Taibbi: On The Hypocrites At Apple Who Fired ‘Chaos Monkeys’ Author
I’m biased, because I know Antonio Garcia-Martinez and something like the same thing once happened to me, but the decision by Apple to bend to a posse of internal complainers and fire him over a passage in a five-year-old book is ridiculous hypocrisy. Hypocrisy by the complainers, and defamatory cowardice by the bosses — about right for the Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style era of timorous conformity and duncecap monoculture the woke mobs at these places are trying to build as their new Jerusalem.
Garcia-Martinez is a brilliant, funny, multi-talented Cuban-American whose confessional memoir Chaos Monkeys is to big tech what Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker was to finance. A onetime high-level Facebook executive — he ran Facebook Ads — Antonio’s book shows the House of Zuckerberg to be a cult full of on-the-spectrum zealots who talked like justice activists while possessing the business ethics of Vlad the Impaler:
Facebook is full of true believers who really, really, really are not doing it for the money, and really, really will not stop until every man, woman, and child on earth is staring into a blue-framed window with a Facebook logo.
When I read Chaos Monkeys the first time I was annoyed, because this was Antonio’s third career at least — he’d also worked at Goldman, Sachs — and he tossed off a memorable bestseller like it was nothing. Nearly all autobiographies fail because the genre requires total honesty, and not only do few writers have the stomach for turning the razor on themselves, most still have one eye on future job offers or circles of friends, and so keep the bulk of their interesting thoughts sidelined — you’re usually reading a résumé, not a book.
Chaos Monkeys is not that. Garcia-Martinez is an immediately relatable narrator because in one breath he tells you exactly what he thinks of former colleagues (“A week before my last day, I had lunch with the only senior person at Goldman Sachs who was not an inveterate asshole”) and in the next explains, but does not excuse, the psychic quirks that have him chasing rings in some of the world’s most rapacious corporations. “Whenever membership in some exclusive club is up for grabs, I viciously fight to win it, even if only to reject membership when offered,” he wrote. “After all, echoing the eminent philosopher G. Marx: How good can a club be if it’s willing to have lowly me as a member?”
The irony is that if Garcia-Martinez has a failing as a writer, it’s that he’s too nice. Universally, the best writers are insane egomaniacs obsessed with staring at the great mirror that is the page. Garcia-Martinez, on the whole, would rather be sailing. I believe the reason he decided to go back to tech is that he preferred a quiet life of flying a desk to make mortgage payments to the never-ending regimen of self-salesmanship that the literary life requires (and which, again, is the easy part for most egocentric writers).
Anyway: Chaos Monkeys contains scenes from Antonio’s private travails. Characteristically, they’re painted as comedies, where his personal life is depicted as an unpredictable third party over which he has little control — only occasionally, it seems, does it even listen to his suggestions. He meets a woman via Match.com whom he calls British Trader, “an imposing, broad-shouldered presence, six feet tall in bare feet, and towering over me in heels.”
He’s enthralled, but everything about her is a surprise that keeps him off balance, from the fact that her “strapping and strutting” South African ex-boyfriend docks a boat next to his not long after their first date, or that she sleeps on “a cheap foam mattress about the width of an extra-jumbo-sized menstrual pad” above a floor covered from detritus from a recent renovation. She dis such work herself because, Antonio explains, “she made Bob Vila of This Old House look like a fucking pussy.” Even this side of her life has him tiptoeing. “Postcoitally it was all I could do to balance myself on the edge of the pad and off the drywall dust,” he noted.
At one point, as a means of comparing the broad-shouldered British DIY expert favorably to other women he’d known, he wrote this:
Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.
Out of context, you could, I guess, read this as bloviating from a would-be macho man beating his chest about how modern “entitlement feminism” would be unmasked as a chattering fraud in a Mad Max scenario. In context, he’s obviously not much of a shotgun-wielder himself and is actually explaining why he fell for a strong woman, as the next passage reveals:
British Trader, on the other hand, was the sort of woman who would end up a useful ally in that postapocalypse, doing whatever work—be it carpentry, animal husbandry, or a shotgun blast to someone’s back—required doing.
Again, this is not a passage about women working in tech. It’s a throwaway line in a comedic recount of a romance that juxtaposes the woman he loves with the inadequate set of all others, a literary convention as old as writing itself. The only way to turn this into a commentary on the ability of women to work in Silicon Valley is if you do what Twitter naturally does and did, i.e. isolate the quote and surround it with mounds of James Damore references. More on this in a moment.
After trying the writer’s life, Antonio went back to work for Apple. When he entered the change on his LinkedIn page, Business Insider did a short, uncontroversial writeup. Then a little site called 9to5Mac picked up on the story and did the kind of thing that passes for journalism these days, poring through someone’s life in search of objectionable passages and calling for immediate disappearance of said person down a cultural salt mine. Writer Zac Hall quoted from Apple’s Inclusion and Diversity page:
Across Apple, we’ve strengthened our long-standing commitment to making our company more inclusive and the world more just. Where every great idea can be heard. And everybody belongs.
Hall then added, plaintively, “This isn’t just PR speak for Apple. The company releases annual updates on its efforts to hire diversely, and it puts its money where its mouth is with programs intended to give voice to women and people of color in technology. So why is Apple giving Garcia Martinez a great big pass?”
