Television is apparently a medium where consistency doesn’t matter, and as long as you’ve been on some show somewhere you can always find a new program higher up the dial. Ancient Aliens pundit Mike Bara, author of Ancient Aliens on Mars and Ancient Aliens on the Moon, has a new show from production company Raw TV, Uncovering Aliens, airing on various Discovery networks (Animal Planet and Science Channel), where he is the skeptic, casting cold water on recent American UFO claims. I can’t wrap my mind around it.
While I try to digest the bizarre sight of Bara endorsing UFO claims on Ancient Aliens on Friday nights while debunking them on Uncovering Aliens on Wednesdays, I thought I’d talk a bit today about some surprising and disturbing information posted last week over on the Bad Archaeology blog. Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews asks “Is Pseudoarchaeology Racist?” In addition to presenting the very clear evidence from the case of Great Zimbabwe, he also presents some telling excerpts from one of Erich von Däniken’s lesser works, Signs of the Gods (1979; English trans. 1980).
I read Signs about twenty years ago, but I admit that I haven’t returned to it as frequently as von Däniken’s other books because it lacks an index, making it hard to look things up. It turns out I should have reviewed this one more carefully because it contains some of von Däniken’s most appalling race-based claims. Here’s a sample from those passages found by Fitzpatrick-Matthews:
“The evolutionists say that man descends from monkeys. Yet who has ever seen a white monkey? Or a dark ape with curly hair such as the black race has?”
Von Däniken asserts that if evolution were true, then the “black” or “Negroid” race was the first to evolve. Because black people did not “spread out” all over the earth, they therefore did not evolve. Instead, the aliens placed different colored people across the world for “educative effect,” to prove that no matter our skin color we are all the same species.
I’d like to add to Fitzpatrick-Matthews’s list the following paragraph, which is, I think, even worse, both for being racist and for completely lacking any understanding of the subject (evolution) he claims to discuss:
A black family emigrates from its home in the tropical zone of the earth and settles in a cooler region. Pigments change down the generations, dark skins become light, perhaps so light, the negroids become white. Dark skin, say the racial specialists, no longer being necessary as a protection against the sun. OK, but in his new environment the black man would also have to lose his curly hair, his prominent dark eyes and protruding lips, otherwise he could never become a white man. But it’s all quite simple, someone will tell me. The black breeds with a white and there you are...
He then claims that African people take their traits from “the apes,” which I presume implies that white people are somehow genetically distinct from the apes and the Africans. Von Däniken further claims that “intermediate” races such as the Eskimo and the Arabs were produced by “racial interbreeding.” He therefore complains that science asserts on the one hand that there was originally only a black race but that somehow the white race emerged from it. Being opposed to evolution and not understanding it (mutation seems beyond him), he asserts that like can only produce like, so that there being “neither a white nor a half-breed” for black people to mate with, it was impossible for black people to produce white offspring.
Fortunately, von Däniken exempts himself from charges of racism by acknowledging that such questions can spark cries of racism but that he is being brave in refusing to sweep under the carpet uncomfortable questions. However, he says that “understanding” what goes on “in the heads and ‘hearts’ of members of another race” is “so difficult.” He explains that Europeans cannot fathom why black people attend funerals with “tomtoms,” thus conflating (purposely) cultural and biological variation, and he says he is deeply interested to learn whether there are “races which are obviously endowed with higher intelligence than others.” The use of “obviously” suggests that he has an answer to that question, despite his next sentence asserting that he does not ascribe to racist theories. He follows this by reflecting that the Jews are the Chosen People, but since Judaism isn’t a race, the chosen race must therefore be the one to which the Jews belong: “the European race.” The “outstanding achievements of Jewish scientists,” von Däniken wrote, are the result not of Judaism but their membership in the European race.
Von Däniken asserts that the “extraterrestrials did choose a specific race.” He won’t say what that race is, but he leans heavily on Jewish claims to be the chosen people, which we have just seen him connect to the white (European) race. There can only be one conclusion, even if unstated. He then advocates eugenics, suggesting that modern genetic research will advise which combinations of races “are beneficial and which should be eliminated.” He seriously asks whether the aliens want “strict segregation” of the races, and he advocates human cloning to perpetuate the very best superior specimens in the event of disaster.
We know from documents I obtained from the National Archives that in these years von Däniken secretly tried to influence the U.S. Republican Party to use his alien theories to energize voters to support conservative politics, particularly in opposing creeping socialism. We also know from his recent books that he remains uncomfortable with changing gender norms, writing as he did in 2009’s Twilight of the Gods that if Islamic prophecy were correct the world would have already ended because “women act like men and the men act like women.”
Also in that 2009 book, Erich von Däniken decried efforts to link him to racism: “And suddenly Erich von Däniken is associated with idiotic racists, as if the ‘heavenly seed’ were my idea and I had made up the ‘chosen ones’ myself.” Well, I think that the racism claim has a bit more to it than that.
And remember, folks: Cable TV gives a frequent platform to a man who openly wondered if the black race were a failure and whether white people are the aliens’ chosen master race.
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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