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I actually think the Whitehouse petitions are harmful to causes, precisely because they give those who participate a false sense of accomplishment.

I agree. They facilitate evaporation cooling of causes and movements.

Let the less dedicated participants feel that they have done their part, and numbers will dwindle. As numbers dwindle only the extreme remain, and in few enough numbers that the entire cause is then written off as fringe.

It is a phenomena usually seen when cults start ejecting their more moderate members, but in this case it is harnessed by a separate party.

"evaporation cooling"

Exactly if you give people a "complaint department" and a method to file a complaint you put distance between their anger and the thing they are angry about and they will many times cool down and not explore other more viable options (not sure if that is what you meant but it's one of my thoughts about a process like this).

That is actually a better way of explaining it I think. Give the majority a safe way to vent and you'll deflate growing sentiment.

My (probably unnecessary) expansion on this is that when you deflate the sentiment, all those who remain angry will become more extreme (just by nature of not being surrounded by less extreme people) and will become easily to marginalize/fire.

I first noticed a similar behavior many years ago when the electric company pulled the power and we had some issues as a result. We were furious.

Their first response was to toally agree with us and give us the distinct impression that they were going to "make good". As a result we didn't do anything we just waited because we didn't think there would be any problem in restitution. Well time passed and later I had lost my steam when they finally came around and said "sorry but we're not going to do anything".

They facilitate evaporation cooling of causes and movements.

Also known as "letting a hundred flowers bloom." How'd that work out for the "flowers?"

Should be conceptually simple to resolve that question empirically. Has anyone done studies on whether people who sign a petition are more or less likely to engage in future actions (and if so, of what types)?

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