Christopher Knowles: UFO Debunkers Are "Disheartened" Believers with "Insatiable" Desire for Alien Contact
Back in 2013, National Geographic made a big deal about the discovery of ancient ruins some had linked to the so-called White City of Honduras, a legendary lost city whose story developed out of a mix of pulp fiction, myth-making, and treasure-hunting in the first half of the twentieth century. At the time, I wrote that researchers claimed that the earliest sighting of the city (not counting some unrelated passages by Hernan Cortez roped in for the purpose) was by Charles Lindbergh in 1927, and I noted that this claim does not seem to appear in print before the 1950s, and certainly not in any contemporary account of Lindbergh. Dr. John Hoopes was kind enough to point me to the earliest report of the White City, from a Spanish-language academic article by the Luxembourger ethnologist Eduard Conzemius in volume 19 of the Journal de la Société des Américanistes in 1927. It appears that this reference, while occasionally cited in Spanish and (logically enough) German discussion, was not noticed in English research on the city (it doesn’t appear, for example, in Jungleland, Christopher Stewart’s book about the city). It apparently uncovered sometime between 2013 and now. For your edification, I have translated the entirety of Conzemius’ passage:
It’s interesting how similar to story is to various other lost treasure and lost city narratives from around its period—from the mysterious stranger who leaves an account of the story, to the rumors of a curse, and the inability of subsequent explorers to find it. It’s also a strange coincidence that the story should be told right at the time when Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett had made headlines for disappearing in search of a similar lost city in Brazil. It sounds a lot like a folktale, but for what it’s worth, this is apparently the origin point for the White City myth.
On a much less interesting note, regular readers will remember Christopher Knowles, the author of Our Heroes Wear Spandex (two part review here and here), a book that used some fringe history claims to tie superheroes to ancient mythology. Knowles also had some not so kind things to say about me and my work on the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft when asserting that Lovecraft had access to specific Theosophical texts he almost certainly did not read. Knowles recently weighed in on the so-called Roswell Slides, which had claimed to depict an extraterrestrial corpse in the 1940s or 1950s but which actually showed a child mummy on display in a museum. Knowles took the opportunity to argue that skeptics of ufological claims are angry zealots upset at their lack of contact with the divine.
The fact of the matter is that debunkers are just disheartened believers, longing with all their hearts for the skies to open and for the saucermen to take them to the stars. It probably wouldn't take much coaxing to draw this out, maybe just a few beers and a starry sky.
There is likely a grain of truth in this, but I think Knowles greatly overstates his claim, particularly when he next asserts that like a spurned lover the debunker becomes obsessed with ufology and its culture, which he claims occurs to the exclusion of all other interests, as though he would know what’s in other people’s hearts. He then contradicts himself by asserting that these obsessive debunkers are not actually interested in or doing debunking: “To complicate matters further the new generation of skeptics are mostly concerned with social and political issues and think paranormal skepticism is not only corny and irrelevant, but actually counterproductive.” How can one both spend “all day” debunking UFOs while also devoting oneself entirely to “social and political issues”?
The answer gets at the underlying motive behind Knowles’s seemingly incoherent claims. He has taken different issues, some of which have merit, and melded them together to create a straw man designed to bolster a particular point of view. He’s right that many skeptics, especially in organized skepticism, have taken on the ideology of secular humanism and have developed a fixation on promoting atheism and secular humanism as a social and political agenda. But these activist skeptics aren’t generally the “obsessive” debunkers he accuses of infiltrating ufology to antagonize the faithful. (You won’t find Michael Shermer or Sam Harris, for example, analyzing UFO cell phone footage for signs of CGI.)
