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July 20, 2012

Cutting a great road through the truth to get to the Devil
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:48 AM *

Lately, my Twitter stream has been going through an iterative discovery cycle over “Shell’s Arctic Ready campaign”. I’ve seen lots of retweets from the social gallery, where (in theory) the public has been making sport with the chance to caption various Arctic images1. I have a real dislike of “crowdsourced ads”, partly because I have professional graphic-designer friends who would like to make a living. So I tended to avoid the whole thing.

Well, I was right to, but for the wrong reasons. It turns out to have been a hoax by Greenpeace. So was the viral video and the gormless Twitter stream, neither of which particularly registered on my radar.

I have two problems with this.

The first one is that I don’t think portraying Shell as inept is a very wise choice. If they wanted to influence public opinion, I suspect they’d pay decent money and get someone who knows what they’re doing to manage a new ad campaign and run a Twitter account. If they’re not doing that, it’s because the general public is not currently the target audience for their PR budget.2 But when we are, trust me: it will be a competent effort. If we’re only braced for buffoons and clowns, they’ll succeed at whatever spin they’re trying to convey.

The second, larger problem, is that Greenpeace lied to us. This wasn’t a nod-and-a-wink parody; this was a dedicated effort to deceive. They played the public for patsies and herded them like sheep. That kind of contempt for the people whose support (financial and otherwise) they need is inexcusable. For me, it puts them in a box with people like Bush and Blair, who were also flexible with the truth for the greater good3.

Basically, Greenpeace polluted the information stream. Now, I know that our common discourse is already thoroughly befouled. But that does not mean it’s OK to add yet another dose of rainbow-shining toxic sludge to the mix, not even in the cause of righteousness. Indeed, especially not in the cause of righteousness.

We need more truth, not less. Don’t lie to me for my own good and expect my support, Greenpeace. Just don’t.


  1. I’ve been struggling not to call them LOLar Bears
  2. The fact that we’re not, and the question of who is and how that money is being spent, are a whole ‘nother ball of fish.
  3. Even though I share Greenpeace’s goals more than I did Bush and Blair’s.
Comments on Cutting a great road through the truth to get to the Devil:
#1 ::: Lurks-no-More ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 04:21 AM:

This sort of stuff is one of the reasons why I refuse to donate to or otherwise help Greenpeace in any way. They may have good ends, but their means are frequently questionable, at best.

#2 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:39 AM:

This article from the New Statesman agrees with you.

Divorced from questions of ethics and long-term effects, it goes to show how long an online campaign can take to go viral enough to break into (mainstream?) public consciousness, and how easy it is to miss the its roots (or how hard it can be to track back to them). The "campaign" had its full backstory laid out on June 11th on the Greenpeace site. (The comments on it only took off on July 18th, and their overall tone is agreement with abi.)

#3 ::: Mike McHugh has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:41 AM:

I'm just a poster whose intentions are Good.
Oh Gnomes, please don't let me be misunderstood.

#4 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 06:55 AM:

As a basic principle, telling lies (unless such lies are clearly labelled "fiction") is not a means of promoting the truth.

#5 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 07:56 AM:

Deliberately turning false data loose in the world is a sin against scholarship.

#6 ::: Megpie71 ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:04 AM:

I have to agree with Lurks-no-More @1 - I don't give to Greenpeace because I really don't believe I can trust them.

I won't deny that they've done good things. But I don't agree with their tactics all the time, and I definitely don't agree with some of their positions on certain subjects. In my mind, they're up there with The Animal Rights Group That Shall Not Be Named for the combination of objectionable tactics used in the name of the extremer end of an otherwise-honourable and worthy cause.

This is just one more bit of evidence against them.

Have they never heard? Attempting to destroy liars by lying about them is like wrestling a pig in mud - both sides get dirty, but the pig enjoys it.

#7 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:11 AM:

I supported Greenpeace when I was in high school. They lost me over their racist depiction of Japanese whalers. As if the problem with the guys killing the whales was that they were Japanese.

#8 ::: Rens ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:18 AM:

I lost all patience and most of my respect for Greenpeace back when they ran a series of hysterical fear-mongering ads about genetically modified crops that all but suggested that if we allowed "them" (never specified which 'them', of course) to put "SCORPION DNA" (capitals theirs) into the genes of lettuce plants, we'd wind up with brown-black lettuce with insect legs and stingers.

Guys. You have a great many good points in that we've only got this one world right now and we'd do well to be careful with the biosphere, but for Sagan's sake, stick to actual facts and science and leave the fearmongering to the big corporations.

#9 ::: Autarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:31 AM:

It was done in collaboration with the Yes Lab - organised by the Yes Men - who've pulled similar stunts before.

#10 ::: Autarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:41 AM:

Looking at the Greenpeace site, not only has this stunt cost them support, but some of the remaining Greenpeace supporters are denouncing critics as corporate trolls.

Way to flush credibility earned through decades of hard work down the toilet, Greenpeace!!!

#11 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 10:46 AM:

Brent Spar, anyone?

#12 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 01:20 PM:

Pushback from your friends and supporters when you lie is the only way that we will see less lying in public. The decision to go along with lies, or remain silent about them, because "it's for a good cause" or "the other guys are so bad anything is fair" or "the other side started it" is exactly how we've gotten, as a society, to the place where even our most trustworthy institutions periodically spread lies and BS in order to achieve some worthwhile goal. And that has the cost that when those trustworthy institutions want to spread the truth, perhaps to decrease pointless suffering and harm (like, telling people smoking is really bad for them, they ought to get their kids vaccinated for childhood diseases, or that very few people are actually made safer by keeping a loaded gun on hand at all times), there is pretty good justification for not believing them. After all, we already know that the New York Times, CNN, the EPA, the Fed, the local police department, the Catholic Church, the White House, etc., will lie to us or conceal relevant information from us when they see the justification as strong enough.

#13 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 01:36 PM:

Given that Shell is in fact drilling in the Arctic starting next month, is this really polluting the information stream? Fake ad campaign, but real drills.

#14 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 01:49 PM:

heresiarch @13:
Given that Shell is in fact drilling in the Arctic starting next month, is this really polluting the information stream? Fake ad campaign, but real drills.

Fake representation of Shell's positions on issues. Fake exposition of their competence.

Wait. Let me try this again.

heresiarch @13:
I'm fine with Greenpeace lying to me. Really, truth is overrated in our society.

How does that feel? Do you think that's a fair way for me to conduct this conversation? Are you prepared for people to quote my gross misstatement as though it's your words?

#15 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:06 PM:

I've been leery of Greenpeace for a long time, as their tactics have become increasingly about public relations stunts and fearmongering. They've created an atmosphere of zealotry that causes people who've been trained in critical thinking to dismiss them and their causes. This is unfortunate because some of the causes they espouse are worthwhile, but they're becoming more and more like a Mickey Mouse watch: right twice a day, but only by accident.

I got on their mailing list a few months ago because of a petition I signed against the XL pipeline, and last week I finally got fed up with their constant half-truth propaganda bombardment and unsubscribed (though I notice I'm still getting some of their email, which annoys me). Their positions often remind me of a young hippy back in the early '70s who insisted that you shouldn't eat meat because "blood is bad". She never did explain to me why if that was the case her body had 5 or 6 liters of blood in it.

albatross @ 12:

will lie to us or conceal relevant information from us when they see the justification as strong enough.

Regrettably the situation is much worse than that now, as many organizations, both within and without the official power structure, will lie and conceal facts by reflex, because it's what they're accustomed to doing, and not because there's really a need to do even from their own point of view.

#16 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:39 PM:

Rens @ 8... if we allowed "them" (never specified which 'them', of course) to put "SCORPION DNA" (capitals theirs) into the genes of lettuce plants, we'd wind up with brown-black lettuce with insect legs and stingers

Coming soon from the Skiffy Channel?

#17 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:47 PM:

abi @ 14: "Fake representation of Shell's positions on issues."

Are they misrepresenting Shell's positions?

Energy is vital to our daily lives. It helps us produce food, fuel transport and power communication channels across the world. Over the coming decades, more people will gain access to energy and enjoy higher standards of living. But these developments could place greater pressure on our world’s resources, such as energy, fresh water and food. At the same time, climate change remains a serious concern.

Global energy demand continues to surge and is set to double in the first half of this century, thanks to improved living standards and development in emerging economies. Many of the world’s remaining supplies of oil and gas are in harder-to-reach places such as under deep oceans or in the frozen Arctic. We are using new technologies to help us operate under challenging conditions and make the most of existing resources.

versus

We at Shell are as concerned about [global climate change] as everyone else. But we also recognize that even the most vulnerable need ever-growing fossil fuel resources for their travel, leisure, scientific, and infrastructure expansion needs, and that all of us, no matter where we live, need to explore every alternative at our disposal in order to one day have the hope of achieving a balanced, sustainable approach to energy production—let alone to deal with the potential consequences of climate change.

That's why we at Shell are committed to not only recognize the challenges that climate change brings, but to take advantage of its tremendous opportunities. And what's the biggest opportunity we've got today? The melting Arctic.

Which of those is from ArcticReady, and which is from Shell?

All the ArcticReady site is doing is taking the rhetoric Shell deploys to justify what it does and juxtapose it directly against what Shell actually does. That their rationale dissolves under close contact with reality has nothing to do with GP's misrepresentation, but everything to do with the hollowness of Shell's rhetoric.

Shell, of course, is far too smart to put the two that close together--a carefully maintained distance is what keeps the dissonance from growing too obvious. They're also too careful to ever give people a chance to participate in the conversation: people might start making connections on their own. ArcticReady provides both those openings.

"Fake exposition of their competence."

Yes, it does make Shell look a lot dumber than they actually are, and that is a blow to the accuracy of our information stream.

But our information stream is also impaired if it's full of unchallenged oil company ad copy; if Shell begins a new age of Arctic oil drilling without anyone but crazy environmentalists noticing. ArcticReady corrupts our information stream in one way, and clarifies it in another. As Greenpeace actions go, this one strikes me as both more effective and less offensive than average.

"Dark knight Rises suxxors the worst"

What no WAY. DARK KNIGHT RISES IUS THE BEST MOVIE EVER. your just jealous

#18 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:48 PM:

I have no use for Greenpeace; they are a terrorist organization. (What else do you call an organization that assaults civilians and destroys property in the name of their cause?) I once had sympathy for their campaigns to protect whales, but their tactics disgust me.

Also, this isn't the first time they've spread bogus propaganda around. Fuck 'em.

#19 ::: Torrilin ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 02:50 PM:

I'm quite sure I don't approve of this Greenpeace campaign. But well... I often don't approve of Greenpeace.

But I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say all public data needs to be 100% reliable. Truth can be awfully complicated, and some things that might seem simple just don't have good answers. Last year if you'd asked me where I lived on this date, I quite likely would have said "we're moving!" Our lease was still good on the apartment we'd rented since 2007, but we'd closed on our condo. Our stuff was spread hither and yon, we had paint ideas coming out our ears, and we wouldn't turn in our keys until the last day of the lease.

The formal address changes took place over a period of months, and I'm still occasionally dealing with the impacts this year. My partner has a common name, and somehow the post office got terribly confused and decided that somehow there could only possibly be 1 household with that name in our old apartment building (despite the fact that it holds well over 20 units)... so we were getting things like DMV notices for people who lived in an entirely different apartment sent to our new condo. Took me a good bit of time to straighten it out with the post office. It wasn't until the poor clerk got it straight in her head that we were talking about 3 different guys, one with the same name for both his first and last name, and the other two with the same last name that she was able to figure out how to clear up the mess in the computer.

