, that feeling leaders (I won't call them "thought leaders") are pressuring him to recant, and that even on Slashdot there are people attacking him, is pathetic and embarrassing.

    If humanity is too emotional to even deal with obvious, mundane, and benign facts, there isn't much to say in favor of humanity.

    Maybe the problem isn't with autists, but with the absurdly defective normies.

    • Well, to start with, his original screed is filled with all manner of unwarranted assumptions. Here's a relatively minor one:

      For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead...

      • Well, to start with, his original screed is filled with all manner of unwarranted assumptions. Here's a relatively minor one:

        For example currently those trying to work extra hours or take extra stress will inevitably get ahead...

        Here's another one that's rather less trivial:

        For heterosexual romantic relationships, men are more strongly judged by status and women by beauty. Again, this has biological origins and is culturally universal.

    • well-written

      Not even remotely true--not to anyone who's made a living as an author and editor for the last couple of decades. If he were on my team, I'd can him tout de suite on that basis alone.

      Maybe the problem isn't with autists, but with the absurdly defective normies.

      I really hate to break this to you, but--by definition--the "normies" are the ones who aren't defectives.

      Maybe the real problem is with people who seem to think that the definitions of words magically transform themselves into whatever makes them feel better about themselves at any given moment.

  • The overdiagnosis of autism and Aspergers is not useful. Many of us have difficulties in social situations. Being officially diagnosed provides an excuse to stop trying. It also provides an excuse for other people to write you off, and ignore what you say.

    Damore's letter was on point. Google, and apparently most of Silicon Valley, is stuffed full of SJWs and political correctness, and this needs to stop. Diversity is oh so important, as long as it does not include diversity of opinion. Having a non-PC opini

    • by Two99Point80 ( 542678 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @06:17AM (#55580131) Homepage
      An official diagnosis (which I got 23 years ago at age 46) can provide the excuses you mention - but it doesn't have to. An individual's awareness of their own profile of cognitive strengths and weaknesses can lead them to seek workarounds for, or make extra effort in, problem areas. Other people's informed awareness can lead them to try meeting an autistic individual halfway in reaching understanding; a useful strategy in general. Neither of those sound anything like a retreat...
  • by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @06:21AM (#55580147)

    ... that the people who are loudest in claiming to be highly empathetic never make the slightest effort to empathize with those who are not naturally empathetic. Isn't that odd?

    And if we are so enthusiastic for inclusiveness and diversity and not offending anyone, how come there is no tolerance of those who identify as autistic or near-autistic?

  • Autism or not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Njovich ( 553857 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @07:02AM (#55580239)

    His memo was fine. There was only controversy because it was misrepresented completely. Plenty of non-autistic people get hit by this type of witch hunt and they also tend to have difficulty seeing it coming.

  • My thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @08:19AM (#55580537)

    I am autistic and I too have that same difficulty that James Damore has. I always have someone else look at a letter or document first to get their interpretation, even when I am invited to give my own unadulterated opinion. Why? Well, in the neurotypical (i.e. non-autistic) world people rarely say what they mean. The hidden meaning behind this opinion invitation could be, "Please compliment and flatter my decision or do not bother me. You risk sneaky retaliation if you disagree." I have to remember that the workplace is not a democracy, and in rigid oligarchies, you tow the line or your expunged.

    James Damore made the classic mistake that some high functioning autistics make, they fire from the hip and sometimes act impulsively in matters that they are unable to understand or visualize the ultimate outcome. I found that it was key to recognizing this to make my behaviour more socially acceptable and I had to learn how to put myself in someone else's shoes, so to speak. If I have to send a letter or document that I even suspect might offend or alienate, I *always* have a neutral third party read it and then tell me their interpretation. Also, like some people on the sprectrum, I tend to have no filter and do not suffer fools very well so I have to take extra caution when dealing with people so I do not alienate them.

    I actually suspect that James Damore was not really fired as a result of his memo itself but rather as a result of a behavioral-threat model. Damore's memo might have erroneously pinged a warning sign for workplace violence and Google let him go out of an abundance of caution. This is also the problem with the classic behavioral-threat model, it is geared towards analysis of non-autistic behaviour. Autistic behaviour could easily be misinterpreted as potentially dangerous. Most autistics however do not suffer from anti-social personality disorder or psychopathy. The differences between classic autism and Anti-Social Personality Disorder are rather stark. The easiest way for Google to rid itself of this perceived threat was just to terminate him for discrimination.

  • Google is evil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @08:24AM (#55580561) Homepage

    Google revealed themselves as evil the moment they publicly replied to the memo. The only non-evil move from the start was not to acknowledge it in the first place, and then if they wanted to be secretly evil, fire him down the road for whatever reason. Instead Google could not stop themselves from showing they were ideologically motivated, just as this memo accuses them of.

    I've been using duckduckgo.com for search, and it's fine. It's not 2001 any more, the horrid results of Yahoo and the others aren't relevant any more. God help me I've even used Bing a couple of times. And hey, if it is that rare occasion you can't find something, go ahead and use Google just that once. But please stop using them on a daily basis because they're evil.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Sunday November 19, 2017 @09:24AM (#55580811)

    And that's not something that I excel at -- although I'm working on it.

    Well, there's your problem. You're working on your problem using Excel.

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