Peter Levenda Is Upset with Me. He Also Called Me "Arrogant" and Driven by "Personal Resentment." Yes, He's a Full-Fledged Fringe Writer Now!
Good news, everyone! Peter Levenda is mad at me again! Or, to be more specific, he finds it upsetting and outrageous that I reviewed his book, Sekret Machines (my review: • Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 •), from the utterly biased perspective that a book which claims to be setting the stage to change humanity’s very conception of itself ought, at a minimum, to provide evidence to support such a proposition and maintain, at a minimum, logical consistency within itself. Since Levenda states upfront in the book that he had no intention to follow either of these propositions (explicitly saying that those looking for evidence will find “nothing here” for them), it necessarily follows that my evaluation of the book will differ from Levenda’s less rigorous intentions. Or, rather, he would have made that claim if he had read the review, which he didn’t, because he decided I am biased against him based on his choice to use my site’s search box to look for his own name and those of his friends Jacques Vallée and Graham Hancock
Levenda posted part of a response in the comments on my blog before the system’s character limits cut him off, and he released the entire statement—amounting to more than 10 single-spaced pages!--on his Facebook page as nine lengthy comments. I’ll try to present some of the highlights, such as they are, as Levenda carefully attempted to use rhetoric to reverse the burden of proof and cast me as an ideologue trying to oppress him through unfair skepticism, thus absolving him of any criticisms of facts or evidence I made against him: “Your skepticism is obviously an ideological position, and you begin from your conclusions and work your way backward, cherry-picking data and then mischaracterizing it to bolster your agenda. This is basically what conspiracy theorists do, and it is ironic that you don’t recognize the same methodology in yourself.” Note carefully the reversal of the burden of proof, as though my questioning of his claims were an effort to make a counterargument rather than to say that Levenda failed to make a convincing prima facie case to overcome presumption. A counterargument would require much more data, but since I am not the claimant, it is not my job to prove that interdimensional spirit monsters don’t exist; rather, it was Levenda’s job to convince us that they do.
Just to clarify: As I laid out in The Cult of Alien Gods more than a decade ago (a book Levenda snarks that few have read), the ancient astronaut theory is not prima facie impossible. It is possible. It is even a hypothesis that can be tested, and should evidence be found in its favor, I would be happy to entertain it. The trouble remains that ancient astronaut theorists failed to provide that evidence.
Levenda is also upset about my use of “fringe” to describe opinions about history that are not mainstream. I’ve dealt with this problem many times, and I have even asked fringe types to propose a name for themselves that they would prefer. Graham Hancock nominated “alternative historians” many years ago, but recently the “alt-“ prefix has taken on a politically charged meaning. Other fringe writers refused to answer or gave me hate-filled responses. There isn’t really a good name, since our rhetorical bias in favor of the mainstream creates a negative connotation for any words describing those beyond the mainstream. Of course, since Levenda uses “skeptic” as a pejorative, his outrage is selective. He is also upset about me using the term “occultist” to describe him. I suppose it’s fair enough. He is a writer on the occult, a so-called “quantum” historian, a fellow-traveler in occult circles, and “expert on … occult and esoteric practices.” He said in a 2001 interview that “I’ve been around occult groups in New York since the late 1960s,” and last week even described the occult as “Levenda’s obsession.” He denied being a member of any specific occult group but crowed that “I was a familiar face around the campfire, so to speak.” He only pretends to believe in the occult sometimes. He wants credit for “exploring” alchemy and mysticism as the way and the light (he recently stated that alchemy could provide a Grand Unified Theory of reality), but doesn’t want to be described as an advocate of such beliefs, even though, beneath his careful list of qualifiers, it is the only logical interpretation of his “investigations.” He is prone to making dramatic statements of “truth” that can only be accepted by believing in the occult worldview. He is like the pundits on TV who scream bloody murder only against Democrats and then conclude by saying they are “independent” and never actually said to vote Republican.
