This Friday, Ancient Aliens presents a two-hour special in which The UnXplained host William Shatner meets with the various talking heads from Ancient Aliens and interviews them about space aliens, science, and futurism. The crossover between Ancient Aliens and sister program The UnXplained is made possible by the two shows’ shared production company. The special runs more than two hours, and it continues well past how late I can stay up as the father of an energetic three-year-old. As a result, I won’t review it until sometime Saturday, when I have had a chance to watch it.
On February 4, Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken put out an official statement attacking me by name and disputing accusations that his history of using phrases like “failure” to describe the “Black race” constituted racism. The statement appears to be a reaction to tweets I made in response to a recent New Yorker article which interviewed von Däniken to comment on Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s claim that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua was a piece of technology from an alien world. I noted at the time that von Däniken had a history of making statements that were racially insensitive or which expressed transphobic and homophobic views. That did not sit well with him.
Today, Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s new book Extraterrestrial was released. It was mostly as I expected it to be, though even I wasn’t quite expecting it to contain so much discussion of the author’s obsession with middle-twentieth-century existentialist philosophy, of the Camus variety, or his apparent inability to understand that this was neither the culmination of all human intellectual achievement, nor an exceptionally influential school of thought in terms of modern intellectual history. I am not reviewing Extraterrestrial as a book because, frankly, its discussion of the evidence that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial space probe is simply beyond my ability to evaluate, being neither an astronomer nor a physicist. Those with much more training than I have found reason to doubt Loeb’s conclusions, and even Loeb frames his conclusions as a “wager,” like Pascal’s, claiming that it’s better to assume it’s E.T. and be wrong than doubt and be right, since finding aliens will give humanity a philosophical orgasm of sorts. I can do little more than shrug and say that the non-specialist reader will likely see in the arguments a reflection of whatever idea he or she brings to them.
So, this week the New Yorker interviewed racist author Erich von Däniken, the elderly ancient astronaut theorist who once wrote that the Black race was a “failure” and who has included transphobic and Islamophobic commentary in his most recent books. Why would one of America’s premiere publications give a platform to a man whose claim to fame was arguing that nonwhite people couldn’t stack rocks without help from rapists from outer space? It’s because a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist seems to have relied on her adolescent memories of ancient astronaut rather than researching current controversies—current being anything after, say, the late 1970s.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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