Responding to Change

As part of my day job, I make an effort to stay current with what’s going on in the world of software development and testing. I’m not going to say this is the kind of thing all the folk here would just adore, because it’s not, but every now and then I run into something that totally nails it.

This article is one of those. The author goes to a lot of effort (and quite a bit of formal logic) to work through and destroy “the fallacy that there is no truth in discourse (or anywhere else, for that matter), but for the multitude of subjectively held opinions that are all equally and to the same extent true and valuable”.

Let’s just say he’s not a fan of moral relativism.

The author is a consultant who is often brought in to help fix broken software development processes, but the problems he describes are the same ones that show up all over the place in publishing (and elsewhere, of course, but I’m focusing on publishing here), so he’s had plenty of opportunity to study the phenomenon.

His conclusion isn’t comfortable, but it fits. It’s a workable theory that can be used to predict how people who stand to lose (or think they stand to lose) from changes will likely respond.

It starts with change. Things change. Circumstances change, environments change. When a changing environment hits a stagnant (or stable) culture, the culture has to adapt or it dies. But when that culture is truly stagnant and the decisions of its various leaders have generated a serious distrust, even hatred, for innovation, the people who most need to change how they do things aren’t going to want to do it.

Think about the traditional publishers and what they think about ebooks. That’s one big fat heaping pile of change-averse before you even consider the antiquated accounting and management systems that decide how much the publishers owe their authors in royalties, the arcane contracts that make signing over your soul and your first-born look reasonable, and the miniscule return offered to the author. Among many other things.

So when it starts to look like change is necessary, they start fighting back with the moral relativism where everything is equally valuable.

That’s about the point where the article hits the formal logic, but my less-form version goes something like this:

You say “there is no absolute truth”. Is that also relative?

Now, if you’re thinking with the correct head and not letting emotions get in the way, that’s a nice little contradiction in terms: to say “there is no absolute truth” is in itself a statement of an absolute truth. So “there is no absolute truth” has to be a relative statement, and so, not completely true.

But if “there is no absolute truth” is not absolutely 100% true, then there must be some absolute truth out there somewhere if only we can find it. Which also means that not all things are relative, and some things may indeed be better than others. And yes, independent publishing and ebooks might just be here to stay.

Go read the article, even if you’re not up for the formal logic. The first half is describing what happens and how people react, so even the least technical among us can do that.


  1. I’ve told the story many times. One day before 2000, the news broke that GE had developed a fuel cell that ran on natural gas and propane, The numbers looked like it was comparable with grid power. Instead of weeping and gnashing teeth, utilities quietly positioned themselves to change when production ramped up and fuel cell power was cheaper than grid.

    That didn’t happen, for the oft-told reasons that the price of gas went up and the technology wasn’t as efficient as it looked on paper (there is a declassified study of a fuel cell at Ft. Benning floating around the Internet – sorry, don’t have the URL – that goes through the efficiency part). Had it, we’d be installing and maintaining fuel cells.

    I do not understand why companies that can change don’t. There’s diversification and change of product and services, and how you do business. How we do business now is much changed how it was thirty years ago, and if you suggested a utility went back, you’d get a “What?” stare.

    I’ve accepted that publishing doesn’t “get” it, but I still am not sure why. I also don’t lose any sleep over it. If they don’t want to adapt, that’s their problem, not mine. Indie is already filling the gap that publishing no longer wants to fill.

    1. I was on a consumer opinion/survey thing about GM’s fuel cell flatbed that was going to be the basis for all of their fuel cell cars. it was interesting.

      1. I’ve been reading about New Great Fuel Cell Technology every couple of months for… forty years now.

        “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat…”

        Not to say that some of them haven’t had a useful application somewhere, but I long ago passed from “wow, neat!” to “show me.”

        1. I want the alcohol powered phone fuel cell. It’ll never work I’m sure, but that would be excellent.

        2. My brother got to work on fuel cells* as part of his senior engineering seminar. His presentation included a section of “this is why I’m not investing in fuel cells.” That was 1997, and obviously his conclusions were correct…

          *Testing to destruction was part of his work.

    2. That was Ballard Power Systems and their super-duper hydrogen cell, wasn’t it? Another Great Canadian Breakthrough that went no place.

