Fired Google engineer wonders if KKK names are cool – CNET

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.


Ku Klux Klan protests planned removal Of General Lee statue from Virginia park.

Do you judge someone by his title, or by his actions?

Chet Strange / Getty Images

James Damore has become a spokesman for, well, what?

He seems to believe that he’s a free thinker, there to take on the entrenched liberal views of Silicon Valley.

Google fired him from his engineer position after he posted a think-piece that some thought ravingly sexist and antidiversity.

That sparked even more discussion about diversity and inclusion in a year in which we’ve had Uber investigations into the topic, lawsuits and investigations targeting Google over gender discrimination, and VCs apologizing to women entrepreneurs.

Damore hasn’t stopped adopting positions that provoke. He’s criticized, for instance, organizations that teach women to code. 

But now he’s diverted to more diverting fare. He’s wondered, in fact, whether the Ku Klux Klan gives its members rather cool names.

In a Wednesday tweet, the self-styled “nerd centrist” offered: “The KKK is horrible and I don’t support them in any way, but can we admit that their internal title names are cool, e.g. ‘Grand Wizard’?”

Damore gave four options for tweeters to respond in a poll: “Yes,” “No, the names aren’t cool,” “No, that’s racist” and “No, other.” He also followed up his tweet with a few more thoughts.

Sample: “You know you’ve moralized an issue when you can’t criticize its heroes or acknowledge any positive aspect of its villains.”

Followed by: “It’s like teaching your child to be responsible about drugs and sex without addressing the fact that they can be fun.” 

Not everyone seemed to agree.

“They specifically picked those goofy-ass names so they could sound harmless while they raped and tortured people to destroy elected govts,” offered astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

A fellow calling himself Sgt Pinback referenced a modern equivalent: “Do you know the reason why they chose names like that? It’s very much like the alt-right’s use of Pepe and jokes.”

Some were less didactic.

“Hey Jackass James: Stalin was horrible, but can we admit the word gulag is cool. #icandothisalldayyoulittleprick,” mused Recode’s Kara Swisher. 

Apparently the responses took Damore aback. Later on Wednesday, his poll tweet disappeared from his Twitter feed, and a series of new musings acknowledged that he “gave many the wrong impression.” He did stay at arm’s length from what might be taken as an outright apology.  “In retrospect though, a Twitter poll was likely not the best way to spark the conversation on this rightfully sensitive issue.”

Earlier, he insisted that he had righteousness on his side.

“If you make the actual KKK the only place where you can acknowledge the coolness of D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] terms, then you’ll just push people into the KKK,” he tweeted.

I had rather thought that everything from Harry Potter to “Game of Thrones” used these sorts of names. 

Moreover, Damore’s logic builds on a curious view of human agency. It’s either one side or the absolute polar opposite. Which may be a modern view, but doesn’t seem all that centrist. 

The former Googler has often taken up an intellectual’s pose. His thinking, though, may not be so profound, as The Economist pointed out with some length and glee.

By the time the poll tweet was pulled, more than 20,000 votes had been cast and the voting was close. Only around 30 percent of voters, however, favored the alleged coolness of the KKK names.

I wonder how the voting broke down in Silicon Valley.

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech. 

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

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