Why Is the Alt-Right Into the Middle Ages? Plus: Scott Wolter Claims Ice Age Peoples Held Intercontinental "World Conference" Meetings
The Economist had an interesting blog this week speculating on why far right Americans have come to embrace the Middle Ages. Specifically, the blog post – anonymous, like most Economist pieces – looks at why far right advocates seem to have moved the center of their intellectual interest from Classical Antiquity to medieval times:
The embrace of the medieval extends from the alt-right online forum culture that has exploded in the last few years to stodgier old-school racists. Helmeted crusaders cry out the Latin war-cry “Deus vult!” from memes circulated on Reddit and 4Chan. Images of Donald Trump, clad in mail with a cross embroidered on his chest, abound. Anti-Islam journals and websites name themselves after the Frankish king Charles Martel, who fought Muslim armies in the 8th century, or the (slightly post-medieval) Ottoman defeat at Vienna. Jihadists, meanwhile, use images of Muslim cavaliers from movies and videogames to illustrate their own war against a West they believe to be a reincarnated Byzantium. Indeed, much of the far right's attraction to the Middle Ages seems to be driven by a grudging admiration for Islamic State’s fusion of medieval motivation and modern technology.
I don’t think there is much mystery about it. The culture warriors of the alt-right want to embrace a time period that saw Western Christendom battling the forces of Islam to what they perceive as a glorious victory for the West. The blogger, though, relates this to a more modern trend, the search for ethnic homogeneity, writing that the alt-right twists history to imagine a medieval Europe that was united, Christian, and white, standing firm against a swarthy Other.
The trouble, though, is that this was never the case. Modern racial categories didn’t exist at the time, and the peoples of Europe were barely united in much of anything, spending most of the 1,000 medieval years regularly fighting one another for temporary regional supremacy. However, instead of exploring this issue in its complexity, our blogger prefers to discuss how progressives might also weaponize the Middle Ages as an early model of multiculturalism. This is equally problematic, though, since that multiculturalism often came at the point of a sword, as when the Norse-originating Normans invaded first northern France and then England, reshaping cultures in both countries.
Our blogger correctly notes that Christendom was beset with inner turmoil, culminating in the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in the Middle Ages, and the Reformation and Counter-Reformation that dominated the Renaissance. But this leaves out an equally important component of the story, namely the epic struggle between the Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes for supremacy in Europe, a struggle that set the precedent for the separation of church and state.
Our blogger misses the fact that the alt-right version of medieval history is tinged with the Victorian romanticism of the nationalist era, a time when history became conflated with imagined ethno-national groups, such that medieval history started to be read as an account of how nineteenth century European ethno-national groups (usually defined by language) came into being from the ruins of Empire. The appeal to ethnic homogeneity, today bastardized into a crude veneration of the white race, began with Victorian efforts to shake off multicultural imperial polities like the Habsburg or Ottoman Empires in favor of small, ethnically homogenous, and sometimes openly racist countries that venerated one people, religion, and ethnicity above all others.
But let’s be honest: The reason you’re reading this is because Scott Wolter said something weird again. In comments on his blog this week, Wolter explained his newfound belief, apparently acquired from his recent efforts to align his work with that of Graham Hancock, that ancient peoples held regular world council meetings where representatives of various cultures gathered together to shape history. Here is what he said:
Personally, I think there was a world wide exchange of knowledge and information prior to the Younger-Dryas period that experienced a massive reduction in the high culture of humans that existed beforehand. I know Graham Hancock personally, and recently discussed his latest book with he and Robert Schoch. Robert has a different theory about what caused the massive population reduction around the planet, but the two are friends and it was refreshing to see two intelligent individuals with competing ideas present their ideas without attacking the other. this is how it's supposed to be.
If we take his words literally, it sounds like he was talking to a 12,500-year-old immortal, but it sounds rather like he got the idea from a Native American informant, passing along what was claimed to be oral history. It is prima facie improbable, if for no other reason than this world council somehow failed to distribute the fruits of the Old and New Worlds around the world, except for the odd cigarette or line of cocaine, yet was 100% effective in preventing the spread of diseases from the Old World to the New and vice versa over thousands of years of regular contact by (presumably) at least the low number of Europeans who sparked the epidemics that felled two continents’ worth of people after 1492.
