If you believe the logo’s Man on the Moon

If you believe the logo’s Man on the Moon July 5, 2012

Darrell at Stuff Fundies Like writes:

A fundamentalist can survive without many things such as the friendship of those in his community or the pleasures of his current culture but no fundamentalist can go very long without A Cause to champion. For the wiles of the devil infect every corner of our universe and we must spare no effort to fight him wherever we spot his hand at work. No personal cost is to great, even if it means going to the effort of switching shampoo brands to avoid giving money to Satanists.

He’s talking about the infamous urban legend about Procter & Gamble’s logo — a weird and vicious lie proudly circulated in evangelical churches, still, by proud people who are preeningly proud of their pride.

I’ll happily pounce on that as an excuse to highlight two posts from 2008 on this blog in which, in more detail, I explored the same self-righteous self-deception we discussed yesterday in “Why liars for Jesus can’t be believed when they say they’re anti-abortion.”

False witnesses” looks at the same bizarre legend and uses it as a window into American evangelicalism more generally:

The spreading of this rumor cannot be adequately explained by stupidity. Stupidity alone doesn’t make one hostile to irrefutable facts. Stupidity cannot account for their vicious anger when the rumor is debunked — anger at the person doing the debunking, and anger at the whole world for not turning out to be the nightmare they wanted it to be.

… I used to believe that maybe some people were that stupid. They were acting that stupid, so I went along. I believed that the people I was sending that dossier to were merely innocent dupes.

But in truth they were neither innocent nor dupes. The category of innocent dupe does not apply here. No one could be honestly misled by such a story. The only way to have been misled by it is dishonestly — which is to say deliberately, willingly and willfully. They are claiming to believe a foolish thing, but they are not guilty of foolishness. They are guilty of malice.

They are just plain guilty.

Which brings us to the interesting and complicated question: Why? Why would anyone choose to pretend to believe such preposterous and malicious falsehoods? What’s in it for them?

The follow-up post — unimaginatively titled “False Witnesses 2” — goes on to discuss Melon Morality, the Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition, Bob Larson and Mike Warnke, and the difficulty of sustaining massive self-righteous self-deception as an individual.

This extreme level of smug fantasizing takes a village, a supportive community of c0-participants:

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.

On a related note, at Ethics Daily, Colin Harris looks at Christian political activism in America and asks, “Did ‘Bearing False Witness’ Drop Off Top Ten?

One of the ironies in our current public thinking and conversation has been the passion on some fronts for the display of the Ten Commandments in public places as an affirmation of our common commitment to the values they point to.

Accompanying that passion often seems to be a rather blatant disregard for misrepresenting the person, position and perspective of the “neighbor” in order to gain support for one’s own agenda or goal.

Unprecedented amounts of money are being spent explicitly and intentionally to “bear false witness,” not only in the obvious political contests on all levels, but also in efforts to gain market share in the world of commerce.

If the message is successful in “making the sale” of a candidate, perspective or product, the integrity of the message itself seems to be irrelevant — just “part of the game.”

The Liars for Jesus are bearing false witness against their neighbors, and that certainly violates one of the Ten Commandments. But they are also bearing false witness in God’s name, and that seems to violate another of them as well.

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  • Tonio

    a weird and vicious lie proudly circulated in evangelical churches, still, by proud people who are preeningly proud of their pride

    After all this time? When I first heard of the myth, Led Zeppelin was still together. From what I’ve seen, P&G doesn’t even use the moon logo anymore.

  • Emcee, cubed

    From what I’ve seen, P&G doesn’t even use the moon logo anymore.

    Which, of course, is absolute proof that they had something to hide. Once the light was shined on their evil plot, they had to cover it up. Why else would they have stopped using it if they were innocent. [/ridiculousness]

  • No personal cost is to great, even if it means going to the effort of
    switching shampoo brands to avoid giving money to Satanists.

    This was meant seriously? Wow.

  • Victor Savard

    (((He’s talking about the infamous urban legend about Procter & Gamble’s logo — a weird and vicious lie proudly circulated in evangelical churches, still, by proud people who are preeningly proud of their pride.)))

    Fred with all due respect, salvage needs a little of your help so let’s stop being silly and go help him at http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2012/07/calling-all-new-evangelists/#comments

    Who knows with your help he and/or she might be able to salvage something before “IT” is too late for all concerned? :)


  • GG

    I remember back in the 90s at a family reunion some aunt or cousin was telling everyone about  the devil worshipers at P&G,   I can’t understand how people still believe this today, Oh well, like I tell my brother, there always has a be a craziest person in the room, at least I know it isn’t me.

