“Spin the Knight” (Knights Templar)

JESUSWIFE

The Knights Templar were a Christian religious and military order active during the 12th and 13th Centuries. They have assumed mythical forms in fiction advertised as such and an even more fantastic veneer in fiction presented as fact. The former has manifested itself in The Da Vinci Code, Ivanhoe, Indiana Jones works, Assassins Creed video games, The Game of Thrones, and the writings of Maurice Druon and George R.R. Martin.

Meanwhile, a movement seeks to give the pseudohistory surrounding the Knights Templar a cloak of respectability by piggybacking on the aforementioned entertainments. On the History Channel and likeminded websites, order members are said to be responsible for Solomon’s buried treasure, the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Turin, Shakespeare’s lost works, the advent of Freemasons, and scribblings on Jesus’ tomb. They are also alleged to have made a sojourn in present-day Minnesota during the 11th Century. Along the way, they buried treasures off the Nova Scotian coast, which is the focal point of the television program, “The Curse of Oak Island.”

Turning off the History Channel and opening a history book, here’s what really happened. The Knights Templar were one of several Catholic military orders that lasted for about 200 years during the Middle Ages. In 1054, a chasm developed within Christianity, with those in the west forming what became the Roman Catholic Church and those in the east organizing the Eastern Orthodox Church. In time, the eastern Christians joined forces with Sunni Muslims in Turkey. Feeling threatened by this alliance, Pope Urban II convinced Byzantine Emperor Alexios to help him launch the first crusade in 1096, aiming to reunite Christianity under the papacy.

The effort, at first, was successful. The land that today comprises Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan was divided into four states controlled by the Catholic Church. However, securing these new nations proved problematic, expensive, and logistically challenging. In order to combat these issues, the pope chartered the Knights Templar as a monastic order. Like other orders, the Knights Templar was a charitable organization through which wealthy Catholics could donate money and lands, enabling the order to become self-sustaining and largely autonomous.  

Eventually, Crusade battles gave way to commerce, and the Knights, buoyed by the steady stream of lucrative donations, became merchants, entrepreneurs, bankers, and government officials. Their medieval origins, secrecy, rituals, symbols, and mystical dress, combined with their accumulation of wealth and power and relatively sudden demise made the Knights Templar ideal fodder for conspiracy theorists. There are two primary camps: One holds that the organization became the New World Order, the Illuminati, the Bilderbergers, the Bohemian Club, the Reptilians, or some such gaggle. The kinder, gentler version has these heroic, virtuous men and their furtive heirs protecting some of the Church’s most cherished relics, embarrassing secrets, and massive wealth.     

Whichever of these narratives one favors, it is held than on Friday the 13th in October of 1307, Knights Templar members in Europe were executed at dawn to eliminate the debt owed to them by France’s King Phillip IV. A fortunate few escaped and kept with them the Templars’ valuable assets and hidden knowledge. Further, this knowledge has been passed down in a tightly-guarded secret that almost everyone knows about.

While King Philip IV was in deep debt to the Templars, his main motivation for the purge was to curtail the papacy’s powers. In 1302, Pope Clement had decreed that his was the only true religion and the sole path to Heaven. This was considered an insult and threat by non-Catholics, which included many French citizens, including the monarch. Also, several French officials were Knights Templar that were subject to Pope Clement’s influence. Philip therefore wanted to exorcise them and insert persons sympathetic to his crown.

However, the solution was not the kill ‘em all approach of Templar mythology. First, Philip’s power stopped at France’s borders, so only those in his country were effected. Those in the rest of Europe or the Middle East were safe, for now. Second, Templar members in France were arrested, not executed, though some of them were tortured into saying they were heretics.

About a month after the roundup of undesirables, Clement felt pressured by King Philip’s collection of coerced confessions, so he issued a dictate that Christian monarchs in Europe were to arrest all the Knights Templar. To avoid this fate, the great majority of Templar members joined the Hospitallers or otherwise left the order. In the end, about three dozen recalcitrant Knights were killed, but this was three years later, not on a Friday the 13th bloodbath. Two years after that, Clement formally dissolved the Knights Templar by papal bull and transferred their ownings to the Hospitallers. The majority of the arrested Templars confessed heresy since this allowed them to be released, retain their property, and join other orders.   