There's definitely a line between what Greenpeace did and between the confusion of my address where you step from the space of truth into the land of Hoax. But I'm not sure where the line is precisely. I'm also not sure where the line is between hoax and parody or satire. And I'm not sure I'd have any real ability to tell the difference without having run into a good bit of weird truth, actual hoaxes, and parodies.

(I didn't figure out until my late teens that a particular SF book was not straight SF but instead satire... not even the part where the space ship looked like a giant pink swan tipped me off. Even as an adult, I'm still not entirely sure what all was being satirized.)

#20 ::: Aurora ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 03:27 PM:

There is a difference between concealing information (a crime has been committed and this should be known, the investigation is not complete, so the names of people involved are being withheld from public knowledge), and giving out misinformation (a company actually released this self-damaging advertising campaign).

If someone is actually pursuing the path of evil, it should be enough to honestly point out which of their actions is wrong and why, or, if they are good at hiding that information, to point out the holes in what they themselves are saying to the public--there will be some, there always are.

Honesty is the best policy. If you have to doctor something for "my own good," the implication is that you think I'm too stupid to see your point if it is honestly made, which makes you not only DIShonest, but also condescending and disrespectful.

#21 ::: Tor ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 04:01 PM:

I don't get it. While I'm not normally a huge GP fan, although I consider myself an environmentalist, I don't have any anger at GP this time. Other things they've done - absolutely. But this? To me, their campaign is more similar to guerilla PR warfare than a 'lie.'

GP didn't announce that Shell was doing someone they are not. They actually are going to be drilling in the arctic. And a bland press release by GP would have accomplished nothing. I haven't read a GP press release in years. But I did watch the video of the party with the oil rig. And it was funny. And it communicated a message - even when Shell thinks they are in control, accidents happen. But I didn't believe that it was a real video, stolen from an actual party, especially when there was absolutely no corroborating evidence. Call it social media trolling, satire, guerilla PR - whatever. It was effective.

As for the complaints that it was not truthful, well, neither is Stephen Colbert. There is no disclaimer on his show - people did whatever research they needed to in order to determine that it is satirical. Rather than complaining of being lied to or hoodwinked, do the research, and add more information to the information stream.

The information stream was not pristine before this campaign - there are politicians voting on climate change issues right now who are lying to us. Scientists who have been paid off in one form or another. If Shell wants to conduct biased bs 'studies' which show that global warming is not caused by us, they can't now complain that the other side is using disinformation as well.

No, Shell didn't create the Arctic Ready campaign - I'm not quite sure why anyone would have believed that. If GP had said that the climate change tipping point was next year, knowing that it is not, I would have an issue with that. Using an effective campaign which includes disinformation to bring attention to this cause? That's fine with me.

Creating a set of rules that the other side doesn't follow, and then expecting everyone to follow those rules? I'm sure that will be really comforting as the low lying areas of the world slowly submerge under the waves.

#22 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 04:07 PM:

*headdesk*

OK, I had, perhaps foolishly, pretty much trusted Greenpeace until now. I joined back when I had money. Certainly not renewing.

Dammit. When people on the other side do terrible things, it angers me. When people on something that could vaguely be considered "my" side do terrible things (like this), it's also angering, but also sickening and depressing.

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 04:41 PM:

Our discourse, when it's functional, is about accountability: you own your words. What you say matters, and is evaluated, in a fashion that both reflects the way you're perceived in the community and shapes that perception.

When you speak as someone you are not, you pollute that. Even if your speech is almost the same, or essentially the same, as the person you're impersonating, it's not the same.

For instance, heresiarch @17 asks if I can tell the difference between Shell's rhetoric and Greenpeace's version of it. I can, because Greenpeace will talk about "the arctic melting", and Shell won't.

But now it looks like Shell will, and whether an unclued-in observer thinks that's a rare burst of honesty or more blatant hypocrisy, they're forming an opinion of Shell on false information.

There's plenty of truth to tell. One could run the entire "Arctic ready" site with a real, verbatim Shell text and Greenpeace logo and make the same contrast.

Lying robs Greenpeace of a whole ton of credibility, with no perceptible benefit.

Tor @21:
I'm not quite sure why anyone would have believed that.

Plenty of people did. And Greenpeace intended them to.

Creating a set of rules that the other side doesn't follow, and then expecting everyone to follow those rules? I'm sure that will be really comforting as the low lying areas of the world slowly submerge under the waves.

First off, if I never hear the argument that the terrorists Shell are a bunch of bad people, so we shouldn't hesitate to climb right down to their level, I'll be just fine. That argument has justified waterboarding. Don't bring it here and expect to convince me of anything.

Secondly, I live just under a meter below sea level. Tell me how the ability to caption a picture of an Arctic fox is going to cause people to turn their thermostats down, drive less, or do any of the other things that will keep my feet dry. Tell me how being able to do that with the illusion that they're sticking it to Shell rather than playing along with Greenpeace will make any kind of difference.

#24 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 04:58 PM:

@21 Tor

I would point out that Stephen Colbert is a satirist who is known to be a satirist. Greenpeace is an environmental activist organization. If they're going to go into show business, they should own that.

#25 ::: hereslarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:01 PM:

me @17:

Also, on consideration, HIGHLANDER 2 is the bestest movie evar!!!1!!1eleventyone!

#26 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:11 PM:

Thank you abi!

I want to reiterate what albatross said at 12:

Pushback from your friends and supporters when you lie is the only way that we will see less lying in public.

And here's the thing: it's hard and unpleasant to push back at your friends and allies. It's much easier to yell at your opponents. But yelling at your opponents rarely changes minds; telling your allies, "No, that isn't true/right/fair"--that changes minds sometimes (and makes you a troublemaking pariah sometimes.) Alan Chambers pushing back against Exodus changed rather a lot more minds than Xopher would; I am not thinking that being Alan Chambers is much fun right now. (Picking on Xopher because he, for excellent reason, really dislikes Exodus.)

#27 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:13 PM:

My 16-yo doesn't know it's fake; she just found out about it. I'll clue her in tomorrow--I hadn't heard of this before yesterday, when she told me about it and then I saw it here.

But how is this different from this, which many people I know (some of them here, I believe) thought clever? http://boingboing.net/2012/06/16/award-winning-book-burning-hoa.html

It was also "lying for the greater good." I'm asking seriously--what makes the library's campaign acceptable/amusing/something we're happy to see succeed and Greenpeace's not?

#28 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:18 PM:

Melissa Singer @27:

I'd never heard about the book-burning hoax before now.

At a cursory glance, it looks like there is one significant difference: the library did not claim that the book-burning message came from the Tea Party.

Is that a material difference? Is it the lying or the impersonation that is the final straw for me? I don't know. I'll have to think about it.

#29 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 05:37 PM:

Autarch @9

This sort of thing is precisely why I don't like the Yes Men.

#30 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 06:12 PM:

They shut down quite a few Shell petrol stations in the UK a few days ago. That rather got my goat. Working in a petrol station is a rotten job at the bottom end of the employment ladder; you're working stupid hours in a shoddy shop sitting on an enormous tub of flammable liquid and the last thing you want is idiots descending en masse and messing around with the emergency cut-off systems (what larks, Pip!). How many minimum-wage staff had their shifts curtailed and cancelled because of this?

Similarly the various direct-action campaigns against the UK coal industry: when middle-class activists try to put miners out of work, I'm inevitably, given my background, going to side with the miners.

#31 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 06:21 PM:

Tor @21, Colbert presents his words as his own. He's pretending to be a right-wing blowhard in the mold of Bill O'Reilly, but that's not the same thing as hiring a Bill O'Reilly look-alike and manufacturing real-looking fake O'Reilly Factor footage.

#32 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 06:28 PM:

Earlier today I overheard a customer telling a store manager, who had clearly heard it before and didn't want to hear it again, all about 9/11. ('Explosives... helicopters circling... aviation fuel... not nearly hot enough to melt steel...'). Counterfactual narratives take on lives of their own, and scientists working on climate change have quite enough trouble as it is dealing with the ripples from 'Climategate' ('the e-mails admitted that the global-warming graph is a trick!') without Greenpeace barefacedly making stuff up about their opponents.

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 07:39 PM:

heresiarch:

Would O'Keefe's justification for the editing of the ACORN tapes he made differ in any important way from your (partial) justification of Greenpeace's actions?

#34 ::: albatross visits the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 07:40 PM:

I brought some nice, freshly-brewed coffee!

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2012, 09:01 PM:

Ever since Plato came up with the idea of the "noble lie", people have been selling this concept of falsehood in the name of some greater good. It was dishonest back when Plato put the concept in the mouth of Socrates. It's dishonest now.

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 12:27 AM:

There are a myriad ways of telling the truth. If you can't find one that advances your goal, consider that your goal may not be worth advancing.

#37 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 12:56 AM:

This popped up in my facebook feed as "go look before Shell realizes they're being trolled!" but five minutes of poking around beyond the "check out these great ads" page and I knew it was satire.

I mean, the front page starts with the headline "Let's Hit the Beach!" and the comment, "Recently in our excitement to begin drilling, we had a lapse and slipped our anchor, nearly running aground. Rest easy, though. It's smooth sailing from here. Let's Go!"

Another quote:

"On the slight chance that something does go wrong, Shell's spill cleanup plan is second to none. No one has yet fully determined how to clean up an oil spill in pack ice or broken ice—but that too is exactly the sort of challenge we love."

Their "Kid's Section" includes the game Angry Bergs, where you try to zap (and melt) ice bergs to protect an oil rig.

I don't know. I have a hard time seeing this as a lie, but I didn't see how Greenpeace presented it.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 07:43 AM:

I agree with Abi, and the general sense of the commentariat, that this was a bad move on Greenpeace's part.

I do think that what it springs from isn't arrogance but despair. If there was ever an issue in human history that could conceivably justify people deciding that the time for conventional tidy morality is past, the oncoming juggernaut of global climate change is probably it. It's going to kill hundreds of millions of us and leave the rest with significantly degraded lives, and it's clear that our wonderful political systems and our "meritocratic" elites are powerless to do a thing about it.

Bruce Sterling observed years ago that there will be purges, show trials, and public executions once the next level of climate calamity kicks in. I see no reason to think he was wrong. One can only hope that the set of victims will have some overlap with the guilty, but that's probably unwarranted optimism. (And yes, it does occur to me that I and everyone I know could defensibly be classed with "the guilty.")

I'm not saying any of this in order to argue with Abi's post or with anyone in this thread. And certainly not to justify Greenpeace. But I have a lot of sympathy with them. They're right. The threats they've been trying to point out are real. Nothing they try, nothing anyone tries, seems to work. This is the kind of situation in which people go crazy, lose their moorings, turn on one another, and start disregarding the copybook virtues. It's called "desperation" and the rest of our lives will see much more extreme versions of it.

#39 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 03:21 PM:

Patrick: Agree with you and Abi in general, but ... I'm not religious, but I think Christianity is right in calling despair a sin -- something evil in itself, and not to be given in to no matter how bad things look. I also think our elites are far from powerless to do anything; they're actively doing the exact opposite of what ought to be done, and we all know it. I don't have a solution, barring snarky remarks about tar and feathers, but I also don't think it's time for despair yet.

#40 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 07:12 PM:

What I should have said is that it's clear that our wonderful political systems (you know, our Freedoms, the ones the Terrorists Hate Us For) and our "meritocratic" elites have no intention of doing anything about it. I don't actually think they're powerless. I think they just don't care. They'll ride it out. Their lives will be okay. (Not for nothing is Cory Doctorow's "Chicken Little" one of my favorite SF stories of the last decade, because it's all about this: we live in the era during which the 1% are pulling up the ladders. They'll be fine. Many of the rest of us will be fucked.)