  • Very good! Congratulations

  •  have you noticed that these manufactured rages always have a target that is unlikely to strike back or at least is conveniently far away? and often doesn’t actually exist (e.g. the ‘satanist cabal’ that allegedly puts razor blades in halloween treats)?  the oaths mafia made men take are far more explicitly disturbing than the man in the moon and the mob really does do overtly evil things. why not whip up rage against them rather than a soap company? because p&g isn’t likely to send out hit men if you anger them. this is the usual procedure for paranoid haters and the users who whip them up for their own aggrandisement or profit. notice that the westboro scum do their protests in very public places and they first announce their plans so the police will be there to intervene if they are attacked. they also generally don’t go to places where their hated group is likely to congregate. they show up at soldier’s funerals, but you don’t see the phelps clan marching in to a gay bar on a weekend night with megaphones and handfuls of tracts. typical chickenhawks. most moslem haters open their mouths in places where the nearest moslem is likely a hundred miles away. when terry jones came to dearborn, he trumpeted his plans well in advance, knowing that dearborn police and news cameras would be there to protect him. it’s much easier and safer to screech about naked mermaids on a coffee cup than to, say, go to appalachia and start unionising coal miners.

  • VMink

    Some interesting points there.  Something you said struck me: That the Westboro Baptist Notachurch announces their plans ahead of time so the police must be on scene in case this is the one time someone decides to lob a Molotov Snapple at the douchebags.

    It’s interesting to contrast that with the Freedom Riders, who when they announced they were coming to Birmingham, expected the police response they got: Fifteen minutes of no cops to watch the beatings, courtesy of Bull Connor.

    WBC have shown the cowardice of their convictions.  And also shown just how much oppression they and their ilk go through, which is to say, none.

    It’s not ‘oppression’ when the police come in riot gear to PROTECT YOU.

  • Tonio

    anger at the whole world for not turning out to be the nightmare they wanted it to be.

    What if it did turn out to be that type of nightmare? Imagine an elaborate hoax where the chief purveyors of the rumor are called to a phony P&G press conference. The CEO admits to a pact with Satan that damns the souls of everyone who has ever used a P&G product. And then with convincing holographic effects, the entire panel from the company turns into demons and 666s appear on the hands of the audience members. Then the floor begins descending and the demons proclaim that the group is headed for hell right there and then. After a few seconds, the lights come back on and the panel reverts to normal, shouting “Psych!”

  • anger at the whole world for not turning out to be the nightmare they wanted it to be.

    It’s funny because I just finished writing up a couple of blog posts that brought to mind Fred’s frequent mention of this very topic.

    I won’t blogwhore, or recreate the (lengthy) posts here, but to sum up, in July of 1985 I had a brief moment in which I thought, based on the weird color of the sky in the morning, that maybe, just maybe, the events of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths were actually coming to pass.  When I woke up a few hours later and found that we hadn’t been consumed by a wall of antimatter, I was relieved, but also, in a way, a little disappointed.

    I mean, I didn’t want the universe to be destroyed (or for all of the other universes along with the untold trillions of lives that went with them to have been destroyed), but I have to say that the tantalizing possibility that the comics were true was exciting, even setting aside the idea that they’re being true meant our certain doom.

    So I think that this is kind of a natural tendency for many people.  Most of us, however, don’t construct our entire lives around insisting on believing that things are more “exciting” than they really are, with no regard for what the consequences of that excitement may be.

    In the case of Evangelicals, the restrictions of the culture they live in limit the scope of their imagination – or at least, limit their options as to what it’s acceptable to imagine – and they don’t really think through what it would mean if what they believed, or told themselves they believed, were true.  They aren’t thinking about the babies being sacrificed to Satan in any meaningful way, they’re only thinking about how holy and brave it makes them to stand in opposition to those Satanic babykillers and kitten burners.

    That imagined holiness and heroism is the important part.  The rest is just background details.

  • Tricksterson

    With all due respect to everyone here, you gotta admit that would make one frikkin’ cool pagan symbol.

  • arcseconds

    I continue to not think it’s quite right to say these people are deliberately deceiving people.

    I certainly do agree that the main explanation for why these sorts of beliefs work the way they do is more emotive than epistemological (or rather, the emotive is the epistemology – they believe in things because they feel good in some way).  

    But lets just leave the emotions aside for a few seconds to briefly look at the set-up for these sorts of beliefs (the ‘Bayesian priors’, if you will):

    *)  the world is enemy territory — everywhere there is deceit, lies and hostile action
    *)  one’s community (friends and authority figures)  is to be trusted
    *) the mainstream media is not to be trusted — when they agree with your community then fine, perhaps that gives added corroboration, but for other matters they can be discounted as lying.

    Also, there’s a tendency to accept without too much question things that fit into the worldview, especially when from a trusted source, and to critique (or ignore) anything that doesn’t.

    Let’s also note that they probably don’t really have anything worth calling methods of inference (as in, techniques to establish whether or not something is true or false or, failing that, how probable it is).

    In the case of these folks in particular, the ‘enemy’ is Satan, of course.

    I think that accounts for almost everything without even appealing to the emotive route, doesn’t it?   The idea that P&G might be satanists already has a high prior probability even before hearing the story — we already know the world is full of Satanists.  And of course they’ll want to boast about their allegiance, or leave signs in plain view.  That’s just what everyone does – we proclaim our faith from the rooftops and put fish logos on our SUVs (and the Bible itself is full of hidden signs and portents) so naturally this is also how Satanists behave.   Plus, anything that’s not explicitly Christian (and Christian in the right way) is already suspect: why isn’t the logo (any logo)  a cross and a Bible quote?

