Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Inherent Racism in Antirationalism

This one sort of ties into my post below. As I was thinking about the role that race and ethnicity play in the history of science and the Enlightenment, a couple of tangential ideas struck me that won't really form into a solid post for me, so I'll just list them as they are.

The first problem that I have is one that I touched on in the post. The whole concept of cultural appropriation, made manifest by the absurd and stupid notion that 2012 is going to be the end of the world based on a misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar. I've heard especially dismissive skeptics say "why should we believe the prediction of a group of people who couldn't even predict the downfall of their own civilization." No, this is wrong. Yes, a good majority of soft-headed liberals and the culturally insensitive have culturally appropriated the whole 2012 thing and basically created the nonsense surrounding it, but the leave the Mayans themselves out of this. That's an ad hominiem. If Bob tells me not to buy a pool because he bankrupt himself with that pool, I'll listen to him. It does me no good to say that "well, he bankrupt himself buying a pool, so clearly he has no idea what he's talking about." The Mayan civilization did collapse (but it didn't end. There's a lot of K'iche' Mayan who would disagree with you; they currently form one of the largest ethnic groups in Mexico and Belize and no, they are more than zoos and artifacts. Nor are they the only Mayan group - Achi, Mam, and about thirteen others are still around) - but that's no excuse to be so dismissive of their achievements, in particular, their calendar, and that's certainly no reason to attack soft-headed people who misunderstand what the Mayan people are about anyway. The heart of the END OF THE WORLD 2012 movement is anti-rationalism. And, living up to it's name, it's acting in a totally irrational and blatantly privileged and racist way by enforcing on a whole group of people something they did not say.

Another side affect of anti-Rationalism is the belief in UFOs and the fact that, for some reason, extraterrestrials would want to travel all they way across the galaxy, moving at sublight speeds because FTL is impossible, and undergoing this monolithic task, simply to anal probe a few farmers. I know it seems totally off topic for me to bring this up, but I have good reason for doing so. See, there's this belief in the pseudo-science fringe and the anti-rationalist area that UFOs and Ancient Astronauts helped the Egyptians build their pyramids, the Mayans achieve their amazing feats of astronomy, the Inca do all of their buildings, helped the Khmer and the people of the Indian subcontinent with amazing things.

But unfortunately, they didn't help the Romans or Greeks. They helped the Celts, though, so that counts, right? Sure it does. The Celts were the foundation for Western Civilization, right?

See, notice how they had to help all those non-Western civilizations. Because, clearly, they were incapable of doing the amazing things by themselves, without any help. They needed the help of a hyper-advanced alien species, arriving from the stars, to give them the technology and knowledge. Those silly, primitive people. They needed Zorg, the Intergalactic Conquer, to give them knowledge. The Romans and Greeks? Who are you kidding? They knew what they were doing. They didn't need help. Because they laid the foundation of the Western World.

Everyone else did, though, because everyone else wasn't as awesome as the Romans were. Even though they got Zorg to help them, the Romans were able to do everything they did by themselves. The Greeks, too.

Do you see how insulting this is? Is it clear how offensive this is? What you do is tell these people, "No, you have nothing to be proud of. your ancestors had to work with aliens to achieve these amazing things. Now, those of us who come from the West, which was built by the Romans and Greeks, well, we didn't need that help..."

That's both laughably stupid and horrifically offensive.

Am I reading too much into that? No. Remember what I said about knowledge being framed by the greater culture, and how the culture "bends" knowledge? This is just another case of that "bending" of knowledge. We can't accept these people could do this by themselves. So we look for things that suggest aliens were behind it - after all, wouldn't that be cool if aliens existed? Yeah, okay, so what if it means you Egyptians have nothing to be proud of? Think, aliens!

Lastly, I was thinking about how antirationalists respond to knowledge and science. That's where most of the criticisms come from, after all - the antirationalists who believe that science is a White invention. What they don't realize is that they're aligning themselves with Romanticism. While Romanticism had some awesome poets and the like, they were - aha - they were White. Oh, but it was worse than just that. See, Romanticism gave us the stereotype of the Noble Savage. That is, the "savage" is "closer to the earth" than the "Enlightened man" is.

That's every bit as offensive as suggesting Zorg helped your ancestors because they couldn't figure out the concept of zero themselves. Yeah, okay, so science is great, but look at these people. Look at these Taos people. They don't have science, they're primitive, and they're happy! We need to return to those more primitive times, and go back to that natural state, and we'll be happy just like they are!

You're insulting their intellect, you're downplaying their achievements, you're saying they're primitive, and you're suggesting that they'd be happy like that. Whether or not they actually are happy is moot by this point, because by the time you're done insulting their intellect, saying they haven't achieved anything, and calling them primitive, they won't be happy. And I don't blame them; they have every right not to be.

I only realize now just how much I picked on the Mayans for this one. No offense was at all intended; I find that of all the people in the world, the only people who get overlooked about as much as native Africans are indigenous Americans. Which the Maya are one group of. I would like to have focused more on the other cultures in the Americans - for instance, the Pueblo and their achievements, or the Mississippian Mound culture, among others - but I didn't have the room. I also discovered over the course of this that my knowledge of African cultures is horribly lacking. I'll be working to make up for that in the future.

Anyway, those are my left-over notes from my original post below - one off observations on the nature of race, the west, and philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. Funnily enough, I was reading Randi's `Flim Flam!`, and he made exactly the same point about the ancient astronauts theory (in particular looking at Daniken's `Chariots of the Gods?`

    It really is infuriating how much they underestimate people.