Earlier in the week PZ Myers posted a highly entertaining account of a “debate” he participated in with ancient astronaut theorist Scotty Roberts, an advocate of the belief that that Nephilim, or fallen angels from the Book of Enoch, are in fact extraterrestrial beings. This belief rests, ultimately, on the assumption (without proof) that the gods and demons of ancient myth and legend are aliens, which, in turn, is little more than an attempt to project Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim about advanced technology and magic into the deep past.
Anyway, Myers had an entertaining description of his encounter with Roberts:
I do have to disagree on one point, however. At the debate, Greg Laden said (in Myers’ summary) that “there are racist connotations to all of these alien beings stories, because they’re often trotted out to support claims of the inferiority of native peoples, who weren’t possibly clever enough to construct those peculiar artifacts.”
This was true of the nineteenth century antecedents of the ancient astronaut theory, such as Theosophy and Donnelly’s Atlantis theory, which had explicitly Aryan pretensions of proving the superiority of the white race. (As did the mainstream archaeology of the time, with its imaginary white founders of every native culture.) However, the modern ancient astronaut theory, while repackaging those old claims, has expanded them to include traditionally “white” ancient peoples such as the Greeks and the builders of Stonehenge. (Since they were white, earlier theories simply counted them as part of the master race.) If ancient astronaut theorists are still overwhelmingly obsessed with depriving non-white peoples of their accomplishments, they are not exclusively so; they don’t think much of ancient white people either. Everybody was stupid until the aliens (as Erich von Daniken argued) had sex with us to inject some bigger brain genes.
By contrast, “lost civilization” proponents like Graham Hancock and Afrocentrists like Ivan Van Sertima fall prey much more to accidental or explicit racism in their theories because they deal with human beings and must choose winners and losers among them. Hancock supports the idea of ancient “white civilizers” who delivered civilization to Latin America and the world, while Van Sertima argued for the same, only black. This is much more racist than the idea that fish-people from Sirius were responsible for all civilization, not just the parts that aren’t European.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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