      1. No. It was a GE residential fuel cell a little smaller than a refrigerator, that ran on natural gas or propane. Before it evaporated, at least one other company was offering the things.

        1. I remember that. I wish I had one that worked. Ontario power costs are freaking amazing. Windmills, y’know.

        2. GE had a commercial version that was being looked at as reliable smooth power for data centers. Pity that it didn’t work out. Having clean power for the data center with an excess to sell to the power company would have removed energy cost and reliability from data center siting issues, leaving just real estate cost, fiber capacity, and if the local Junior College could turn out enough techs.

  2. “There’s no absolute Truth but you have to do what I want you to do because I’m Correct and you’re Wrong”. 😦

    1. Obi-wan: “Only Sith believe in absolutes!”
      It’s too bad Anikin didn’t call him out on that absolute statement.

      1. It would have been less cliche at least to have Episode III end with a debate to the death about paradoxes and logical fallacies.

  3. I have heard a story of a man of high position in tech, who within a few hours of arriving for a job which a sister company sent him for, was demoted to fetching coffee and drinks (Tasked to update a video card driver, or maybe simply locate it on a work system, what he did was to open the computer’s case and rip out the card, without unclipping it first, then complain that the computer was broken.) Said man managed to fuck that up by opening a can of cola with a can opener, with the intent of serving it to the CEO in a glass, because this person felt that was the right thing to do. (Serve the cola in a glass, I can understand. The can opener, not so much.)

    The CEO in question apparently was unable to put the man back on a plane immediately, nor could he not be given some kind of work, so was ordered to ‘flip the light switch on.’

    I’m sure that the CEO thought that this person was not so mentally crippled that he could mess up simply turning on a light in the room, but …you know how there are some light switches that require you to flip them up or down to turn them on or off, with the fingertip?

    The idiot, apparently having found that too complicated to figure out, applied brute force and pushed the switch into it’s holding, whereupon the back of it touched the circuit, and light – and all power to the floor – went off, with a great PSHOOOOOMMM.

    I have great faith in the limitless capacity for human stupidity.

  4. Post modernism and moral relativism are self refuting. As is most if not all of the susbset feminist “theory” based on it. I postulate this is because the “theorists” involved were mostly Marxists with serious mental health issues.

    Publishing, based on observation of the people “winning” in it like Kameron Hurley ( ) has built itself an echo chamber so tight that the sales figures signal can’t penetrate the “positive buzz” feedback they get from their dedicated fans. “Everybody” loves what they’re doing, but there’s no money.

    Their response so far, as Amanda pointed out yesterday, is to fiddle with social media (which is being revealed as a massive scam lately), create cute apps that splash on social media and then vanish, and overcharge for everything.

    Meanwhile, Amazon is eating Big Pub’s lunch. Amazon has beaten their wholesale prices down, and is crushing brick and mortar retail. If big box B&N goes under like Borders did, where do the Big Five sell their books? There are no corner book stores anymore, the inventory tax and the Big Boxes killed virtually all of them. SciFi specialty stores are dropping like flies, even comic book stores are getting thin on the ground.

    Furthermore, many of the authors that used to keep the pipeline full at the major publishers, creating such diversity of plot and theme as the publishers allowed through, have now started keeping Amazon’s pipeline full instead. At ZERO cost to Amazon.

    That’s a huge thing, right there. Amazon has virtually nothing at stake when we post a book on Kindle. Half a meg of cloud space in an exetabyte of server farm. Fraction of a cent. And, here’s the real killer, they have no TAX CONSEQUENCES because all that storage is not -inventory.-

    For the major publishers to miss out on that tax bonanza is a measure of how deep in the echo chamber they are. They’re ignoring their own bean counters. They could have put their entire, huge, massive, decades spanning backlist on e-book by now, and be making a killing at $5 each. Zero print cost, zero storage cost, zero inventory tax.

    Instead, individual midlist authors are doing it themselves. They host their own backlists as the rights devolve back to them, depending on what nightmarish contract the publishers bent them over for when they first hit the stands. Publishers could make deals with those people, proven sellers.