I'm not "despairing". I think something resembling human civilization will survive. It's just that a lot of actual, you know, people won't survive to enjoy it. For them, it is the end of the world. We've decided that's an acceptable cost. Those decisions are made now.

Arguments about "despair" are bullshit. Thousands of us turned out in the streets to say no to invading Iraq. The US and its tributary states invaded anyway. Lots of people said "don't despair." Who are we talking to when we say that? The tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians we butchered? Do they get a pass on the "don't despair" stuff? Oh, wait, it doesn't matter, they're dead.

I've never advocated giving up. But for God's sake can't we look our losses in the face and recognize that this much loss leaves some of us broken. That's really all I was trying to say. Greenpeace did a stupid thing here, and I've (actually) felt for a long time that Greenpeace is kind of stupid in its messaging and methods. But holy crap I can sympathize with the kind of despair that can lead to mistakes on this order. So go ahead and repeat to me how despair is a sin. I refuse to believe that imagination is one.

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 07:44 PM:

Well, I spent a good chunk of today despairing, and I really appreciated Tehanu's comment.

Because there's nothing I can do as an individual that will stop us going off this cliff. There never has been. Were I to live as a carbon-neutral hermit, I'd still not be able to save us.

And I don't think it's a sure bet that we will survive as a species. There is no safety net, and we aren't moving all that fast to stay within the borders of the survivable. This stuff happens slowly enough that we can fuck ourselves, mostly die off, and then lose the rest of us to the aftereffects.

And I have children. What have I done, bringing them into this world?

So I really did appreciate the advice not to despair, because there is plenty of grounds for it, but it won't do any good. Soldier on, chin up, enjoy what we have and salvage what we can, if we can, when the time comes.

Thank you, Tehanu.

#42 ::: bfscr ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 09:15 PM:

I think Patrick is spot on about the motivation for Greenpeace to try something different. It is a sign of both (well-founded) desperation and an attempt at tactical flexibility. Risk involves failing; if this was a failure for Greenpeace, hopefully they'll keep experimenting.

Secondly, acts like these are a way to not despair. Seeing one of these parody ads covering a billboard in downtown Houston inspired people meeting on how to delay the construction of the Tarsands Pipeline. We were thinking about it when we discussed tactics beyond road-blockades.

I know that I find even fleeting impacts makes it easier to hold Edward Everett Hale's call to action in mind.
"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do."

#43 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 09:45 PM:

Tehanu, #39:

"Patrick: Agree with you and Abi in general, but...I'm not religious, but I think Christianity is right in calling despair a sin--something evil in itself, and not to be given in to no matter how bad things look."

Tehanu, #39:

"I don't have a solution, barring snarky remarks about tar and feathers, but I also don't think it's time for despair yet."

The first and last sentences of this single paragraph come from completely contradictory moral universes. They can't both be valid.

If despair is "a sin--something evil in itself, and not to be given in to no matter how bad things look", then it makes no sense to say that "I...don't think it's time for despair yet."

If despair is a transcendental sin, there is never a "time for despair", now or ever. But if you really think it's not "time for despair yet", then it's hard to understand what you mean by promulgating the idea that despair is "a sin--something evil in itself, and not to be given in to no matter how bad things look".

What it sounds like is that you're confused and upset. Just like me and just like most people who look at the situation. Under the circumstances, you might want to be a little less firm in your assertions about what is "a sin" and "evil in itself". A person could take these wild swings a bit personally, just sayin'.

#44 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 21, 2012, 11:49 PM:

I have spent the last week reading about global climate change, discussing global climate change, worrying, thinking... My imagination appears to have reached a tipping point, please excuse my cliche. I believe -- I have no evidence, just hope -- that the human race will survive. I have no particular confidence that we can slow or even affect the approaching climate-created disasters, but it seems reasonable to me that rich, well-organized countries can, if they try, to mitigate some, not all, of the pain for a majority of their own citizens. They may try to. They will probably not be able to mitigate the pain that the citizens of most impoverished, badly governed countries will face. They will probably not try to.

Expect misery, injustice, exploitation, etc.

As a dear friend of mine has been known to say: the Mongols are always just on the other side of the hill.

Upset, yeah. Unsure, oh yeah. Despairing, no, not yet.

#45 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 12:00 AM:

Winter is coming...oh wait, no it isn't, not ever again. :-(

#46 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 12:28 AM:

I'm not sure why anyone thinks the fact that the human race is likely to survive the oncoming century's climate crisis should be an antidote to despair. The human race survived the various nightmares of the first half of the 20th century just fine, with a net gain of nearly a billion people. Would you say "cheer up, it's not the end of the world" to someone dying of the Spanish flu, or dying on a battlefield in one of the world wars, or trapped in a death camp or a gulag, or about to be nuked or firebombed?

#47 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 01:37 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue @ #45:

That's what you think. I think it might be time for me to go and put a second sweater on.

#48 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 04:34 AM:

Avram @46:
Would you say "cheer up, it's not the end of the world" to someone dying of the Spanish flu, or dying on a battlefield in one of the world wars, or trapped in a death camp or a gulag, or about to be nuked or firebombed?

No, but if I could say,"Your children are safe. They'll be OK," I would. And if I were the one dying, it would matter a lot to me that my kids had a chance at a better future.

Anecdote: I came unpleasantly close to bleeding to death when I had my daughter. We didn't realize how close until they stood me up to go take a shower and I fainted dead away. The automatic blood pressure measurement cuff couldn't detect enough pressure to figure out how screwed I was; it took a nurse with a stethoscope and a manual cuff to measure that.

As I lay on the floor waiting for an orderly to come help me back to bed, I moved so I could see the shape of Fiona's (relatively large, thus the blood loss) head in her little plastic bassinet. She was warm, safe, and asleep. And then I knew everything was OK.

It's not my future that makes me despair. I've had 42 good years, and I know I have the emotional and physical resources to deal with a lot of things that could happen next. Or, you know, I die, and there at least is an end to it.

What gets me is the notion that my children, and their children after them, won't have the chances I've had, much less the better ones I've hoped for for them.

#49 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 06:02 AM:

Thank you, abi, for the top post and the comment about how knowing that even if one faces her own personal end, comfort can be had by knowing something valued will continue.

For someone "child-free" like myself (sorry for the laden term; not thinking clearly enough due to bad sleep from summer cold/maybe bronchitis), there would be comfort in knowing that some larger things one has grown to value continue. Ob SF - Sinclair's speech at the end of the episode, "Infection"...

Asked if space is too risky for humanity to maintain a foothold, Sinclair answers, "We have to stay here, and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics - and you'll get ten different answers. But there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us, it'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-tsu, Einstein, Maruputo, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes - all of this. All of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars."

Okay, I may have just created more bitter, or perhaps just poignancy, given what others have been saying about our collective chances at surviving the coming climate crisis. I hope for a generous reading though...

Crazy(and led astray in her memory of episodes, mixing up a speech of similar tone by Sheridan in the second season, "And Now For A Word")Soph

#50 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 07:09 AM:

This has been a sequence of very thoughtful comments about a tough issue, and I want to thank Tehanu, Abi, bfscr, Lizzy, Avram, and crazysoph for making me think harder.

I think something I was trying to say earlier is that I don't advocate despair over our present circumstances, but I feel a great deal of sympathy for anyone who feels it. (I've never been happy with arguments that "despair is the greatest of sins." It feels altogether like seeking out the most downtrodden among us and administering them a good solid kick.) For this reason I may well be cutting Greenpeace more slack than I ought to -- goodness knows I do agree with Abi's points about messing with the information stream. On the other hand, bfscr makes a good point as well.

I think I had some kind of trenchant summing-up in sight, but I seem to have misplaced it. Maybe it'll come to me.

#51 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 08:19 AM:

Never mind whether despair is a sin... it's an obstacle to actually solving the problems! But it's also something that happens to people when they're confronted with intractable threats....

re: PNH #40, I don't agree that the 1% "will be fine" -- their wealth exists only with respect to the society around them, and when that collapses, they and their kids are going to discover that "you cannot eat gold" - much less foreign bank accounts.

If humanity survives at all, it'll be reduced to a remnant population, gathering at the remaining habitable areas. They may multiply again as, or if, the world recovers, but then they'll face a world where all the easily-accessible oil and metals have been mined and scattered across the surface.

#52 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:00 AM:

#49 ::: crazysoph

Side issues: my feeling is that "without children" or "I don't have children" are neutral ways of expressing the concept. Thoughts?


#53 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:01 AM:

David #51:

Your vision of the future wrt climate change is a whole lot worse than what I've understood to be the midrange predictions of the models. (And we ought to be careful assuming those models are correct, since they're trying to extrapolate outside of any conditions that have already been observed, but that's not a reason to assume the worst case imaginable.) My understanding is that the predicted outcome of our CO2 emissions trajectory is a shift in temperatures and rainfall and a smallish rise in the ocean level (locally painful in places, but not a rise that will wipe out all the coastal cities or something), with locally nasty environmental effects, and a lot of painful adjustment in places where, say, the local population can no longer be supported by the available fresh water supply. But not mass starvation or die-offs.

Now, this is nowhere near my field, so I could just be out of date or wrong. But can you (or anyone here with this view) explain why you think that AGW will lead to this kind of massive disaster?

My suspicion is that humanity's existence is much more threatened by intentional or accidental f--kups with biological or nanotech research than by our increasing CO2 emissions raising global temperatures and messing with ocean pH[1].

One thing I keep thinking is that our default image of the future is more pessimistic than it has been in the past. I guess a global recession, political dysfunction in the two biggest democratic societies around (if you count the EU as a democratic society), and probably some aspect of the post-9/11 and post-financial-meltdown political rhetoric are all partly to blame for this. I suspect the internet's increasing ability to allow end-runs around some kinds of information blockade has also affected this--a lot of nastiness that has been going on forever is becoming easier to see, and that feels like the world is getting worse even when it's really just becoming more visible. (For example, the cops were busting heads at protests 50 years ago, but it was a lot easier to keep the footage off the big three networks than to keep it off YouTube and all the related places (including random websites) it can show up.)

[1] Though messing with ocean pH has the authentic feel of watching the chimpanzees fooling around with the life-support-system controls, much more so to my uneducated mind than raising global average temperatures a couple of degrees.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:07 AM:

Nancy:

I guess I take "childfree" to mean explicitly not planning to have kids, either. Someone might be childless because they never intend to have kids, or because they intend to but haven't gotten around to it yet (maybe they haven't met the right partner, or don't yet feel financially or emotionally stable enough to raise kids). In the context of this discussion, I suspect that matters--in one case, you plan to have kids (so have at least an abstract concern with your offspring, the way I hope to have grandkids and care what their lives are like even though my kids are nowhere near old enough to give me any), in the other case, you don't (so your concern for the future is centered on other things, like the kids and grandkids of your friends or family, or the continuation of human civilization or institutions).

#55 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:18 AM:

Patrick #40:

I think our instituions and societies are fundamentally not very good at dealing with problems like AGW.

One one side, there's a big time-preference problem--in order to address it, you have to take costs up front to get benefits a generation or two later. We didn't drop our CO2 emissions enough to meet sensible targets for the US, even in the face of energy prices doubling in the 2000s. Imagine a president or party running on a platofrm of doubling energy prices. (You don't have to raise energy prices explicitly to deal with AGW, but lacking better energy technology, you have to have the effect of raising CO2-emitting energy source prices enough that we shift over to sources that emit less or no CO2, and that means raising energy prices and painful adjustments for some parts of the economy.)