In conspiracy circles, the Templar members hoarded silk, bullion, spices, royal jewels, and other valuables. They also harbored secrets about Jesus having married Mary Magdalene and about descendants of this union. Another oft-repeated rumor is that the Knights Templar are hiding evidence of Jesus having never resurrected. A further tale has them finding the Holy Grail, which obviously wouldn’t be holy if he never rose from the dead. Other myths are that they became the Freemasons or that the modern hoax order called the Priory of Sion is actually millenniums older and its members were compatriots of the Knights Templar.

The final resting place for their riches is often said to be Oak Island, Canada. In an isolated accuracy, Templar treasure hunter Rick Lagina asks and answers this question: “Has there been a find on Oak Island that we can say is a definitive tie-in to the Templars? No.”

That has not stopped him and his brother from squeezing five seasons out of the premise of finding this nonexistent fortune. There is likewise nothing substantial to corroborate the other alleged aspects of the order.  As an example of how loose the evidence standards can be, consider the assertion that modern Templars run the world from Switzerland. The “proof” for this is that the Templar flag was similar to the current Swiss one, that the country was long associated with clandestine banking, and that Switzerland always manages to avoid wars that leave other countries and regions ravaged.

However, these disparate items can be explained without invoking a lost mystical sect. The two relevant flags are somewhat similar. The Swiss one is square with a white cross on a red background, while the Templars banner was a rectangle with five red crosses on a white background. But there are 31 other countries or autonomous regions whose flag incorporates a cross and most of these also feature  red and/or white. Similarly, many other orders and societies include the cross image and red and white colors on their flag. Yet only the Templar/Swiss connection is alleged; no one is accusing the Red Cross of clandestine malevolence in Tonga.

While Switzerland did become synonymous with anonymous banking, persons took advantage of this for tax reasons and to keep safe the proceedings from shady dealings. It would not follow that the Knights Templar, who per the legend already had this stuff safely ensconced, would stash their cinnamon and myrrh in Zurich safe deposit boxes.

Finally, neutrality was an outgrowth of continual European wars which the Swiss had been involved in and which necessitated forming an exhausting series of continually changing alliances. For example, in the French Revolutionary War, the Swiss served as bodyguards for French royals. Just six years later, the Napoleonic Wars saw France invade Switzerland and splinter the Old Swiss Confederacy, which had been a loose compact of small independent states.

Several centuries of this had left the Swiss weary and presumably confused. So during the Congress of Vienna in 1814, they floated the idea of having an official policy of neutrality and the other parties agreed. This neutrality began about 600 years after the Templars’ dissolution, so the idea that the Swiss no-war distinction has benefited the Knights requires embracing highly selective history and ignoring the total lack of evidence for the claim. But those challenges are easily overcome by those who want to believe the mythic tales. As National Geographic’s Becky Little put it, “The Knights Templar are more interesting as protectors of an ancient secret rather than single men who gave out loans.”

 

  

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“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better” (Margarine fears)

FREDBUTTER

These days, it seems that even the most trivial item can become the object of an unwarranted freakout. This includes how we make our English muffins tastier, for a diatribe against margarine has made its way around the Internet. In addressing the faux yellow condiment, the message gets a few items right, but it mostly contains whoppers and misinformation.

It starts with the assertion that margarine was invented as a means to fatten turkeys, but that the concocted food caused the birds to die en masse. Hoping to recoup some of the money lost from the stricken livestock, the farmers added food coloring to the white substance and passed it off as butter to the unsuspecting masses.

In truth, margarine has nothing to do with turkey, or Turkey for that matter, but with France. Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could produce a viable, affordable butter substitute that could be consumed by peasants and soldiers. The winner was a mix of beef fat, saltwater, milk, and margaric acid, which gave the nascent substance its name. Today’s margarine is normally composed of refined vegetable oil, water, and sometimes milk.

