The Disrespect of Conspiracy Theories
I'm a sucker for conspiracy theories, not because I believe them, but because I think they make good jumping off points for story ideas, and I am constantly on the lookout for some interesting theories that look at the world in a different way.
So this week I was sucked into the world of Graham Hancock, and YouTube channel called Bright Insight, and after hours of video watching, I am sick to my stomach with the disrespect that these people have for the ingenuity of humanity, the blatant disregard for facts, and the quick leaps of logic to ridiculous nuttery.
The conspiracy theory in the forefront is this: there are many things that are big and impressive in the archaeological record, such as the pyramids, the sphinx at Giza, a site in Turkey called Gobleki Tepe, the intricate stonework at Machu Picchu, and the carvings of Petra. These sites are so ridiculously complex, the theorists say, that they could not have been made by primitive man, but they must have been built through the "transfer of knowledge" of some more advanced society. That society was an advanced human civilization that thrived for centuries or millennia, but was destroyed in a massive comet strike on the earth approximately 12,900 years ago. That civilization, devastated and on its last legs, took refuge with the hunters and gatherers, and taught them the secrets of advanced building, construction, and transportation.
The pyramids? They weren't tombs after all, despite all the evidence to the contrary, but they were--and this is where things get wacky--some kind of energy system rediscovered by Nikola Tesla. Their evidence for this? First, they say that the pyramids don't have any mummies in them, or hieroglyphs. (They ignore the fact that the pyramids were built in the Old Kingdom, back when things were just getting started. They also ignore the fact that ALL of known tombs were looted of their treasures and mummies.) Their evidence that the pyramids are a battery? First, we don't know how the Egyptians built the pyramids, and second, that the pyramids are built over an aquifer, just like Tesla did when he was creating his massive power source. And... that's it.
This ignores a lot of important things. First, they repeat over and over that Egyptians didn't have the tools for cutting stone, when, in fact, even a cursory knowledge of Egyptian archaeology shows that we have LOTS of hypothesis for how they cut stone, from friction, sand-and-water saws, to the repetitive but effective method of dropping large stones repeatedly to pound out an channel around stone blocks. This has been observed in modern times as a way of excavating and raising obelisks. It's hard, but Egypt had a lot of labor, and their king was a God on Earth. They could get it done.
It also ignores Occam's razor, which states that the simplest answer is usually the truth. How we get from "we don't know how they built the pyramids" to "it must be a giant mystical energy source" is ridiculous and unfounded.
A lot of this is based on a certain site, called Gobleki Tepe, in Turkey, where monumental architecture (think a very elaborate, massive Stonehenge) has been found, dating back some 9000 years, before humans were supposed to have been able to even grow agriculture, let alone build massive monuments. There must, the theorists say, be an advanced civilization that lent their expertise to these hunter gatherers. NEVER MIND that the mainstream academics have perfectly sound explanations for this, such as the fact that agriculture WAS developed just 30 miles from Gobleki Tepe through the invention of bread. (There are also some cherry-picked alignments of a few stones that seem to have astronomical significance, though there is no real evidence that this is true, as only one fiftieth of the site has been excavated.)
There's also a lot of talk about the prevalence of pyramids all across the world (which they claim is unusual and signs of a GRAND PLAN) but that ignores the commonly held archaeological position that pyramids are a pretty common, obvious way to build a monumental structure.
And that's another thread that runs through all of this: "mainstream academics" are in on the conspiracy. They've made careers saying that the world is one way, and to say something counter to that would make them pariahs in their field, so they must toe the line. Never mind that when a real academic, like the Boston University geologist who dates the Sphinx as much older than Egyptologists, the conspiracy theorists latch onto that like vindication and proof that the establishment has vindicated them. (Despite the fact that he's one of the very few geologist to hold that view, and other equally-prestigious academics find his conclusions laughable.)
And ultimately what bothers me so much about all of this, aside from the denial of evidence, the dismissal of academics, is the notion that mankind--even early mankind--was just too dumb to figure out how do hard things. Mankind isn't smart enough to do great works of art. They point to places like Pumapunku in Peru, where very precision stonework is done and insisting that they couldn't have done it themselves--even though the Romans had built the Pantheon a thousand years before.
And, frankly, there's a racial element to this: no one claims that the Romans couldn't have built the Pantheon, but we don't believe that brown people--be they Egyptians or Nabateans or Incas or early Turks at Gobleki Tepe. These savages couldn't have possibly have built amazing things on their own. There must have been intervention from a higher civilization.
If I were to devote this entire blog to debunking Graham Hancock's books this would be very long indeed, as he has made outlandish claims that have proven to be utter bullcrap, and as he doesn't make rational arguments, and he's never published a peer-reviewed paper in his life. Suffice it to say that when we subscribe to these weak-minded arguments, we do a disservice to ourselves and our ancient forbearers. People do amazing things. Just because it's hard for us to believe doesn't mean that they're wrong.