On the other side, there's a huge collective-action problem, because individual states, countries, industries, companies, et., can't usefully do much here in the face of the rest of the world going its own way. Even if the EU radically decreases its CO2 emissions, it has to get the US, China, India, Japan, Brazil, Russia, etc., to go along, or their sacrifices will hae little effect.

There are examples of successful collective action against a common threat like this (CFC reduction, for example). But I think they're rare and also that CO2 emissions are a much more expensive and fundamental thing to change than CFC leakage to the atmosphere.)

#56 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:33 AM:

#53 ::: albatross

Expecting disaster goes back farther than you describe-- fears of nuclear war and the population explosion takes it back to the 50s.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:36 AM:

albatross @53:
if you count the EU as a democratic society

As opposed to a...?

& @54:
I think you're correct in the distinction between "childless [at the moment]" and "childfree" in the sense of "not planning on having children" in the context of this discussion. Although crazysoph is also correct in pointing out that that doesn't necessarily mean one has no stake in a future beyond one's own lifetime.

Of course (As You Know, Albatross*), the term "childfree" is occasionally a contentious one. It's got a definite value, in expressing that the fact that one does not have children is not a failure, a loss, or a -lessness of something that one must have to be a real adult. But there are some howling poo-flingers who use the term as a common identity for their howling and poo-flinging.

However, I don't see anyone in this community howling and flinging poo on the subject; if they did, I'd address the behaviors and not the tribal identity. So I'm perfectly content with the word "childfree"; it's what many of the people in question choose to call themselves.

-----
* This is as much addressed to you personally as any AYKB ever is.

#58 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 11:42 AM:

abi:

You could think of the EU as one big democratic society or a bunch of smaller ones. (Contrast NATO--you could think of it the same way, but it would seem a lot weirder to classify NATO as one rich democratic society than many.)

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 12:34 PM:

albatross @ 58:

Much of the discussion in this thread seems to reflect a consensus that the US is not now a democratic society.

crazysoph @ 49 & others:

There's a fundamental difference between the view of the world on the scale of a human lifetime, and on the geological/astronomical scale. In the long term, the human race is almost certain to be extinct within the next million years, and is even less likely to survive long enough to need to escape the Sun's exit of the main sequence 4-5 billion years from now1.

In the early 20th century, Bertrand Russel wrote

"All the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and…the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."

If we pin our hopes of avoiding desperation on the impossibility of the human race lasting forever (whatever that may mean in the physical universe), we depend on something that is almost certain not to happen. For our aspirations, our struggles, and our achievements to be meaningful we need to accept that they will not survive in a physical sense, but also recognize that even if there comes a time when they no longer exist, there always will have been a time when they did. Our lives have meaning, not because there will always be a traveller to find our monuments standing in the sand, but because we lived them, and did what we could to make them meaningful while we could.

I don't think despair is a sin, because it's not morally wrong to feel defeated by forces much more powerful than you. I think each individual has the right to decide if or when to give up the struggle; calling that a moral failing has always seemed hubristic to me. But there's a difference between despair for one's own situation, and despair that the human race will someday go extinct. The latter, it seems to me, is a fundamental part of the way things are, and not something that we can do anything about. The struggle may be glorious and have its moments of triumph, but in the end we need to realize that the end is inevitable, but not demeaning.

1. crazysoph:

one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out

Somewhat pedantic, but no, the sun isn't going out for hundreds of billions of years, at least, because it will remain a white dwarf at least that long. But about 4 billion years from now, scientists agree, it will swell up into a red giant and swallow the inner planets, while eventually burning off the gas giant planets into rocky cinders. Dead is dead, but I think Robert Frost would want us to get it right about whether by fire or ice.

#60 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 12:42 PM:

Bruce Cohen's comments about Humanity remind me of my favorite line from "Contact".

"You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other."

#61 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 01:07 PM:

albatross, #54: That's pretty much what I was going to say. "Childfree" is a loaded term only in the same sense that "Muslim" or "feminist" is -- some members of the named group are assholes, and some people outside the group therefore assume that all of them are assholes.

Bruce C., #59: Much of the discussion in this thread seems to reflect a consensus that the US is not now a democratic society.

There's certainly a reasonable case to be made for that position in the wake of the Citizens United decision. That one action by itself raised the difficulty level of getting out from under the plutocracy by a couple of orders of magnitude.

As to the rest of your post, I can only say Bravo!

#62 ::: Lee has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 01:09 PM:

Probably a Word of Power, since I didn't see any other potential issue on preview.

#64 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 02:10 PM:

Albatross #53: Your vision of the future wrt climate change is a whole lot worse than what I've understood to be the midrange predictions of the models.... My understanding is that the predicted outcome of our CO2 emissions trajectory is... not mass starvation or die-offs.

Not my field or area either. But here's a post from Dave Roberts, who's a climate journalist, going into some detail on it. His bottom line: we're shooting past the current target (max 2º c warming); new science indicates that even 2º c warming may lead to catastrophe.

Here's a quote or two from that blog post:

With immediate, concerted action at global scale, we have a slim chance to halt climate change at the extremely dangerous level of 2 degrees C. If we delay even a decade — waiting for better technology or a more amenable political situation or whatever — we will have no chance....

In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”

Clicking through the citation link in Roberts' post to that quote (I'm not going to link it in the hopes that not linking too much will let me avoid the Gnomes' wrath) Anderson says:

...we will not make all human beings extinct, as a few people with the right sort of resources may put themselves in the right parts of the world and survive. But I think it’s extremely unlikely that we wouldn’t have mass death at 4 degrees.

If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving.

If you click through to Roberts' post, he has lots of links to, y'know, science and stuff.

I don't know if despair is a sin, although it certainly seems self-defeating. At the same time, I don't see how to avoid it. At this point, turning a political corner on this looks less likely than, say, benevolent Vulcans arriving to pull our fat out of the fire.

On this issue, despair hits me and I squirm to try to avoid it, but usually can't. Any suggestion for any positive action that has a less than vanishingly small chance of actually doing anything commensurate with the scope of the problem would be greatly appreciated.

#65 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 02:57 PM:

Stephen Frug@64: yes, that blog post makes grim reading. As a ("hard to kill") Cold War Kid, I'm pestered by tbe grim intrusive thought that there's a very easy way to enforce a 2ºC warming limit: have a limited nuclear exchange that destroys a lot of industrial plant, and throws sufficient dust into the upper atmosphere to give us a small nuclear winter. An unfunny joke, but we're in a bad way when Small Nuclear War has a better long-term outcome than Business As Usual.

#66 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 03:14 PM:

Steve with a book @65 -- there are other ways to get that amount of dust into the upper atmosphere, though. There's an obvious SF story possible about a small group engineering that happening in order to prevent global warming, and discovering it has unintended consequences.

#67 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 03:31 PM:

Are activists to be saints, then? This is political activism, not research or scholarly publication. Looking at the thing, my first thought was, "Is this satire?" And so it is. Sometimes satire can communicate truths which sober reporting cannot. Back when, when I was living through the 1960s, I remember the reports that the CIA and FBI were harassing activists. I dismissed them as crazy, and many of those claims probably were false. But the FBI was, in fact, harassing activists.

If we hold our own to the highest possible standard, while our enemies do their worst, we will end up fighting among each other, rather than our enemies. Personally, I expect my side to be good guys, not saints. If this hoax brings a bit more public awareness of oil drilling in the arctic, perhaps it was worth it.

Stephen has already mentioned the Roberts article: here's a video of Roberts covering the same ground, link. Also, on the basic science, Dr. Paul Alivisatos, director of Lawrence Berkeley Labs: link.

#68 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 03:42 PM:

The Raven @67:
Are activists to be saints, then?

Straw bird. As I've said above, it would have been perfectly possible to make exactly the same point without the deception. I don't think it's an act of heroic and unachievable sanctity to put a logo or a footer on a webpage mentioning who really made it. I really don't.

And, as I also said above, justifying our bad behavior by the bad behavior of The Other Guys has not tended to lead us to be our best selves, exactly.

#69 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 04:20 PM:

albatross #53: As Stephen Frug has provided more detail, I'll simply note that every time the scientists match their models against more recent observations, the "middle of the road" model shows up as way too conservative.

We're already seeing plants drifting out of sync with their pollinators, and birds with their food supplies. Underwater, we're seeing coral bleaching, and dead zones leaving shattered food chains in their wake (this on top of the effects of out own overfishing). Not to mention the progressive melting of both poles and glaciers around the world, and the progressively-insane weather all over. I didn't move to Central Virginia for this reason, but I find myself glad to be a bit away from the coast, and near some mountains. Not that it'll help me if our crops fail....

And (widening focus) that bit about how the sun will roast us anyway in a few billion years translates as "look, the Winged Victory of Samothrace!". Four gigayears is not a human timescale, and barely a geological one. (4Gy ago, our planet was just cooling into solidity.)
AGW is happening now -- if my nieces and nephews aren't harmed by it (and they likely will be), their children certainly will be.

#70 ::: David Harmon has been gnomed. ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 04:20 PM:

Strawberry wafers and coffee?

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 04:43 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) @59:
There's a fundamental difference between the view of the world on the scale of a human lifetime, and on the geological/astronomical scale.

My mother always says, "two up, two down". We care most about the people no more than two generations up or down the family tree from us: grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren. (Note that English has one-word terms for all of those blood relationships...and only those blood relationships.)

Do I worry about my great-grandchildren? Yes, intellectually, I guess I do. But I worry viscerally about the fate of my children, and their children.

#72 ::: GlendaP ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 05:36 PM:

If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving.

In terms of the survival of the human race, half a billion is a respectable number; it's only been the last 500 years or so that the world population has exceeded that.

The survival of contemporary technology and society, however, is quite a different question.

#73 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 07:37 PM:

#72: GlendaP,

I think the main point of that figure is the simple horror at the level of death.

#74 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 09:45 PM:

Tor @ 21: "Creating a set of rules that the other side doesn't follow, and then expecting everyone to follow those rules? I'm sure that will be really comforting as the low lying areas of the world slowly submerge under the waves."

That's not how I see it myself. I'm perfectly happy to hold me and mine to a different set of standards than the other side--that's rather why my side is my side, in the final analysis. It's just that this doesn't violate those standards.

abi @ 23: "Our discourse, when it's functional, is about accountability: you own your words. What you say matters, and is evaluated, in a fashion that both reflects the way you're perceived in the community and shapes that perception."

Our discourse, when it's functional, is about truth: creating a model of reality that corresponds as much as possible with each other's and accords as much as possible with reality itself. Accountability is a secondary virtue which is only valuable insofar as it gets us closer to correspondence and accordance. It is much like civility: getting upset about violations of accountability is like those pundits who clutch their pearls over incivil political discourse. Sometimes the truth cannot be courteous. Sometimes it cannot be spoken with faces uncovered.

(If discourse is about accountability, then what does that do to pseudonymity or anonymity? To whistleblowers and tipsters? As a free-standing maxim, you own your words extends quite a distance beyond forbidding impersonation.)

"Lying robs Greenpeace of a whole ton of credibility, with no perceptible benefit."

I think that people actually being aware of what Shell is doing is a perceptible benefit. I think an awareness of the hypocrisy of pro-drilling rhetoric is a perceptible benefit.

me @ 25: "Also, on consideration, HIGHLANDER 2 is the bestest movie evar!!!1!!1eleventyone!"