I have written before that there is enough amazing about science that there’s no reason to make up cool stuff. For instance, humans having landed a probe on a comet is more captivating to me than is pursing proof that some unknown critters constructed a face on Mars. In the same way, there is enough genuine ghastly gastroenterological unpleasantness that there is no need to fabricate any.

For example, trans fat is legitimately a food boogeyman that increases the chance of Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, liver disorders, and much more. It was prevalent in margarine for years and were that still the norm rather than the exception, the railing against margarine would be justified.

But the key issue is how much trans fat margarine (or any other food) contains. Avoiding all margarine because of the trans fat issue would be like going naked because one dislikes hats. Many brands, including I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, no longer contain trans fat, and that’s usually the case for margarine that comes in tubs or in liquid form.

Another assertion from the screed is that butter has been around for centuries, whereas margarine has been around for less than 100 years. The math is off on that, as margarine dates to the 1860s. But the more relevant point is that how long something has been around is unrelated to its other attributes. Trying to score this as a point for butter over margarine is to commit the Appeal to Tradition fallacy.

The bulk of the rant is a series of unsubstantiated claims that are unsupported by any documentation, evidence, or studies. The claims include: Margarine triples the risk of coronary disease, quintuples the risk of cancer, increases bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol, lowers the quality of breast milk, decreases immune and insulin response, increases the risk of heart disease in women by more than 50 percent, and that eating butter increases the absorption of nutrients from other foods.

The claims against margarine would only be true if the specific brand is high in trans fat, and again, that would be true of any food. The boast about butter melts like, well, butter, when examined. Harriet Hall at Science Based Medicine wrote, “Where did this claim come from? I found no evidence to support it. Perhaps they were thinking about the fact that some vitamins are fat-soluble, but that would apply to margarine as well as to butter.”

Another baseless assertion is that margarine will not attract flies because it has no nutritional value. Any food, by nature, has nutritional value, and while I doubt there is any data on whether winged pests cotton to vegetable oil spreads, I see no evidence for the assertion that they don’t. Feel free to conduct your own experiment and let me know the results.

Like other good fearmongering pieces, this one contains a dose of chemophobia, this time in the form of a caps-friendly alarm: “Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC and shares 27 ingredients with PAINT.”

First, as Hall noted, this is false. She wrote, “Plastics are polymers and completely unrelated to anything in margarine. Paint doesn’t contain any of the ingredients in margarine.”

But even if true, this would be pointless anyway. Any change, not matter how small, in the chemical makeup of a substance can alter its safety, impact, and use. One oxygen atom is all that separates water from hydrogen peroxide, but this would not be a sound reason to drink the latter while using the former to disinfect a scraped finger.

“Doctor and the clerics” (Alphabiotics)

BANGHEAD

Alternative medicine and religion are both areas I have addressed on this blog, the former being a much more frequent topic than the latter. The subjects would seem to have little in common, with a smattering of exceptions. For instance, there is Reiki, which could reasonably be considered a form of Japanese faith healing. And I have sporadically happened upon Christian fundamentalists who feel God has provided grasses, barks, and herbs to heal us, if only we can find the right one for our condition through a mix of experiment and prayer. This is separate from pure faith healers, who are content to let their children die horrible, preventable deaths without trying plants, pills, potions, or anything beyond petitions to a deity.

Today, though, we address an alternative medicine-religious hybrid known as alphabiotics. Just how much it is a purported medicine or a religion, however, is debatable. For instance, websites promoting the field lack quantifiable specifics as to what alphabiotics is, how it works, or what it does. A terse description of the alleged process would be that it is neck manipulation meant to relieve stress and thereby usher in multitudinous, though mostly undefined, benefits for the body, mind, and soul. According to adherents, the procedure is meant to enhance energy flow and remove blockages that cause illnesses. This makes it one of dozens of mostly indistinguishable practices that make similar claims. The only difference here is that an attempt is made to douse the field in religious vernacular and to cloak it with a spiritual veneer. While the two parties don’t get along, alphabiotics is an outgrowth of chiropractic, with the former solely manipulating the neck.

