The shoot-the-moon strategy

Sometimes you can solve a problem by intentionally making it “worse” to such an extreme degree that the problem goes away. Real-world examples:

  • I accidentally spilled cooking oil on my shoe, forming an unsightly stain. When soap and scrubbing failed to remove it, I instead smeared oil all over both shoes, turning them a uniform dark color and thus “eliminating” the stain.

  • Email encryption can conceal the content of messages, but not the metadata (i.e. the fact that Alice sent Bob an email). To solve this, someone came up with a protocol where every message is always sent to everyone, though only the intended recipient can decrypt it. This is hugely inefficient but it does solve the problem of metadata leakage.

Hypothetical examples:

  • If I want to avoid spoilers for a sports game that I wasn’t able to watch live, I can either assiduously avoid browsing news websites, or I can use a browser extension that injects fake headlines about the outcome so I don’t know what really happened.

  • If a politician knows that an embarassing video of them is about to leak, they can blunt its effect by releasing a large number of deepfake videos of themself and other politicians.

The common theme here is that you’re seemingly trying to get rid of X, but what you really want is to get rid of the distinction between X and not-X. If a problem looks like this, consider whether shooting the moon is a viable strategy.