It seems very unlikely that Sundar Pichai is stupid. The man is the CEO of Google. He holds many academic degrees including a Masters of Science from Stanford. At Wharton, where Pichai got his MBA, he was named a Siebel Scholar and a Palmer Scholar.
This pedigree, along with his accomplishments in 13 years at Google, makes it hard to believe Pichai's critical thinking skills or reading comprehension are poor. But that's the only conclusion one can reasonably draw from his explanation for why he fired an engineer whose manifesto on diversity became public this week.
See for yourself if you can spot the flaw in Pichai's reasoning or reading:
The engineer wrote, "On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren't just socially constructed."
He later clarified: "Note, I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways…. I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small, and there's significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions."
Now read what Pichai wrote in explaining his firing of the engineer:
"To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."
Does Pichai think an argument for why there may be benign explanations for the lower number of female engineers at Google is an argument that there shouldn't be female engineers at Google? Does he not understand the difference between a distribution across a population and a trait of an individual?
If I said tall men have natural advantages when it comes to making the NBA, would Pichai assume I was saying the 5-foot-9 Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is a chump with no game?
It's possible Pichai is intellectually lacking in this regard. Wharton, after all, has produced some boneheaded graduates in the past. And the experience in corporate America shows that many companies promote blowhards to the top.
But more likely, Pichai understands the distinction perfectly and is acting as if he doesn't. Why would he do that? Because while Pichai is probably not dumb, the mob he is trying to appease really is dumb.
Social media can create, in moments, an insatiable mob that deputizes itself to enforce the ever-shifting orthodoxy of elite identity politics. This mob does not brook dissent or nuance. It becomes furious at tolerance of either. Misunderstanding, misrepresenting, and eliding or oversimplifying are the standard tactics of online mobs of all ideological stripes.
To the dumb mob, the statement that men and women have, on average, significant biological differences is not worthy of consideration, rebuttal, discussion, or even fair representation. It must instead be dumbed down and transformed into "women at Google are worse engineers," and thus held up as an object of hate.
And Pichai, for the sake of self-preservation, had to adopt the dumb mob's dumb view.
The Google incident is a case of a mob rejecting a contestable application (the natural skills needed to be a top-tier programmer are unevenly distributed between the sexes) of an uncontestable premise (men and women are not born equal in all traits). The identity politics mob can get much dumber, and it can, and does, make status-concerned elites dumb along with them.
Britain's newspapers recently wrote gushingly about "Britain's first pregnant man," who gave birth. Hayden Cross, the mother, identifies as a male. There are plenty of reasons, including personal politeness, a person would address and describe Cross as a woman on a day to day basis. But when we're talking about biology — about a uterus, eggs, and a vagina — a newspaper does its readers a disservice to describe the mother as a "pregnant man." It makes its readers understand the topic worse rather than better.
But the orthodoxy of radical left identity politics requires that everyone play this game. Newspapers — supposedly run by people in the truth industry — play dumb and go along.
The religion of progressive identity politics requires the rejection of plain facts and obvious truths. The faith is not compatible with reason or open questioning, and so it ignores reason and shouts down questions. That is, it makes you dumb.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.