Countdown to "Sekret Machines: Gods": Peter Levenda Claims a New Approach to Ancient Aliens, While Jacques Vallée Attacks Knowledge Itself
Next week ex-Blink-182-member Tom DeLonge and occult historian Peter Levenda release their book Sekret Machines: Gods, the first in a nonfiction trilogy focused on examining questions of alien encounters in human history. This first volume takes inspiration from twentieth century ancient astronaut books, going so far as to repeat specific material done first and better by Erich von Däniken half a century ago. For example, the book opens with Levenda offering a novelistic description of how Stone Age people would have understood the arrival of ancient astronauts, a close copy of von Däniken’s opening gambit in Chariots of the Gods imagining how the primitive residents of another planet might interpret human astronauts’ advanced technology. This is followed by yet another retelling of the story of the cargo cults of the Pacific, which we last encountered just last week in Erich von Däniken’s new book Astronaut Gods of the Maya, and which has appeared on Ancient Aliens and in Giorgio Tsoukalos’s preface to von Däniken’s Twilight of the Gods, but is best known from its appearance in the NBC-TV documentary (and the German original it dubbed) In Search of Ancient Astronauts, an adaptation of Chariots of the Gods. Originality is not Sekret Machines’ strong suit, but then it never was for von Däniken either; he borrowed the cargo cult claims from their inclusion in the movie version of his own book!
Here is the cargo cult on Ancient Aliens:
And here it is in In Search of Ancient Astronauts, around the 3:30 mark:
Levenda, though, wrongly claims to be different from von Däniken—“this is not an attempt at an ‘ancient aliens’ type of approach” he writes—because he alleges that human civilization is a cargo cult inspired by (but not directed by) space aliens. He hilariously terms the arrival of the aliens the ur-punkt moment, which sounds like a suitably Germanic, scholarly term—the new coinage translates as “the origin point”—until you read it with the eyes of Levenda, an old hand at playing it two ways. Read phonetically, it says “you’re punked,” like the old MTV prank show Punk’d, and surely there is a bit of a joke behind the whole Sekret Machines enterprise, which DeLonge, in leaked emails released by Wikileaks, confessed was meant to restore young adults’ faith in the American government. Can we really take Levenda at his word that he is either ignorant of previous ancient astronaut media or genuinely thinks the cargo cult approach is something new? It has almost literally been von Däniken’s shtick for decades, and it was literally broadcast to the entire country on NBC in 1973. More people heard the claim in 1973 than will ever read Sekret Machines.
This much I had already expected. Remember last week when libertarian politician Robert Burke blindsided me in an interview about UFOs? Well, he is a huge Peter Levenda fan, and he provided me with scanned pages from Levenda’s Sekret Machines notebooks, and they indicated fairly well what the final product would be. In a representative excerpt, Levenda said he needed to “compare von Dänniken (sic) w/ Velikovsky” and to use them to find “universals / constants between cultures.” However, I did not expect that in the acknowledgements Levenda would thank Micah Hanks among a dozen or so ufologists and fringe-types (Whitley Streiber, Jim Marrs, and Richard Dolan, for starteres) for providing him with inspiration and conversation. Not a single skeptic or even critic of ufology made his list.
I am especially disappointed with Levenda’s approach to ancient astronautics, the professed topic of this volume. It starts with Levenda saying that he assumed that alien contact really happened (“the understanding—not the belief, the understanding—that the UFO phenomenon is real”) and therefore proceeded to gather evidence with that in mind. You might recognize that as circular reasoning. Worse, as I pointed out years ago, it is a failure of imagination. Many possibilities exist besides aliens. From there he goes on to say that “This project is designed to inspire nothing less than a cultural revolution in human consciousness.” This will include “an overhaul of our religious, cultural, political, scientific, and military preconceptions,” he writes. What a coincidence that this is exactly what Levenda tried and failed to accomplish with his activism surrounding ritual magick, the occult, and conspiracy theories about Esoteric Hitlerism. Amazing how that tends to work.
Oh, and the book talks about Nephilim. Because of course it does.
However, this is not a review of Sekret Machines because I have not seen the complete book, only the opening chapters and a synopsis. I will withhold judgment therefore until I have been able to review the entire book. Instead, I’d like to discuss part of the book that I have been able to review in total, the preface by wealthy venture capitalist Jacques Vallée, a longtime investigator of UFOs and ancient astronauts. Regular readers will know that I think very little of Vallée despite his reputation as a profound thinker on UFOs. This is because his epistemology is flawed, his evidence is frequently fictitious or misunderstood, and he and his coauthor made use of some of my criticisms in his most recent book without so much as an acknowledgment of it. Worse, he learned virtually nothing from me. In this new foreword, Vallée continues to offer the stale Manichean thinking that tries to frame the so-called “UFO phenomenon” as a false dichotomy: either UFOs are alien spacecraft as witnesses maintain, or they can’t exist at all.
To defend this, he asks us to imagine that UFOs are not real. He then brings in postmodern philosophy to argue that this will create a logical paradox:
In a subtle twist of logic that would have delighted the philosophers of the Derrida school, this denial of the testimony compiled from hundreds of thousands of sightings all over the world suddenly enables us to accept them freely: What harm could there be in acknowledging these meaningless stories in the light of day? […] If UFOs and physical reality are incompatible, maybe the time has come to re-negotiate physical reality. Because, as we all know, these impossible UFOs that don’t exist are not going away
Did you catch that? Underneath the Gallic philosophical curlicues, Vallée is (a) conceding that the UFO phenomenon cannot be reconciled with logic, reason, and physics, and (b) therefore we should throw out science in order to keep UFOs by retreating to a slippery worldview where “reality” is subjective and some semi-mystical force operates beyond observable natural law. To justify this, however, Vallée must assume that there is a “UFO phenomenon.” I maintain that there is not, and I dare him to prove otherwise. As I laid out in 2013, I deny that there is any evidentiary connection between elements ascribed to the “UFO phenomenon” such as lights in the sky, encounters with humanoid creatures, crop circles, cattle mutilations, prehistoric art and artifacts, accounts of theophany, etc. Because every element of the UFO phenomenon occurred in the past in isolation, with no connection to the modern UFO myth, we have no reason to place them together except for the myth that developed in the first half of the twentieth century.
Vallée, who began his career as a computer scientist, now goes so far as to demean physics because it doesn’t mesh with the growing mystical and mythic version of UFOs, calling the discipline little more than “confusion and ugly contradictions.” Similarly, he has no love of historiography. He praises Levenda and DeLonge for returning to the ancient and medieval textual sources of the ancient astronaut theory, saying that they “bravely question the scholars’ various hypotheses and the respectable traditions of established pieties.” Let’s translate that bit of subterfuge, too: Not only do logic, reason, and physics fail to support ufology, so too does the entire weight of the historiographic and epistemological tradition. So, just as we must eliminate science to keep UFOs, we must also destroy the very foundations of epistemology in order to keep ancient astronauts.
If every field of human knowledge must be undone and destroyed to defend the myth of UFOs, then perhaps the better answer is that the myth of UFOs is what needs to change.
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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