I'm a little confused, I admit: speaking in another's name is such a violation of good conduct that it shouldn't be done even in service of saving the earth, but it's okay in order to make a point in an internet debate?

albatross @ 33: "Would O'Keefe's justification for the editing of the ACORN tapes he made differ in any important way from your (partial) justification of Greenpeace's actions?"

I'm perfectly comfortable judging by my standards O'Keefe's representations of ACORN as inappropriate: what I have trouble imagining how a strict honesty/accountability metric is capable of finding them wanting. After all, they said exactly what he shows them saying, in their own voices. It was, strictly speaking, the literal truth. There were certainly other things they said and other contextual information which he did not share. But a holistic approach to the truth, where overall accuracy is the criterion, has already been ruled out here. That Greenpeace telling the truth about the name of the rig and the thrust of the rhetoric and reality of the project is of no account, we are soberly informed--if it cannot excuse Greenpeace then it cannot condemn O'Keefe. So by what grounds do you find him wanting?

#75 ::: heresiarch is captive of gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: July 22, 2012, 09:47 PM:

I have only these soup crackers and an half empty coke.

Please come quickly.

#76 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 12:40 AM:

I guess I'm too scientifically stupid to despair.

Today, I read about our president, who I dislike politically, and who I blame for inaction and inattention to important matters that threaten our lives -- I read about him rising to the occasion of providing leadership, spiritual counsel, and human compassion--where needed in Colorado. He manifests as a wise, compassionate human being.

Is it impossible that the people who volunteer for public office and the people who go to the polls to elect them may not experience, en masse, the realization that we must act to save ourselves and the Earth? Are we that far away from the public spirit shown by the populations of England and the U.S. in World War II. The air watch, and the scrap drives?

The unanticipated outside event: that common sense and human compassion may again manifest and be directed toward worthy purpose on a large scale.

#77 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 12:57 AM:

abi @ 71:

I agree with your mother; now that my grandparents are all dead, I'm personally concerned about my mother, my siblings, my children, and my one-year-old grandchild. I know that they will have finite lives too, but I care very much that those lives be full, fulfilling, meaningful, and no more painful than is needed for them to learn the lessons they need.

I care about the entire human race in the same way, though I don't think about that as often as I do about my children and grandchild. But I do want everyone's life to be as good as it can be, and I mourn for those whose lives are full of pain and suffering, or cut short by an unnecessary death. It's the potential for pain and suffering on a grand scale that bothers me about climate change, not so much the notion that the human race might go extinct.

#78 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 01:34 AM:

Patrick @ 50: I'm happy to give up on the idea of despair ad a sin, provided we can hang on to the idea of hope as a virtue.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 02:16 AM:

heresiarch @74:
Our discourse, when it's functional, is about *truth*: creating a model of reality that corresponds as much as possible with each other's and accords as much as possible with reality itself.

And, in truth, Shell did not make those pages or write those words. It never, for instance, talked about the Arctic "melting". In truth, Greenpeace did. Where's that truth in your scheme?

Accountability is a control, preventative at the time ('who are you? why should I believe you?') and punitive afterward ('you lied to me'). It's a tool of truth.

If discourse is about accountability, then what does that do to pseudonymity or anonymity? To whistleblowers and tipsters? As a free-standing maxim, you own your words extends quite a distance beyond forbidding impersonation.

Oh, please, not that old chestnut. It's true that I'm one of the very few people here who know another name for you than "heresiarch". But that doesn't mean you aren't known here, by your voice and your stances and your reputation.

Whistleblowers and tipsters are a good point—but they're only an exception if the rule itself is functional, if the sacrifice of accountability for a truth that can't be told any other way is a genuine sacrifice. Otherwise it's just birthers and truthers all the way down.

I'm a little confused, I admit: speaking in another's name is such a violation of good conduct that it shouldn't be done even in service of saving the earth, but it's okay in order to make a point in an internet debate?

And yet the impersonation was penetrable, in spelling, blog link and (view all by). The source was traceable. That's far more traceability than Greenpeace provided for its target audience.

If you're offended, I apologize.

It was, strictly speaking, the literal truth. There were certainly other things they said and other contextual information which he did not share. But a holistic approach to the truth, where overall accuracy is the criterion, has already been ruled out here.

A "holistic approach to the truth" includes Greenpeace's logo on that webpage. Because part of the truth of the narrative is the truth of your sources, as well as the accuracy of transmission on the way from source to target.

#80 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 05:08 AM:

heresiarch:

I think it would be useful to tackle, more generally, the problem I have with "holistic truth". Because I have a big one with it, and skirmishing around the borders isn't going to clear it up.

I can't see any way that one can omit details of the complexity of reality and still have it retain its full truth in all contexts. It's just not feasible. For instance, if I tell you that a man is standing by a wall with a handkerchief in his pocket, I've elided a bunch of details. But which elisions are material matter to different audiences. If we're all in East LA in the 1980's, then the color of the man's handkerchief is of vital importance; if we're in a gay nightclub in San Francisco in a particular era, which pocket the hankerchief resides in takes on additional meaning.

So each elision can only create an equally true statement if you understand which details are important to the audience, and ensure that you preserve them. But once this distillation from facts to truth is a judgmental process, then it's also an error-prone one, and one in which lies can be told.

"Overall accuracy" cannot be objectively measured. One person's overall-accurate statement is another person's lie by omission, spin, or twisting of the facts. Thus the value of knowing one's sources, and the chain of transmission from source to final form.

In this particular context, the "holistic truth" that you seem to value does not include the degree to which Shell does or does not acknowledge the truth of global warming. So you find a statement that includes the phrase "the Arctic is melting" to be functionally the same as one that does not. But that's information that I find important, because I'm interested in what Shell is willing to acknowledge as well as what they're doing right now. I think it's significant information for judging them as an entity, figuring out how to address their actions, and anticipating what they're going to do next.

If Shell used phrases like "the Arctic is melting", it would be important news to me. That's why making it look like they did is, in my book, a major falsehood.

(I also don't think Greenpeace agrees with you that Shell's evasion is irrelevant to the holistic truth. I think they wrote their own prose rather than using Shell's because they are trying to highlight that very omission. They weren't trying for functionally equivalent language when they wrote the site copy.)

#81 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 07:21 AM:

Re Heresiach's #25 and earlier post.

Abi, can you please reassure me that I'm wrong for drawing an inference that something might have been inserted into the post (the movie comment) that did not come from the original poster?

I hope I'm not parsing correctly and can apologize for my poor understanding. Otherwise, for shame!

#82 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 07:39 AM:

Lenny @81:

It was me. I changed my username to "hereslarch" (note the i -> l), but left my other details the same. So it almost looked like heresiarch had posted the comment, but it was still traceable to me from the view all by and the web link.

It was iffy at best, possibly out of bounds -- although it was more traceable than Greenpeace's own behavior. But I wanted to know where heresiarch felt it lay on the spectrum, considering the position being argued. I'd still be interested in a dissection of whether, from heresiarch's perspective on the value of attribution, it lay and why.

I apologize to the community if the deception was excessive. It's not something I would make a practice of.

#83 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 09:50 AM:

Abi: I think Lenny Bailes is talking about the last two lines of # 17, not just your traceable mockery at 25.

25 I got. But I couldn't figure out what was going on with 17. And it makes a big difference, because while 25 is in a grey part of the spectrum (There is no line here I could safely draw and be consistent), inserted lines in another post would be clearly into the pallor of inappropriate lies, if not beyond the pale.

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 09:55 AM:

I don't know what heresiarch was doing with 17; I merely riffed off of it in 25. I certainly did not amend the comment in any fashion. It's original and untouched.

That would indeed be entirely beyond the pale. Eeew.

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:18 AM:

For clarity: the only times I will touch the content of another commenter's posts are as follows:

1. disemvoweling, for which there will be at least a comment in the thread explaining why it was done. (Usually there will be a lengthy instructional diatribe as well.)
2. ROT-13 of spoilers, where requested by the commentariat or where I think it's necessary. In which case there will be a comment in the thread or in the amended comment
3. renumbering, where a comment has been published or unpublished and confused up-references. I don't tend to note that I'm doing that, unless I've needed to call attention to a previously gnomed comment.
4. gnome-channelling, on the topic of why they have expressed an interest in a given comment. These are signed by the gnome in question; I am only the vessel.

#86 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:30 AM:

Forgot one change I do to others' content.

In order to preserve the pseudonymity and anonymity of participants in the Dysfunctional Families threads, I will change usernames and email addresses to hide names and break or form continuity of (view all by) functionality.

Sometimes I am asked to do this. Sometimes it's merely clear that I should, when the user has not noticed the failure to cleanse their data from their contributions in ordinary space.

#87 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:47 AM:

Abi does not need to justify her work. With great power comes great responsibility and she's done a fabulous job at that although Doctor Octopus is still around doing his thing. :-)

#88 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:52 AM:

abi/heresiarch:

First, there is a vast difference between:

a. Writing anonymously or pseudonomously where the writing is marked that way.

b. Writing something in someone else's name he never saw or approved of or authorized.

I don't see how those two are much related. Putting words in other peoples' mouths in an attempt to score points or win arguments has nothing at all to do with writing under a pseudonym.

Second, I'm trying to understand how "holistic truth" differs from noble lies intended to achieve some good purpose. And those are a dime a dozen--every presidential election is touted as being "the most important election of our generation," and there are a dozen or more policy issues up for debate at any given time that get the justification of "yeah, but this is for a noble cause" associated with everything done in their name. (Abortion, gun control, the war on terror, anything to do with stopping pedophiles, AGW and other environmental issues, civil rights, animal rights, holding off socialism, etc.) For every one of those issues, on one or both sides, a substantial number of people think the issue justifies lying, cheating, deception, gaming the election, whatever it takes to win. (Or to keep us safe from terrorists, or to save our children, or to save American from turning into some socialistic hell-hole like France.)

I feel like I'm just missing heresiarch's point, somehow. I mean, in the 2004 elections, the Bush administration spread the nastiest kinds of bullshit around, with his shills calling Democrats traitors for opposing any of his war on terror policies. Can anyone doubt that many of the people doing that believed they were fighting in a righteous cause, lying and smearing people becuase, well, maybe these liberals don't intend to support the terrorists, but that's the effect of their ideas, and this is a clash of civilizations, and ....

It's not so hard for us, here, now, to see those as rationalizations to let otherwise decent people do nasty things to win. My guess is that the great majority of the time, that kind of justification is serving exactly that purpose--it would be convenient to lie, spin, bullshit, frame people, etc., to win the next election or kill some troublesome bill, and so you come up with a justification for doing just that.

#89 ::: albatross gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:54 AM:

The gnomes just like me, what can i say? Some people have it, some don't.

[Some people pick sides in the "two spaces after a period' vs "one space after a period" war. Those who compromise and put three spaces in get to visit us and try out Martin's experimental oatmeal and applesauce cookies. — Mear Arbacoochee Cheves, Duty Gnome]

#90 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 11:27 AM:

Serge @87:

On the contrary, I absolutely do need to justify my work, to anyone who asks. Particularly after I've done something odd (even if I did not use the back end to do it).

This community exists on the trust that our only faces in it—what we say—will be honestly conveyed. I have, through my position, the power to violate that trust any number of ways. This can have consequences ranging from the minor to the monstrously horrendous.

It's completely appropriate for the people who rely on this trust to ask me what they can expect from me in its preservation and protection.

