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.
In a statement on his personal letterhead, von Däniken said the following:
For decades there have been groups of people who believe that some of the contents of my book is racist. More recently, a pseudo-historian by the name of Jason Colavito had made himself important. Obviously, he has neither read nor understood my books.
As should be obvious, everything von Däniken said here is untrue. My book review page contains reviews of only some of the books by von Däniken I have read since the mid-1990s. Each contains quoted excerpts demonstrating von Däniken’s unpleasant and often controversial views. A simple review of his own writing demonstrates the falseness of his denials.
Here he is, writing in his book Signs of the Gods about the “failure” of the Black race:
“Was the black race a failure and did the extraterrestrials change the genetic code by gene surgery and then programme a white or a yellow race?”
Similarly, his views on the subjects favored by conservatives and reactionaries are clearly expressed. In Twilight of the Gods, he offers unpleasantly reactionary views on gender, claiming that the world should have ended long ago if we gave credence to an Islamic prophecy that the End Times would occur when “women act like men and the men act like women.” A recent book, War of the Gods, expresses racist ideas about the socially constructed concept of race being genetically determined, and he threw in an aside about gender essentialism that seems to be an attack on transgender people: “The basic characteristics of people in different parts of the world are known. We all remain people, but we are not the same. The genetic patterns are different. No ‘gender mainstreaming’ disputes this scientific fact.” His book The Gods Never Left Us contains several pages of complaints about feminists and transgender people:
Within the framework of equality between men and women, some women demanded a program to implement gender equality. Meanwhile, gender has grown into a proper world strategy. “Gender mainstreaming” is even one of the goals of the European Union. But a few fundamentally correct thoughts have turned into a feminist world dictate. There are hardly any scientists left who have the moral courage to stand up against gender. […] There are only unisex people any longer. The biological sex no longer counts for anything. Boys should actually be ashamed to have been born with a penis. […] Anyone who does not adhere to “gender” is excluded from the community of reasonable people.
His books are full of similar comments about a raft of conservative issues. I needn’t outline them here.
The majority of his statement attempts to excuse his political views by appealing to the Bible and alleging that he has done nothing more than replace God with space aliens but otherwise follows the same biblical narrative of creation and population as Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Along the way, he nonsensically accuses me of arguing that Flood narratives are racist because only “one group” survives. Of course, that is ridiculous. Earlier generations argued either that races emerged after the Flood or that the survivors represented different racial groups. I have no idea what he thought to gain with that barbed nonsense. While I could explain in detail why his claims are closer in spirit to the twisted theology Victorian writers employed to excuse colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, I will confine myself here to noting that I did not make the argument that von Däniken complains about in detail in my criticism of his New Yorker appearance. Two-thirds of his statement is a straw-man argument against a claim I did not bring forward in this context. My concern, in this context, is with his racist language, gender essentialism, and other instances of obviously biased and offensive statements.
“Any kind of racism is completely foreign to me,” von Däniken wrote in his statement. “I never had and have anything in common with the ideas of the NAZI. I myself have friends all over the world in all cultures. We do not know any racism.” Chariots of the Gods, for what it was worth, was heavily rewritten by its editor-ghostwriter, who was a former Nazi propagandist. That said, I don’t believe von Däniken thinks of himself as a racist. But his written record firmly shows that he is blind to the consequences of his own ideas, both his so-called “analysis” of ancient texts and his own highly conservative politics.
Von Däniken concluded his missive by claiming that I and other critics are in fact the true racists. “This because they consider themselves to be something special.” I have hard time considering “I know you are, but what am I?” to be a serious defense against more than five decades’ evidence of sustained racist and sexist commentary, but it certainly seems to be an appropriate example of the level of von Däniken’s reasoning and the intellectual achievement it represents.
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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