5353: Pseudohistory Phatassathon

AuthorTopic: 5353: Pseudohistory Phatassathon
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(The title is bad. The original was worse.)

For the next month, I will, as per Thuryl, be posting notable pseudohistories or pseudohistorians for your edification and amusement.

The inaugural entry is Heribert Illig. This wacky German researcher - well, a systems analyst, really, but basically the same thing - famously concluded that about 300 years in Middle Ages, from 614 to 911 (NEVER FORGET), never occurred. This speculation is known as the phantom time hypothesis.

If this theory were true, minor squabbling about the accuracy of Gregorian dates aside, the current year would be 1709.

In spite of the fabrication alleged by Illig requiring an amount of collusion by Christian, Islamic, and Eastern sources unimaginable even in the present day, the fabrication of 300 years of history having no clear motive, and the disagreement of basically every credible German-speaking scientist, several researchers have written in support of his preposterous hypothesis.

The sole apparent basis for the phantom time hypothesis? The slim amount of solid evidence from the period outside of written records.

(Not to be confused with Anatoly Formenko, on whom more later, whose claims are more spectacular and even less legitimate objects of controversy.)

Illig's 1996 hypothesis and following work have not been translated widely out of German due to understandably limited scientific interest, so he is a figure of little renown outside of Krautopia.

Outside Field and Bias: Almost every pseudohistory involves the intersection of another field - often a respectable one - with history. While the particular intersection is sometimes pseudohistorical only due to its proponent's personal biases, in some cases the intersection itself is conceptually meritless and the bias mostly lies in the pseudohistorian's willingness to dream it up in the first place.

Pseudohistorians are, not coincidentally, often a respectable figure in some other field.

Systems analysis, Illig's profession, is a research science focusing on interactions within systems, often at the individual level. While normally it's difficult to wrap one's head around why this would have such a dramatic influence on history, the concept of documentary friction - the falsification of documents, especially within a bureaucracy, without outside evidence to verify them - is much more relevant in systems analysis than history.

While this by no means explains the whole of Illig's complex error, it does explain why he is willing to invent a massive global conspiracy to explain non-written evidence for events after the fall of the Roman Empire getting scarce for a while.

[ Wednesday, December 13, 2006 17:14: Message edited by: Heribert Illig ]
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Law Bringer
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A more reasonable explanation for the lack of historical records was the low literacy rate outside the church. Even the nobility relied on a small group to do the record keeping for them. Still there should have been sufficient records from the churches just in recording births, deaths, and the all important tax collection and property records to satisfy even him.
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Illig's complaint isn't the lack of records; he believes the written records (which exist in decent abundance) were falsified.

His objection is to the lack of non-written evidence of events purported to have occurred in the 300 years mentioned.
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Shock Trooper
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*Jumps up and down with hand in the air*

Oh OH OH!! Next do the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories! You can focus on Oliver Stone or that idiot who wrote "High Treason" as the "pseudohistorian"!

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Posts: 219 | Registered: Saturday, October 13 2001 07:00
Electric Sheep One
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I remember my German officemate reading this some years ago. What I remember from his summary was that Herr Illig not only complained about the lack of non-literary evidence. He also analysed the patterns of the dates that the written histories assigned to the events they described in this period. He concluded that these patterns were more characteristic of invented data than real. For instance, way too many things are said to have occurred in the year 800. This is the sort of analysis in which Illig was evidently an expert, and it would seem to me that it could be a valuable new tool for historians.

The conclusion that later writers fudged a lot of their dates sure seems a lot more plausible, however, than the notion that they completely invented all the events of several centuries. Throwing great doubt on traditional timelines is no small historical contribution, though I'd be surprised if historians really put all that much faith in the precision of all those dates anyway; but it won't make a bestseller.

It is an interesting observation that for several centuries written records might be the only surviving historical evidence. The period in question was, of course, a time of social collapse. It would seem that even if mass literacy fails quickly in such a collapse, or even before it, a small population of writers capable of generating and preserving documents is apt to be the last thing to go. This population may completely lack the ability to build any durable artifacts, but it can transmit at least some of its words to posterity.

On the other hand, this is only one historical example. Maybe it was a unique feature of the western European Dark Ages that there were all those scribbling monks, and that along with other topics they did see fit to mention historical events -- or at least, to present events as historical, in reasonably plausible ways.

The history of India has thousands of years of florescences and collapses, though perhaps none as severe as the Roman collapse, and extensive literature in the form of epic and religious poems dating back about as long. But, astonishingly, there are practically no written records from any period of Indian history, up until very recent times. The Ramayana alone mentions many states and wars; but many of them are obviously mythical, and no-one has ever been able to identify any of them with historical states, with any degree of confidence.

A few commentaries from Jain and Buddhist monks survive, for a few places and periods. But there are a dozen or so major Indian kingdoms or even empires, extending well into times at which other societies were generating ample written material, for which our only historical evidence is archaeological. There are ruins and monuments and artifacts, including coins with rulers' names and images. And not a word, in most cases, about who these people were, when they lived, or what they did.