However, his argument needs the various groups who dispute UFO claims to be part of a single movement to support a paranoid worldview evident throughout his blog post, one where “intelligence agencies,” the U.S. federal government, and the Jesuits are somehow all-powerful organizations that manipulate and control our perceptions of reality. He suggests that these powerful cartels have perhaps used ufological subcultures as disinformation agents, and then in his conclusion he reveals the underlying ideology behind his series of claims:
UFOs themselves are kind of boring. To my way of thinking they only take off when plugged into the overall matrix of esoteric thought, parapolitics, quantum consciousness and all the rest of it. But the present generation of UFOlogists- trained to view the phenomenon in a sci-fi mindset and often blindingly conventional in their attitudes- are keeping that alchemical mix from its boiling point because they turn so many people off from the topic with their endless dysfunctions.
Debunkers are, by definition, a threat to this way of thinking because they bring too much science and reason into a phenomenon he prefers to view in mystical terms. To be clear: Knowles has more or less explicitly divided ufology from “science” and in so doing creates a justification for his essential thesis, which is: Keep out of my playground! Knowles would like ufology to be the plaything of the occultist rather than the scientist, of magic rather than logic. When cast in those terms, it is no wonder he sees skepticism not just as a threat but as the obsession of those who would betray reason itself to score points against an ideological opponent. Knowles went on to write a follow up post decrying supporters of science for trashing the work of Charles Fort as so much unreadable gibberish. Knowles endorsed Fort’s view that scientists act like ancient priests, all the while oblivious to his own veneration of Fort as a secular saint, and his writings as Talmudic commentary on reality.
It should be obvious that I disagree with all of this on many levels. In the comments on his blog post, Knowles expands his discussion to include ancient astronauts, so I guess that ropes my area into this as well. On the surface, I’d seem to meet his definition—when I was a teenager I believed in ancient astronauts, and I write a daily blog about weird things. But on the other hand, while I like and enjoy the weird for many reasons (mostly what Lovecraft called the momentary illusion of the suspension of the tyranny of natural law), I also recognize it as a tool. Knowles asked why debunkers or skeptics don’t devote themselves to discussions of digestive enzymes or other “science” topics. The fact of the matter is that the reading public is interested in the weird more than the obscure. I’m interested in mythology and how the stories people tell shape our view of reality, but few people would read about that. So I write about the weird, and I use it as a tool to create a platform for talking about my own interests under the cover of subjects the public wants to read more about.
Duke of URL
7/15/2015 05:16:44 am
Lost City of Death: I wonder... If an isolated "city" in a jungle was wiped out by a plague (very possible - consider how the indians along the East Coast were almost all killed by a fast-spreading plague a few hundred years ago, leaving lots of open territory for Europeans to find and settle), AND that plague was one of the sorts that hang around, AND just about everyone from the region who stumbled upon the ruins contracted the disease and died, THEN wouldn't it be perfectly reasonable for said ruins to establish themselves in the local minds as a City of Death?
7/15/2015 06:40:09 am
People can contract infectious disease by contact with bacteria transmitted from host to another organism, through various ways, depending on what disease is it, not from stumbling on ruins.Microorganisms are not like radioactivity hanging in the air, they have their rather short shelf life , outside of organisms they can use as host and multiply in them.
Duke of URL
7/15/2015 08:21:07 am
Maybeso, but I /have/ read of diseases hanging around for a long time, then becoming active when a suitable host shows up.
7/15/2015 12:01:36 pm
Not completely true, Dora; many bacteria and viruses can enter a state of dormancy that can last a very, very long time. But they're not doing it just hanging around in the air, you're definitely correct in that. And most modern people don't drink the water without using a purifier on it first.
7/15/2015 06:07:49 am
I too wish for alien contact, but given the vast distances involved I am not convinced it has ever or will ever happen. It always amazed me that people who say they were contacted by aliens always live in some rural area and can never really document the contact.
7/15/2015 06:30:21 am
Debunkers "bring too much science and reason" and so much detailed information.It is not only better reasoning, better interpretation of the same set of data, but there is much more knowledge among the debunkers. Jason has enough knowledge and academic curiosity to dig deeper into primary sources for example, but the fringe myth-makers? Lazy minds prone to overexcited fantasies, and we criticize so easily that centureis ago people were not rational enough and made up strange stories. But then certain fields of knowledge or methods were not as advanced as today, or non-existing, so, it easier to understand errors which might led to strange interpretations (fantasies aside). What excuse fringe myth makers have today, for their ignorance and mythology spinning?