He is very upset that I have pointed out that numerous sources have accused Levenda of being the brains behind the Simon Necronomicon, the work of fake occult lore masquerading as Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire, so to distract from that he focuses on the fact that I mistakenly described the (fictitious) “Simon” as “Greek” Orthodox instead of “Slavonic” Orthodox. (The mistake happened because “Simon” claimed to be Orthodox and to have a Greek Necronomicon.) This distracts from the inconvenient fact that the man who prefers not to be associated with Simon or the occult is also the credited copyright holder of Simon’s sequel to the Necronomicon, an occult work of ceremonial magic. While Levenda denies being the author, at the very least he is complicit in facilitating and promoting occult fantasies, and he would prefer we ignore that when it isn’t convenient. He is a journalist and historian when he wants mainstream respect, and happily rhapsodizes about the occult when he wants to shape audiences’ beliefs.
He foams with rage that I engaged in what he calls “character assassination” against Jacques Vallée because, in my “arrogance” (a theme of Levenda’s—that I don’t bow before old men), I decline to “respect” his achievements in ufology. He falsely claims I have criticized only one of Vallée’s books and therefore cannot judge Vallée’s philosophy, but this is not true. In addition to Wonders in the Sky, I have also identified similar methodological and research errors in his Passport to Magonia and at least two of his other books. He gets by on his measured tone and Gallic persona, but his work does not withstand scrutiny. If the facts are wrong, the theory explaining them doesn’t matter. “You seem to have a particular problem with people who have accomplished a great deal in their lives in their intellectual (and other) pursuits,” Levenda writes. No, just people who promote fantasy as reality. I’m rather dumfounded that Levenda reads criticism as arrogance and disapproval as lack of deference.
The duration of the first five Facebook comments of his criticism focus on elements of his biography and his feeling that my description of his previous books was unfair because it suggested that his histories of the “secret” role of Esoteric Hitlerism in world politics were overstated. He attempted to make a case for the importance of the occult in Nazism, and most mainstream historians do not credit the occult with as much influence as Levenda does, nor have the occult aspects of Nazism dominated in the postwar Neo-Nazi movement except among the weird Esoteric Hitlerists. To put it a bit more clearly, Levenda took issue with my characterization of his works on occult history as promoting the primacy of Nazism as a secret stream in world politics, and the occult as a driving force of Nazism. More than a decade ago, in The New Conspiracy Reader, Levenda outlined his view that the magical and the political were deeply “entwined,” and that Nazi occultism remained a “dangerous influence” on world politics. The irony that just last week he said that “occultism and esotericism were at the very root of the development of Nazism” is too rich. Apparently to describe Levenda’s own words is to do him grievous harm, for my plain reading of his many, many claims over the years doesn’t align with the carefully modulated version he prefers.
But all of this is Levenda’s dislike of how I have characterized his past work—and no one likes when other people characterize their work, because others’ impressions rarely match the self-image in our own minds. Clearly, Levenda thinks of himself as doing very different work than the impression he left on me. But none of it so far has anything to do with Sekret Machines.
Let’s get to that. In my review, I criticized Levenda for promoting Tom DeLonge’s purposeful mixture of fact and fiction as two prongs of UFO “disclosure.” I said, “If you cannot or will not relate what is happening in the real world without resorting to fiction, then you are a bad writer and researcher, a moral coward, or a fraud.” Levenda disapproved:
Them’s are fightin’ words, there, Jason! Can you back that up with anything other than animus, cowboy? Or does the lady protest too much, I wonder? I have already noted your lack of research integrity and in this article I am calling attention to your use of dishonest rhetorical devices to mislead your readers.
Nope, no dishonesty there. I made my view clear: If DeLonge claims to have evidence that will change the world, then show it. If you have proof of aliens and UFOs and ancient astronauts, then lay it out. If you want to pretend, say some things can only be explained through fiction, and not show the proof, then you are not writing history but polemic. Show us the evidence, or go home. Levenda’s self-justification, posted online last week, that the proof is so self-evident that it can simply be assumed, is an end-run around making good on the promises DeLonge—the credited author of the book that Levenda assigns to himself on his blog—maintained he would deliver on.
