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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

& Moral Panics

One topic that came up rather suddenly in IRC is the topic of the irrationality of humans when a person feels wronged. The particular topic in chat was that, I'm told, you should never, ever touch leaked materials, such as the Windows source or COFEE, because this tends to send companies (especially the one that produced said thing) into moral panics and refuse to ever hire you.

Think about this for a moment; a little bit of rational thought concludes that this is highly irrational behavior, reminiscent of the Pointy-Haired Boss (is there a Dilbert strip on this topic, I wonder?). If you were Microsoft, for instance, and you were looking to hire a programmer for the Windows team (although this could also apply to other parts as well), the #1 most desirable candidate for you is the one who has played extensively with the leaked Windows source, all other things being equal. Not only would categorically refusing to hire such a person result in no benefit, but it would materially harm you as a company, by refusing the candidate most beneficial to you. This is a case where moral outrage contradicts reason, and acting on that outrage results in self-destructive behavior that does more harm than good; or, as the saying goes, cutting off your nose to spite your face.

An alternate form of this is observed extensively in the copyright industries, who have a long history of various licensing and technology blunders with a detrimental effect to their own sales in the name of fighting piracy (and the goal of fighting piracy is, you know, to increase sales). In this case the moral outrage is provoked by a fixation on the amount of piracy; this is a fundamentally flawed measurement. The entire purpose of business is to maximize profit, and that is concerned (usually) solely with sales: reducing piracy (if you can even manage that) is of no benefit if doing so does not produce a net increase in sales at the same time; whatever the exact number of pirated copies may be is entirely irrelevant. And if you haven't managed to boost sales in the process, you're all the worse off because you're already out the money you spent trying to fight piracy.

(for those wondering, yes, the term "moral panics" is from Patry)

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