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.
2/12/2017 09:04:32 am
"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."
2/12/2017 11:23:38 am
While it's certainly true that the sucessful fight against infant mortality has been by far the most significant factor in the increase of average lifespans, improvements in adulthood have also played a part. In England, the average death-age of men who were 50 in 1911 was just over 70 years. The expectation for men who were 50 in 2011 was an average death age of just over 81 years.
2/12/2017 03:23:31 pm
And I think it's fair to say that none of those men died in infancy. You're not getting the difference between life span and life expectancy.
2/12/2017 09:08:00 pm
"People who were 50 in 2011 are now 56, so "an average death age of 81 years" is speculative at best."
2/13/2017 09:01:31 am
Americanegro- you're looking at the situation the wrong way round. Jason's original reference was to the very sim0lified concept "short lifespans". Clearly, some people throughout recorded history have not had short lifespans, and the upper limit (around 120 years) does not seem to have changed much. What absolutely has changed is the average lifespan, or if you prefer, average age at death. To help reduce the effect of child mortality, consider the median and modal figures rather than the mean. For deaths of males in England in 1911 the median was 59.67 years, the modal value 74.33 years. For deaths of males in England in 2010 (the latest value in the current published time-series) the median was 81.73, the modal value 85.44. Any way you measure it except the upper limit, which increasing numbers of people are reaching, human lifespan is getting longer.
2/13/2017 02:14:11 pm
You can't discount the influence of reduced infant mortality: more people to live to an old age. This is an actuary's bread and butter. Read a book called Life Contingencies.
2/14/2017 09:02:17 am
You are of course correct that reduced infant mortality means "more people to live to an old age"- but that's exactly why I originally quoted the increase in life expectancy from age 50, to show that there's much more to the changes than just reduced infant mortality.
2/13/2017 06:47:32 pm
I don't really see how this would change the point, though. In fact, honestly, I think that "much higher infant mortality" is in a lot of way MORE horrifying than living a shorter life. It means that if you make it to adulthood, you have a much, much higher chance of burying a child. Do you know what that DOES to someone? I hope you don't. In today's world, you stand a good change of not having known someone who lost a child, so I stand a good chance of having hopes fulfilled. A hundred years ago, if you DIDN'T know someone who had buried a child, you were a rarity.
2/13/2017 07:54:55 pm
Again, you do not get the difference between life span and life expectancy, and the bookkeeping trick we've done on infant mortality.
2/12/2017 09:58:55 am
Alternative History has long been pushed by ideology, insecurity (see Afrocentrics), and pride (see Eurocentric).
2/12/2017 10:09:16 am
Interesting, Sir, and kind of sad.
2/12/2017 10:53:25 am
You raise a good point. I still remember the siege of Gondor, Ecthelion of the Fountain, and the Battle of the Pelennor fields, but to be fair I'm a little wobbly on the First Age stuff, got conked on the head quite a few times. Barely made it out of Israel when the Hebrews invaded and slaughtered as they went. But even millennia later I think about the latkes and now I'm hungry, dammit!
2/12/2017 03:42:24 pm
Very true. Even though West and Hancock consider themselves left-wing, they seem to be as deeply reactionary as the folks who openly identify themselves as reactionaries. Both groups contrast what they see as a degenerate present with a glorious past - a past that owes much more to their imaginations than to any historical reality.
2/12/2017 11:57:24 am
"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."
2/12/2017 12:49:47 pm
". . . absolute monarchy, slavery, forced labor, short lifespans, . . ." phlebotomy, outhouses, inquisitions, syphilis, the plague, . . . the list goes on. :-)
2/12/2017 03:29:06 pm
Again, WE HAVE ALL OF THOSE RIGHT NOW. Maybe look into the newspaper reading game. Good source of information.
