Protect the Truth, Not the Lie

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In my post "Would It Matter if Microsoft Didn't Cheat with OOXML Approval?" I didn't argue that Microsoft hadn't cheated -- there is an ongoing investigation trying to determine that. I did point out that the approval process was excessively political and I didn't think it should be.


My view was that we had a situation where one large company, which happens to be dominant in the class of product connected with this effort, uncharacteristically wanted to go through a standardization effort (it wasn't as if it really had a choice), and several large competitors wanted to make sure this company was unsuccessful. These challenging firms had lost battles in the market and had chosen to use this process to change the outcome. The tactic was not likely to be successful, and apparently it wasn't. The end result was that ISO has been badly compromised and I doubt the end justified the means.


But that was not the main point I was working to make. I was making the point that way too many people don't care what the truth is and will go to extraordinary efforts to protect what may be a lie. The responses to my original piece made the point better than I could as post after post tried to get away from the need for the truth to ensure their view of the outcome remains unchallenged.


You Can't Handle the Truth


"True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society" talks about how people don't want the truth; they want things that agree with their world view. This would suggest that folks would rather focus on personal attacks and obfuscation than discuss the actual topic. Watch this clip on truth from "A Few Good Men" to put you in the right frame of mind. You should also look at the comments on that previous post and form your own conclusions.


One commenter concluded that "People are smart. People remember. People fight back." Words of war, without purpose. Fight back against what? Remember what? The implication was that something bad was done (I'm assuming he means Microsoft did it) and people would revolt. Kind of confirms that the truth doesn't really matter, doesn't it?


Other commenters argue that people accused of irregularities can't be trusted even if they say they have corrected them (guilt or innocence doesn't matter), obfuscate by asking "Why is it that corrupt countries suddenly signed up to vote?" (right out of the book, which says people will assume those that disagree with them are corrupt, and don't need any proof), make personal attacks (right out of the book, destroying the other side with character assassination if you can't argue on merit), avoid the issue because it questions their world view, use biased sources to support their world view, oversimplify and twist my words, claiming I said something that I did not. I think you can see that the book I am recommending is really worth a read, and sooner rather than later.


Commenter Ken Holmz restores my faith in people with a well-thought-out post that is actually on topic, and he is right -- we are observing a war between parties. There are certainly reasons to not take either side at face value but come to a conclusion based on work we have done, not simply taking the words of others (particularly those who go to great efforts to hide dissenting views). I also agree that Microsoft and SCO have effectively poisoned the well.


Does the Truth Matter?


When I was first asked my opinion on OOXML vs. ODF, I called a neutral party, Corel, and asked them what they thought. As a company that operated in the space but was competing with Microsoft and had once gone down the open source path unsuccessfully, it was the closest I could come to a neutral party. It favored OOXML, which immediately made it a target, because it felt ODF wouldn't evolve as quickly as it would need to. Now this was before Microsoft handed it over to ISO and before it actually tried to use it; currently, it is agnostic and supports both. But at least I sought out a neutral party before taking a position.


Note that at no time am I telling you which side to pick or which technology to adopt; that is your choice to make, and you shouldn't give it to anyone without a lot of thought.


The whole point of my first piece wasn't to argue whether Microsoft was innocent. It was to get folks to look at the question of whether it should matter. To most of the folks I'm referencing above it didn't; they don't really care about the truth and likely could not handle a truth that conflicted with their beliefs. Thier view is the only view, and anyone that disagrees should be stopped. To them, free speech is only free if you agree.


If the investigation concludes that Microsoft did nothing wrong, they'll assume Microsoft cheated to get out of it, and if it concludes the other way, then the folks doing the investigation must be honorable.


It should matter more to us whether the process is honorable than what the outcome is, yet that isn't how our brains are wired. Understanding that can help us make better choices because it causes us to question those that make decisions first and ask questions later. including ourselves.


Wrapping Up: The Truth Matters!


From wrong product choices to pointless wars, we are surrounded by people who conclude first and then work to cover up bad decisions. I believe many of our lives will depend on such decisions and will be pointlessly lost because of this kind of behavior.


I keep thinking back to General Eric Shinseki, who early on said the U.S. wasn't prepared for winning the Iraq war. He was then laughed out of the job (I should point out that even here the truth is hard to find) for suggesting more troops were needed. No one is laughing anymore, and a lot of people needlessly lost their lives. If you read one book this year, read "True Enough;" you'll look at a lot of things differently, you'll look at yourself differently, and you'll understand much better the point I'm really trying to make here.


In "A Few Good Men," the person who couldn't handle the truth wasn't Tom Cruise's character, it was Jack Nicholson's. Simply understanding that will help you make smarter decisions. In short, I think the truth does matter. Our survival depends on people who will look for the truth rather than force people to agree to a false world view.