Alphabioticbalance.com ostensibly tries to explain how the field works, informing the reader that “unrelieved stress causes your brain to lateralize, meaning that the dominant hemisphere of your brain begins seizing control, trying to work harder, not smarter, and attempting to operate entirely from its perceived area of singular strength.” It further warns that ignoring this will lead to an unbalanced skeletal system that will be deleterious to one’s muscles, nerves, and organs. An additional claim is that most persons have one leg shorter than the other and that this will put pressure on the hips and spine and even impact persons at the cellular level, as “blood is sent to the extremities of your limbs in a futile effort to correct and operate inefficiently aligned limbs.”

To fix it, a practitioner will employ a “gentle, safe, non-invasive hands-on technique” to make a patient’s legs the same length, to cause its blood to flow to the right places, and to make everything balanced. A similarly glowing report at alphabioticinfo.com describes “a process that deals directly with the negative impact of unrelieved, off-balancing stress on the brain and body.” It makes the unsubstantiated, outrageous claim that up to 90 percent of illness is stress-related and that alphabiotics techniques will result in “lower stress levels and improved health, happiness, disease prevention, and longevity.”  Another website promises reduced muscle tension and an enabling of “the wisdom of the body to better do its job of regulating, controlling, and coordinating physiological function, as well as normal mental activity. Strength is restored, brain-fog is lifted, and people’s lives began to work better.”

This pseudoscientific babble is based on no cited research or clinical studies. The impossibly vague, unquantifiable notions are accompanied by no explanation of what mechanism would cause or how the physiology works. Adherents fail to bolster their claims with even one double blind study, instead favoring testimonials by patients identified only by their initials. And it is all supposedly accomplished in just half a minute by “sending sensory input to the brain that a defensive stress response is no longer necessary.”

The field is awash in empty words instead of solid evidence. It bandies about baffling terms like  “brain hemisphere balance,” “joy of whole person congruence,” “hidden causes of denigrating one’s self,” the “true meaning of inner peace,” and the alt-med mainstay, “maintaining balance.”

One attempt to explain it goes thusly: “The Alphabiotics Alignment involves a process of unification of brain hemispheres and integration of higher levels of life force. It instantly unifies the brain hemispheres, balances the energies within the nerve system and muscles, and releases stress held within the mind and body, manifests our dreams and keep us in a constant state of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance and harmony, achieves inner peace, connects to their inner source of power, and takes advantage of the body’s natural capacity for wellness.” Man, for supposedly lifting brain fog, alphabiotics is leaving my noggin right muddled.

So we have pseudoscientific language, over the top claims, and anecdotes in lieu of double blind studies. There is no empirical evidence, but they do have a positive review in the book, “Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know About.” So all this takes care of the alt-med portion, but where does religion fit in?” That’s hard to say because on alphabiotics websites, the spiritual aspect is even more vague than the health claims.

But for starters, this practice is only available to members of the International Alphabiotic Association. This isn’t a religious stance per se, but to the best of my knowledge, this requirement is unique among supposed medical ventures. It is more akin to church membership than a medicinal field, even the pretend kind. Next is verbiage that hints of an esoteric or supernatural nature, such as “being in tune with your inner source of power,” and “mind-spirit connectivity.” Practitioners call themselves priests and insist their neck manipulations are sacraments in the Church of Alphabiotics. Founder Virgil Chrane bestows the title “Doctor of Divinity” to those who complete enough training under him.

Beyond this, adherents don’t seem to say much about the religious aspect publicly. The movement seems threadbare with regard to philosophy, tenets, rites, or instruction on morality, afterlife, and miracles.

It is probable that the adherents adopted the religious veneer in order to avoid taxes and medical licensing. Indeed, Seattle Weekly ran a profile of Karen Labdon, who suffered a stroke while enduring a decidedly invasive, non-gentle alphabitoic treatment at the bruising hands of practitioner John Brown.

Rather than questioning the claims Labdon made against him, Brown merely said that the accompanying investigation by Washington state officials violated his religious freedom. He further described himself as a minister in what’s called the Alphabiotic Church and he tated he was performing a sacrament on a parishioner. He compared his technique not to a chiropractor but to a Pentecostal performing a laying on of hands.

