Mike the Mad Biologist

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.

Comments

  1. #1 addie
    December 9, 2009

    I used the word dumb-ass on my blog –and my lawyer said to be careful :) Had to stop using it in relation to certain things, but boy is it hard.

    I just want to come out swinging my factory-farming message, which is this: a lot of deniers are big meat producers and eaters & f**ck if big meat doesn’t = a lot of greenhouse gasses.

    Commence the eyerolling now ;)

  2. #2 Jed Harris
    December 9, 2009

    Right at the beginning you say “part of the reason [for denialism] is the ever-present desire to punch a hippie in the face” but you imply that is a different issue. No, it is the same issue — hippies are cultural icons who stand for a different set of participatory beliefs incompatible with the evangelical participatory beliefs. (Obviously for this analysis it doesn’t matter if hippies really do have those beliefs or if hippies even exist.)

    Since the members of the evangelical tribe know they can’t get hippies to participate in their beliefs (and in fact fear that hippies are dangerously capable of getting their own weakly committed members to defect) punching them in the face is the sincerest form of discourse they have available.

  3. #3 Paul Murray
    December 9, 2009

    “never the little people, but always the John Galts”

    Same thing with people that like Nietzsche. Never occurs to ‘em that they might be one of the untermenchen.

  4. #4 Real Person
    December 10, 2009

    And I don’t like asshole bloggers that don’t understand anonymity. Somebody linked here, but you didn’t deserve the hit. Don’t worry, you’ll never get another one.

  5. #5 bluehawaii
    December 10, 2009

    I read Mr. Krugman’s comments that blame anti-intellectualism, and I’m not sure I agree.

    The right-wingers ape the trappings of being intellectual — consider the professorial affectations of George Will or Bill Buckley, or the nutjobs’ countless wingnut-welfare “think tank” sinecures.

    In fact, they think, in spite of all evidence, that they’re smarter than everyone else, that their own brilliant intellects can see through the hype that sways lesser men.

    I would say they aren’t anti-intellectuals but sociopaths.

  6. #6 Mark Hagerman
    December 10, 2009

    Nonsense!

    For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter whether “global warming” exists or not. Nor, if it does exist, whether it’s caused by human activities or not. The significant point is that the AGW proponents only propose “solutions” that will result in the impoverishment of Western Civilization, and the enrichment of what used to be called the “third world”.

    If and when the AGW community embraces MORE energy, MORE high tech, a HIGHER standard of living, LOWER taxes and LESS government regulation as part of their solution(s), I’ll give their arguments some consideration. Not before.

  7. #7 minimalist
    December 10, 2009

    AGW proponents only propose “solutions” that will result in the impoverishment of Western Civilization, and the enrichment of what used to be called the “third world”.

    Tell that to T. Boone Pickens.

    And I don’t know whose “solutions” you claim to have been reading (my guess: none), but funding research into cutting-edge green technologies (that US companies will hold the rights to) and construction of alternative-energy plants seem to be pretty reasonable engines for growth and job creation to me. As well as reducing our dependence on Middle Eastern fossil fuels and all its attendant politico-economic complications.

  8. #8 llewelly
    December 10, 2009

    Nonsense!

    For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter whether “global warming” exists or not. Nor, if it does exist, whether it’s caused by human activities or not. The significant point is that the AGW proponents only propose “solutions” that will result in the impoverishment of Western Civilization, and the enrichment of what used to be called the “third world”.

    If and when the AGW community embraces MORE energy, MORE high tech, a HIGHER standard of living, LOWER taxes and LESS government regulation as part of their solution(s), I’ll give their arguments some consideration. Not before.

    Posted by: Mark Hagerman | December 10, 2009 1:25 PM

    Thank you, Mark. That’s easily one of the best (and most accurate) parodies of the denialist position. Shows their blazing stupidity quite clearly.

  9. #9 addie
    December 10, 2009

    Mark H’s message also nicely brings together the subcategories of Mike’s entry here on Global Warming: the fucking-moron part with the global-warming one.

  10. #10 JamGirl
    December 10, 2009

    “AGW proponents only propose “solutions” that will result in the impoverishment of Western Civilization, and the enrichment of what used to be called the “third world”….

    Minimalist is right to answer by referring to T Boone Pickens, et al, and there’s more:

    Massive reductions, or complete elimination of meat and other animal product consumption as a solution to greenhouse gas reduction ( 51% according to the World Watch Institute Report) will also increase the health and well being of the massive number of obese, diabetic and cardiovascularly challenged westerners. It will also reduce the numbers of bowel, colon, breast, prostate and intestinal cancer sufferers. ( For more information refer to the American Diatetic Association and The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -PCRM)

    The billions of dollars saved in Healthcare would reduce the need for Government assisted healthcare, allowing a focus on those who GENUINELY need it, and free up billions of dollars to flow to other more productive areas of the economy.