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Helena Blavatsky is the second entry in our august countdown. This Victorian-era woman was born, raised, and lead a portion of her life in what was then Russia, but would lead her productive years in New York as a naturalized citizen of the US, where she wrote a number of pseudo-scientific, mysticist works, founded the Theosophist Society, and provided the mysticist framework for various later cultural abominations.

Blavatsky's contribution to pseudohistory: the doctrines of Theosophy, which among other things claim a higher truth received from Indian mystics. (Indian mysticism is in fact a recurring theme of Victorian pseudohistory.) Mme Blavatsky's ridiculous sociology is worth mentioning elsewhere, but is not directly within the scope of our inquiry.

Instead, of interest to us is the certainly pseudohistorical thesis of the Root Races, a series of seven races from which all human being spring. (We have seen five of them, and the later the race the better.)
Of course, this wouldn't be proper pseudohistory if it acknowledged what we know now to be true: that humanity either arose as one entity or is so closely interrelated as makes no difference. The Root Race theory dismissed several groups, including a few Asian tribes and the native Tasmanians, as semi-bestial; it regarded a good fragment of humanity as the product of crossbreeds from the previous, Atlantean and Lemurian root-races; and it, of course, obsessively doted on the achievements of the 'Aryan' root race and its descendants (take a wild guess who those might be).
Needless to say, Blavatsky with equal obsessiveness derided the culture and achievements of the 'Semitic' people, which is particularly bewildering given that she never disambiguated them from her Aryans.

The best part of Theosophy is its ridiculous historical timeline: the earliest epoch of man is supposed to have occurred in the time of the dinosaurs, 150 million years ago, and various continents and seas are supposed to have existed more or less arbitrarily, in a fashion later thoroughgoingly debunked by plate tectonics.

Absurdly, people still believe in all of this, including, among others, the head of public education in Washington State. And while neither movement adhered to its beliefs directly, Theosophy would proceed to heavily inform Nazi/Thule mysticism and the New Age movement.

Outside Field and Bias: With the Victorians it's really kind of hard to know where to begin. It is pretty safe to assert that, claims of received wisdom aside, Mme. Blavatsky's ludicrous hypotheses are mostly the result of making crap up more or less at random. However, she had a relationship with several burgeoning social sciences which explains the direction that random crap took and the terminology it borrowed:

Novel (and for the most part, valid) linguistics, which arose to explain the fact, newly discovered by the West, that the languages of north India were apparently Indo-European; leading linguists hypothesized the existence of an Aryan language that spread from central Persia eastward. Several of those responded bitterly to pop sociology turning their fairly valid science to form ridiculous and evil racialist doctrines. Alone among Victorian scientists, when linguists spoke of "Aryan", they generally implied only a language, nothing more or less.

Anthropology, which was just getting off of the ground; at the time, antrhopology obsessively categorized the physiognomy of human beings, and that categorization lead to a number of racialist theories, including Blavatsky's.

And most importantly, orientalist mysticism. Blavatsky's work cadged liberally from Hindu writ and dogma, but mostly to appropriate terms for a great pseudo-religious fiction. It's kind of difficult to absorb exactly what she means unless you're already willing to accept it as true; this owes in great deal to her appropriation of (contextually) meaningless Hindu terminology, which makes her writings almost nonsensical to a skeptical observer.

Those three taken together granted a lot of legitimacy among otherwise reasonable people to Blavatsky's ramblings, especially claims that she had received wisdom from yogas and other Eastern mystics - claims that would be difficult to falsify at the time. The tragic offspring of Blavatsky's Theosophy can be seen in the racism of Nazi Germany and recent SW topics.

[ Thursday, December 14, 2006 20:55: Message edited by: Helena Blavatsky ]
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Electric Sheep One
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HPB is a good choice.

I once met an old guy who was a member of the Theosophical Society. He had the certificate on his wall.

My favorite bit of TS history is the story of how some of its officers decided that a young Indian named Jiddu Krishnamurti was to be a sort of theosophical messiah. They somehow got legal custody of him, raised him to be a messiah, and created a sub-society for his followers, called the Order of the Star. This order grew quite large, but when Krishnamurti grew up he dissolved it, declaring that he was nobody's messiah and that 'truth is a trackless land'.

Krishnamurti nonetheless spent the rest of his life as a sort of anarchistic guru, and how genuine his enlightenment was is open to question. He was sure as heck closer to the genuine article than his theosophist patrons, though.

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Alec, it has come to my attention that you are insufficently phat. Please remedy this at once.
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The third entry (out of the scheduled thirty) is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A hoax perpetrated by Russian reactionaries at the turn of the 20th century, the Protocols ostensibly describe the plotting of the Jews to dominate the world and oppress their Christian subjects.