Whatever Brown was doing, Labdon ended suffering extreme vertigo and violent vomiting as a result, and Brown was prohibited from practicing for 10 years and fined $30,000. In the end, while alphabiotics purports to be both a medicine and a religion, most available evidence points to it being neither.

“Empty premises” (Hollow Earth)

DIG

While Flat Earthers have welcomed the explosion in articles and videos espousing their cause in recent years, it undercuts their claim that a dangerous truth is being repressed. Logically, a repressed idea is one that is not being heard, which brings us to the idea of a hollow Earth.

There are websites and essays that tout this notion, but these receive a tiny fraction of the notice that those produced by Flat Earthers receive. The proposal has been around in various forms for millennium. Early hollow Earth enthusiasts idealized inhabitants as deeply evolved, supremely healthy beings who were peaceful, prosperous, and rippling with muscles. A few religious movements sprouted from this idea. These days, Earth’s insides are mostly thought to house some combination of superior 12-foot humanoids, wayward Greenlandic Vikings, immortal peace-lovers, the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel, and Third Reich leadership. Those peace-lovers have their work cut out for them if those last two groups are both present.

Those favoring a more rational approach engaged in genuine scientific pursuit to find out if Earth was hollow and at least two excursions were made in the spirit of exploration to try and find the entry point. Edmond Halley wondered if auroras were caused by a combination of ferrous matter and a supple magnetic pole. He pondered that an aurora could be caused by luminous gases spewing from a polar door. To explain anomalous compass readings, Halley also suspected Earth might have a hollow shell about 500 miles thick, followed by two inner concentric shells, then an innermost core.  

Such speculation was admirable, as was his method of using observation and testing using proper protocols. By employing these channels, he and later scientists learned such notions were incorrect, yet some hollow Earthers continue to cite Halley as a supposed proponent. This is what Steven Novella meant when he said that such groups use science like a drunk uses a lamppost: For support, not illumination. About a half century later, mathematician and physicist Leonhard Euler talked what would happen if one drilled a hole all the way through Earth and dropped a stone into the opening. He never said Earth was hollow; in fact, drilling all the way through would be unnecessary if it was. Yet he too is sometimes touted by hollow Earth proponents as a believer.

The idea of subterranean realms made appearances in various mythological and religious texts, with it sometimes being the destination of departed souls. Greeks, Celts, Hindus, Nordics, Tibetans, Jews, Mesopotamians, Native Americans, and Christians have all embraced this notion in some form. While the port of entry is usually near one or both poles, prospective entrances have been surmised in locales as diverse as the Amazon, the Himalayas, and downtown Paris. Through an unexplained mechanism, these portals open to enable travel between the inner and outer portions of our planet.

The most common hollow Earth hypothesis in the 19th Century was that we were the ones on the inside. Championed by Cyrus Teed, this idea held that all observed celestial bodies were inside Earth with us. He founded a religious movement based around the idea and sprinkled it with pseudoscientific guesses about light, gravity, and other natural phenomena.

Later, Nazis got in on the act, with Luftwaffe pilot Peter Bender devising another mystical movement whose tenets included a vacuous planet. There exist tiny pockets of both fascists and non-fascists who think Third Reich leaders escaped to these locales, usually aboard flying saucers.

The idea of us being on the outside is more attractive because getting to the other side would be much easier that way. So the concave planet has few adherents anymore and John Symmes was an early promoter of the reverse notion. He wanted to make a North Pole expedition to get inside but was unable to obtain funding. Jeremiah Reynolds did go on such a jaunt in the opposite direction, but if he found an Antarctic opening, he kept the location to himself.

While previous motivations were religion or idealism, those have largely been replaced with a 21st Century conspiratorial flavor. Now, an anonymous, malevolent “they” hides the hollow Earth truth from the populace, with a few brave rebels tirelessly trying to convince the sheeple.

