When the Clever People Awaken to Their Wisdom

Disclaimer: This is a philosophical and psychohistorical attempt to predict (and accelerate the predicted) future of the Microsoft Empire. The content is relatively rich in speculation and poor in research and hard facts.

Yes, indeed this is an article discussing Microsoft but first please allow me to make a long digression about scam artists in Taiwan, since there are certain elements common to both parties and since I have more or less successful experiences dealing with the latter. No, I am not saying that the Microsoft business is a fraud. (Even if it is, this is not the article to discuss it.) I am talking at a more abstract level, about the teaching that "cleverness is not necessarily the same as wisdom".

When Fraud Participants Awaken to Their Wisdom

We have some clever people in Taiwan who do not have the wisdom to serve the society using their talents but instead devise sophisticated setups and hire people to help them with their fraud like running a business. The hired "service representative" will, for example, make a random phone call and tell you that you have a past-due credit card bill with a certain bank, with which you most likely never have had any transaction. Denying is no use. They make good use of whatever little piece of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) in everyone's mind. Many people are convinced after a few confusing call transfers and professional conversations, and go ahead to wire-transfer their money first in order to keep their good credit. The short-term, immediate problems have to be solved first, they thought, and investigation and justice can wait.

People either get cheated or get angry with these liars. For me, however, it seems a good opportunity to educate these leers and save a poor soul from creating more negative karma.

"... Mr. Hung, are you sure you never used a credit card issued by our bank?"
"I am very sure I don't have it at all."
"Could it be that your family or your friend took your ID card and applied for one in your name?
(Pause for a moment, as if I were making a recollection.) "Now that you mention it, during the said time period, I seem to have had my friend take my ID card to process some transaction for me. I didn't have the time ..."
"Might he have used your ID card without your authorization?"
"I don't think so. He is a fun guy who likes to play practical jokes on friends. It is fun to watch him fool people into believing unbelievable things... Well, I don't think he would... Would he have cheated me? It is very sad and dangerous to have friends like this around you. They lie to everyone, how can you be sure that they will not lie to you? And Ms., you work in such an environment. Did it ever occur to you that some day when the police find your organization, what will those liars around you -- your boss and your colleagues -- what will they do to you in order to protect themselves? Is it a wise thing to place any trust in them? Heed my advice. Leave this unsafe working place and find a real job."

The sudden merge of my situation with hers usually takes the "service representative" by surprise and she will be out of words. I know for sure by this time that this is a fraud, and at the same time I give the poor soul a pull upward. More than that, the scam artists will have a harder and harder time running their business if every citizen does this. Whenever one more clever (or not so clever) fraud participant awakens to his wisdom, the dark force is weakened a little. Deceit and frequent contact with the public are two strengths that make the scam artists' business so successful. The public might as well make better use of these and turn these successful characteristics into their inherent fatal weaknesses.

Mentality in the Microsoft Ecology

Greed and indifference to the suffering of "others" are Microsoft's strengths and weaknesses. I don't think that Microsoft purposefully make people suffer. It is just that their own profit has a much higher priority than the welfare of the society that the latter phrase becomes meaningless to their employees, and to the ecosystem dependent on Microsoft, such as the journalists who write for money rather than write for spreading the truth. (Shall we use "MS eco people" for short?) (One quick digression regarding the previous link: Yes, blind people, or people who don't like GUI for that matter, can read ODF. I don't like to use OO.o. I convert every received .sxw using soffice2html.pl and view it with lynx happily.)

Such mentality makes one's world binary rather than gray scale. What does that mean? Each of us draws co-centric circles around oneself and cares more about those in the smaller circle than those farther away. We are more willing to share resources with those close to us and grow more indifferent as we go farther away from the center. That's human nature and that's perfectly fine. The difference between us, the social movement participants in general and FS advocates in particular, and the people at Microsoft, is that we at least give some concern to those far away. We (well, most of us) don't pursue our goals (say, FS world domination) to the detriment of unrelated people (say, unconditionally suggesting people to repartition their harddisk in order to install GNU/Linux). To the MS eco people, on the other hand, the world is more or less binary: are you or are you not in my camp that helps me make money? The social concerns and reasoning of those who stand in their way of making money (say the Massachusetts government who decide to enforce the Open Document Format policy) are meaningless to the MS eco people except as debate subjects simply to be refuted. "The MS eco system helps me make money and is to be defended; the rest of the society exists for one single purpose: supplying nutrient to the eco system."

When the Success-Driving Strengths Turn into Fatal Weaknesses

We all know that greed and indifference to the public welfare have served Microsoft very well. They are successful. How can these attributes be weaknesses? Well, as long as the eco system keeps expanding, those inside the system won't feel any problem with the binary world view.

[Microsoft Ecosystem]

But what if and when the eco system stops expanding and starts shrinking? Let's talk about why and how this could happen later. For now, just imagine that the eco system is shrinking, is diminishing. Imagine that the society reduces its supply or even stops delivering nutrient to the MS eco system. How would the MS eco people think and behave? If I were greedy and indifferent to people upon whom I do not depend to make money, I see only one reasonable action: redefine the boundary of my binary world. The new world, of course, always has to contain the center of the eco system. The outer ring of the eco system, on the other hand, can no longer help me make money voluntarily and therefore has to be outside the boundary. The less useful part of the gigantic amoeba will have to be abandoned and become its own source of nutrient when the environment no longer supplies enough nutrient.