    Not to mention increasing the availability of clean water in drought affected areas, reducing air and water pollution and reducing the price of grain and soy for human consumption.

    How is that a reduction of the standard of living?

  11. #11 Lyle
    December 11, 2009

    The issue with #10 is that you presume to know what is good for people. Its the same attitude that got us prohibition of booze in 1917 in the US. This is the typical elite thinking that a large part of the population hates. They believe that the elites are a group who says one thing and does another.
    Actually the last point leads to the view of many, its a reduction in my standard of living, and I don’t care about others being of the pre-sprit Ebeneezer Scrooge persuation, “better to die and decrease the surplus population”- I put it a bit strongly using that illusion but the basic view is I am not my brothers keeper the world is every person for themselves.

  12. #12 JohnV
    December 11, 2009

    “How is that a reduction of the standard of living? ”

    Since it starts with removing cheesburgers from the menu, its a gigantic reduction in the standard of living.

  13. #13 minimalist
    December 11, 2009

    … I put it a bit strongly using that illusion but the basic view is I am not my brothers keeper the world is every person for themselves.

    What an appropriate malaprop. That is, indeed, an illusory worldview, but common among the typical ‘basement libertarian.’ They don’t appreciate, and possibly aren’t even conscious of, the social safety-net programs that we have now, and how they contribute to the overall quality of life. And, no matter what their professed beliefs now, they sure as heck wouldn’t want to live in an America without them.

    I guaran-fucking-tee that.

  14. #14 addie
    December 11, 2009

    Yeah; you certainly want some kind of brother’s-keeper making sure your cheeseburgers aren’t loaded with prions, e.coli, and so forth. And you might want to make sure that the people behind the cheeseburgers are compensated for their work or else you won’t be able to trust that cheeseburger too far. And you might even want to go right back to the cows, making sure they’re o.k. too, because the prions and the e.coli originate deep within them. And there’s the matter of the water-footprint of the beef industry, in which case you might want to give up a cheeseburger so that your grandchildren actually have access to water.
    Or, you can continue to live for your first-world self.

  15. #15 JohnV
    December 11, 2009

    Lyle != JohnV but thanks anyway for a combined response to our completely separate statements. Anyhow, hope you feel better after venting :P

  16. #16 sikiƟ izle
    December 11, 2009

    This is, again, one of my biggest problems with those who refuse vaccines. They frame the issue as solely “my child, my choice.” Which is fine, until you put that child in with the rest of society via school, or daycare, or even trips to McDonald’s.

  17. #17 addie
    December 12, 2009

    I see we’re back at McDonald’s:
    According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 50 million pounds of antibiotics have been used on farms in the past two years, which accounts for about 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S.

    Three years ago, the Pew Charitable Trust started a campaign to see what the effects of animal farming were on human and animal health and the environment.

    The results were clear: Curbing the use of antibiotics on farms in order to keep them more effective for human use, in addition to encouraging farms to improve sanitation is a must.

  18. #18 Pierce R. Butler
    December 13, 2009

    I’m on an email list that sends me a steady shotgun blast of wingnut emissions. Though actually somewhat tangential, this post reminds me of one such recent warning from the ever-nutty Covenant News:

    Climate: The new god of left-wing Christianity

    With the ClimateGate revelations of flimsy “science” behind the man-made global warming theory, the role of the religious left in promoting this fraudulent scheme now deserves serious media scrutiny. …

  19. #19 Comrade PhysioProf
    December 13, 2009

    For this kind of person, there simply exists no world of objective reality about which one can pose propositions called “facts” that must be either “true” or “false”, and whose status as such can be discerned by consideration of something called “evidence”. It essentially represents a deep-seated visceral rejection of the Enlightenment.

  20. #20 Min
    December 15, 2009

    Just for the record, plenty of hippies believed the Procter&Gamble Satanism myth, too. ;)

  21. #21 muhtar
    February 12, 2010

    I read Mr. Krugman’s comments that blame anti-intellectualism, and I’m not sure I agree.

    The right-wingers ape the trappings of being intellectual — consider the professorial affectations of George Will or Bill Buckley, or the nutjobs’ countless wingnut-welfare “think tank” sinecures.

    In fact, they think, in spite of all evidence, that they’re smarter than everyone else, that their own brilliant intellects can see through the hype that sways lesser men.

    I would say they aren’t anti-intellectuals but sociopaths.

  22. #22 seslichatailesi
    May 18, 2010

    What an appropriate malaprop. That is, indeed, an illusory worldview, but common among the typical ‘basement libertarian.’ They don’t appreciate, and possibly aren’t even conscious of, the social safety-net programs that we have now, and how they contribute to the overall quality of life. And, no matter what their professed beliefs now, they sure as heck wouldn’t want to live in an America without them.