Both Digby and Amanda Marcotte have been asking why global warming seems to be driving much of the right wing berserk. While I agree that part of the reason is the ever-present desire to punch a hippie in the face, I think Fred Clark at the Slacktivist hits on a key point in these two posts: “It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.”
In the two posts, Clark describes the fervent belief by a considerable number of evangelicals in the belief that the Proctor and Gamble corporation (P&G) was involved in satanic cults, which is utterly ridiculous. So why did people propagate the falsehood. Well, some had a financial interest in doing so (italics original; boldface mine):
For some few of them, the answer to that doesn’t turn out to be all that complicated or all that interesting. They did it for money.
The P&G rumor seems to have originated among rival soap-sellers — people affiliated with a giant multilevel marketing scheme with roots in the evangelical subculture (it rhymes with “Spam Ray”). Their marketing model is based on old-fashioned social networking, which partly accounts for why the rumor remains so widespread among American evangelicals. It also explains why the rumor seems to have been tailored to appeal to evangelicals in particular — with the CEO allegedly declaring his allegiance to the Church of Satan rather than to, say, the American Nazi Party or the Klan or communism.
The people who created this rumor, in other words, employed it as a way of convincing prospective buyers to purchase their detergent instead of Tide because Tide worships the Devil. That seems hamfisted and over-the-top doesn’t it? A vaguer, less extreme rumor might have seemed likelier to work better — something subtler than the ultimate trump card of claiming that P&G was literally in league with Satan.
But the rumor was effective. Spectacularly effective. It went viral years before most of us had ever thought to use that term that way. And it lives on, still surfacing and resurfacing after decades spent trying to kill it through truth-telling dossiers and aggressive litigation.
So some people repeat this for money, much as some global warming denialists also have a strong financial interest in lying. But why do so many others, who really don’t have a vested interest, also repeat the P&G lie? Clark argues, and I agree, that, unless one is a drooling moron–and I use that term literally, not figuratively–you would recognize the absurdity of the claim. People might be dumbass, swamp-rat ignorant on the whole, but this is a level of cretinism that is staggering. So why do others repeat this? What’s in it for them? Clark (original italics; boldface mine):
Perhaps the deepest fear lurking in that e-mail has to do with the persecution complex of American evangelicals we’ve often discussed here before. The fear here is not that Christians in America might face persecution, but rather the fear of what it might mean that they don’t. The supposed effort to prove that there are ENOUGH CHRISTIANS … TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE is an expression of the fear — or the recognition — that the people sending and resending this e-mail are not CHRISTIAN ENOUGH TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. They’re shouting because they’re frightened — truly frightened of the truth about themselves, which is always far more frightening than any fear of what might be lurking outside ourselves in the dark.
The response to that fear is a desperate grasping at Melon morality in the most extreme form they can imagine — trying to prove to themselves that they are different enough to MAKE A DIFFERENCE by contrasting themselves with baby-killing Satan-worshippers. With baby-killing Satan-worshippers that they know are purely imaginary.
That requires more self-deception than any of us is capable of on our own. That degree of self-deception requires a group.
This is why the rumor doesn’t really need to be plausible or believable. It isn’t intended to deceive others. It’s intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.
I think what’s at work here is the Manichean mindset–the need to tilt at dragons (or, actually, windmills). It’s the same delusion that Randians suffer from, in that they are, of course, never the little people, but always the John Galts. Digby says that the opposition to evolution is obvious–it is obvious to me too, but having dealt with creationists for a long time, probably not for the same reason. Just like the ‘anti-Satanists’, creationists are, at some level, aware of the absurdity: even a precursory reading of Genesis 1 and 2 shows that the creation myths are different–this is willful ignorance*.
This is not about the content of the ideas, but the psychological state that holding those ideas (no matter how ridiculous) confers. We are witnessing a mass collective psychosis with protective function. And just as creationists can’t admit that creationism is foolish–because then everything else in that worldview is called into question–so too, global warming denialists can’t admit that those who espouse this denialism are wrong too.
Added ‘past-deadline’: Krugman argues that this is a strain of anti-intellectualism.
*Some ‘literalists’ even go as far to claim that there was a flood in between Genesis 1 and 2, which isn’t even in the Bible. And lest you think, intelligent design creationism gets a pass, they realize that every time biologists figure out how something complex evolves, God shrinks a little more. They just don’t care, since the cognitive dissonance threshold hasn’t been breached. Tribal identity has far more to do with this than ideology.