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Intimations of Persecution

Alternative authors believe they are under constant attack from mysterious forces seeking to destroy their work. We examine the use of conspiracy theories as a device to draw readers into alternative works.

Fifty years ago, Russian researcher Immanuel Velikovsky burst onto the scene with fantastic claims that the origins of civilization, mythology and humanity could be found in the stars. His works, including Worlds in Collision, painted a picture of a universe in flux, where a comet that would someday become the planet Venus bounced around the galaxy and inspired many of humanity's enduring myths, including the Flood of Noah, which Velikovsky believed the passing planet Venus caused. Velikovsky's work earned the ire of the scientific establishment, but the Russian researcher did not care. He had already labelled himself a "heretic" who stood in opposition to the scientific establishment. Henry H. Bauer writes in Beyond Velikovsky (1984):

"By this self-definition, opposition to his views was naturally to be expected, so when it came, Velikovsky was able --quite logically, granted his premise-- to maintain that, just as he had forecast, the dogmatic establishment wished to suppress him. Thus Velikovsky turned the criticisms of his work into an argument in his favor; the reviewers who attempted to point to various errors had already been branded dogmatists."

Throughout the course of the pseudoscientific revolution of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the presumed or pretended threat of persecution formed the conspiratorial backbone of works dealing with so-called "alternative history." Almost without exception, alternative authors have felt that a vast conspiracy is at foot to prevent them from revealing the sacred truth to their readers.

In 1969, Swiss author
Erich von Däniken released his magnum opus, Chariots of the Gods, in which he postulated that in the remote past extraterrestrials had descended to earth and bequeathed civilization to the mentally inferior humanoids then dangling from trees in the primordial jungle. On the very first page of the book, von Däniken informs his readers that he will shortly become the victim of persecution for his attempt to provide them with the truth:

"It took courage to write this book, and it will take courage to read it."

Here von Däniken brings the reader into his world of conspiracy, for the reader, by reading, has joined the author in fighting the mysterious forces of darkness and orthodoxy.

"Because its theories and proofs do not fit into the mosaic of traditional archaeology, constructed so laboriously and firmly cemented down, scholars will call it nonsense and put it on the Index of those books which are better left unmentioned."

This, in turn, provides thrill for the reader, who feels that he or she is being fed "forbidden" knowledge or timeless secrets that the supposed authorities do not want them to know. This visceral connection between reader and writer serves to solidify the bond forged by reading the alternative history, and it helps to pursuade readers that the alternative historian is not only correct, but in fact is a martyr for the reader's benefit. In turn, this particular form of literary technique is highly effective at compelling readers to pick up the newest volume by their favorite author to follow his or her (but usually his) quest to fight the system. Von Däniken has now written twenty-five books.

Similarly, an author who built on von Däniken's thesis,
Robert Temple, also is plagued by conspiracies that seem to follow him everywhere with the intent of stopping his work. In his 1998 revision of The Sirius Mystery, in which the author claims ancient extraterrestrials from the Sirius star system gave civilization to mankind, Temple tells his readers:

"[T]he sad part of the aftermath of The Sirius Mystery was the extreme and virulent hostility towards me by certain security agencies, most notably the Americn ones. . . On several occasions I was targeted in ways so extreme that they seemed to me hysterical beyond all belief. I am certain that false information was entered into my security files to blacken my reputation."

Of course, one must ask what "security files" Temple refers to, but he provides no answer. It seems that he is referring to the files that the FBI kept on celebrities and other notables under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover (and may still keep today). These files collected news clippings, intelligence reports and (especially) hearsay and rumor, much of which was false. But Temple would have no way of knowing what is in his file unless he specifically requested a copy of it. If he had done so, he would know the information in the file and be able to provide examples of "false information." This he has not done, despite feeling self-important enough to warrant "security files."

Furthering his conspiracy theory, Temple claims "I was blackballed even in some organizations which seem to me so harmless that I still cannot understand it." He says that the London Foreign Press Association denied his press pass because a man "whom I do not wish to identify, had certain connections in Washington, if you take my meaning." Oddly, one would assume that the best way to expose and end this harassment would be to identify the persons involved that they might explain themselves. Of course, to do so would be to subject Temple's assertions to verification. It seems, on the basis of what Temple has written, that it is he, not the "conspirators," who has something to hide.

Temple believes himself and his work to be so true, so mind-blowing that British Intelligence (M15), the CIA and the Soviet Union conspired together to stop him: "It may seem ironical that althrough the American CIA persecuted me for so many years, I lay much of the blame for this with the Soviet Union, acting through their agents, the Aldrich Ames types." He further claims that NASA has put out a program of anti-Temple propoganda, and that the BBC was plagued by calls from America threatening them if they let Temple on television.

