One of the two things the memo was about was the hypothesis that women might be less suited to careers in technology at least in part for biological rather than social reasons. That is, understandably, the part that the media has focused on, and the part that led to Damore being dismissed. But the second thing the memo was about, what was in fact its main thesis, was that, at least at Google, you cannot even advance the hypothesis that biology might be a contributing factor to women's underrepresentation in tech without putting your career at risk. Ironically, by firing Damore, Google proved that he was actually right about that.
Before I go on, because this situation is absolutely brimming over with opportunities for misunderstandings, I want to say up front that I do not agree with Damore's hypothesis. The evidence for it seems thin to me, and the best data indicates that there are few discernible differences in mental capacity between men and women. I am not defending Damore's thesis. I am defending his right to advance it without putting his livelihood at risk. [EDIT: I used the word "right" too glibly here. Employees generally do not have free-speech rights on the job. But Google claims to encourage free speech and dissent.] And I am going to go one step further and advance a controversial thesis of my own, namely, that one of the reasons that this is such a hot-button issue that that Damore's thesis is plausible. It could be true. Biology clearly can have an impact on cognitive ability. Down Syndrome, for example, is a biological trait (caused by having an extra chromosome) that causes "mild to moderate intellectual disability".
I can hear the whoops and hollers already: how dare you compare being female with having Down syndrome! Well, if you read carefully, I am not comparing those two things. I am citing Down syndrome as evidence that biology can have an impact on cognitive ability, and hence it is not impossible a priori that having a Y-chromosome deficiency might have a similar impact. However (and this is very important) it is just as plausible a priori that this difference could hew in favor of women as against them. A "Y-chromosome deficiency" might cause cognitive impairment, but so could "testosterone poisoning". (Note that I'm deliberately choosing ironic anti-euphemisms here to highlight the point that people respond to these arguments emotionally rather than intellectually.)
I can totally understand the desire to shut down this discussion. I'm a liberal. I want a world with equality of opportunity. If (strong emphasis on IF) it turned out that being female did indeed have a measurable impact on one's ability to do certain tasks it would make the battle that much more difficult. There are obvious differences in physical abilities between men and women (sports are uncontroversially segregated by gender), which has made it that much harder for women to secure the right to, say, serve in combat roles in the military, even roles which are much more intellectual than physical, like being a fighter pilot.
But suppressing opposing views is a very dangerous game, and not just because it can blind you to the truth. It's dangerous because it undermines the very goal that it seeks to advance, namely, social justice. By firing Damore, Google reinforces the belief held by many conservatives that liberals value social justice more than they value the truth. In fact, the narrative goes, liberals fear the truth and must suppress it because social justice is not part of the natural order of things.
This point of view is directly supported by Google's CEO Sundar Pichai's response to Damore:
... we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. ... To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.
At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent. So to be clear again, many points raised in the memo—such as the portions criticizing Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all—are important topics. The author had a right to express their views on those topics—we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.It is important to note that Pichai makes no attempt to actually debunk Damore's claims about women's biology. He cites no sources. He doesn't even bother to explicitly state that he thinks Damore is wrong! Instead, he just says that some things, like "advancing harmful gender stereotypes", are "not OK." Even if they are true. And notwithstanding Pichai's nominal support of free speech, the elephant in the room is that Damore no longer works at Google.
The net effect of this is the exact opposite of what we should be striving for. Suppressing dissent does not make it go away, it merely drives it underground, where it festers and grows and eventually re-emerges, usually (but not always) taking liberals by surprise.
Ignorance and prejudice cannot be fought with censorship. It simply doesn't work.