There are a few exceptions. Dianne Robbins, whom I’ve previously profiled, sees inner Earth as a paradise populated by immortal, absolutely peaceful beings with whom she communicates telepathically. And on ourhollowearth.com, the site maintainer likewise considers our planet’s innards to be a terrestrial wonderland, in this case the place where the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel hang out. Tribe members are responsible for flying saucer sightings, as they leave their subterranean sanctuary to ward off dangers to Outer Earthlings.  

Among those who think these truths are being hidden rather than just not widely known, Raymond Bernard claims many early polar explorers were engaged in a secret mission to find these openings and reach the inhabitants. Fellow author Jan Lamprecht writes that evidence for a hollow Earth includes animal migration and early maps having been changed, which he thinks suggests subterfuge.

However, reasons to reject these hollow Earth hypotheses are found in evidence from seismic activity, gravity, and density. 

With regard to the first of those, the time it takes seismic waves to travel through and around Earth is inconsistent with an empty sphere. Such evidence shows Earth is filled first with solid rock, then liquid nickel-iron alloy, and finally solid nickel-iron.

As to the proof provided by gravity, massive objects tend to clump together and create solid objects like stars, satellites, and planets. Such a configuration is a way to reduce the gravitational potential energy of the object being formed. Additionally, ordinary matter is too weak to support a hollow planet against gravity’s ample force.

Finally, we consider density and that’s not a reference to hollow Earthers’ mental acumen. Based on the size of Earth and the force of gravity on its surface, the average density of the planet is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. However, densities of surface rocks are only half that. This is crucial because if any sizable chunk of Earth were hollow, its average density would be much less than what the density of its surface rocks is.

While doing background work and compiling my information for this post, I could find no proponents or websites extolling the concept of a flat, hollow Earth. Sounds like repression to me.

  

“The limit’s the sky” (Astrology)

STEWIE

In a piece this month for Quartz, Ida Benedetto outlined her case for giving astrology more respectability. To help with this venture, I can state that I knew pseudoscience would continue to thrive in 2018, so this is could be a point in favor of correct visions of the future.

Benedetto had two main points, both of which lean on the appeal to antiquity. Her first argument was to blame astrology’s tattered reputation on pop psychology, which she says permeates modern astrology. She lays into modern seers, writing that they rely too much on feel-good platitudes instead of that tough love from above approach she credits the ancients with. She wrote that texts from days of yore show that astrologers told it like it was, not how the customers wanted it to be.

As to the modern-day charlatans, Benedetto wrote, “The nurturing approach psychologists take has polluted modern astrology with watered-down interpretations that seek to protect their clients. Even if an astrological configuration spells trouble, the modern astrologer will describe it as an ‘opportunity for growth.’” Benedetto rejects horoscopes and astrological signs as counterfeit currency deposits in the astrological bank.   

As to the good (really) old days, Benedetto writes that before the Common Era, “Astrology flourished alongside various sciences like mathematics, medicine, and engineering.” Here, she is trying to piggyback astrology on legitimate gains and is committing the division fallacy. This is where one asserts that if something is true for the whole, it must be true for all parts. In this case, Benedetto figures that since disciplines which benefit us today flourished in the Hellenistic period 2,300 years ago, astrology must also be of value since it likewise had its heyday during this place and time.

During that era, Benedetto wrote, “Astrologers based their interpretations on centuries of observations recorded by the Mesopotamians who came before them. They kept careful records of astronomical phenomenon, looking for correlations between what happened in the sky above them and the material world around them.”

However, Steven Novella called this an instance of Tooth Fairy Science. This refers to research done on a topic before that topic has been shown to exist. Novella wrote, “If you carefully documented the amount, denomination, and timing of money left in exchange for children’s teeth, and correlated that information with all sorts of demographic variables, you might create a convincing imitation of doing real science, but none of that data would actually test the underlying premise: Is the Tooth Fairy real?”

“Likewise,” Novella continued, “documenting the position of the stars and planets and then correlating those positions with events on Earth is not science. This type of observational behavior is not capable of asking the important underlying question of if there is a causal relationship between what is observed in the sky and events on Earth.”

