John Anthony West Says That Pseudo-History Is a Means to Overthrow Capitalism and Western Civilization
When I was a kid, the Discovery Channel used to show dubbed English versions of ZDF’s Terra X documentary series. I have a great affection for the show (despite its frequent forays into fringe history) from that experience, and down to the present I have consequently availed myself from time to time of German archaeological documentaries, including those that DWTV dubbed into English. I was surprised and a bit dismayed to learn from László Matthias Simon-Nanko that ZDF purchased the German broadcast rights to the History Channel’s wretched Atlantis Found documentary from 2015 and will be airing an edited version of it as an episode of Terra X a few hours after I post this. To think: Two decades ago America had to import its sensationalist pseudo-archaeology from Europe in the form of Terra X, Erich von Däniken, and Graham Hancock, but now we are an exporter of pseudohistory and ignorance. Thanks, History Channel!
In December 2016, Graham Hancock and John Anthony West held a discussion in New York City that was filmed and recently released on Hancock’s website and YouTube as a promotion to attract attention to the 84-year-old West’s fundraising efforts to raise money for unproven cancer treatments. According to Hancock, the conversation took place before Hancock was aware of West’s diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer.
For the first third or so of the 90-minute conversation, West and Hancock rehashed their favorite battles from the 1990s, going through at enormous length the story of West’s promotion of the Sphinx as pre-dynastic monument, and West, of course, asserts that Egyptologists rejected this claim solely out of “ego” and pride.
During the conversation, West and Hancock described what they believe is the precarious position of Egyptology, a discipline they feel is “under siege” and will be overturned by fringe historians sometime in the near future. “I’ll be around to gloat,” West said in words that now have a more melancholy air, as did his lengthy focus on death and near-death experiences. West spent time bashing Christianity, science, wealth, and all the usual bugaboos of the New Age. “Finding an open-minded scientist is like finding a fundamentalist Christian who loves his enemies,” West said. He speculated that Donald Trump may have special access to U.S. government secrets about the afterlife, spirituality, and other New Age concerns. Note: Unlike many other fringe historians, West does not consider this a good thing, and he suggests that “cosmic justice” would involve hiding ancient secrets from Trump to prevent him from taking advantage of them. West said that he opposes “capitalism, patriotism, democracy, technology, and entertainment,” which he said were the harbingers of civilization’s downfall.
It's not terribly hard to draw a direct line between West’s political beliefs and his pseudohistorical ones. West opposes the structures of Western Civilization, and therefore he opposes academia, both as an embodiment of Western learning, and also because it perpetuates a narrative that traces a direct line of succession from ancient times to the modern West. By attempting separate ancient Egypt from this succession, West creates an anti-Western exemplar, a culture that he can re-create in a way that provides a counterbalance to the Western Civilization he abhors.
West is perceptive enough to understand many of his motives and to reflect on his own beliefs, and he makes no bones about the explicit connection between his politics and his pseudohistory, starting with the fact that the parallels between his calls to overthrow Western Civilization and to overthrow what is, at heart, Western history are painfully apparent. Consider West’s own words on the subject:
“There would be no reason to care [about a lost civilization],” West said, “if we had a civilization of our own worth calling a civilization. But we don’t. We have a fraudulent religion, which they call Progress, and I call the Church of Progress, that is absolutely pernicious both on the personal and on the cosmic level. We are in the process of destroying ourselves with all our stupid-ass technology, and getting nothing for it.”
West added that too few people in Western civilization are able to work on subjects that feed their souls, and he said that there is no reason to study history if the present were satisfying. “It would just be an academic question,” he said. This is a pretty clear connection between West’s worldview and his pseudohistory, and it is a rather obvious counterpoint to West’s own claim that scientists are the ones who are blind to reality because of an excess of ideology. Later, West was even more blunt in admitting that his advocacy of pseudohistory is derived from his leftist politics: “It’s good science to overthrow our picture of the past,” West said, “but the reason to overthrow it is that the present is such a hell-house. It’s such a brothel.”
“It’s such a hell-house desperately trying to disguise itself as a paradise,” Hancock added.
Yup, we should go back to the good old days of absolute monarchy, slavery, forced labor, short lifespans, and total obedience to the diktats of the elite. It was so much better way back when! No wonder West wants to invent a Never-Neverland where everyone was “spiritual” and lived in harmony with the Earth and the gods.
“It’s very important to disempower them,” West said of the elites who run Western culture. For him and for Hancock, fringe history is simply politics by another means, a way of discrediting political actors and elite institutions in service of a fictitious brave new world to come.
Frankly, the most amazing thing to me is that the Trump era has somehow stripped the mask from fringe history. In the past, men like Graham Hancock would at least pretend that their ideas were about science and history, but now they seem freed to openly concede that their goal isn’t factual accuracy but revolution.
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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