I don't have enough imagination and commercial wisdom to describe specifically what would happen, but from an energy accounting point of view, the big picture cannot be too wrong. The clever people near the center of the ecology will stop regarding people at the outer ring as part of "ourselves". Driven by greed as always but drawing the new boundary at a different place, the former become indifferent to the long term well-being of the latter, as both have been to the long term well-being of the outside society. People at the outer ring become tools only and can be exploited to the last useful drop and then be disposed of using ingenious ways when their existence brings negative rather than positive income from the original surrounding environment. For example, Microsoft might sell a non-profitable department away, and later (possibly unintentionally and indifferently) make business moves that hurt these ex-employees while pursuing its other goals. Well, of course in this example this may just be an unfortunate cascade of several sensible business moves, and "who can blame an enterprise for making sensible business moves?", as many MS supporters often defend for their much worshiped Empire. Except that up to now, such view is given by the MS eco people who are enjoying the fruit of its "sensible business moves" (maybe as stock holders or MS Office book authors for example), while in the hypothetical scenario, the ex-MS-eco-people cannot have such indifferent comments for those people hurt by the "sensible business moves" because that's themselves!

It would be interesting to see someone setup a wiki site for people to give more ingenious scenarios that fits the self-eating amoeba description. It would help the poor MS eco souls foresee their future earlier and have some time to make preparation, if they have the wisdom to do so. There may already exist some examples in the SCO case but I did not follow the SCO news close enough to be more specific.

The Ever-Expanding Empire?

The first thing in this article that the MS eco people would disagree with, is probably the premise that the MS eco system will ever fail to expand or even start to shrink. "It has the financial power to make every and any move it wishes, to the extent that the legal system permits, to stay competitive and beat any competitors. Heck, it has the financial power to modify the legal system and expand the space of its 'legal' moves in its own favor and to the detriment of its competitors. How can it ever fail?" Well, I think they missed one critical element in this game: the public opinions.

Human history is full of stories about the controlling party versus the controlled general public. In the past when the Emperor's words overrules law, when revolution using violence was the only way out, the general public had a much higher tolerance towards the controlling party since violence would cost too much. Also, communication among people was difficult and people don't know that if combined, they were powerful enough to overthrow the Emperor. Public opinion might not be a very strong force in the past.

Today even in countries like China where you don't have multiple parties, democracy, and freedom of speech, the controlling party need to heed the opinion of the public. The Chinese government may not be friendly enough to human right seekers (or to its small, vocal, and freedom-aware neighbor, Taiwan, for that matter), but they are certainly clever enough to understand the Chinese saying: "One would rather defy the heaven than betray the angry public." Yes, tweaking the laws to suit the controller's need is much easier than facing the angry public, and it makes the public a bit more tolerant of whatever wrong things the controllers are doing, persecuting religious people for example. "Well, they do it according to the law." Yes, with proper disguise, money might be able to buy Microsoft some legal power in such a society.

But that's what happens in a society without freedom of speech, in the media and on their version of internet alike, both of which are monitored and controlled by the government. In a country with freedom of speech, attempts to buy the legislators and/or government officials are quickly brought to public attention and debate. In the end when the smoke clears, such attempt will most likely fail. Again I don't have sufficient training in psychohistory to give a precise justification of this claim, but the big picture is quite obvious when you consider a very influential factor: the presence of internet. For a democratic society to stand up and correct a wrong decision and/or wrong practice (for example distributing files in proprietary formats such as .doc through its education and government system), the major efforts lie in raising the awareness of the public. Money could more or less buy the traditional media to confuse the public, but money cannot silence voices that speak the truth on the internet. How fast will the truth spread through the internet I don't know, but intuition suggests that it is more likely a logarithmic function, rather than a polynomial function, of the population size.

When the Clever People in the MS Ecosystem Awake to Their Wisdom

Confucius said, "The benevolent/charitable people enjoy being benevolent/charitable; the wise people know the benefit of being benevolent/charitable." (Sorry, I don't know the proper translation for the Chinese character man-two.) Here I am not talking about making sacrifice or that kind of respectable thing. Sometimes all we need is a simple consideration not to hurt other people while pursuing our own goals such as profit.

There are many clever people in the MS ecosystem. Right now they serve their empire to their own benefit, even if many times that means creating damages to the society in the long run. Many of them know that, but they refuse to speak the truth because speaking the truth works against their pursuit of greed. In a way these are poor people like the "service representatives" hired by the scam artists. Both groups are driven by greed and performing their job with cleverness. Either their greed honestly blocks their wisdom to see that they are betraying the public, or they think that the unmathematical way of doing psychohistory gives the wrong conclusion, or they believe that they are very safe deep in the inner ring of the MS Empire. In any case, they are not taking Confucius's advice.

I personally have inexplicable faith in eventual justice and deeply believe that tomorrow's Microsoft will very different from today's. It has to become benign at some point in order to stop shrinking and survive. But it may take quite a while for the clever people at its center to wake up to their wisdom. Before that happens, those at the outer ring had better wake up early, for if they wait until many other clever people also do, it will be a very difficult crowd to compete against in the job market.

Again, I write this article in the hope that it will save those poor souls from creating more negative karma. You are welcome to copy and distribute this article. It is also a feeble attempt to accelerate Microsoft's change. Of course Hari Seldon would have devised a much better and less visible strategy so as not to disturb the mathematics. But I am simply too ignorant to do that :-) Or maybe Issac Asimov would say, "Such arguments as yours are bound to surface sooner or later. You just happen to be one of the first few H2O molecules that evaporates in a boiling teapot. Nothing is really accelerated."