To do that, one would need to test a hypothesis through the Scientific Method. That would entail, at a minimum, making an observation, then a prediction, followed by testing it, trying to falsify it, attempting to replicate it, then making one’s data available to other scientists and submitting the findings and methods for peer review.

Novella further wrote that holding ancient wisdom in unjustifiably high esteem serves to minimize the efforts and accomplishments of the visionaries, inventors, and discoverers who have contributed to the wonders of the last thousand years. Persons who have this reverence possess it selectively.  Benedetto composed her essay on a word processor and posted it on the Internet, rather than chiseling it on clay tablets and transporting it by donkey.

In this non-equine delivered piece, she claimed, “If we can set modern judgments aside and learn the language of the ancient astrologers we may discover lost insights.” In other words, it’s our fault for being closedminded, not astrology’s fault for being without a plausible mechanism.

And the truth is the same now as it was in the Hellenistic period. Neither astronomers nor astrologers have uncovered empirical evidence that the positions of stellar bodies impacts Earthly events, other than the comet that obliterated the dinosaurs.

“Vanilla fudge” (Racist anthropology)

WHITEGIANTS

When I hear someone complain about having to press ‘1’ for English, I can’t help but wonder how the Cherokee and Choctaw feel about having to do it. The irony is that those who fear immigrants taking over are descended from the only immigrants who did come here and seize control of the land and culture. This made it possible for their descendants to become the majority, albeit one that is still subject to indignities like button-pushing.

To deal with the issue of other peoples having gotten here first, some on the far right have embraced concocted tales that Native Americans were preceded by a still earlier band of pale faces. There have been tales of lost tribes and civilizations for a very long time, with Atlantis, Mu, and Thule among the better known. Likewise, there have been genuine lost peoples, such as the Roanoke colonists and Mayans. But our focus here is on only peoples that are both mythical and embraced by the far right to further their agenda.

Getting a jump start on this mindset by nearly two centuries was President Andrew Jackson. In an article on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, Alexander Zaitchik wrote that Jackson defended the relocation and massacre of Native Americans in part because he was convinced the Indians had previously massacred whites. He called the latter “a once-powerful race” that had been done in by “savage tribes.” Jackson likely got this notion from an idea popular at the time, that majestic Caucasian architects had built the large mounds and earthen structures that then dotted North America.

Around the same time, the Book of Mormon likewise promoted the idea that the light-skinned had gotten here first and were responsible for the major technological advances. These ideas mostly center on inhabitants of early North America since that’s the territory the far right is seeking to claim as theirs by ancient birthright. However, there are a few exceptions, such as online writer Patrick Chouinard, who claims that the elongated skulls of Peru belonged to Nordic supermen with massive brains.

Some of the more religiously oriented among the far right assert that the Nephilim giants in Genesis were an early Aryan race, possibly the offspring of demigods and human women. Another favorite tale is that Nazi scientists, being brilliant and all, concocted a type of flying saucer and escaped Europe to take residence in subterranean Antarctica. The fact that our history books are silent on mound builders, Lamanites, and fascists cavorting with penguins is proof of a cover-up, usually perpetrated by or for Jews.

The most prominent proponent of these alternative archaeologies and histories were the Nazis. While they didn’t invent the concept of an exalted, pure Aryan race which deserved restoration to glory, they promoted it more than any other group before or since. The Third Reich version was tweaked so that Pan-Germanism became a more relevant factor than skin color and Heinrich Himmler founded the Ahnenerbe, whose goal was to document Aryans’ archeological and cultural histories. The Nazis’ most blatant attempt to take what they thought was theirs was when they thieved the swastika from ancient eastern religions. They claimed they were only reclaiming it because the symbol had been ­­­­brought to those cultures by a conquering Aryan people.

While their motivations are worse than pseudo-archeologists of the ancient alien and creationist persuasions,  proponents of an ancient white North American people use the same tactics.

They inte­rpret paintings and pottery as historical documentation rather than something created in the mind of an artist. They consider similar imagery in more than one place as evidence that one influenced the other. Perhaps most important, they pre-determine what evidence will mean, then finagle found artifacts and discovered sites to support that “conclusion.” And authors ship those findings to a sympathetic website in search of glowing reviews rather than to a scientific journal looking for review. And the reason given for not submitting for peer review is that that the establishment is against them and the findings would be repressed.

