This morning I had two tabs open in my browser. One of them was an op-ed piece about the apocalyptic nightmare vision in Donald Trump’s speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination. The other happened to be an older piece on Tor.com from a science fiction writer explaining how he developed a vision of post-apocalyptic America. I must have clicked the wrong place while reading the first article, and I ended up in the second. The frightening part is that the two articles merged together so seamlessly that I did not notice the jump from one to the other for several paragraphs. In many ways Trump’s speech was the culmination of the great national freak out that began with 9/11, curdled now into a revitalization movement that promises a fiery purge to purify the world.
The Tor.com article opened with a still frame from Planet of the Apes, the famous closing scene in which the ruined Statue of Liberty testifies to the fall of human civilization. That movie was a sort of inverted ancient astronaut theory—no surprise given script writer Rod Serling’s interests—but it also reminded me that the longing for a revitalized country and a savior to purge and cleanse the world of sin is also one of the key themes of fringe history. Ancient Aliens, for all its goofball stupidity, was the canary in the coalmine, testifying to that existential longing for a new cosmology and ideology that the old order of liberal democracy and scientific rationalism have been unable to satisfy.
Despite the very obvious differences between Trump and Ancient Aliens, Ancient Aliens shares with Trump an eclectic disrespect for every form of traditional authority, a celebration of the dilettante and the amateur, a lust for overturning and destroying anything and everything to satisfy petty grievance, and an obsession with vague conspiracies tied, ultimately (though often without the participants’ knowledge) to ideologies of hate. And both imagine a transcendent future where the will of the people and the niceties of democracy and civil society are subsumed before the benevolent rule of a savior figure—but not until the world has been purged through a nightmarish reign of terror and fear, where people are no longer safe in their own homes and mysterious forces of unimaginable power can strike them down at any time without warning.
Ancient Aliens rarely makes this dystopian vision explicit, unlike Trump, but it is always present behind the façade of quasi-scientific “investigation,” a sort of New Age parallel to the lustful longing for the Apocalypse that has animated Christian death cults for a thousand years or more.
But enough of that depressing thought. Instead let us discuss this depressing episode, which joins Christian conservatives in denying the reality of evolution in favor of a supernatural origin for each human and prehuman species.
Our episode opens with UFO abduction research by David Jacobs and the oft-repeated claim that space aliens are performing genetic experiments on human beings during anal probing abduction events. Jacobs alleges that abductees’ hallucinations of seeing alien-human babies in flying saucers really happen in the physical world, but the show doesn’t bother to go into this in any detail. Within seconds we are off to South Africa to discuss the 2013 discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo naledi, which as of today has yet to be dated and therefore cannot be placed in the human evolutionary tree.
David Childress describes the existence of various human species 50,000 years ago or so as “like something out of Lord of the Rings,” while the narrator suggests that the existence of different human species requires a rewrite of Darwin’s theory of evolution. No one on this show understands evolution, least of all Nick Redfern, who alleges that evolution would predict “a steady, slow progression” from one species to the next. Punctuated equilibrium, proposed decades ago, has long since offered an alternative to “steady and slow,” while the existence of many related species of animals such as cats (lions, tigers, lynxes, pumas, etc.) and birds ought to be enough to prove that the earth can and did hold more than a single species of a given type at any one time.
The show then alleges that mythological accounts of failed first versions of humans (such as the Wood people of Mayan mythology) provides a correct account of aliens trying out a few different forms before settling on special old us. In discussing this, the show quotes nearly verbatim and without acknowledgement part of Zecharia Sitchin’s Twelfth Planet to the effect that “Sumerian texts, too, speak of deformed humans created by Enki and the Mother Goddess (Ninhursag) in the course of their efforts to fashion a perfect Primitive Worker.” (The text really does exist; there is a poem about Ninhursag getting drunk and creating barren women and eunuchs. It is known as “Enki and Ninmah (or Numah)” and appears in Sumerian Mythology by S. N. Kramer, from which Sitchin learned of it. A more recent translation is here. However, it is only one variation on the creation myth and is contradicted by several others.)
The second segment deals with the so-called Hobbits of Flores in Indonesia and the Denisovans in Russia. Redfern doesn’t quite understand the idea of isolated populations developing their own genetic traits, so he believes that these different species popped up independently of the rest of humanity. Here the narrator brings up the concept of punctuated equilibrium, but David Childress doesn’t quite understand what the narrator just finished saying about this view of evolution. Therefore, instead of following the narrator in suggesting that space aliens are creating the conditions that lead to sudden change, he and the other talking heads speculate whether species “come out of the incubator” on the aliens’ timetable. The narrator asserts that aliens killed off other human species to make room for us.
The third segment discusses Neanderthals and their relative cultural sophistication and mental acuity. Redfern alleges that aliens killed the Neanderthals to “purify” our species because humans were having too much sex with Neanderthals. George Noory says that the aliens used Noah’s Flood to do this, despite the show having literally done whole episodes devoted to placing Noah’s Flood in other time periods, specifically at the end of the last ice age.
The fourth segment deals with haplogroups, particularly haplogroup X, which is shared by people in both the Old World and the New. The show alleges that science cannot explain this (untrue: the same variant of haplogroup X occurs in native Siberians, the likely origin of Native American haplogroup X) and therefore aliens must be involved, via the Giants (the Nephilim), whom David Childress thinks were carriers of this haplogroup. This lets the show discuss the familiar old material about the Smithsonian records of giant bones, and the Adena burial mound that the show filmed back in January, and which I discussed back when they did the filming. William Henry alleges that the Smithsonian has been suppressing these reports, a claim that David Childress invented out of whole cloth in the early 1990s. Henry says that giant bones prove evolution is false, and Childress offers up the giant bones as proof that the Sons of God really did mate with human women. This is about as logical as arguing that the existence of fire proves Prometheus was real.
The isolated and unusual Basque language, and the Basque population’s high concentration of Rh-negative blood, are used to suggest alien intervention. This is because Rh-negative blood is incompatible with Rh-positive blood, and none of the talking heads can fathom the idea of a mutation emerging spontaneously in an area such as Europe. George Noory says that Rh-negative people “evolved” from a “different species” than other humans. This is roughly like arguing that people with blue eyes come from another planet. It’s hard to convey just how little these people understand about even the most basic high school level evolutionary concepts. However, rather than harp on it, I will instead remind you that Ancient Aliens borrowed this material from a common claim circulating among David Icke, Nick Redfern, and online clickbait sites, which in turn has also given rise to wildly racist rants.
As the show grinds to an ignominious close, David Wilcock tells us that human beings are currently undergoing rapid evolution, recycling false claims from earlier episodes that human genes are 7% different than in 3000 (or 5000) BCE. William Henry tells us that the aliens are changing us into “celestial beings” who will fly off into the stars. Linda Moulton Howe has a darker vision, and she says that we are “being replaced” by a new hybrid alien species. In other words, illegal aliens are outbreeding us into extinction and taking over our country through their fertile, fertile loins—a Trumpian notion entirely of a piece with the current political climate.
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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