2/12/2017 12:38:22 pm
In "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (1974) Robert Pirsig bemoans a paradigm shift from man understanding his existence as being immersed in a world where gods and spirits are real and immanent to one where man is outside nature and can observe and define the world in which he lives. (Pirsig locates this shift in ancient Greece, exemplified in one of Plato's "Dialogues" - I don't recall which one.) West and other alternative thinkers seem to want to live in that former world of romance where whatever one can imagine is possible – nay, actual, by virtue of their having imagined it. The things he decries: science, academia, progress, capitalism, democracy, technology, are mechanisms of, or demonstrations of, man's control of his world. West is irritated because he isn’t one doing the controlling. Conveniently for him, arguing against his ideas proves (to him) that you are one of the elite trying to dominate him and destroy his truth; empirical knowledge be damned.
2/12/2017 03:42:05 pm
Reminds me of the crypto Catholic Vatican academic Smithson Institute conspiracy to cover up the truth about stone holes and deny the Knives Templars their rightful inheritance and now that I think of it the colors of Kentucky Fried Chicken are red and white just like the Templars.
2/12/2017 01:40:40 pm
West is a perfect example of the modern day pseudointellectual. Having grown up in the West, he is free to shit on what it has afforded him; no appreciation, no understanding of the world as a whole, no clue as to what real history is.
2/12/2017 02:16:26 pm
I just saw the ZDF version of "Atlantis Found", and it ends with a disclaimer - it may be Santorin or it may be not Santorin. But then the question remains why they bought it.
2/12/2017 04:01:18 pm
The good old days, a common myth among people who pine for a fantasy version of their middle twenties. It is an ideal, not an idea.
2/12/2017 04:16:40 pm
My sole remaining hope is that this explosion of anti-rationality, overt racism, sexism, etc., is the last gasp of the rich-old-white-man cohort and their obsequious enablers. It ain't much of a hope, but it's the only one I have left.
2/12/2017 05:02:31 pm
There isn't an "explosion" of anti-rationality, overt racism, or sexism. There is just an explosion of coverage of these (and other social ills) due to the internet providing access to every crackpot idea harbored by every crackpot, and a virtually unlimited amount of cable TV and other social media bandwidth which "must" be filled regardless of quality of content. I remember the 1950's. Believe me - at least in the US, there is a lot less racism, and sexism now that there was then (and probably anti-rationality too). It just wasn't as overt and it was accepted as the status quo.. In any event the current appearance of those things has nothing to do with being rich, old, or white.
2/15/2017 01:08:55 am
Exactly, you just have to look at the adherents of 'Melanin Theory' to realize that no-one is immune to racist nonsense.
2/12/2017 07:04:10 pm
You almost made it several paragraphs without mentioning Trump. This blog used to be fun, but you are in a serious rut.
2/12/2017 07:30:56 pm
(a) I didn't mention him; West did. It's hardly my fault he decided to talk about him.
2/13/2017 09:46:52 am
I am hoping that in the next week or so you look at Afrocentrist claims about Ancient Egypt, I have also heard that in the 1990s that American students were taught that Indians (Not American Indians) got their civilization from West Africans...
2/13/2017 01:56:18 pm
Jason, enough with the goofy discussions, whether Hindu nationalism, or just plain goofy American nationalism. And a week of Trump is nowhere near enough; we need years to Talk about Trump and his on-going escapades. Things are sure to get more interesting for you to select from in the near future; maybe even as soon as a week from now. There is bound to be some very interesting and unusual actions and reactions from world leaders, and citizens too, stemming from Trump's own a-typical actions, reactions, and inaction to developing conditions worldwide. We are now starting to hear the press hinting that Trump's mental health stability should be questioned.
2/12/2017 11:01:22 pm
I'm more interested where you come down on the Joe Venuti / Stuff Smith debate.
2/13/2017 08:34:30 pm
I can see why someone might be attracted to a theory that says something, say the Sphinx, is much older than it is thought to be.
4/14/2018 11:11:16 pm
Beyond the opinions voiced in the documentary they did say the bed rock of the sphinx dated long before the currently attributed time frame and same with the Turkish site whose name i forgot.
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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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