7/15/2015 08:39:50 am
True Believers are sceptical towards debunkers. True Believers practice scepticism,
7/15/2015 07:09:13 am
"He left this name and a fantastical description of what he saw there."
7/15/2015 07:46:28 am
The issue with such topics as ancient astronauts is their presentation. They are promoted by enthusiasts as factual, not as occult figures with magical powers save to the stupid ancient humans who encountered them. If people wish to believe in new gods so be it, but they have no more proof of their existence than they had of the old gods.
7/15/2015 08:35:50 am
The plague that wiped out east coast Indians appeared in the magazine Cracked online (a humor web site dedicated to absurd stories) first. It is not credible. It is possible that the white man brought diseases to the settlements, and did, but not that it wiped all of them out. Even Pocahontas died of syphilis.
7/15/2015 08:37:00 am
Ancient people not alien. Damn auto correct.
7/15/2015 12:11:09 pm
Actually, death rates in the New England area approached 90% by the time the Puritans arrived; the textual evidence for this is evident in Puritan diaries and writings, talking about being able to walk into Native American villages and take whatever they wanted, largely without opposition. But it wasn't "a plague" that did it, it was a thick cocktail of dozens of diseases brought over by the Europeans, and it was never the entire East Coast. There were numerous deaths up and down the coast, but most of the East Coast didn't approach 90%; it was only in the New England-ish area--Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut--that the death rate was that high. This is, I would point out, not dissimilar to rates of deaths during the Bubonic Plague in Europe, where some areas had higher death rates than others, and Prague managed to avoid the plague entirely.
7/15/2015 02:29:54 pm
I apologize if this is off topic, but has anyone heard the interview on the radio show Fade to Black with Scott Wolter recently? It should be the most recent episode of it and he talks about his show returning.
7/15/2015 11:30:30 pm
Here's the 2014 podcast
7/16/2015 03:36:56 am
"The fact of the matter is that debunkers are just disheartened believers, longing with all their hearts for the skies to open and for the saucermen to take them to the stars. It probably wouldn't take much coaxing to draw this out, maybe just a few beers and a starry sky."
7/16/2015 03:46:59 am
Also, I think Knowles is overshooting it with the "new priesthood" accusations. Even if there is a sense of dogmatism amongst some skeptics, I highly doubt it's that bad. If anything, his field of research certainly has its fair share.
7/16/2015 03:58:04 am
His field of research is not free from his own brand of dogmatism
7/16/2015 07:21:59 am
Your questions, and whether to keep asking them about Knowles, will be better answered by taking a look at his blog, including the comments. I don't mean that to be dismissive, but it is difficult to exactly explain the synchronistic, mystical, all-encompassing scope of what he writes about.
7/16/2015 04:51:06 am
I was like you Jason, when I was young I believed a bit of "ancient mystery" type stuff. I am 45, so I am from the Star Wars generation, of course I wanted anything space related to be real! Imagination is a good thing.
7/16/2015 01:23:50 pm
"Knowles asked why debunkers or skeptics don’t devote themselves to discussions of digestive enzymes or other “science” topics."
7/16/2015 02:20:41 pm
1a. They do. They're called scientists and scholars.
7/18/2015 04:56:56 am
@spookyparadigm: "Your questions, and whether to keep asking them about Knowles, will be better answered by taking a look at his blog, including the comments. I don't mean that to be dismissive, but it is difficult to exactly explain the synchronistic, mystical, all-encompassing scope of what he writes about." Don't worry. You're talking to someone who use to follow his blog and is a former member of the FB group. ;)
terry the censor
8/15/2015 04:14:04 pm
> Knowles has more or less explicitly divided ufology from “science”
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