OK, so by comment 7 have we finally gotten to my review? Almost! Levenda inadvertently confirmed my criticism of his book while thinking that he had cleverly attacked me, and that was fun. In my criticism, I noted that Levenda (a) declared explicitly that his approach was completely different from that of “ancient astronaut theorists” and (b) pretty much duplicated the famous 1973 documentary In Search of Ancient Astronauts, right down to the use of the cargo cult to frame the story, thus making his approach neither fresh nor unique. Levenda confirmed that he never did a literature review of his own subject—ancient astronaut theories—and therefore was talking out of his ass about being fresh and unique. He also misunderstood me, thinking I believed him to be claiming to have discovered the existence of cargo cults, a patent absurdity:
I never said I was the one who discovered the Cargo Cults. They were discussed in the anthro classes I took to get my graduate degree, and I believe one such cult appeared in the old film Mondo Cane. I never saw the In Search of Ancient Astronauts program you referenced, because (as any of my friends can attest, with some horror) I did not watch television or even own a television set during the entire decade of the 1970s. At any rate, I ignore much of what pretends to be journalism and historical research as presented on television shows. I prefer texts, and footnotes, and bibliographies. My research was not conducted by watching television, but through books, documents, and independent – personal – research, here and abroad.
In short, he never checked what previous ancient astronaut theorists had done except for von Däniken and Sitchin, and thus missed the vast changes that the traditional ancient astronaut theory has undergone since the 1970s, particularly in delving into “consciousness” and alternate dimensions as key aspects of the “mystery,” exactly the points Levenda claims are unique to his approach.
But here’s a doozy: Regular readers know that I have devoted years to carefully gathering, translating, and studying primary source material related to the Watchers, the Nephilim, the Pillars of Wisdom, and the medieval pyramid mythology based on them. I have gathered the largest collection of texts on the subject ever put in one place (including dozens never before published in English), and I made almost all of them available to readers for free. Beyond these, I have also read a few more that, for copyright reasons, I am not able to publish here. It’s kind of my thing. Levenda assumes I am lying about this and accuses me of arrogance in stating the plain fact that this is a subject I know inside and out because I have done enormous amounts of work on it and actually did the primary source research:
“Certainly more than Levenda”? Seriously? What is the basis for that assumption? That is certainly not a statement one would expect to find in any sort of responsible review and smacks of an adolescent schoolyard taunt. How do you know how much primary source material I have read on this subject? In fact, how would I know how much you have read? How childish, this insistence that you are smarter or better-read than virtually everyone else: a claim that itself becomes your only evidence to prove your claim, an example of what is known as “begging the question”, another cheap rhetorical device that should be beneath you.
It’s not a rhetorical device. Since Levenda has, by his own admission, never read my collection of texts, which contain obscurities that only a handful of specialists reference in footnotes, and texts that were hitherto only published in languages Levenda has never claimed to speak, I am quite confident that I have read more primary source ancient and medieval texts on the subject than Levenda has, though it is technically possible that he has read everything and simply chose to ignore all of it and be unable to use or cite any but the most obvious texts, even when they would strengthen his arguments. It isn’t arrogance but a plain statement of my special area of expertise, hard won through the kind of deep research that Levenda’s book skates over. I can compare Bar Hebraeus to al-Juzjani in their use of the remnants of Berossus in an Abrahamic Nephilim context. I can explain the altered traces of the Nephilim in the Akhbar al-zaman, chapter and verse. Levenda’s book simply accepts the Nephilim’s existence at face value, and by its own methodology fails to trace or compare the textual evidence over time, or the interactions among different literary traditions.
Levenda closes by accusing me of “personal resentment” and declaring preemptively that he will not read my review of his book, thereby freeing him from the necessity of having to deal with my actual criticisms of his facts and his claims. By making personal what was an evaluation of specific claims, Levenda attempts to neutralize criticism of his stale ideas and lack of evidence.
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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