The Risk-Monger

Anyone who has been lied to, deceived or cheated knows that lying is not OK. But outside of using others (of not treating others with the respect and dignity that an individual requires as a person with intrinsic worth), a liar sells their own integrity down the river – that they themselves (their personhood) has no worth. Even if you get away with the lie, it comes back, perhaps in the quiet of the night, to haunt the liar (unless they are schizophrenic or a malicious recidivist).

Companies and governments enforce strict codes of conduct to prevent staff from acting inappropriately. Employees are given the ethics codes on their first day in the office, contracts clearly stipulate ethical grounds for dismissal and Corporate Social Responsibility standards are enforced industry wide. So why then do environmental activists think it is OK to lie in order to spread their campaigns?

This week my social media and email accounts filled up with concerned individuals who were horrified to learn that Monsanto was awarded the Nobel Prize for Agriculture. A few problems: there is no such thing as a Nobel Prize for Agriculture, the World Food Prize that was tied to it is managed by a small foundation based in Iowa, USA (and with a link to a 1970 Nobel laureate, Norman Borlaug) and the small award was given to biotech researchers back in June of this year. But as Goebbels taught us, the bigger the lie … It is a clever lie to tell as the Nobel organisation are awarding great researchers in October, so people can believe it, share their outrage and remind themselves that they really hate Monsanto and GMOs (complacency is the enemy of activist outrage campaigns so you must keep the hatred raw and vitriolic). And it was clever legally as well, since it was not a news story that the liars could be sued for as the organisation – the Washington based Sum of Us – spread the deception via a petition (safety in numbers of signatories), using quotes for terms like “Nobel Prize for Agriculture” and putting question marks at the end of their declarations. But it is still lying because the aim was to get people to think something that was not true.

This is not unusual for environmental activists. Greenpeace have subcontracted the Yes-Men to spread viral videos that are completely fabricated and which they then communicated widely as “news” thinking that most people will recognise that the activities are meant to be spoofs. The problem is that they do a very good job making the “news” look realistic. Take for example the 2012 Greenpeace-Yes-Men spoof of a Shell press conference that went badly wrong – most people who shared it virally did not realise that it was not true (that is was a fabricated event intended to hurt Shell’s reputation and further the outrage of their anti-Shell campaigning). In a social-media discussion where I accused Greenpeace of lying, they said that the goal was to raise awareness of Shell’s activities in the Arctic and was thus wholly justifiable. Greenpeace even gloated at how clever their lying was.

This is rather Machiavellian – that the end justifies the means, and if you believe that saving the planet is more important than behaving properly, then perhaps you can sleep at night. If you believe that those you are waging campaigns against are also lying and deceiving, then perhaps you can convince yourself that you are merely a “noble liar”. I don’t believe this myself. I believe that any lying degrades humanity, destroys personal credibility and integrity and brings us all down. I think it is high time for environmental NGOs to consider internal ethical codes of good conduct (and no, transparency is not an ethical standard!). This is necessary especially as organisations like Greenpeace think that they have the right to break laws and don’t understand that others indeed have the right to enforce laws for good reason (so 30 rather naïve idealists will likely rot in a Russian jail for a long time).

It is not just environmental NGOs that need to learn that noble self-righteousness does not justify ethical impropriety. I was quite surprised to see that the WHO was “perception-moulding the truth” regarding e-cigarettes. In a recent report, the WHO FCTC had raised issues on the data on e-cigarettes because it would otherwise risk reversing the progress that has been achieved in denormalising tobacco. How dare the truth come out and interfere with a good campaign. I don’t have enough space to consider how, in the past, the IPCC has “interpreted certain facts and data”.

White lies might be justifiable if we feel they are insignificant and that people want to believe certain things (the wife who asks her husband if “her dress makes her look fat” is rarely asking for the truth). So do activists and WHO administrators feel that they are doing a service by giving people misinformation because they want to believe that Monsanto, Shell or Big Tobacco are evil? Goebbels knew that the German people needed to believe in the greatness of the Third Reich, so perhaps he was also just telling a series of very efficient white lies.

Deception is never harmless or justifiable.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Yes, deception is never harmless. But this post is so blatantly one-sided that it amounts to an editorial failure to have it promoted via blogactiv.eu

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter, but why is it one-sided? Is it because almost all companies have and implement ethical codes of conduct? Is it because, if and when a corporate representative is caught lying, there is hell to pay? My question is simple – when activists lie (and even gloat about it), why is it OK? Why is there no comparable ethical standards or policing of their actions and statements? Wouldn’t you agree that this is an unacceptable double standard? Is the bias on my end … or maybe yours?

  2. Thanks for sharing! You raise some very interesting thoughts and questions. Indeed it is intersting to see how easily NGOs are forgiven and can get away with some actions.

    1. Thanks Roxane and Jolie for your comments. I have written elsewhere that we hold watchdogs to different standards. A watchdog can bark at the moon 99 times out of a hundred and we would still justify keeping it while were a scientist or industry actor found to be wrong one time out of a million, we would find that absolutely unacceptable. This is what I call the trust deficit, influenced in part by the existence of a profit motive with industry or the perception of care that the NGO activsts assume. But the double-standards are getting far too pronounced.