#91 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 11:47 AM:

Point taken, abi...
Now, when *are* you going to go after Doctor Octopus?

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 11:47 AM:

Most of what I would have to say here other people have already said better. But I do have two points to make:

1) Quite a while back, when my partner's business was still confined to buttons and bumper stickers, one of our business associates who was also printing stickers at the time decided, for reasons unknown to us, to put my partner's business name on a couple of them. They were obnoxious stickers -- not, perhaps, more so than the rest of his line, but much nastier than anything my partner would have been interested in printing. We were Not Amused. I considered it wildly inappropriate and assholic behavior then, and I still do; if he didn't want his business name associated with those stickers, why did he think that we would have?

2) "Holistic truth" bears the same relation to truth that "holistic medicine" does to medicine -- it's another term for lies and quackery. I am anti-impressed by any argument that relies on it, as in "is THAT the best you can come up with?"

#93 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 02:16 PM:

abi @41: Because there's nothing I can do as an individual that will stop us going off this cliff.

I was intrigued by the article linked to in Patrick's @38 post. The author's comments connecting investment in the oil companies with the movement to divest from companies supporting the regime in South Africa and the subsequent fall of Apartheid suggest a very plausible target for collective public action.

Two things come to mind that I as an individual can do:

1. Get my ass in gear and get my windows upgraded.

2. Paw through my retirement accounts and divest any fossil fuel related stocks.

My heel-marks won't even bend the grass, but it's something.

#94 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 02:51 PM:

Jacque @ 93... Get my ass in gear and get my windows upgraded

Isn't that what Borg drones do every Monday morning?

#95 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Serge @94:
Isn't that what Borg drones do every Monday morning?

No, just the second Tuesday of every month.

#96 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 03:35 PM:

abi @ 79: "Whistleblowers and tipsters are a good point—but they're only an exception if the rule itself is functional, if the sacrifice of accountability for a truth that can't be told any other way is a genuine sacrifice."

So what makes you certain that that sacrifice isn't exactly what is happening here? If Greenpeace* had released this site under their own logo, with the same payload, how many people would have seen it? My guess is very few: I wouldn't have. I don't read Greenpeace releases. So they sacrificed accountability in order to spread their information more widely--while one can disagree with whether the trade was worth it or not, we've entered a very different conversation than "one must never pollute the information stream" or "discourse is about accountability."

"That's far more traceability than Greenpeace provided for its target audience."

This also moves us onto a far more complicated terrain. Perceived traceability wildly varies from viewer to viewer: there are plenty of people who mistake the Onion articles as truth. Others don't believe very well-documented facts. So what level of traceability legitimizes a satire?

ArcticReady set off my alarm bells immediately, and once I saw that the url was arcticready.com rather than shell.com/arcticready I was pretty sure it was a hoax**. It wasn't impossible to figure out--harder, certainly, than if they had a Greenpeace logo tucked away somewhere, but even with the logo some percentage of viewers would have missed it. Again, this is a conversation about weighing benefits and disadvantages, calculating risk and reward, not solemnly intoning universal maxims and discussing Plato.

"If you're offended, I apologize."

I'm not offended--remember this is all perfectly justifiable from my perspective. I just don't see how you reconcile it with your own position.

@ 80: "I can't see any way that one can omit details of the complexity of reality and still have it retain its full truth in all contexts. It's just not feasible."

There's no way, as far as I can tell, to avoid omitting the details of the complexity of reality. Ever. At all. Period. Any statement, no matter how information rich it is, no matter how detailed its provenance, will distort. The only question is what do you distort, and how much truth can you capture.

"In this particular context, the "holistic truth" that you seem to value does not include the degree to which Shell does or does not acknowledge the truth of global warming."

On the contrary, my position readily concedes the problem with misrepresenting Shell's acknowledgement of global warming. @ 17: "it does make Shell look a lot dumber than they actually are, and that is a blow to the accuracy of our information stream" and "ArcticReady corrupts our information stream in one way, and clarifies it in another." Rather, your argument is fixated on the inaccuracies that Greenpeace introduces to the information stream to the point that you cannot see any possible benefit deriving from their act.

" So you find a statement that includes the phrase "the Arctic is melting" to be functionally the same as one that does not."

I do not--the purpose of placing the two texts side by side was precisely to emphasize not only their substantial similarities, but also the crucial difference. Thus the bit below the two texts where I discuss the differences. It's how shocking it is to hear the admission that draws attention to its absence.

* I swear, I type "Greanpeace" every single time.

** and isn't the culmination of hoaxes the reveal? It's not as if this campaign was intended never to be discovered.

#97 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 03:36 PM:

Tom Whitmore @66: There's an obvious SF story possible about a small group engineering that happening in order to prevent global warming, and discovering it has unintended consequences.

I seem to recall reading/hearing something ten-twenty years ago to the effect that particulates resulting from air pollution had already reduced insolation by a measurable amount. E.g., were it not for air pollution, global warming would have been worse by now.

(Sorry, can't recall any specific cites, but it probably would have been Scientific American, or NOVA or somesuch.)

Lenny Bailes @76: Are we that far away from the public spirit shown by the populations of England and the U.S. in World War II. The air watch, and the scrap drives?

The primary difference being that where folks during WWII had actual, like, bombs and marching armies and suchlike to respond to, we're faced with flowers blooming too soon to feed the bees, and polar bears drowning because they can't find sea-ice. Our current danger is much more ... hypothetical. The real problem is that by the time it becomes directly and dramatically perceptible to the average individual, well ...

@95 re @94: Thank you, abi. That one sailed right over my head.

#98 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 04:18 PM:

heresiarch @96:

So what makes you certain that that sacrifice isn't exactly what is happening here?

It's back to the point that albatross @88 makes: there is a material difference between posting anonymously (like a whistleblower) and impersonating someone else. Particularly doing it with zero, absolutely no, traceability back to the actual source.

It's the difference between refusing to answer a question and lying. That's a huge difference.

So they sacrificed accountability in order to spread their information more widely--while one can disagree with whether the trade was worth it or not, we've entered a very different conversation than "one must never pollute the information stream" or "discourse is about accountability."

I'm still where I was in the OP: "They lied to me. They polluted the information stream. Discourse is about accountability, and they failed that test."

I was never at "divide by zero! the impossible has happened!" which appears to be where you think I was before your wisdom moved me to "they did a bad thing. Is it worth it?" That's where I was from the start, and from the start my answer was "no. The price is too high. The thing they damaged is too important."

This also moves us onto a far more complicated terrain. Perceived traceability wildly varies from viewer to viewer: there are plenty of people who mistake the Onion articles as truth. Others don't believe very well-documented facts. So what level of traceability legitimizes a satire?

How about we start from "more than zero" and work our way from there? What that site had was zero.

Again, this is a conversation about weighing benefits and disadvantages, calculating risk and reward, not solemnly intoning universal maxims and discussing Plato.

Strawman. I have not mentioned Plato, and I haven't intoned anything in this conversation. I am talking about risk and reward, or rather, cost and benefit. And I think the cost isn't worth the benefit, because what they did damaged the tool we use to solve problems as a society. You think that's OK. I don't, any more than I did when I wrote the original post.

I'm not offended--remember this is all perfectly justifiable from my perspective. I just don't see how you reconcile it with your own position.

As a worked example of an edge case, in a controlled environment. With, as I have noted, traceability. Unlike what Greenpeace did.

There's no way, as far as I can tell, to avoid omitting the details of the complexity of reality. Ever. At all. Period. Any statement, no matter how information rich it is, no matter how detailed its provenance, will distort. The only question is what do you distort, and how much truth can you capture.

And how you allow people to travel back upstream from your distortion to the original reality, to check your work and draw their own conclusions. Which requires, you know, attribution.

your argument is fixated on the inaccuracies that Greenpeace introduces to the information stream to the point that you cannot see any possible benefit deriving from their act.

Fixated? Can't see any benefit? Where did I say that?

I think the damage is greater than the benefit. I don't think allowing people the chance to caption pictures of arctic foxes and punch themselves lightly on the upper arm for getting one over on The Man excuses blatantly manipulating them. I'm willing to take the point bfscr @42 makes about inspiration for other activism as a plus, though.

But I think the next time one of these big companies actually says something dumb-ass, and people dismiss it because we don't know if it was really them or just Greenpeace crying polar bear again, it's going to be a negative consequence we don't need. Add a few more knockoffs and copycats, and it's going to be a hell of a lot easier for the liars to lie and the fools to perpetrate their folly, because who can tell who's telling the truth?

And this common discourse is the tool we have to use to convince people to sort out their double glazing, divest in oil company stocks, leave the hydrocarbons in the ground, and demand an end to fracking. Except we've damaged it.

I do not--the purpose of placing the two texts side by side was precisely to emphasize not only their substantial similarities, but also the crucial difference. Thus the bit below the two texts where I discuss the differences. It's how shocking it is to hear the admission that draws attention to its absence.

That was not what I took from your question about whether I could tell the difference between the two texts.

#99 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 04:29 PM:

albatross @ 88: "Putting words in other peoples' mouths in an attempt to score points or win arguments has nothing at all to do with writing under a pseudonym."

Absolutely agreed! Which is why a maxim that puts them both in the same category strikes me as a pretty bad maxim.

"Second, I'm trying to understand how "holistic truth" differs from noble lies intended to achieve some good purpose."

Myself, I'm trying to figure out how such a banal suggestion as paying attention to context has become some strange alien concept demanding scare quotes and befuddled stick-pokery. But I think I can help you out:

You're trying to establish a set of rules for discourse that will allow truth to emerge without taking an a priori stand on what is true. That is impossible: discourse is no more than the manipulation of symbols and there is no method capable of wringing truth from them without examining the reality to which they refer. There is nothing inherent in the sentence "I am drinking tea" that makes it more true than "I am not drinking tea" other than the fact that I am, actually, drinking tea.

So what's the difference between a noble lie I approve of and one I don't? Nothing more or less than reality: is the sacrifice being made worth the benefit?

(Oh, and: @ 12: "Pushback from your friends and supporters when you lie is the only way that we will see less lying in public." is nice and all, but it's based on the assumption that Greenpeace is actually a friend and ally of liberals. Rather not the case: "This sort of stuff is one of the reasons why I refuse to donate to or otherwise help Greenpeace in any way." and "They lost me over their racist depiction of Japanese whalers." and "I lost all patience and most of my respect for Greenpeace back when they ran a series of hysterical fear-mongering ads about genetically modified crops" and "I have no use for Greenpeace; they are a terrorist organization." and "I often don't approve of Greenpeace." Truth is, Greenpeace is widely regarded on the left as something between an embarrassment and a threat; denouncing them is only slightly more controversial than denouncing kitten-torture.)

#100 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 05:33 PM:

May I suggest dropping this discussion?
(ducks his head down)

#101 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 05:46 PM:

Abi, your explanation in #82 made a big difference for me. Thanks.

#102 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 06:05 PM:

heresiarch:

You're trying to establish a set of rules for discourse that will allow truth to emerge without taking an a priori stand on what is true. That is impossible: discourse is no more than the manipulation of symbols and there is no method capable of wringing truth from them without examining the reality to which they refer. There is nothing inherent in the sentence "I am drinking tea" that makes it more true than "I am not drinking tea" other than the fact that I am, actually, drinking tea.

This is horseshit sophistry. When a scientist fakes experimental results to prove something that later turns out to be true, this doesn't just serve the good purpose of convincing us of true statements, it also undermines everything else he and other scientists have done. The same thing happens when a reporter makes up quotes to support his take on a story, or when a policeman plants evidence to get a conviction of someone who he's pretty sure is guilty. Those don't just have an effect on that one case, they also undermine future attempts to understand the truth.

