Friday, April 12, 2013

Revisiting, "We are very sorry if this offended anyone," or: Don't get caught.

So since I've written my post on "Sorry if" statements it has come to light that the asshole Adam Orth has resigned which in this kind of situation usually means he was fired but neither side wants to go through the hoopla of actual firing.

(Though, actually, Mircosoft is keeping with their I SAID GOOD DAY SIR! stance and hasn't commented beyond confirming he's gone, so all we know officially is that he's no longer with Microsoft.  Perhaps he was fired outright.)

That is not a bad step to take, as evidenced by Orth's epithet: asshole.  If you're a company you don't want the asshole Adam Orth to become your public face, which is probably part of the reason why when he was at Microsoft his job didn't include public relations.

But Orth is now a random unemployed person, Microsoft is still an important company with global reach.  So what Orth said and the positions he holds don't matter very much anymore.  What Microsoft said and the positions they hold do matter, quite a lot.

So I'd like to revisit the heart of what they said: "We are very sorry if this offended anyone".

As noted, I've already written an entire post on "sorry if" statements.  The short version is that absent the bare sophistry of vacuous statements that don't actually mean anything, "sorry if" statements are always lies.  Being sorry isn't like being wrong where you can be wrong without knowing it.  If you don't know whether or not you're sorry, you're not sorry.  There's nothing conditional about it.  Additional information may change whether you are sorry in the future, but in the present tense you are not sorry.

So if someone says, "We're sorry if..." what they mean is that they're not sorry.  It's not even hidden and does not require esoteric knowledge to work that out.  All you need to know is the English language and the concept of being sorry.

So when Microsoft released that statement they were saying in no uncertain terms that they weren't sorry.

But I want to look at the part after the "if".  Pretend that the first part isn't bullshit and thus the part after the if does determine whether or not they feel sorry.

Now I've already done this in the previous post, in the footnote that took up about half of the post, so be prepared for some repetition here.

"if ... anyone" implies that they know of no one, whom they count as someone, who was.  They did know of people who were offended, the "if ... anyone" construction just means that they didn't count them as people.  That's really, stunningly, nasty.  but let's not dwell on that.

They want us to believe that they are sorry if anyone was what?

This matters because it gets to the very heart of Mircosoft's values as a company.  Remember that unlike Orth's statements this isn't someone with no standing to speak on behalf of the the company talking out their ass.  This is an official statement from Microsoft representative of the company's views, thoughts, and values.

What does it take to make Microsoft sorry.  What cuts against what Microsoft believes in enough for them to admit, "Yup, that's fucked up and we feel bad about it"?

Is it what Orth said?  No.  The statement was not, "We are very sorry if this was said by anyone working for us."  What Orth said doesn't make them sorry.  Nor does it offend them.  It's interesting that in a statement made to point out that Orth didn't speak for them that they went to such great lengths to say that they didn't mind what he said, but that's getting ahead of myself and also drawing on parts beyond the part of the statement I'm quoting here.

Back on point, what makes Microsoft sorry?  What are their values?

Is it whether or not people are hurt?  No.  The statement was not, "We are very sorry if this hurt anyone."

It is whether anyone took offence.  That's what makes them sorry.  Not harm, not the hurtful statements themselves, just people's reaction to it.  That's the statement.  "We are very sorry if this offended anyone."  If Orth had said the same thing among a group of affluent white supremacists who preferred suburbs to rural areas and thus hadn't offended anyone they wouldn't mind.  That's what the words indicate.

They aren't sorry for Orth's words and actions, they're (allegedly if not actually) sorry that the words and actions were noticed by people who disagreed with them.

That's what it takes to make Microsoft claim they're sorry-if.  Not for something bad to be done by one of their employees, but for someone else to notice that something bad was done by one of their employees.  Someone who would recognize it as something bad.  Someone who would take offence as a result of the offensive action.

Their employees doing offensive things doesn't bother them, their employees getting caught doing offensive things does.

It's the eleventh commandment: Don't get caught.

The message is clear and unmistakable, if Microsoft had found out that Orth did the exact same thing, but had done it in a setting where it didn't offend anyone who knew about it.  Microsoft would not have a problem with it.

It's the Spartan attitude toward stealing (according to Xenophon): stealing is fine, getting caught stealing is bad.  The effect is interesting because the results are the same in theory (people can only be punished when they are caught regardless) and so Orth leaves Microsoft either way.  But because of the attitude behind it the results aren't the same in practice.  Instead of teaching people not to do the thing in question, it teaches them to do it, but better.

Get caught stealing in Sparta according to Xenophon and the message you're left with as a result of the punishment is do a better job next time.  Get caught stealing in pretty much any other place and the message you're left with is, "Don't do that again."  The Spartans are being punished for failing where they should have succeeded, those of other nations are being punished for failing where they should have never tried in the first place.

Where this matters is that since Microsoft's stated position isn't that what Orth did was wrong, but rather that Orth getting caught was wrong, Microsoft has no moral problems with what Orth did, and the message sent to everyone still at Microsoft isn't, "Don't do what Orth did," but instead, "When you do what Orth did, make sure to either do it in a place where the audience is contained and contains only those who would not be offended, or to do it in a way that can't be traced back to us."

Because Microsoft has said, in an official press release, that what bothers them is not doing offensive things, but people getting offended at the offensive things being done.  The problem for Microsoft isn't that their employees contain bigots, but that people noticed their employees included a bigot.

What Microsoft holds most sacred is the eleventh commandment, and the message they've broadcast to the entire world is that they do not mind in the least if their employees do bad things.  They just mind if someone catches their employees doing bad things.

Seriously.  Note who supposedly determines whether or not they're sorry.  Not Orth.  It's not, "We're sorry if Orth..." it's, "We're sorry if anyone," it's the people responding to Orth.  Even if "sorry if" were possible (it isn't) they're saying that what Orth did wouldn't make them sorry, instead the blame for making them feel bad is placed on those responding to what Orth did, those offended by what Orth did.  It might as well read, "Fuck you, Manveer Heir (and like minded people)!!!!" *shakes fist at the sky.*

It's like, "I'm sorry you're angry," instead of, "I'm sorry that I made you angry."  In the first it places the angered person as the one doing something wrong, in the second it places the person making the other person angry as the one doing something wrong.

Microsoft made sure to lay the blame at the feet of the people who were offended, not the one who offended them by saying offensive thing after offensive thing.  This in spite of the fact that they were willing to admit that the offending party's offensive statements were indeed inappropriate.

The problem isn't doing something bad, it's being caught.  The party to blame isn't the one doing bad things, it's whoever noticed he was doing bad things.

Those are Microsoft's values.  That's not me saying that, that's an official release, which probably had multiple drafts and several employees looking over it and parsing every word to make sure that it precisely reflected the company's values.

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