“No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself” – Pythagoras
One of the favorite pastimes of the modern skeptic is to point out how various fringe authors, especially those of the Ancient Alien fanboy set are either overt Nazis, crypto-fascists, or at least motivated by some notion of establishing Aryan superiority. While, I’m admittedly fond of pointing out Nazis and aware that it’s a little more difficult these days, as in most cases they’ve eschewed public goose-stepping, their passion for leather, overt Jew-bashing, and efforts at conquering Europe, I strongly suspect that we are conflating a much more deep-seated desire that has a broader appeal to folks at large. Its foolhardy to assume that the massive interest and popularity of theories about ancient aliens signifies a tendency towards racism or national-socialist brand fascism afoot amongst the general public, just as it is dangerous to assume that every supporter of the other political party is a moron, and superficially classifying ideological motivations is a wonderful debate tactic, but fails to explore the deeper compulsions that frame our interactions with the infosphere, which clearly predominate human relations these days.
Now, I tend not to take a position on whether we have been visited by ancient astronauts across the millennia, mostly because there are only two equally unpleasant and wholly depressing options if it is indeed the case: (1) They are really incompetent, or (2) they are super-intelligent and just screwing with us. Neither prospect is particularly good for humans. We’re either subject to the absurdities of an Abbot and Costello version of World Domination, or they don’t think too highly of us and figure they can get away playing a little fast and loose, because hey, who cares if some simpleton gets you on video – some government agency will classify it top secret, it will eventually be leaked, and everybody will be twice as confused.
Similarly, pointing out that Colonial and Empire Era archaeologists had an agenda that involved supporting how awesome it was to be a Colonial Empire is not exactly deep critique. Ancient Greeks liked to elucidate the point that if you weren’t Greek you were a barbarian. If the Romans found you uncivilized, they just conquered and taxed you. Analogues for this behavior are nearly universal in China, Africa, Central America, and South America. Nobody seems to be able to get the story straight on North America, so I won’t touch that. North America has enough problems these days to sort out. Nonetheless, the history of the human race can be summed up in one sentence. One big band of barbarians opened up a can of whoop ass on another slightly smaller band of barbarians with a technological disadvantage, took their land, ladies, and livestock, and declared the result as the will of one celestial critter or another. I use the term “barbarian” with great affection, as I often find it applied to myself. Must be my fondness for hats with horns and quoting Conan about what is best in life (“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!”). Admittedly it’s a dated philosophy, but given the current state of the world, I think it may make a comeback.
My tangential point is, real Nazis are easy to spot. They tend to be idiots and poor examples of Aryan superiority if such a thing were to exist. The Internet has certainly given them a broader platform to express various kinds of nonsense then they had when everyone agreed that the only solution to the Nazi problem was to land a whole lot of troops in Europe, free Paris, and sack Berlin, but Germany itself is really not so down with the Nazi past, and mostly you’re getting strange little fascists on other continents who rate themselves superior and do podcasts, write blogs, or make websites, occasionally getting bold enough to march with Tiki torches in small Southern cities. In short, let’s just agree that Nazis are bad. Not too hard. If you believe in racial superiority of any kind, you’re kidding yourself – race is a construct. Human DNA is pretty much the same. And if you ever start feeling too good about yourself due to the color of your hair, skin, or general ethnic background just remember that chimps and bonobos share roughly 99 percent of our DNA. No matter your race, creed, or color – you are 99% chimp and 1% human. Kind of puts things in perspective, assuming you have the capacity for perspective. Any evolutionary biologist who wants to weigh in can feel free to correct me on the specifics, but you and every human before you is basically a chimp. Chimps are adorable when they’re not eating your face. And I say that with love. Everything else is ideology.
Yet, ideology is powerful. We’ve fought hot and cold wars over it. America is in the throes of its own ideological death match as we speak, as are many nations across the globe. As I figure we’re all cosmically doomed anyway, I tend to stay away from the finer points of geopolitics. That and I fancy myself a little bit of an amateur historian, and thus everything seems to have a nasty repetition the past. Somebody is always screwing somebody else in the name of gods, kings or countries. And call me selfish, but this is not my primary concern. I mean, how many concerns can you have after all? I’ve got family, children, mortgages, displaced relatives, broken water heaters, and showers that need re-caulking. That’s enough for one day.
