Weekend edition—Tech culture war, sex with robots, Afghanistan’s secret weapon

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Anything you’ve read about James Damore, the Google engineer fired this week over his memo criticizing the company’s diversity policies, almost certainly falls into one of two camps. Damore is either an entitled tech bro who cloaked his rank misogyny in pseudo-science to further perpetuate the patriarchy, or a fearless thinker who spoke truth to power and was suppressed by a liberal monoculture incapable of hearing dissent. Those in the first camp feel vindicated by the fact that since his firing he’s buddied up with right-wing YouTube hosts; partisans of the second celebrated his “Goolag” t-shirt.

The much less popular middle ground is that while Damore may havea tenuous grip on evolutionary psychology, be blind to his privilege, and be deluded to claim he’s “pro-diversity,” he was misguided rather than evil and raised questions that were at least somewhat legitimate. By excommunicating him instead of confronting and debunking his heresy, Google gave the far right a cause célèbre and drove those employees who share his views deeper underground.

I predict we will hear more of Damore. There used to be little connection between the persistent sexism scandals of Silicon Valley and America’s wider culture war, but his firing has bridged the gap(paywall). He will focus the right’s attention on the tech industry, where it will find no shortage of fodder for its campaign against political correctness. And as the right increasingly argues that white men are just another oppressed minority, adopting the identity-politics language of the left, Damore—bright, highly articulate (paywall), and armed with a tech geek’s credibility and language—makes the perfect poster boy.

Add to that the Trump administration’s plans to tighten immigration policy while trying (misguidedly) to bring back manufacturing, and we can expect the question of who gets to work, and under what conditions, to be an underlying theme of American politics for the foreseeable future.—Gideon Lichfield


The ethics of sex with robots. Customizable sex dolls already exist as “utensils” of sexual gratification, but the advent of AI changes the equation. Cassie Werber interviews Aimee van Wynsberghe, a professor of robotics and ethics, on the dilemmas this creates—for instance, should people be allowed to have sex robots that look like children?

Lush is helping its workers leave Brexit Britain. The British cosmetics company responded to the UK’s vote by asserting its belief in “freedom of movement” and has since made its “first, second, and third” priority to protect EU workers. Aamna Mohdin takes us from the CEO’s office to the factory floor, chronicling the extraordinary steps Lush is taking to relocate its staff before Brexit hits.

The psychological cost of multilevel marketing. Fed the fantasy of achieving the all-elusive American dream, many people in suburban and rural areas are being wooed by MLMs; 99% of sellers lose money. Of these second-wave MLMs masquerading as women’s empowerment, LuLaRoe is queen. Alden Wicker spent nine months deep inside LuLaRoe’s community to report this investigative feature, which gets at the core of America’s economic inequalities and the women trying to claw their way out.

Do you come with instructions for use? A personal “user manual” with explicit descriptions of your values and how you work best with other has helped CEOs work better with their teams. Leah Fessler decided to make one of her own, and concluded that half an hour spent writing a personal user manual can save hours of analyzing and predicting what your colleagues like and hate.

Amazon’s secret collection of brands. From lingerie to frozen foods, the e-commerce giant has been peddling a host of brands that don’t exist outside amazon.com, but fail to make clear that they are Amazon-made. Mike Murphy discovered 19 of these brands through a patent search, revealing another dimension of Amazon’s ambitions for world domination.


Singers like Adele keep losing their voice—and it’s Verdi’s fault. The pop star has undergone risky surgery to repair damage to her vocal chords. The Guardian’s Bernhard Warner finds thatchanges in how singers are trained—beginning with the full-throated, high-volume style of 19th-century opera—are probably to blame.

Smartphones are ruining teenagerhood. The first generation to grow up with smartphones are physically safer than ever, but less interested in driving, dating, or having sex, and far more lonely and depressed. In The Atlantic, Jean Twenge, who has studied generational differences for decades, describes the fundamental shift making teens today unlike any generation before.

Why foreign powers always fail in Afghanistan. Trump has mulled sending more troops, or maybe mercenaries, to Afghanistan. Gunnar Heinsohn of the NATO Defense College explains in the Weekly Standard how the Afghans defeated the Soviet superpower not through firepower, but through demographics: large numbers of extremely driven young men. And their advantage, he says, has only grown since then.

Why magic mushrooms might cure depression. Researchers are finding evidence that psychedelics can help with intractable mental-health problems. But why? In Aeon, Philip Gerrans and Chris Letheby explore an emerging theory: that a drug trip dissolves one’s model of the self, and thus breaks harmful patterns and assumptions about themselves that keep people locked in self-destructive habits.

How to survive a nuclear attack. After looking at the kind of nuclear attacks that can happen in the 21st century, a US scientist created a guide to surviving it. Annalee Newitz in io9 walks us through in a guide published in 2014 that, in a week of nuclear saber-rattling, suddenly feels very relevant.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, personal user manuals, and secret Amazon brands to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day, or download our apps for iPhone andAndroid.



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