Through all of this alleged persecution, Temple never considered that the reason so many were opposed to his ideas was not a government conspiracy but simply that they were wrong. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that at the same time he was writing, the anti-government conspiracy program "The X-Files" had reached its peak, the alleged government coverup of an alien landing at Roswell, NM had reached its 50th anniversary, and readers were desperate to be let in on the "forbidden knowledge" that their governments supposedly kept hidden.

Government conspiracies also abound in the world of alternative historian
Graham Hancock, author of the best-seller Fingerprints of the Gods, which argued for a lost civilization 12,000 years ago. In his 1998 opus The Mars Mystery, Hancock asserted, through the common pseudoscientific technique of talking of feelings or asking questions to avoid making potentially libelous statements of fact, that NASA was part of a long-lived and malevolent plot to hide the truth of extraterrestrial monument on Mars:

"To be perfectly honest, we will always have a lingering suspicion that there could be something dark and dreadful going on behind the scenes, something much bigger, and much more awful, that a mere conspiracy."

Hancock does not say what that "bigger... more awful" thing is, only that it is conspiring to keep his valiant readers from truly understanding the hidden history of the human race. Hancock says that when he selects his evidence, he chooses only what sounds good, and he says on his website that "another criticism is that I use innuendo to make my case. Of course I do -- innuendo and anything else that works." Therefore, no evidence of a conspiracy is required, only a feeling that a conspiracy exists. This is enough to make it into print, and enough to make readers believe that they are privy to special revelation.

Hancock, like Velikovsky before him, equates his work with an act of heroism, akin to when Galileo confronted the Catholic Inquisition with evidence that the earth is round:

"To this day I am astonished by the response that Fingerprints [of the Gods] has generated amongst orthodox academics and their supporters. Some reacted with intense horror, like devout Catholics affronted by an act of blasphemy."

Thus, by equating science with religion, Hancock can effectively claim that he is merely providing "radical alternative ideas" in one sentence and a "worthwhile new scientific theory" two sentences later. For by claiming that science is only another belief system, any claim can be seen as equally true.

This same idea allowed a generation of Afrocentrists to promulgate ideas that all the civilizations of mankind came first and foremost from an African base, namely Egypt. Specifically, Afrocentrist Ivan van Sertima put forward a 1976 theory that Mesoamerica was an Egyptian colony. In their 1997 refutation, Garbriel Haslip-Viera, Bernard Ortiz de Montellano and Warren Barbour write:

"The Afrocentrists share with cult archaeologists what [archaeologist J.R.] Cole calls 'intimations of persecution.' They allege a conspiracy by the Establishment to conceal the truth, which they claim that they are trying to reveal."

By positioning themselves as the exposers of truth, the cult archaeologists or pseudoscientists transform opposition to their self-admitted radical or outrageous hypotheses into confirmation of their validity. For what they see as the religion of science would only attack their ideas if they were true and dangerous to the faith. As a result, the alternative historians of today continue a process that Immanuel Velikovsky began fifty years ago, when the self-professed "heretic" used the anger of real scientists to shore up his unproved ideas. However, it is the reading public that suffers from the conspiracies swirling in the heads of alternative authors.
 
   UPDATE
 
Robert Bauval, the author of 1994's The Orion Mystery and one of the coauthors of 1998's Mars Mystery released a new statement on February 10, 2003 detailing what he believes is a conspiracy directed against him. Bauval claimed that a disorganized conspiracy has been hounding him since he first released his theories in the form of the popular 1994 book:
 
Eventually an uncoordinated campaign and pulling-ranks began to be seen [as] aimed against us, with CSICOP agents and science editors of journals and newspapers unleashing, on the one hand, systematic attacks and, on the other hand, forming a wall of fire to stop our work [from] entering the academic and scientific arena.
 
(CSICOP is the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, a group that "encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view" and publishes the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.)
 
Of course, it might just be that these professionals weighed Bauval's evidence and found it wanting, like cold fusion or extraterrestrial ancestors. But, as we saw with Robert Temple and others, the rejection of one's idea seems to imply that there is a conspiracy against it rather than it is wrong.
 
Bauval sees enemies everywhere, including the BBC, the National Geographic Society, and internet users and readers. He had some words for web-based critics like your humble correspondent:
 
Perhaps more disturbing to all this is the bizarre cottage industry of 'critics' and 'debunkers' that have spawned on the Internet. The Web has provided a gigantic public forum that knows no boundaries or limitations. There were even Website[s] that devoted themselves entirely to 'debunking' our theories and work, with some of its members reaching the point of frenzied obsession.
 
Mr. Bauval singled out the Hall of Ma'at as the worst offender and offered a personal challenge to one of its correspondents. We at Lost Civilizations Uncovered try not to get involved in such interpersonal disputes, so we will leave that to Ma'at and Mr. Bauval. Nevertheless, we believe that criticism is one of the foundations on which scholarship is built, helping to weed out bad ideas and improve good ones. A good idea need fear no critic, for truth will eventually win out over the most eloquent sophistry. We are proud to provide some of that much-needed criticism.

© 2001-2003 Jason Colavito. All rights reserved.