Long story short, the Protocols presume that the Jews are a parasitic race who use their position of power in society (something the Protocols also assume them to have) in order to control the world from behind the scenes. According to the Protocols, Jewish plots include progressive taxation, every major novel ideology of the 19th century (except, of course, absolutist monarchy), world government, women's suffrage, democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights, porno, atheism, depressions, wars, and foreign debt.

Freemasonry is also purported to be a Jewish conspiracy, mostly because of its republican leanings.

The Protocols can be pinned down as a classic example of the phoenomenon of false consciousness, especially in the Marxist sense. They were best-received among the marginal elements of the economy - literate peasants and factory workers - because the supposed Jewish plots include both obvious causes of their misery and the suggested reforms of the intelligensia in response to them. The intent of the Protocols is to foster loyalty among the masses to a traditional elite that was essentially responsible for every malady that it threw on the Jewish people - and in so doing, urge them to suppress reforms in their own interest, and destroy any possible solidarity with Jews in the same position.

(The Jews of Russia were not any better-off, in general, than its Christians.)

The Protocols remain popular throughout the Third World for exactly that reason: they suggest an easily-contained enemy responsible for the woes of the poor, and shifts blame away from those already in power.

The Protocols are widely understood to be a plagaristic forgery, even by their proponents, and known not to detail any real meeting between Jewish elders. However, there are a few unfortunate exceptions: the authenticity of the Protocols is widely endorsed by Arab leaders due to the ongoing conflict with Israel.

The Protocols are also accepted widely as true and well-read in fairly developed countries, such as Turkey and Japan; in both countries, it is on the bestseller list.

The Australian new-age magazine Hard Evidence published a long article endorsing the authenticity of the Protocols and blaming the Jews for the Bali bombings of 2002; unfortunately, this seems to be illustrative of a trend in the West.

Outside Field and Bias: The Protocols, unlike Illig and Blavatsky's work, are not intended in any serious sense as legitimate works of historical inquiry. However, they do display a clear bias: they're intended as propaganda to sour the beneficiaries of radical programs to the people promoting them using a historically marginalized ethnic group.

The Protocols have wide traction in politically closed societies with wide income disparities, which are as diverse in economic and political circumstances as Saudi Arabia and Japan but share a presumed political consensus and horrific distribution-of-wealth issues in common.
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I wish I could give an exact reference, but about 15 years ago I read an account of the Shanghai ghetto from a Jew trapped there during World War II, The Germans provided the Japanese translated copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a way to convince them to start death camps. The Japanese leadership had little experience with Jews, but came to a radical view that the Protocols were true and they believed that if they could control the special Jews that ran the world then they could control the world through the Jews. So the Japanese began to collect Jews that were in China in a ghetto intending to trade them for a few special Jews when World War II was over. Since all the major powers except Japan had large Jewish populations there must be some special Jews helping the major powers rule the world. The Japanese thought the Germans were crazy to be killing Jews when they could be traded for world power.
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Fun fact: that was actually one of the primary motivations behind Britain encouraging the early settlement of Israel. (That encouragement was later withdrawn, but the project was initiated under the assumption that whoever influenced the Jews best held the keys to the Earth.)
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Off With Their Heads
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I was under the impression that Japan doesn't have nearly the same distribution-of-wealth issues that, say, the U.S. does. Then again, neither does anybody else. But I thought that they weren't bad in that department. Anyone happen to have statistics handy (or the free time to find them)?

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Aren't you forgetting the third world countries whose elites control practically everything and are the police, judge, and jury?

I have heard of the Protocols before, but I never knew I could get them in book form. It sounds intriguing enough to read.

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quote:
Originally written by Kelandon:

I was under the impression that Japan doesn't have nearly the same distribution-of-wealth issues that, say, the U.S. does. Then again, neither does anybody else. But I thought that they weren't bad in that department. Anyone happen to have statistics handy (or the free time to find them)?
I've looked at a few dense and orthogonally-related articles and read some news reports, and it seems that in the eighties the Japanese wealth distribution was pretty even, but it's getting worse now -- though, yes, it's still far better than those in the USA. The best article I could find is this one; apparently the Japanese are starting to reduce the progressivism of their tax rates and cutting back on estate taxes. Sadly.

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I'm too fuzzy on the details to actually tell the story well, but it is worth mentioning how we can be so sure that these purported minutes of a conspiracy are indeed forged. After all, one might think that it could be very hard to disprove the existence of what is supposed to be a masterfully secretive conspiracy. Well, such a conspiracy may well be hard to disprove, but we can pretty sure that this document is not its minutes.

The Protocols first showed up in Russian in the early 1900's, but much of their dialogue is word-for-word translation of a French satirical "Dialogue between Machiavelli and Montesquieu in Hell", which was published forty years earlier, was directed against the regime of Napoleon III, was quite obviously fictional, and in any case had nothing whatever to do with Jews. I seem to remember finding a website once that went through both texts in impressive detail, and though unfortunately I have no idea now where it was, I'm sure the project could provide an entertaining evening with Google for anyone who is interested.

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If there's anything I like better than coming here and talking games, is coming here and talking history! :D :cool:

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