Conservative Satan  by Gustav Dore

Published on October 24th, 2010 | by Steve Savage

12

Creating Satans: Collective Myth Building About Monsanto, Obama etc

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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 feedback.sdsavage@gmail.com

Gustav Dore’s image of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost from maxkalehoff



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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)



  • http://Web russ

    Hi Steve,

    Excellent post! The internet is both a great thing and a horrible thing.

    Probably 90% plus of what is posted is written by someone who knows little more than buzz words about the topic. The quality is both and often horrible and political. By political I don’t mean Republicans and Democrats but rather agenda driven.

    Both extremes, green and anti green, have very little use for facts. They are too lazy to learn any topic in depth and simply work to get their message out.

    Without modern agriculture there will be more and more starvation in the poorer parts of the world – that is pure fact. The survival farming that many do, even today, is certainly no answer. The peasant doing such is lucky to feed his own family – let alone help feed the world.

    Unfortunately, many of the ultra green crowd seem to think purity is the most important point and if a few million (or billion) in the third world starve so be it.

    • http://Web Moishe

      “For precedent, consider the vast power that was alleged for “world Judaism” in the anti-Semitic myths of the early to mid 20th century”
      Godwinned by proxy

      • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

        Moishe, very good point. I was actually thinking about Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s excellent book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” which describes the myths about the global power of “world Judiasm.”

  • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

    Thanks Russ.

  • http://Web Dave

    Wonderful insight. I wonder how people can get so mad over people, companies, topics, etc. when they obviously do not know or care to understand the facts of the subject. I’m glad I am not the only one who finds this pattern sobering.

    • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

      Dave,
      Thanks. How people can get to upset is a key question
      I wish I had an easy answer

  • http://Web Jules

    I want to point out two fallacies. First: as a german I am quite sensitized on comparisons with anti-judaism, for they exploit an emotional subsoil which is “tabu”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum
    Secondly, let me try to use a fable: as the wolf gets sued by the community of sheep, his lawyer and advocate, the fox says: see what agressive and dangerous picture they paint of him. they always do that when they create the concept of an enemy. These sheep paint my client as a wolf.

    • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

      Jules,
      First notice that I didn’t make the anti-Judiasm link in my post, that come from a commenter. I’m sure you are sensitized to something that you had no part in and which was not limited to Germany, but the topic cannot ever be “tabu.”

      As for the fable, hundreds of thousands of farmers around the world have, for more than 15 years purchased Monsanto seeds and the seeds from other companies that use their traits. It has helped their bottom line. It has been a business-to-business relationship.

      I don’t think that fables about predators are relevant here.

      • http://Web Jules

        Thanks for the reply.

        I have put the word “tabu” in quotation marks to show my opinion that nothing should be forbidden to talk about. Still I think it is wrong to make a too easy historical comparison and by this suggest something vague and not clearly spoken out.

        My fable was intended to take aim at the person of the fox, not the wolf. But as you alluded ot the analogy to the predator, I have to admit my gusto in this fact and that I believe it is very to the point.

        • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

          Jules

          I’m honestly unclear on what you are saying. Could you clarify?

          • http://Web Jules

            The statement that someomne is demonized does not make him innovent ot unguilty. The fox could even say of satan himself that he is demonized in some way.

            In Germany we use the term “Raubtierkapitalismus” (predator capitalism) to characterize the business conduct of a company showing a very aggressive behaviour and being prepared to accept some disaster, involving many victims, suffering and great damage, for the purpose of making profit.

            I am not sure if even a quarter of all the facts I can read online about Monsanto might be true, bit if they are, then this company is a predator in many ways. And even this might be still the nicest manner of speak.

          • http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com Steve Savage

            Jules,
            “one quarter” true is probably still off by an order of magnitude. Also, it isn’t as if Monsanto has no competitors so it has to offer real value to its farmer customers. BASF, Bayer and Syngenta are all formidable companies from your side of the Atlantic. DuPont/Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences are majors on this side. Then there are all the generics out there selling glyphosate…

            Monsanto may be big, but this industry is not nearly as consolidated as chip making or internet browsing!

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