What does Greenpeace’s “Shell” hoax tell us about America?
Summary: Small events act as valuable “tells”, showing us how America has changed. They give us evidence, allowing us to benchmark ourselves vs. our forefathers. Today we look at Greenpeace’s hoax about Shell, a demonstration of how skilled experts conduct politics in 21st America. Let’s not waste time condemning Left and Right for using methods that work so well. Rather let’s change so that they no longer work so well.
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat? … Do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
— From A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt — This applies just as well to truth as the law (analogy by Abi Sutherland)
- About the hoax by Greenpeace
- Some reactions to the hoax
- Lessons learned from the hoax
- Historical precedents
- For more information
(1) About the hoax by Greenpeace
- The fake website: Shell in the Arctic
- The @shellisprepared fake Twitter feed
- They confess: Greenpeace, the Yes Men and the inside story of #ShellFail
- they explain: “Was Greenpeace’s Shell Hoax Brilliant Or ‘Villainous’? One Of The Guys Behind It All Speaks“, Kashmir Hill, Forbes Staff
Here’s the video that went viral:
(2) Some reactions to the hoax
“How Greenpeace Manipulated the Media Like a Pro: Analyzing the Shell Oil Hoax“, Ryan Holiday, Forbes — Of course Greenpeace is a pro at manipulating the media! Excerpt:
You know media manipulation is rampant when even Greenpeace is doing it. There is no other way to describe the “Arctic Fail” hoax that the environmental group pulled off earlier this week. It was media manipulation in its purest form. It may have been done for noble reasons, but that doesn’t change the salient fact that they are manipulating the media by creating a fake scandal and lying about it to get more coverage. … From what I deduce the roll out went like this:
“Epic Shell PR fail? No, the real villains here are Greenpeace“, Martin Robbins, blog of the New Statesman — Excerpt:
Of course manipulating the media turned out to be frighteningly easy in this case. … the speed and carelessness with which the main news sites copy and repackage each other’s content means that these errors are compounded and multiplied at a furious rate. Throw in the awesome power of social media, and one blogger’s late night fuck-up can become a truth spoken by millions before breakfast. Evolution has not yet gifted us social apes with sceptical powers to match our fascination with ‘like’ buttons.
The real villain here is Greenpeace. This is an NGO that thinks it is acceptable to lie to the public, to lie to bloggers and journalists, and to then intimidate writers with threatening emails warning of legal action. This absolutely is not okay. I don’t care if you’re saving the Arctic, rescuing kittens from YouTube’s vicious pet-celebrity training camps, or training pandas to pull famine-ridden children out of earthquake debris; to behave in this deceitful way demonstrates an astonishing amount of contempt for the public – not least for environmentalist supporters who spread their message in good faith only to find themselves forced into embarrassing retractions.
Fro an explanation of the con see “Shell Oil’s Social Media Nightmare Continues, Thanks To Skilled Pranksters Behind @ShellisPrepared” be Kashmir Hill at Forbes.
(3) Lessons learned from the hoax
Smart people run today’s media campaigns, people who have studied and understand the American people. They know that Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 1 September 2010:
Our leaders (both left and right) have discovered that they can successfully lie to us. Insights like that can change the course of nations.
More generally, speaking the truth to Americans doesn’t work well. Games, exaggerations, misrepresentations — even blatant lies — work well. The Romney campaign has worked this insight to the max. Polls show their effectiveness (details here). Paul Krugman nails it with the precision of an opponent:
… the fact that for several days running the central theme of the Romney campaign has rested on a complete lie. I understand; going on about the dishonesty can get boring. But we should step back often to look at this remarkable spectacle. I really don’t think there’s been anything like this in American political history: a presidential campaign, with a pretty good chance of winning, that is based entirely on cynical lies about what the sitting president has said. No, Obama hasn’t apologized for America; no, he hasn’t denigrated achievement. Yet take away those claims, and there’s nothing left in Romney’s rhetoric.
This is too harsh an insight for many people. The most common way to reduce the cognitive dissonance: “it’s always been so.” Sadly it’s not so.
- The Founding generations, up though the time of Jackson, were more engaged — reading a sterner diet of works like The Federalist Papers.
- The generation which fought the Civil War listened to the multi-hour-long intense Lincoln-Douglas debates.
- For more about this see A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?
Even their slogans had real meanings.
- William Henry Harrison, 1840: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” — Back then fighting Indians, even small battles, had great symbolic significance.
- James K. Polk, 1844: “54-40 or fight” — Expanding the USA from sea to shining sea.
- James Blaine, 1884: “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” Blaine’s opponent, Grover Cleveland, had an illegitimate son, when that was considered significant.
(4) Historical precedents
There is nothing new under the sun. Lies have often been effective tools for statesmen seeking to rule foolish people.
(a) The Noble Lie, from Plato’s The Republic
“this myth … would have a good effect making them more inclined to care for the state and one another”
(b) The Big Lie: from chapter 10 of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf
All this was inspired by the principle — which is quite true in itself — that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.
(5) For more about propaganda used against us
- Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
- More propaganda: the eco-fable of Easter Island, 4 February 2010
- A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
- About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
- Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
- Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations, 15 September 2010
- The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
- Why Conservatives are winning: they use the WMD of political debate, 28 April 2011
- Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
- Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
- More use of the big lie: shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011