But I have my hobbies. Voracious consumption of strange phenomena and Forteana, real or imagined, is how I relax. Then I work myself up into righteous indignation by reading skeptic blogs. Obviously, this speaks to certain masochistic tendencies, but everybody’s got their own little fetish. And lately, there is an overabundance of professional skeptics tracing the Nazi precursors, literature citations, and tendencies of what they label “the Fringe”. And to be fair, they sometimes have a point. The search for ancient super-civilizations like Atlantis or Lemuria speaks to a certain disbelief that whoever the indigenous people (and indigenous just means they kicked some earlier indigenous people out) didn’t just come up with ideas like building pyramids, geoglyphs, mounds, earthworks, or henges because, darn it they look cool, and to impresses the ladies. And let’s face it, civilization would simply not exist if it weren’t for a desire to impress the ladies or the lads (it’s the 99% chimp thing).
Consider your neighbors. Idiots. Am I right? The instinct to suspect the person next door is touched in the head, bordering on dangerously stupid, or worshiping one devil or another, seems to be the universal driver behind most of history. We use it to justify most any kind of atrocity or self-serving action across time and culture. Its why most religions talk about the necessity of “loving thy neighbor”, because nobody actually does. You kind of have to nudge people towards a measure of tolerance.
So, these days, I’m loathe to start yelling “Nazi” whenever research happens to lean too heavily on folks who clearly had an agenda, either conscious or subconscious, that was then appropriated by fascists and their ilk for evil purposes. Don’t get me wrong. To hell with Franz Joseph. The guy was a prick. It’s simply too easy these days to find a genealogy of ideas leading back to some nefarious personality or dude with horrifically evil intentions. This is no doubt an unpopular opinion, as the modern technique is to identify anyone who differs in opinion as demonic. Thanks, Reddit (I’m sure you’ve all read that MIT designed an AI that was based off a particular subreddit, and it basically turned psychopathic rather quickly). Anybody who’s spent any time there could have told the results before they even started. This leads me to the ask the question of what the actual appeal of hypothetical Ancient Aliens or brilliant progenitor civilizations actually is? And for that matter, why is the popularity of a certain brand of authoritarian political ideology on a rise globally.
In my mind, just howling “Nazi” is too simplistic. The basic fact is that many people who support the imminent totalitarianist ethic that has taken hold across our interconnected world are often not actually Nazis, per se. They are your next-door neighbor, your business associate, and your childhood friend. And they are not explicitly looking to put you in a concentration camp or invade Poland. Not yet at least. And grand conspiracies for world domination are not actually conspiratorial at all. Those who lust for world domination are generally quite open about it. Sadly, they often feel their plans are being thwarted by some mysterious cabal with similar intentions. It’s a saturated market. They are consumed with the “Promise of Empire”.
What is the “Promise of Empire”? First, let’s get something straight. I am not an apologist for fascism. Fascists suck. They believe their ideology “trumps”, if you’ll excuse the pun, the obvious lessons of history. Scholars, particularly those within the brief spasm of the modern colonial era spent a lot of time talking about the meaning of “Empire”. It’s only in the past century or so that Western-style capitalist democracy seemed like a pretty good model to anybody for the organization of social relations. Infuse that with a little Protestant work ethic and an individualistic philosophy that says if gosh darn it people like you enough, you too can live the dream, and you have a pretty good basis for curtailing the war of all against all. But that takes work, requires demonstrations of merit, and somehow shoehorning oneself into an upwardly mobile role in an obviously gamed system.
Now, the “promise of empire” carries with it order and predictability. And we hate randomness – the main function of civilization seems to be to reduce this randomness. So, when a strongman, a warlord, an ancient alien, or an occult power is hypothesized to exist, we tend to glom onto the possibility that they will restore the world order we once knew. Or imagined we once knew. The point often being that someone actually has a plan, rather than the obvious fact that we are just bumbling about the universe screwing things up and covering up our mistakes. It doesn’t hurt when someone appeals to our ego and tells us that we are the inheritors of a great and timeless tradition, that our particular group holds a special place in world history, or that some obscure bedevilment by an unpopular minority has been holding us back or plotting our destruction. The “promise of empire” tells us our place in the order of things, albeit not always in the service of human freedom. We want ancient aliens, Atlanteans, the Nine Wise men of Ashoka, or some similarly secret cabal to be directing things as it either gives us a definitive source for our dissatisfaction, or a point upon which to place our hopes and dreams.
Empires inevitably fall, be they ideological or geopolitical. Buried within the human psyche is a compulsion towards freedom, and perhaps this is our saving grace. We recognize that freedom should not be the province of a privileged few, otherwise it is not freedom. We recognize our own oppression, or biases, and the ways in which we all capitalize on those scant resources we have available to us in order to maximize our position in a species -wide motivation to one up one’s fellow man. We continuously seem to forget or apply Thomas Jefferson’s wise words to a narrow subset of humanity, ignoring the universality of his statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Perhaps a simpler version was offered by Albert Camus, when he said, “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better”.