The trouble with oral history is that it is gets revised and edited with each new teller, and it is easy enough to find examples of modern material worked into and presented as “ancient” history. Add to that the regrettable influence of fringe history on pop culture, and you have a recipe for unreliable narration of past events, particularly those alleged to have taken place 12,500 years ago!
Wolter also tried to address the problem I mentioned last week about his claim that the Templars calculated longitude in New England and used a single meridian to align a random assortment of hoaxes, misinterpreted material, and weird junk. As I noted, he mistook minutes of longitude for decimal readings, producing correlations that had about 50% less variation off true than the correct figures would show. In response, Wolter claimed that the difference between minutes (out of 60) and decimals (out of 100) is not relevant, and “unpublished” material shows that the Templars used decimals hundreds of years before anyone else thought to regularly report coordinates that way:
Of course I understand that difference, but for the point I’m making it doesn’t matter. Plot them on Google Earth, or on any plan map, and you’ll see they all fall very closely to a common meridian that I claim isn't a coincidence and suggests the medieval Templars understood how to calculate longitude with reasonable accuracy. Incidentally, in as yet unpublished source material I have seen, the decimal notation for latitude is what was used.
Of course, even if the sites were connected by anything other than the restrictions of New England geography, there is no need to calculate longitude to the minute in order to draw a north-south line. Virtuvius (On Architecture 1.6), for example, lays out the ancient method of using a gnomon to establish a north-south line.
The history of decimal degrees is a complex one, but probably a bit too boring to go into in much detail, mostly because I don’t find it all that interesting. Everybody probably knows that the Babylonians advocated the 360° circle, with degrees divided into 60 minutes, in turn divided into 60 seconds. This is because they used a base-60 counting system. However, this system was not always predominant, and according to J. Elfreth Watkins of the former U.S. National Museum, writing in 1891, there are instances of circles divided by decimal systems in the Assyrian period and even into 480°, according to a tablet from the palace of Sennacherib in the seventh century BCE. However, it was only in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that mathematicians advocated using decimal degrees, with scholars like Stevinus, Briggs, Oughtred, and Newton crafting competing plans for decimal degrees. Newton’s would have divided degrees into 100 minutes 100 seconds each, a bit different from our own current decimal degrees, which do away with the concept of minutes and seconds altogether. On the other hand, Continental scholars of the era, like Gasciogne and Horrocks did away with the 360° circle altogether and advocated a circle of one million equal parts.
The long and short of it is that if Wolter sees modern decimal degrees on a map, he has some explaining to do, especially since decimal points weren’t used in the Middle Ages, a time when decimals were indicated by a bar placed over the last non-decimal digit. At the same time, Arab mathematicians used a short vertical bar to separate integers from decimals. By common agreement, it is generally held that John Napier was the first to use the separatrix (first a comma, then a period) in the Western tradition, first in Rabdologia in 1617; however, as late as 1700, there was no agreement on how to use a separatrix, what symbol to use, or when.
1/5/2017 10:26:09 am
That's funny. Wolter suggests plotting the incorrect coordinates to prove his incorrect conclusions. That might be his best use of logic ever.
1/5/2017 11:36:01 am
Wolter has done more harm to history than any other person alive today. His ideas are full of so many holes a mile wide it is not funny. So far he has gotten away with this somehow. I am looking forward to a grand smack down of this guy sometime soon. There are already several undeniable stories about the KRS that does not reflect his ideas. Some one needs to shut this idiot up. He is damaging the entire scheme of real history with this nonsense for the sake of entertainment. It would be one thing if he presented his ideas as theories but he presents them as fact.
1/5/2017 01:53:59 pm
Unesco laid the smackdown on Wolter, but like a fake wrestler he just jumped back up and continued on with his fake history BS.
1/5/2017 11:53:28 am
Perhaps Mr Wolter may recall that the meeting held in Japan in 8,500 BCE was very poorly attended due to most of the American delegation (relying on faulty map references) stopped travelling at Hawaii under the impression it was Japan.