Even if the far right is correct about North America’s anthropological history, who’s to say there wasn’t an ever earlier group of people with large doses of melanin which preceded the Nordic super race? Besides, if Nordics were here first, that means we should be pressing ‘1’ for Old Saxon.

“Big Farma” (Lysenkoism)

LYS

In the United States, opponents of evolutionary biology education generally limit themselves to trying to sneak Jesus in the back school door while ushering out Darwin. But in the Soviet Union, opponents of the theory added mass murder to their arsenal.

During Stalin’s reign, Trofim Lynseko attempted a highly idiosyncratic and untenable reworking of biology, especially the tenets espoused by Darwin and Mendel. The most basic point of Lysenkoism was that an organism’s acquired characteristics could be inherited. He also felt this could be manipulated, so that plants could be conditioned to acquire desirable traits and pass those onto succeeding generations. But this would be like saying mice could have their tails sliced off and, if this mutilation was done under the right conditions and in the right environment, the offspring of those mice would be without the appendage. The idea doesn’t work any better with plants.

In an article on Lysenkosim, The Atlantic’s Sam Kean wrote that genetics teaches that plants and animals have stable characteristics, encoded as genes, which are passed to the next generation.  Lysenko loathed this idea because he felt it denied all capacity for change. Marxists liked the idea of heredity having a limited role because that would mean any characteristics gained by living under communism could be inherited by succeeding generations. Of course, all this is the Appeal to Consequences fallacy and has no bearing on whether what was taught about genetics was true.

For his competing viewpoint, Lysenko decreed that if plants were placed in the proper setting and exposed to the right stimuli, they could be improved and pass those traits on. He rejected both natural selection and Mendelian inheritance, going so far as to dismiss the notion of genes. Soviet leaders found it attractive to have a homegrown peasant to counter Darwin, so Stalin put Lysenko in charge of the county’s farms, where he was content to attempt practical application of his ideas rather than subject them to experiment and scrutiny.

Lysenko’s notions fit in well with forced collectivist agriculture. He was able to force the farmers to participate in his experiments, which were intended to increase crop yields but which ended up exacerbating a famine. Lysenko made farmers plant seeds close together since his belief was that plants from the same class would never compete with each other. He also had bizarre practices like soaking crops in freezing water, thinking positive traits would result and be passed on ad infinitum. Additionally, he forbid the use of fertilizers and pesticides. These terrible ideas led to most of the planted food dying or rotting.

Farmers and biologists who objected were fired, sent to the gulag, or executed, a policy that makes Ken Ham’s anti-science positions seem almost reasonable. Lysenko fell out of favor and power with Stalin’s death and he remained a footnote a historical footnote for decades.

But like the flat Earth, reports of Lysnekoism’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. It has zombified and is once again infesting the scientific landscape. That these issues have gained hold again staggers belief. At the same time, even if 100 percent of the population were scientifically literate, scientific literacy would still be one generation away from potential extinction. For some persons, being iconoclastic is more important than being right.

The resurgence of Lysenkoism has been fueled by a combination of nationalism, anti-Western sentiment, and unofficial endorsement by the Russian Orthodox Church. There is an attempt to cloak the resurgence with a veneer of scientific legitimacy by piggybacking on the burgeoning epigenetics field, which studies environmental influences on gene expression and phenotype. Epigenetic factors can help shape an organism to its current environment and it’s possible for these factors to be inherited. For example, a wheat crop that has the ability to fight drought may have this property manifest if that condition occurs. However, the parent crops always had those traits, meaning epigenetics does not teach that acquired characteristics are inherited. Moreover, epigenetics centers on the work of genes, which Lysenko explicitly rejected.

The other reason some Russians are embracing Lysenko is because they have an anti-intellectual and paranoid mindset that sees malevolence behind space programs, vaccines, and genetic modification. In this case, that paranoia is combined with anti-Western sensibilities and serves as another way of coping with Cold War defeat.