Worse, humans are actually pretty bad at determining the truth of complicated things. That's why we need procedures that make us play straight. The only reason to believe something as complicated and unpleasant as AGW that requires big CO2 emissions decreases to address is because of some faith that those processes are being followed--that people who understand climate modeling and atmospheric physics are checking each others' work, measuring and checking predictions against data. It wouldn't take much unchecked fraud inserted into that process before you stopped having much reason to trust it. (How much faith do you have in the balance sheets of big banks in the US right now? Surely most of the time, any falsification they're doing is like claiming lower borrowing rates in their LIBOR submissions, right? Just reassuring people that they're solvent, which they probably mostly are. So is there a problem there?)

When I see you justifying making shit up or falsifying data in the interests of proving what you know to be true (is there another way to read that line, above?), I see you justifying tossing sand into very delicate machinery that just barely works in the best of times.

#103 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 06:15 PM:

#96 ::: heresiarch If Greenpeace had released this site under their own logo, with the same payload, how many people would have seen it?

Few, as you suggest.

I suggest that's because Greenpeace has long-since squandered all of their credibility.

The damage is in the reaction that potential allies, on hearing new evidence of damage to the environment or misbehavior by corporations, will have as their first reaction, "This is another lie, like that thing Greenpeace did."

#104 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 07:03 PM:

albatross @102: The same thing happens when a reporter makes up quotes to support his take on a story,

Which is precisely parallel to this thing that Greenpeace did. Well, except that in this case, we've got the "journalist" stepping up to the mike and pretending to be the [politician].

Modulo parody. But then, Stephen Colbert is a Known Satirist, and his stuff is rather more obviously marked out as parody than, apparently, what Greenpeace did.

I guess the question of "truth" boils down to whether you think GP thought it would be obvious that they were doing satire.

#105 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 07:05 PM:

...which, of course, Jim expressed more clearly while I was tripping over my keyboard.

#106 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:17 PM:

Serge (#87) Just want to let you know that I appreciate Abi's offering justification (or operating principles) for what she does here.

I'd be looking to keep Norman sane, myself, rather than worrying about what you mentioned. (Although, if you work on the supply side, you might certainly want to vet equipment requests.)

#107 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 23, 2012, 10:29 PM:

#95: Poets artists, and world champion bloggers preserve their ability to communicate every second Tuesday. www.examiner.com/computer-virus-in-san-francisco/lenny-bailes

(Picard stood up for Hugh.)

#108 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 12:55 PM:

abi @ 98: "How about we start from "more than zero" and work our way from there? What that site had was zero."

It seems to me the only way for the site to have zero traceability is if it were true.

"Strawman. I have not mentioned Plato, and I haven't intoned anything in this conversation. I am talking about risk and reward, or rather, cost and benefit. And I think the cost isn't worth the benefit, because what they did damaged the tool we use to solve problems as a society."

It was Fragano who brought up Plato. I apologize for the implication it was you.

If this is about cost and benefit, then what do you think the benefit has been? This is the first post you've mentioned any benefit at all. Even your discussion of the damage to our discourse has been very abstract, more concerned with establishing that such damage occurred than defining its extent. Would it be correct to say that your position is any damage whatsoever to accountability exceeds any possible increase in knowledge? That's what I see when you write "discourse is about accountability," about accountability, as if it were the very quintessence of communication. It strikes me as a dangerous and misleading oversimplification.

I don't see our discourse, this tool we need to solve problems as a society, as damaged only by falsehood and unreliability. I see not containing knowledge of what Shell is doing in the Arctic and other lacunae as a profound vulnerability as well.

albatross @ 102: "This is horseshit sophistry."

And here I was, aiming for cowshit sophistry.

"When a scientist fakes experimental results to prove something that later turns out to be true, this doesn't just serve the good purpose of convincing us of true statements, it also undermines everything else he and other scientists have done. "

If you think the thrust of the paragraph you just quoted was to rationalize the faking of scientific results, then wow I wrote poorly. Rather, the point is to describe exactly why the fake results are false, even if they are correct. I argue the falsity is not due to anything internal to the lab report the scientist wrote, but due to the relation between what she wrote and what happened in the lab: it's not a discursive error, but a material one. Even if the equation she derives does describe the chemical reaction correctly, her speech does not describe correctly what happened.

The point is, it is impossible to talk about the validity and falsity of discourse without referencing the reality that gives it not just context, but meaning. So too is it impossible to talk about the ethicality* of discourse without reference to the reality surrounding it.

What makes O'Keefe's deception vile and Greenpeace's mixed? O'Keefe portrayed ACORN as doing things they do not do, for reasons they do not believe, in service of a political project that is evil. ArcticReady portrayed Shell as doing things they do, for reasons they do hold, in service of a political project that is worthy. Now, I ask you again: on what grounds do you hold O'Keefe in contempt? Because you have yet to articulate any principle that would find him wanting.

* Apparently this is a word.

#109 ::: heresiarch visits the gnomes and other stories for children ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 01:02 PM:

We are trying to write a collection together but the gnomes want to name the characters things like Aieieioua and Uiouooeae.

[The specific trigger was ACORN (all caps), frequently seen in far-right-wing spam, and other general spam comments that take right-wing texts for their bodies. -- Aieieioua U. Loucrezza, Duty Gnome]

#110 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 02:30 PM:

heresiarch @108:

I have never done this before on Making Light, but I'm declaring now that I am not prepared to go further with this discussion with you. No matter what I say, you're going to misinterpret it, attribute further attitudes to me that I neither hold nor have expressed, and liberally adorn your image of me with straw.

So go for it, but without my further assistance. Knock yourself out. I stand by what I've said in the thread.

#111 ::: LongHairedWeirdo ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 03:52 PM:

@39, I don't think I can handle seeing someone call despair a "sin" but that might be my own native prejudices.

What despair is (IMHO - and please believe that my opinion is *much* more humble than yours could ever be, so excruciatingly humble that the very concept of humility wails and gnashes its teeth - yes, humility grew *teeth*, just to have something to gnash! - at its thought - where was I? Oh, yeah, humble opinion.) What despair is is the soul killer, the mind killer, the joy killer, the everything killer.

It's not a sin - not by any moral system I can envision, though there are clearly moral systems I can't envision.

But it's ending, a premature ending, one that robs people of life and time and meaning. It's wasteful and destructive, and almost always pointless even when factually correct.

I don't see it as a sin, any more than I freezing to death in a blizzard as a sin, but I do see it as a horrible thing, one that anyone of any compassion should be willing to help others avoid.

#112 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 03:53 PM:

This happens too much. When I think about the serious conversations I've been part of here over the past few years, the ones where I've really committed myself, so many of them were agonizing slogs through emotional hell. So many of them left me and the community miserable.

I love it here. I love the discussions we have, the eclectic collection of smart and expressive people. There's nowhere else I've ever been with the deep, wise, and insightful conversations I've found here. I love being part of this community. And more and more, I am certain I am making it worse with my presence.

Somehow I have lost my ability to contribute light to this place. I don't know how to get it back. So I think I have to go.

I am banning myself from Making Light.

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 03:59 PM:

heresiarch @112:

Is there no middle ground? Can you not walk away from a discussion when it starts going That Way?

If not, could I spot you, and say something when things are turning sour?

It's true that we've had some discussions that have gone exasperatingly wrong, but I'd be very sorry to not have you around. You say a lot of smart, wise things.

#114 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 04:05 PM:

heresiarch @ 112... Somehow I have lost my ability to contribute light to this place.

No you haven't, but what do I know?

#115 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 04:25 PM:

I really hope heresiarch reconsiders. Really really really.

OTOH, everybody needs time off sometimes. But.

#116 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 04:38 PM:

I would also hate to see heresiarch gone for good. Some conversations go bad, true. Sometimes you need a break, true. But I would miss heresiarch if s/he left entirely.

#117 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 04:39 PM:

What Xopher said.

#118 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 04:57 PM:

It seems to me that a large part of the argument here rests upon the disagreement about the penetrability of Greenpeace's hoax.

If we compare Greenpeace to other culture jammers, well, let's take Ron English as an example. His work is polished enough that it's obviously the work of a professional, while also being clearly not the work of the owner of the trademark being depicted. In many cases, he flags the work with a clear parody name, like his "Capt'n Cornstarch" parody of Cap'n Crunch. It's hard to imagine an adult being fooled into thinking English's fat Ronald McDonald is an actual McDonalds ad.

Adbusters generally does the same thing --- a parody name like "Joe Chemo" (for Joe Camel), or a blatant reference to something the original advertiser would like covered up, or both.

Greenpeace, by presenting their fake ads in the context of a fake viral campaign, and inviting readers to make their own, obscured some of the cues we used to tell real from fake. When I first saw them, I wasn't sure what was going on. That photo of a polar bear in the water is pretty much asking for a caption about glacial melt. Were these user-submitted photos? If not, had Shell provided photos that would invite users to criticize their practices? If I'd bothered to hunt down the interface for submitting ads, I could have figured this out, but frankly, I wasn't that interested. And I'm a relatively media-savvy American. I can easily imagine members of my family being taken in.

#119 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 05:15 PM:

Avram @118:

Well, even Cory Doctorow fell for one element of the campaign at first.

But the other question is, what's the minimum level of canniness you can assume? Unsophisticated, unsuspicious people vote, too. We're not trying to create a society where only switched-on people with plenty of time to ponder and research are entitled to the truth.

I know the people who have said "well, I saw right through the deception" don't also intend to be saying, "sucks to those who didn't." But there is, at the very least, a risk of a kind of intellectual and cultural elitism in figuring that all the important people could see the joke.

#120 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 05:18 PM:

Also, there is a gap between realizing that it's a fake and knowing whence the fake comes.

#121 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 05:35 PM:

hersiarch:

I also hope you are able to stick around, and understand (and sympathize with) sometimes feeling like some kinds of discussions get really draining for everyone. What I suspect is happening here is that we're running into places where the commonly-held model of the world we have, and the one you're bringing into a discussion, are different enough that it's hard to even communicate. That's where there is both:

a. The greatest opportunity to learn something you never caught or understood before.

and

b. The greatest opportunity for a conversational trainwreck, complete with hurt feelings and angry mutters.

I don't have any great wisdom to offer here (if I did, I'd use it on myself), but heresiarch, I find your presence and participation here to be very valuable on all sorts of levels, even when I think you're all wrong (which is kinda common).

#122 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 05:47 PM:

abi/Avram:

To my mind, the issue is all about the fake. I have zero objection to Greenpeace making clever spoofs of Shell ads or cuttingly satirizing their actions and words. I just object to misleading people into thinking Shell is writing/endorsing something they aren't writing/endorsing, because that makes it harder for people to get a true picture of who is saying what.

Largely, I come at this as a guy who spends a lot of time trying to learn new stuff, outside my experience and expertise, often in a second language. It would be easy to trick me in many areas where I try to learn more about the world, understand who said what and why, etc. I don't like it when people pollute the information stream with disinformation and lies and BS.

Now, there's obviously no way to eliminate all of this. If I came across a Colbert-like spoof of Spanish political/media figures, in Spanish, I might be convinced it was real for a long time, so limited is my sophistication in that area. One important difference here is that Colbert is intended to be understood as satire, and confused foreigners using their limited English skills to follow it are collateral damage, whereas at least for awhile, my understanding is that the GP/Shell ads were intended to be understood as coming from Shell. (Is that not true? If the goal and expectation was that almost everyone who read them would know right away that they were satire, then I'm not terribly concerned about the lack of a blinking "satire" warning on the bottom of the screen.)

