Greta Thunberg and the need for honest criticism

There is nothing wrong with a good meme, and Greta Thunberg inspired a number of memes with her “how dare you” speech when she was 16 years old. Because memes are satire, they do not need to be completely true to be effective, so the memes of Thunberg’s recent “blah blah blah” speech are fine as far as they go. The problem is when some conservative commenters – especially some who should know better – pretend she was just talking gibberish and was still being praised for it.

The obvious problems is that this criticism is based on a falsehood. Thunberg was not speaking gibberish. She was arguing that leaders’ plans are inadequate. She would mention plans, then say “blah blah blah” because her argument was that these plans are inadequate to the alleged climate crisis facing the planet. They are empty words, according to Thunberg, rather than an agenda of concrete action to address climate change.

I disagree with Thunberg on policy, but that is really not the point here. The point is political commentators should respect their audience enough to articulate substantive arguments instead of taking a few seconds from a speech out of context. Framing an opponent’s speech in a dishonest way contributes to the coarsening of the culture and deepens political divisions. False witness is also forbidden by God’s Holy Law in many places, most notably in the Ten Commandments.

Beyond being morally wrong, such tactics are counterproductive. They will not convince environmentalists who watched Thunberg’s speech that she is wrong on policy. Instead, they will be motivated to defend her. It will not convince people in the middle, because if they look up the speech they will see the criticisms of Thunberg were dishonest. You may get applause from people on your own side, but even many of them will roll their eyes at such shallow and counterfactual criticism. We need to be better.