I noticed an interesting phenomenon this week while watching the links coming in to one of Jeremy Bloom’s recent posts on RGB. A great deal of traffic was coming in from two referring sites that are Christianity-related. Both had previously posted links to an incendiary Pravda “article” that misinterpreted an already sensationalized statement in a Nation post. The Pravda article falsely said that Monsanto had purchased Blackwater. Jeremy pointed out that this was simply not true. To their credit, both the Christian sites then posted links to this correction on RGB. Of course the Pravda site was filled with lots of other disinformation about Monsanto and included a misleading characterization of a really good thing that Gates Foundation is doing in Africa. None of the other falsehoods on the Pravda site were challenged in this setting by Jeremy or others as far as I know.
It is disturbing to me (as a Christian) that a “Christian” site would ever have so blithely passed along a link to a Pravda post of this nature. The pastor who posted the link on one site apparently saw the original information as evidence of a potential “war on Organic farmers.” (with no explanation).
An Interesting Juxtaposition
The other high-referring Christian site is basically a forum for lay-people to post letters or links they want to share. These links included a wide range of topics, but alongside some links to Anti-Monsanto diatribes were links to sites saying that Obama is either a “cloaked radical Muslim”, the “Anti-Christ” or actually Satan. Is Satan to be found in Monsanto or Obama? It seems that there is a process for “satanic enemy creation” which works in much the same way for the environmental left and the religious right . I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the real Satan is amused by all of this.
Collective Myth Building
I would propose that this phenomenon should be called “Collective Myth Building.” It works like this:
- People find some bit of information about an entity they are already inclined to distrust/hate (e.g. an opposition politician, a major corporation, a scary sounding science…)
- Those people make an interpretation of that fact which is lacking in background, perspective or even actual understanding (e.g. saying farmers in India “commit suicide because they planted GMO cotton” without understanding that this is really about the criminal nature of their “farm credit system” and the government death-benefit payments that drove this sad phenomenon long before GMO)
- These collections of “facts” are passed along within the “echo-chambers” of on-line communities that share the same presuppositions and which would rarely challenge each other with alternative views.
- The “information” is also couched in emotive language which greatly distorts the myth components relative to whatever actual bit of information is involved (e.g. there will be “death panels”, Monsanto “owns the food supply”)
- Over time, many such “facts” combine to create a grand, negative, mythic narrative which becomes unquestionable within the building community. To ever provide balancing information or to refute outright falsehoods would require extensive (and unwelcome) explanation/education.
- Like any good Myth, any shades of grey are eliminated, and the entity of focus becomes an expression of pure evil. The target is attributed with enormously frightening power and influence . By the time the Myth has grown, all perspective is lost. For precedent, consider the vast power that was alleged for “world Judaism” in the anti-Semitic myths of the early to mid 20th century.
Why Does It Happen?
This process of Collective Myth Building is not new, but it is definitely aided by the internet and the decline of traditional journalism. There are people out there consciously building myths for economic or political gain, but in most cases the Myths grow because people are simply passing along what they have read somewhere without bothering to ask serious questions about it.
Some readers may find it offensive that I am saying that the same internet-enhanced process works for the radical right and certain “environmentalists”, but it seems to be true. That site feeding into RGB last week seemed to be a community that embraces both of these “satanic discoveries.” Typical bloggers, commenters, linkers and ideologically-driven “journalists” will only be contributing to the building one of these myths, but the process is the same.
It would be good for any of us take a look at how this process works to create mythic ”satans” that we find absurd. We should then honestly ask if the same phenomenon could be working for Myths that fit our presuppositions.
I’d be interested in your thoughts either here or at email@example.com
Gustav Dore’s image of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost from maxkalehoff