#123 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 05:59 PM:

albatross @122:
If the goal and expectation was that almost everyone who read them would know right away that they were satire, then I'm not terribly concerned about the lack of a blinking "satire" warning on the bottom of the screen.

Well, it's worth questioning how thoroughly they validated that goal and expectation. See my comments about intellectual and cultural elitism above. It's easy to fall into the attitude that the people who don't get it are chumps, somehow, and not worth fussing too much about.

(I find it hard not to read contempt into this entire incident. That may just be me failing to get the wry, clever humor of the situation, yet again. On the other hand, I am entitled to my negative reactions. I come by them honestly.)

But that still leaves the issue of genuine attribution: if you detect that this isn't really Shell talking, but don't know who it is, are you far enough forward?

#124 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 06:02 PM:

heresiarch, please reconsider. You will be very much missed.

#125 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 06:12 PM:

heresiarch, we'll leave the light on for you. The key is in the usual place behind the potted plant.

#126 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 06:50 PM:

heresiarch -- joining the chorus, without much more to add.

#127 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 07:31 PM:

heresiarch, please do not depart.

#128 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 07:39 PM:

abi @119, the other other question is, who's the stooge?

My general impression of the Yes Men has always been that one of the targets of their pranks has been the news media. Seeing professional journalists fall for a prank can be worthwhile, because those are the people who are supposed to be sifting useful information from dross. They're the ones claiming that we need their unique skills and access in order to stay informed, so if they can't penetrate a hoax with all that skill and access, well, har har. (A bitter kind of har har, because we're still stuck with a crappy news industry.)

In the Shell case, I dunno. It looks like maybe the general Twitter-and-Facebook-using public is the stooge. That's less funny. Like you said, there's a strong whiff of elitism to this prank.

Also, if the news media get stung, they've got a professional incentive to sharpen up their act. (In theory, at least. I can dream, can't I?) The general public are more likely to just get sour and disengaged.

#129 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 07:52 PM:

Stepping out of my normal lurking mode to add my voice to agree with Xopher and others on the subject of Heresiarch.

#130 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 08:12 PM:

Avram @ 128... the other other question is, who's the stooge?

Fine, Howard, or Howard?

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 08:12 PM:

abi, #123: It's easy to fall into the attitude that the people who don't get it are chumps, somehow, and not worth fussing too much about.

Sort of like the Republican vote-fraud hoaxes that turn up every election season, often with a very official-looking gloss -- "Due to expected heavy turnout, Republicans should vote on Tuesday and Democrats on Wednesday." I've heard exactly that argument made (not here) about those -- that anyone who could be fooled that way is too dumb to vote. I don't think anybody in this conversation would agree with that.

There are certainly places where it's valid to say that a base level of savvy is assumed -- that's why some college courses have prerequisites. I don't think a political ad campaign fits any of the parameters for that assumption.

The other thing that occurs to me is that by having done this, Greenpeace is playing into the meme of "there's no difference between the two sides". We know that sources like Fox News blatantly and routinely lie about checkable information, and some of us spend rather a lot of time and effort trying to get the word out about it; what does this incident say about our news sources?

#132 ::: Autarch ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 08:59 PM:

Joining the chorus - heresiarch, please don't leave.

#133 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2012, 11:47 PM:

Heresiarch, no. This is so wrong. It's the wrong universe entirely.

#134 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 12:15 AM:

Heresiarch, you take more damage because you think more and care more, and are more alive to what's going on.

One of the biggest reasons I moderate is that hatefulness takes the top off of conversations. Those who love them best get hurt the most.

#135 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 12:25 AM:

Heresiarch, if you're reading at all. A handful of days ago you made a comment insightful enough to get cited in the original post, and which I thought was indeed a jewel of that conversation.

This was not random chance, nor was it terribly atypical, even when you feel drained by the effort.

Rest up and take time if it helps. But don't banish yourself. Certainly not when our gracious hosts and moderators seem to be saying en masse that they would not ask it of you. Come back when you feel that coming back will make you more joyful.

#136 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 12:28 AM:

I wish this thread had actually started at #118... Avram and abi got to the core of it all in 118 and 119.

Was GP trying to imitate the success of the (extremely risky) Book Burning Party campaign, and trying to build rage with the hopes of turning it into activistic anger at Shell? GP revealed the hoax a week later on their own site.

Were they going to do that all along, or were they forced into it by the the general reaction? The answer to that would tell us if this was parody or just plain lying to advance their cause.

If they were going to reveal, then the gap abi mentions in #120 becomes necessary to pulling off GP's intent. If they weren't, then that gap is damning evidence.

I personally believe they were going for the parody, and at least thought they were being obvious enough by using cheap props in the "video" and telltales like "The Arctic is melting." abi's comment about the risk of elitism, however, is fair. The ad was clearly fake to me, but then I have had some exposure to advertising and professional-level video production. The people who made the video know full well that a large number of people would see this and take it at face value.

So it all gets back to: Were they cynically taking advantage of their audience, or were they trying a gimmick to promote maximum exposure? As many have pointed out, GP has a history that might encompass the former. I'm hoping for the latter, but won't be sending any checks to GP, JIC.

#137 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 01:19 AM:

heresiarch, I'm adding my plea for you not to leave Making Light permanently. If you need to take a break, fine, we all need to get some fresh air sometimes. But please do come back when you are ready. I value your presence here: you have changed my mind about several issues with your comments, and I've always been impressed by your knowledge, your articulateness1, and your passion.

1. If that's not a word I'll have to use "articulation" and that's got to be wrong: it's surely not about how well you move at the joints.

#138 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 02:25 AM:

A really minor point, when I came across Abi's post (I had managed to miss the whole thing prior to that), my first thought was to see who owned the domain. The mailing address is a P.O. box in Vancouver, WA, which seems unlikely for Shell. The phone number appears to belong to a web design company in that town. It's not conclusive, but my hunch is that this company doesn't do a lot of high-profile PR sites for Fortune 500 companies. The email address goes to a whois privacy company, which doesn't tell us much (many individuals and companies do this). The concluding clue came from the nameservers for articfirst.com: mayfirst.org. I can imagine a world in which Shell sets up a mayfirst.org for some reason, but I find it pretty implausible that they could accurately capture that tone.

But that definitely falls into the category of "internet inside baseball"; I doubt it was an intentional attempt to tip people off.

And I want to express my agreement with the idea that there's a difference between hoaxing the news media (which involves temporarily misleading the general public), and hoaxing the general public. It's possible that GreenPeace missed that distinction, and thought they were following in the footsteps of AdBusters.

#139 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 02:32 AM:

edward oleander @136:
I wish this thread had actually started at #118... Avram and abi got to the core of it all in 118 and 119.

Not entirely. There's another important factor, which isn't in those comments: the consequences of screwing around with what I've been calling "the discourse". It is my opinion that the failure mode of this kind of spoof is too great.

There's a difference between walking along a line in the sidewalk and tightrope walking over the Niagara. More people do the former than the latter, because the consequences of failure are more acceptable. I don't think Greenpeace was entitled to take the risk of misinterpretation, whether deliberate or not, because the thing they had with them up there on that tightrope is both fragile and precious.

If they were going to reveal, then the gap abi mentions in #120 becomes *necessary* to pulling off GP's intent.

In which case my visceral reaction is, "fuck them for using people like that." But I don't like embarrassment humor either. I'm aware that this is not a universal distaste.

#140 ::: Jeremy Leader has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 02:33 AM:

"Too many URLs".

I'd say it reminded me of the "too many notes" scene from "Mozart", but I'm more of a Salieri of blog commenting, especially compared to some of the Making Light commentariat (including you, heresiarch!).

When I head to the kitchen after this post, maybe I can bring back an extra piece of zucchini bread for the gnomes?

#141 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 02:38 AM:

Jeremy Leader @140:

Not too many URLs. Just that one of the entities you mention is a business type that tends to spam.

#142 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 05:04 AM:

heresiarch, please stay, or at least come back when you feel sufficiently recharged. You'd be sadly missed! From where I'm lurking - usually somewhere around the opposite side of the argumentative Fluorosphere, FWIW - you certainly haven't lost your ability to illumine.

#143 ::: Gray Woodland is carrying a great cake through the gnome-roads to get to the blog ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 05:16 AM:

I have done some chuff-headed thing and I wot not what it was.

[It was a piddly matter of spacing. The spammers have deployed a countermeasure to the word-filters. We have invented a counter-countermeasure. Perhaps we will describe it someday. Until then ... all gnomed posts are examined and released if found real. And our tea is hot and tasty. -- Mourgin O'Robis, Duty Gnome]

#144 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 05:31 AM:

I awoke around 4:30 EDT. I'd been dreaming that Heresiarch and I were admiring a naturally occurring problem that retained a symmetrical palindromic structure when rotated along any of three axes, one of which required that the problem also be turned inside-out.

We agreed that it was a species of treasure trove, since so few naturally occurring problems are that snowflake-tidy.

A person standing nearby asked us whether we were now going to solve it. We said that wasn't the point (forbearing to point out that the rotation was the solution), but perhaps someone would write a villanelle about it.

I'm going back to sleep now.

#145 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 07:39 AM:

If you invert the problem, you will see,
The premise and conclusion will rotate -
That resolution forms immediately.

A mirror image will appear if we
Set up a polished discourse, and dilate –
If you invert the problem, you will see.

Or else, ignore mundane topology.
Try palindrome. You might as well create.
If you invert the problem, you will see

It has reversed. Coincidentally,
Reflections can be made that will negate
That. Resolution forms immediately,

But is it carried? No. Regrettably,
Inversion is perversion, we agree –
If you invert. The problem, you will see,

Is one of errantry, asymmetry,
Of different angles, and may be innate.
If you invert the problem, you will see
That resolution forms immediately.

#146 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 09:23 AM:

[sustained applause]

#147 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 09:48 AM:

(Brain explodes; light everywhere.)

#148 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 10:06 AM:

Dave Luckett @145:

Absolutely awesome! (*cheers, whistles, throws flowers*)

#149 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 10:06 AM:

Dave Luckett @145: Glorious!

#150 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 11:37 AM:

Cheers indeed!

#151 ::: Tom Whitmore visits the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 11:38 AM:

Perhaps my comment was too short?

#152 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 11:51 AM:

That was great, Dave. Teresa pointed me at it, her face full of delight.

#153 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 12:00 PM:

Dave 145: That's amazing. Bravo!

#154 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 01:37 PM:

144 and 145 are themselves a species of treasure trove, separately and in combination. As are all entities who inspired it.

#155 ::: giltay ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2012, 02:39 PM:

I'm not sure if there is much to add to the conversation after #145 (wow), but.

I came across this rather a while ago, and I was taken in, then someone quickly revealed the hoax to me.

The way it was presented to me was, "Here is a marketing fail by Shell by allowing user-submitted content." That is, the stuff purportedly written by Shell was secondary, and that the real point of it was to look at what everybody was making and upvoting. That is, the site pretended that there were a lot of people, unorganized, who decided to lampoon Shell all on their own.

That is, to me, Greenpeace's sin was less in pretending to speak for Shell, but in engaging in astroturfing.

#156 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 01:39 AM:

In the first place, I see that I have mangled the villanelle form unforgiveably.

In the second, I regret that it seems to have ended the thread, more or less. Thank you to all who enjoyed it. I'll have another go, maybe, later, and try to do better.

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