  3. Very well said, Risk Monger.
    Thank you.
    It is such a breath of fresh air to read a post of such realistic, respectful and clear views.
    Your opinion is a great example of ethical Middle-Way.
    The only path to harmonious living is, undoubtedly, integrity. And this is to manifest in each of our actions whatsoever.
    Again, thank you.

  4. Absolutely true, unfortunately. NGOs like Greenpeace are permanently cheating and manipulating people. And they are not alone, lying turns out to be a good business for many followers nowadays. Such NGOs are springing up like mushrooms.

    Risk Monger, I share your views on this and other matters you have commented. Things have to be spelled the right way.Thanks.

  5. “I believe that any lying degrades humanity, destroys personal credibility and integrity and brings us all down.”

    It is really disgusting to read someone like you give lectures on honesty and intellectual integrity. Well, actually, no, it’s quite normal, the first paragraph for instance definitely smells first-hand experience… For the rest, what you say could be extended to any public relation and advertisement campaign. You want to take on the advertisement industry? Please do! Let’s see to what extent your behaviour matches the values you profess!!

    1. Well said Sue. Your comment captures what I referred to as the noble liar. You are quite happy living with the prejudice that all people coming out of industry must be liars, evil and, well, add your favourite well-honed expletive (and you have concluded as someone who had worked for industry ten years ago, that I must also rape babies for idle amusement). I think you should look at where this prejudice of yours was developed and reaffirmed – were these organisations economical with the truth? And why do they want you to believe this? I never denied that industry has had problems (and paid heavily when caught) but codes and standards have been implemented and enforced by industry fully aware that in a world with money and temptations, unethical behaviour can take place (same in advertising and consulting). I am merely asking why NGOs don’t attempt to put the same control measures on the behaviour of their lobbyists. That you are disgusted by me (don’t worry, I disgust myself sometimes when I try to share thoughts that are too open-ended) indicates that you are assuming some sort of moral superiority (nobility) over me. If that makes you feel better about yourself, then that’s fine. I am pretty sure we don’t pray in the same church. I asked a simple question and you are pretty sure of the answer – that the problem is me.

  6. Me a “noble liar”??? How dare you insult me, you don’t know who I am, nothing I said was a lie!! On the other hand you inflict on euractiv readers some of the dirtiest companies’ talking points (on bees for instance) and add to that a mix of smear and fake humility that is actually pretty unique, so allow me to express my feelings of reader – I guess you’ll find a way to spin that into a compliment for yourself… This was the basis of my initial reaction, not because you somehow worked for the private sector ten years ago (which I actually ignored, which company exactly hired this brilliant mind of yours? Pesticides?). For the rest your blog is, I’m sorry to repeat, disgusting to my taste but it is also more than that: it is defamatory. The first case you mention is to protest about a prize (they write ““Nobel Prize of agriculture” — the prestigious World Food Prize –” in the introduction) whose awards ceremony will happen soon, quoting press sources from last spring for the choice of winners, so no lie involved, contrary to what your title says. So no “simple question” to answer. And if you want an answer to the question you ask in your comment, my feeling is that NGOs seem only the tip of the iceberg as far as political campaigns go, the bulk of it is volunteer individuals. Your “control measures on the behaviour of their lobbyists” in that case is the law. Such as the one against defamation.

    1. Read the blog more carefully (I was not thinking of you Sue when I wrote the term “noble liar” last week). I am trying to get people to think rather than simply reacting on the basis of their prejudices. I am sorry to say this Sue, but your comment is a bit reflective of a stereotype I have tried not to generalise about. You have expressed your views, clearly, now read a few of the comments above and respect the point that not everyone thinks like you do. Thank you.

  7. I read your blog and the following comments very carefully and I am providing you with solid evidence that your blog is defamatory, which you do not dispute because you cannot. Your statement that you have been trying not to generalise about certain behaviours is just laughable, you’re putting together – and rather clumsily – anything you can find on “environmental activists” to call them liars and now you’re reproaching me of being biased? I stop trying to discuss with you. For the rest, none of the above commenters have provided any basis for their compliments, are you sure those are real persons and not you? Can you publish the list of IP addresses of your commenters?

    1. Look Sue, we all believe what we want to believe – what makes us feel good about ourselves, but we also have to be reasonable.
      You find good reason to trust an organisation that created a fake award using the Nobel coat-tails based on a small Iowa award that happened in June and started a petition drive to stop it. You also choose to believe that it is impossible for anyone to agree with me and that I must be making up these comments. You have gone so far as to demand the IP addresses of those who had commented to prove I did not lie.
      I guess we all have our standards of what is reasonable.

  8. Risk Monger,

    I really wonder why you are spending your time speaking with a person who simply does not want to hear anything else but her squawk. Typical for these hysterical persons, they are “providing you with solid evidence” – offending personally and shouting loudly. Anybody saw the evidence?

    Discussing with fanatics and appealing for being reasonable – forget. And on the top she asks for IP addresses – this lady either works for KGB or is spending many hours watching criminal films. Funny, isn’t it?

