Review of ‘Counterknowledge: How we surrender to conspiracy theories, quack medicine, bogus science and fake history’ by Damian Thompson.
Everybody who uses the internet has encountered ‘conspiraloons’ in response to whom is usally pointed abuse and mockery, or most likely non-engagement as saner users refuse to debate with the wilder fringes of the internet.
One discussion board, Urban75, not unused to the presence of those convinced 9/11 was a plot hatched in the Whitehouse, has even produced a guide for new members: 10 characteristics of conspiracy theorists.
But what many consider to be part of the eccentricities of the world wide web can take on a far more sinister face if parroted by the impressionable: A friend of mine is a youth worker in London, and has to constantly deal with illusions by Asian youth that the events on September 11 really was an attack orchestrated by the US and Israeli governments.
Damin Thompson calls this false information counterknowledge and in his book of the same name aims to challenge this left-bank field of wrong thought, as he states:
‘Credulous thinking is spreading through society as fast and silently as a virus, and no one has a clue how long the epidemic will last. Counterknowledge is not like smallpox, which has been completely eradicated through vaccination. A better analogy would be HIV/AIDS, which has a frightening ability to mutate. No sooner do we think that a strain of counterknowledge is under control that we are confronted by an unexpected variant. Scientific Creationism morphs into Intelligent Design; neo-Nazi Holocaust denial becomes Muslim Holocaust denial.’
The book is essentially splits into three parts, each dealing with Creationism and Intelligent Design, alternative medicine and pseudohistory, the latter of which shall be reviewed here.
Thompson really strips away the fig leaf of respectability of 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (Entitled in ‘1421: The Year China Discovered America’ in the States).
The story behind this boo is that a badly written document by the amateur historian Gavin Menzies arrived on the publishers desk, after numerous rewrites, it was presented to a PR company who spun the narrative into a world wide phenomenon. The reason the media lapped up a history book such as 1421 was duo to contemporary Chinese economic expansion: apparently then, as now, China was a great power.
Damian Thompson clearly states that the incredulous tale weaved in 1421 is as untrustworthy as a supposed academic document as you would ever find, or ‘devious bogus scholarship’ as he labels it.
But what irritates the author so much, is not that Menzies book was ever printed, but that it was done so under the banner of history, and promoted as a serious item of work by mainstream publishers and bookstores.
Next in line of Thompson’s rage is the Da Vinci Code. A work of fiction, it has popularised a whole host of books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Genesis of the Grail Kings, Chariots of the Gods?, The Magdalene Legacy, The Jesus Papers and Talisman: Sacred Cities, Secret Faith.
These are works of pseudohistory that not only deal with the supposed blood line of a Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, but also a ‘secret religion’ started in ancient Egypt that eventually lead to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 by Zionists and Masons; as well as numerous hyperdiffusionist theories concerning the finding of America by ancient European civilisations and other deeply flawed archaeological positions.
Also up for ridicule is Afrocentrism, a substrand of 1960s Black cultural nationalism, which, lead by American academic Molefi Kete Asante (real name Arthur Lee Smith) from Temple University, Philadelphia, creates, at the very least, an over-emphasis on aspects of ancient Egyptian culture, or, at its worst, spins a tale of Black achievement in Africa whose wrongness is protected by accusations of racism against doubters.
Thompson’s book is more rhetorical than a scholarly work, and I’m not really convinced by Damian Thompson’s apocalyptic cry that we are being besieged by false history, crackpot religious theories and wrong medicine.
Yes, publishers and television production companies should be more responsible in how they package works of academic disrepute, but pseudohistory has a long lineage that stretches back centuries – it is not a new phenomenon.
9/11 conspiracy theories do have some currency in the world, but at it’s heart lie, in the West at least, mistrust towards politicians themselves.
The fact is that most people do not trust either politicians or scientists.
Just recently the Center for Public Integrity listed 935 instances of false statements made by the administration in Washington in the two years leading up to the invasion of Iraq.
And sciences cloak of universal betterment for all went up in smoke with the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events from which it is never really recovered from, as well as the numerous instances of the corruption of scientific inquiry by big business money in the decades since.
The author obviously feels that he is the standard bearer of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, but it should be noted that he is the editor-in-chief of the UK Catholic Herald.
So does he really believe in the transubstantiation, that during Holy Communion the wine and bread changes into the body and blood of Christ?
Holding such an important position in Catholicism, I found it hard to accept that he doesn’t, and transubstantiation is itself one of the most ridiculous ideas in the modern world.
As for historical fact, he should look closer to home: there is no evidence that Jesus Christ ever existed as a real person.
On that he is strangely quiet.