1/6/2017 08:35:20 am
Ah yes, wasn't that the meeting that had the Samurai, the representative from El Dorado, the Apache Chief.......... waitaminute........I'm thinking Super Friends.
1/6/2017 09:30:23 am
I'm pretty sure that was the meeting when the Viking delegation was attacked in Minnesota leaving them with only enough time to carve a bunch of holes in random rock faces, and a stone commemorating their voyage.
1/5/2017 12:01:23 pm
I'm surprised that it took this long for far-right anti-Muslims in western countries to start seeing the medieval era, with its crusades, as an inspiration. Unfortunately for their worldview, at the same time that the crusades were going on, Christian Western Europe was also importing a lot of practical and cultural innovations from the Islamic world, like "Arabic" numerals and Aristotelian philosophy.
1/5/2017 01:30:36 pm
Personally I'm inpressed - I never realized that Wolter knows Vandal Savage.
2/2/2017 04:08:47 am
You have no idea how much glee I took in that reference.
1/5/2017 01:36:33 pm
"I can hear the debunkers now..."
1/5/2017 01:46:19 pm
The move 10,000 BC was just a fictional fantasy, but these guys might as well think it was a documentary. The proto Egyptians in the story have a world summit like even to build proto pyramids.
1/5/2017 06:17:58 pm
I read that Roland Emmerich was inspired to make that film (and 2012) by Fingerprints of the Gods, so yeah, you're right on the money.
1/5/2017 03:53:01 pm
Even when I try to imagine them prancing around clapping coconuts together, the alt-right still scares the bejesus out of me.
1/5/2017 06:44:37 pm
Just imagine them prancing around clapping coconuts together naked. That should help,,,,,,,,,,,,,, or maybe not !
1/5/2017 07:26:50 pm
Nope, still alarmed and full of dread, and now a little creeped out as well.
1/8/2017 05:57:50 pm
The far-right's fascination with the Middle Ages goes back quite a while. The KKK are regarded by historians as the first proto-fascist organisation. Well, Thomas Dixon in his bestselling pro- KKK book"The Clansman" compares the organisation to "Knights of the Middle Ages [who] rode on their holy Crusades" (see Memory and Myth: The Civil War in Fiction and Film from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Cold Mountain" by S. Kittrell Rushing).
1/5/2017 07:33:57 pm
"I can hear the debunkers now..."
1/6/2017 01:06:01 am
More on Wolters misinterpreting decimal vs degree.
1/6/2017 03:04:01 am
>>>IF I HAD MADE A MISTAKE I WOULD BE HAPPY TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND CORRECT IT<<<
1/6/2017 03:51:39 pm
I even have my own first hand experience from about 2 years ago with trying to reason with him and his inability to "acknowledge and correct".
1/6/2017 07:09:38 am
And yet Wolter wonders why no professionals will enter an open debate with him regarding his claims. The truth is anybody with a modicum of intelligence and common sense can see debating with Wolter is like debating with a fossil; there is no point.
1/6/2017 10:11:46 am
Mike, you forgot this
1/6/2017 11:05:43 am
Well, yes, Kathleen, but in my defense, I was still recovering from my nearly deadly choking episode. :>)
1/6/2017 11:53:32 am
"...and the mistake is now obvious to even those like you that are unfamiliar with longitude."
1/6/2017 12:23:20 pm
Uh-oh Joe, we may be confusing for a certain "Norse, pre-columbian, stone-hole making, expeditionary party incursion into the American heartland" advocate. :>)
1/6/2017 01:08:00 pm
You mean the guy that was caught coming in here using different monikers? He's best ignored.
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/6/2017 09:58:42 am
Funny, I would have though the pseudo-Nazis would look back wistfully on the Middle Ages because to them it represents an era where one class, to which they presume to belong, would have free exercise of power. Unfortunately for them, this free exercise never existed thanks to a web of obligations, and they wouldn't have belonged to the noble class anyway, being as they are mostly the sons of merchants and clerks with no claim to nobility beyond that you could buy.
1/6/2017 11:46:01 am
You are correct, they all want to be Knights of the Round Table and dance whenever their able.