    1. Thank you for your sympathy Mike, but this is an important issue. Over the last 15 years of policy-making, I have seen the different stakeholders growing further apart. We are all surrounding ourselves in our silos, comforting and reaffirming our views by preaching to our selected choirs. As social media narrows our networks even more, people are no longer hearing other views or imagining that people could think differently. It is creating a swell of intolerance and the spreading of ideas that, if shared and repeated enough, start to make sense (what I call Goebbels 101).
      I was talking to some of my university students on Monday who attended the March against Monsanto last Saturday, and they seem convinced that if they keep pushing, they can have the company dismantled. Several other students had never heard of Monsanto. There needs to be more interaction – we are no longer watching the same evening news programmes or discussing the same ideas (so much for the Internet’s knowledge revolution) – whether it is Fox News conservatives in the US, Greenpeace ideologues or industry Yes-Men, we are losing our capacity for mutual understanding. When I say that I would like to get people to think, what I mean is to have them realise that others have different ideas. Sometimes I feel I have opened some eyes, often they have opened my eyes, and then other times, everyone just gets angry. The point is that our communication tools are narrowing dialogue, and that should be a growing concern.

  9. A shame – I have never visited or read blogactiv.eu before but when I visited it and read your post I assumed it was a place for sharing and discussing ideas – for people that were interested and passionate about the various topics. A pity to see that instead of actively engaging in a debate or putting in own thoughts, the commentators above are more interested in attacking you as a person and their own subjective feelings towards you. As a commentator asked above – I am quite real and not a fake profile. And once again thank you to the Risk Monger for writing this as by judging on the replies there is indeed a need for different perspectives and thoughts – and understanding.

    1. Don’t worry Roxane – blogactiv is an open site and they have always supported me when there have been complaints. Don’t be discouraged – people have used emotion and rhetoric to try to win arguments since the time of the pre-Socratics. It is just that their communications tools have become more sophisticated.

  10. Dear Roxanne & Mike, provided you’re not the Risk Monger himself (this is not paranoia but a too frequent practice by bloggers posting offensive material – being their own judge and jury is one of the problems posed by bloggers)

    I can’t quite understand how you expect “sharing and discussing ideas” with the Risk Monger under a post that only consists in attacking two campaigns using hastily assembled arguments in the pursuit of smear and insults (unless you consider calling someone a liar, even noble, is a normal way of reaching the “mutual understanding” he so mentions in his comment to you Mike). Of course people have different views on things (luckily! what a boring world if we all agreed all the time) but there is not point in professing respect and humility while doing the opposite. Ironically what he says on the way modern communication tools hinder genuine mutual understanding by letting people choose only sources of information they agree with is quite true and I share the worry; but his way of writing does nothing to create respectful, contradictory debate. Getting rid of his own prejudices (and reading some of his posts you hesitate to write hatred) for anything having to do with the environmental movement might help, as a starting point; but for him the whole thing is nothing more than “building green temples” (see his blog’s presentation) and environmental activists should be put in prison (yes, Risk Monger, you wrote that no later than last August http://risk-monger.blogactiv.eu/2013/08/19/greenpeace%E2%80%99s-colonialist-ambitions/ ). I’ve seen better starts for proper conversations.

    1. Sue, I am not sure your reply counts as an apology to Mike and Roxane – it looks more as disbelief robed in the opportunity to hurl further insults.
      The hatred of mine that you refer to should be put in context:

      Any corporate entity that behaved in such a manner (culturally disrespectful and promoting actions outside of local laws) would not only be shut down, but their executives would be tossed in prison cells. When innocent lives are lost, people suffering from increased malnutrition and development opportunities wasted by such myopic colonialists, I find the jail-time solution perfectly appropriate.

      Once again, I am highlighting the double standards – we should not celebrate Greenpeace breaking the law with consequences of 500-700,000 infant deaths a year as a mere consequence of their environmental puritanism while accepting that industry officials who break the law are tossed in jail.
      If that is the best you can do to find hatred in my writings, then let me help you. In two blogs, I have referred to BP as a weed of a company with zero integrity that should be shut down. http://risk-monger.blogactiv.eu/2010/05/07/pulling-out-the-weeds-bp-and-corporate-integrity/#.Ul-nSvmw1Bk I have also referred to the mobile phone industry, in two blogs, collectively, as a pack of liars that will suffer a generation of litigation http://risk-monger.blogactiv.eu/2012/01/13/4g-and-the-coming-cancer-crisis/#.Ul-m7_mw1Bk. I have been less than polite to the automotive, crop protection and electronics industries but I suppose you missed those. Funny, none of these industry reps come crying to me that I have been unfair or unkind although I have received emails off-line where they respectfully (ie, no name-calling vitriol) try to explain their decisions.
      You have already decided that everything I say is hateful nonsense so I really do not see the point in continuing this discussion. I can only ask you to be aware that like so many of us, you are suffering from a profound confirmation bias and should take care at the speed to which you judge others. Otherwise, you might just be adding to the stereotype of an NGO activist.

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