    So when someone comes along to say that actually here’s an example, we don’t need to go looking any further: it’s exactly what we expected.

    The thing is, I think everyone is like this.

    More or less.

    More to follow.

  • Cradicus

    Whoa, this article led me through the archives to the “Bad Jackie” apocalypse from a year ago. I thought, “wow, 700+ comments, surely this will be a interesting topic.” What I got was a bunch of people playing “I’m not touching you!” with various people’s beliefs. Not really a good scene.

  • arcseconds

    The details differ, of course.  One major deviation is that many people do in fact have some ability and inclination to put their beliefs to the test, including (I fondly imagine, although there is some evidence for this) everyone reading this. 

    (‘putting beliefs to the test’ includes ‘following through to see what the consequences of a belief are’)

    Unfortunately, I think those who can and do do this are in a minority.

    And even those minority tend to still do this within a worldview that is protected from serious questioning (it’s easy to think of people who are religious or political ideologues ‘but otherwise sane’ here, but there’s no shortage of this amongst metaphysical materialists, either)

    (That’s not to say that people who don’t challenge core beliefs are complete and utter epistemological incompetents.   Most people cope reasonably well in familiar, practical circumstances.   You can probably work out who stole the cookies and where you left your wallet and how to write that next piece of code —all of which entail updating beliefs — but these problem-solving skills (which can be impressive) are often quite domain-specific.   It’s quite conceivable (I think I’ve even  met people like this) who are even quite competent scientists in their own area who are not very good at assessing beliefs in a general way.

    Questioning one’s worldview requires assessing beliefs in a general way — most people don’t get practical, day to day experience with revising worldviews)

    Other than that, though, I think we’re all roughly in the same boat.   For some people (many white middle-class males in European-dominated societies, although less so now than formerly) do just accept whatever they see in the mainstream media, but of them I’m inclined to say, the mainstream is their community, so the second bullet point holds true of them (and the third needs to be modified to ‘alternative media’ – which may well be mainstream but in a different country).

    The final point I wanted to make was to bring emotion back into it to say that most people are generally fairly invested in what they believe.   It’s hard to get emotional distance from your beliefs (and from the sources of those beliefs).  No-one wants to admit they’re ignorant, or, worse, have had things completely wrong all these years, and trusted the wrong people, etc.    Getting this distance is a prerequisite for seriously questioning them.  And if you don’t have any techniques for questioning them, then what fills the role of belief-verification here is how you feel about a belief – whether it ‘feels good’ to believe it, or at least you avoid discomfort by continue to believe it.

    If that’s really how things work (it’s a bit simplistic, but I’m sure there’s some truth to it) then it’s not just difficult to question your beliefs in the absence of some kind of nontrivial epistemology, it’s actually conceptually impossible.    If ‘testing your belief’ is the same thing as ‘feeling good about your belief’, then beliefs you’re invested in can’t be questioned in a way that could actually bring them into doubt. 

    What can happen, of course, is that you start to feel differently about your beliefs.  That explains why rational critique usually doesn’t do anything (at least, not directly) whereas various kinds of life experience (including losing your job, finding a close friend of yours is gay, or even just feeling uncomfortable about the radio host being a bully and an arse) can and often do result in revision.

  • arcseconds

    To put my point slightly differently:

    Fred is assuming that human beings are at heart rational agents (updating their beliefs in conformation with Bayes’s Theorem, if you like), albeit maybe imperfect ones.

    People believing in weird things like the P&G logo being evidence of Satanism shows us that this can’t be true.  It’s not just that they believe this, which could be rational given a rather odd set of information, but how they believe it: they require virtually no evidence, they can’t be argued out of it, and they will disqualify a source as being completely untrustworthy rather than listen to it if it questions this belief. 

    In addition they don’t act on their beliefs in a rational manner.  They just get outraged, and maybe stop buying the shampoo: they don’t fund investigations (thank the stars — witchhunts, ew) or anything like that.

    So Fred says “well, OK, but they’re still at heart rational agents.  So something in there knows what’s going on, that all these beliefs can’t be real, so when appropriate it doesn’t treat them as real (no funding investigations, no relief when it turns out not to be true), but the rest of the time engages in a sophisticated form of play-acting — pretending to believe in satanic bathroom products”.

    What I’m suggesting is that the idea of a rational agent just doesn’t apply here.  Then we don’t have to tell intricate stories about how one part of them believes rationally (and therefore doesn’t believe in Satanic Proctor and Gamble) which is somehow buried in a outer candy-coating of outrage and (faux?) worry and ersatz-believing.

    Rational agency is an ideal, and when and to the extent you conform to that ideal it’s an accomplishment.  It’s not a reality.

    (of course, if I’m right, this does mean we don’t have much ground for being outraged at these folk ourselves)