1/6/2017 12:51:05 pm
That "free exercise of power" was abused by the so called nobility for centuries. I'm fairly sure all of the British Generals and upper command during the American Revolution were given their ranks based on family name and titles. This naturally meant the British High Command was staffed with men not based on merit and ability, but by family title, or by those who bought their positions. Even during World War One many British commanders were only in command because of a birth right. Look at Winston Churchill. He was the First Lord of the Admiralty despite having no naval experience at all. He was the architect of the ill advised Gallipoli campaign that cost around 22,000 British soldiers their lives. After losing his position as First Lord he joined the British Army where he was placed in a command position. How does a man with no combat experience and has a record of organizing failed battle plans make the rank of Lt. Colonel in a matter of months? Well, you're born a Churchill.
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/6/2017 01:31:52 pm
There's a lot I could say here, but Churchill took a commission in South Africa, served in combat in the Boer War, where previously he had been a war correspondent, and remained on the reserve list until 1924, when he officially retired. In 1915 all he did was transfer to active service as a light colonel, at a time when he most certainly did have more actual combat experience than the average light colonel of 1914.
1/9/2017 08:51:23 am
I forgot about the Boer War, however he was captured as a reporter, escaped, and enlisted as an Officer in the South Africa Cavalry where he served in one engagement at Ladysmith before leaving for England to pursue his political career. Since he was viewed as a war hero due to his escape, I imagine Churchill was smart enough to know that he had a better chance entering politics while his escape was fresh news as opposed to waiting until the war was over. He partook of military service to gain rank, medals, and fame to assist him in his one true goal, a political career.
Like Grunt there is a lot I could say here. However I'll limit to this. Churchill was a member of the Harrow Rifles while at school. Basically ROTC, he then attended and graduated from Sandhurst ( Britain's military academy). If I remember correctly he was 7 or 8 th in his class.
1/10/2017 08:34:36 am
1/6/2017 01:23:12 pm
Ha, degree vs decimal? So SW can't even do basic math conversion, of which can be done on a computer also? Maybe he is too old to know how to use Google calculator? And he thinks he has a science degree?
1/6/2017 07:42:31 pm
Geology is the degree you go for if you're not smart enough to major in sociology. Wolter is almost aggressively not smart. And he's wound excessively tight. My theory has always been that he's conflicted because of the stress of being in the closet and compensates by trying to be a tough guy who shops at Banana Republic, but it might be that he has issues over his responsibility for his father's death. Thank JHVH-1 that speculation is not libel.
An Over-Educated Grunt, P.E.
1/6/2017 10:30:25 pm
I feel I should defend my professional colleagues. A BA in geology is a joke degree that can lead to professional letters after your name, but it's only a joke degree if you let it be. I know enough geologists to know Wolter is a very far outlier.
1/7/2017 06:19:19 am
Fair enough. It was meant as a joke, in fact a very Wolter-specific mockery. He is nothing if not mock-worthy. Leaving aside the cup of coffee aspect, are "honorary Master's degrees" even a thing that happens in the real world? I'm familiar with honorary doctorates, but Master's degrees?
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/7/2017 11:46:59 am
Oh, I know. The entire reason I started reading here was because of that idiot lending his credentials to his idiocy. He weakens the credibility of every one of us who work in the field. I loathe the man.
1/8/2017 06:50:47 am
If Wolter can't admit his mistake with decimals vs. minutes, then it's no wonder no one trusts his work or values his opinions. The fact that he now spins his longitude mistakes as "the points are accurate relative to each other" is laughable and also wrong. I don't get these hack fringe types like Wolter - they seem so passionate about changing history but can't even get to first base with anything. It's not academia stopping them, it's total lack of irrefutable evidence.
1/8/2017 11:27:15 am
A telltale sign of the fringe is the inability to admit error when confronted with indisputable evidence of same. Anyone reading Wolter's blog that isn't a plant or a sceptic would be too dumb anyway to see such a blatant miscalculation so disingenuously obscured by the host.
1/9/2017 02:32:31 pm
A telltale sign of someone having a black heart is the inability to understand the concept of forgiveness.
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