From there the usual press pile-on took place, with heroes at places like The Verge sticking to the playbook. “Silicon Valley has consistently had a white, male workforce,” they wrote, apparently not bothered by Antonio’s not-whiteness. “There are some in the Valley, such as notorious ex-Googler James Damore, who suggest this is because women and people of color lack the innate qualities needed to succeed in tech.”
Needless to say, Antonio never wrote anything like that, but the next step in the drama was similarly predictable: a group letter by Apple employees claiming, in seriousness, to fear for their safety. “Given Mr. García Martínez’s history of publishing overtly racist and sexist remarks,” the letter read, “we are concerned that his presence at Apple will contribute to an unsafe working environment for our colleagues who are at risk of public harassment and private bullying.” All of this without even a hint that there’s ever been anything like such a problem at any of his workplaces.
Within about a nanosecond, the same people at Apple who hired Antonio, clearly having read his book, now fired him, issuing the following statement:
At Apple, we have always strived to create an inclusive, welcoming workplace where everyone is respected and accepted. Behavior that demeans or discriminates against people for who they are has no place here.
The Verge triumphantly reported on Apple’s move using the headline, “‘Misogynistic’ Apple hire is out hours after employees call for investigation.” Other companies followed suit with the same formulation. CNN: “Apple parts ways with newly hired ex-Facebook employee after workers cite ‘misogynistic’ writing.” CNET: “Apple reportedly cuts ties with employee amid uproar over misogynistic writing.”
Apple by this point not only issued a statement declaring that Antonio’s “behavior” was demeaning and discriminatory, but by essentially endorsing the complaints of their letter-writing employees, poured jet fuel on headline descriptions of him as a misogynist. It’s cowardly, defamatory, and probably renders him unhirable in the industry, but this is far from the most absurd aspect of the story.
I’m a fan of Dr. Dre’s music and have been since the N.W.A. days. It’s not any of my business if he wants to make $3 billion selling Beats by Dre to Apple, earning himself a place on the board in the process. But if 2,000 Apple employees are going to insist that they feel literally unsafe working alongside a man who wrote a love letter to a woman who towers over him in heels, I’d like to hear their take on serving under, and massively profiting from, partnership with the author of such classics as “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and “Lyrical Gangbang,” who is also the subject of such articles as “Here’s What’s Missing from Straight Outta Compton: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up.”
It’s easy to get someone like Antonio Garcia Martinez fired. Going after a board member who’s reportedly sitting on hundreds of millions in Apple stock is a different matter. A letter making such a demand is likely to be returned to sender, and the writer of it will likely spend every evaluation period looking over his or her shoulder. Why? Because going after Dre would mean forcing the company to denounce one of its more profitable investments — Beats and Beats Music were big factors in helping Apple turn music streaming into a major profit center. The firm made $4.1 billion in that area last year alone.
Speaking of profits: selling iPhones is a pretty good business. It made Apple $47.9 billion last year, good for 53% of the company’s total revenue. Part of what makes the iPhone such a delightfully profitable product is its low production cost, which reportedly comes from Apple’s use of a smorgasbord of suppliers with a penchant for forced labor — Uighurs said to be shipped in by the thousand to help make iPhone glass (Apple denies this), temporary “dispatch workers” sent in above legal limits, workers in “iPhone city” clocking excessive overtime to meet launch dates, etc. Apple also has a storied history of tax avoidance, offshoring over a hundred billion in revenues, using Ireland as a corporate address despite no physical presence there, and so on.
Maybe the signatories to the Apple letter can have a Chaos Monkeys book-burning outside the Chinese facility where iPhone glass is made — keep those Uighur workers warm! Or they can have one in Dublin, to celebrate the €13bn tax bill a court recently ruled Apple didn’t have to pay.
It’s all a sham. The would-be progressives denouncing Garcia-Martinez don’t seem to mind working for a company that a Democrat-led congressional committee ripped for using “monopoly power” to extract rents via a host of atrocious anti-competitive practices. Whacking an author is just a form of performative “activism” that doesn’t hurt their bottom lines or their careers.
Meanwhile, the bosses who give in to their demands are all too happy to look like they’re steeped in social concern, especially if they can con some virtue-signaling dink at a trade website into saying Apple’s mechanically platitudinous “Shared Values” page “isn’t just PR speak.” You’d fire a couple of valuable employees to get that sort of P.R.
When I was caught up in my own cancelation episode, I was devastated, above all to see the effect it had on my family. Unlike Garcia-Martinez, I had past writings genuinely worth being embarrassed by, and I felt that it was important, morally and for my own mental health, to apologize in public. I didn’t fight for my career and reputation, and threw myself on the mercy of the court of public opinion.
I now know this is a mistake. The people who launch campaigns like this don’t believe in concepts like redemption or growth. An apology is just another thing they’d like to get, like the removal of competition for advancement. These people aren’t idealists. They’re just ordinary greedy Americans trying to get ahead, using the tactics available to them, and it’s time to stop thinking of stories like this through any other lens.
Sat, 05/15/2021 – 10:20