    Instead, here’s what they’re doing. This week, if you go to any NYC Big 5 publishing house, every dumb beeotch in the place will be wearing a pussy hat. The one guy in the last 30 years who MIGHT tell the IRS to smarten up with the inventory thing, and they’re wearing a pussy hat.

    Hmm, that soapbox sure gets around, eh?

    Think I’ll climb down now, got some robot girls clamoring at me to let them blow up some demons. Itchy trigger fingers. No pussy hats there, let me tell you.

    1. > missing out

      “We’re in the paper business, not the computer business.”

      Despite that they’re mostly in the office bureaucracy business now, and printing, distribution, and sales are done by other organizations.

      “Focus on your core values” is great… as long as you’re focusing on the right thing.

      Some years ago I worked for a wholly-owned subsidiary of a large hospital. One day, after a lecture on customer service and patient care, I pointed out to the Director that our owners were in the patient care business, but *we* were in the IT business. I was met with a look of mixed incomprehension and annoyance, but when next month’s lecture rolled around, we were told we were in the IT business…

      1. You must be suuuuper smooth in your presentation. I’ve gotten pushed out of more places than I can even remember for observations like that. Hospitals being the absolute worst for not-getting-it when you bring up issues of practicality that impact patient care.

        Such as, do we really -need- another piece of paper in the chart to track X, when we already track X in five places, under 5 different formats?

        People hate it when you interfere in their little pissing contests, particularly with facts.

    2. Moral relativism never made much sense when it’s obvious that absolute truths exist. Jump off a building and you will fall, no matter how hard you believe otherwise.

      BTW, told my wife last night about the hats. She thought I was setting her up for a joke., When I told her that’s what they’d done, she asked why. When I explained, she said “They’re idiots.”

      1. I think what you’re describing is solipsism, not moral relativism: a solipsist would say if you jump off a building and believe hard enough, you’ll fly and not fall. A moral relativist would acknowledge that you’d fall to your death, but would say that there isn’t any particular value to be assigned either to you living or dying except to you and those who know you and might care about you.

        That’s what I never got about people who claim to be moral relativists: I’d think they’d not want everyone around them to hold that view (that’s presupposing they’ve decided to value their own lives and well being and that of a civil and civilized society to promote that survival and well-being. If they’ve assigned no value to those things, then it’s more understandable)

        1. A soliphist merely believes he’s the only person who exists, and the rest of us are illusions. It doesn’t mean he has to believe that the illusion will change as he wishes.

      2. I always like the “hand waving” argument as antidote to relativism. Look, its my hand. See it waving? Is it waving, or not?

        This can be escalated to nose grabbing for extreme cases that have problems accepting the reality of hand waving. The introduction of pain into the argument seems more convincing, for some reason.

        1. Hand waving

          Moral relativist: “Yep. It’s waving”


          Moral relativist: “Yes. I’m feeling pain. I’ve assigned an negative value to my pain and you’ve assigned a positive value to it.”

          That’s all assuming the MR is trying to be honest of course.

          1. When are they ever honest? The basis of the argument is the rejection of objective reality, everything is a language construct. When you prove objective reality, they usually get all shirty and complain that you’re cheating.

            Hence the nose grabbing. If they’re going to complain, give ’em something to complain about. ~:)

              1. I say what I mean.

                The curious part is how many people get butthurt when I do something I said I’d do… including people who have known me for years.

    3. … got some robot girls clamoring at me to let them blow up some demons.

      Which video game are you describing here? Sounds almost like Touhou, except for the “robot” part. I can’t place it, which is making me curious.

      1. It’s my book. The girls are clamoring at me for something big enough to bother shooting at. I gave them some big f-ing guns. It’s becoming a problem, the demons are not living up to their hype. I’ve got a bunch of bored warrior robots wandering the landscape, getting in trouble with the locals.

        Need a bigger demon. That’s the ticket.

  5. *laughs* There must be something in the air– just last week one of the theology programs on EWTN radio did basically a beginner’s guide to the fallacy of moral relativism, and #1 was that either “there is no absolute truth” had to be false.

    1. I think it is part of the general “Enough is enough, now we can clean up/refute/speak our minds” feeling in the air.

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