Truth, Denial & Phobia

This is the second part of Being Wrong & Feeling Right: Two Parts.

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Deborah Lipstadt is an American historian and author specializing in the Holocaust. In 1993 she published her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory where she responds in extensive detail to rising, growing movements in Europe and parts of N. America challenging the veracity of the Holocaust during World War II and claiming it did not take place and was overly exaggerated by the European Jews. David Irving, a Nazi Germany advocate and controversial scholar, sued Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books Ltd in the U.K. for her characterizations of his writings and public speeches writing in her book he was anti-Semitic, preposterous, and barely a pseudo-historian.

Lipstadt and Penguin Books won their case by proving in the British court that her characterizations of Irving’s work and speeches were significantly true and not libelous to Irving. The judge’s decision was a paramount victory not only against Holocaust denial, but also a major victory against shotty, ill-founded denialism while further reinforcing credible, consensual, established academia and scholarship by some of the world’s most elite institutions of higher (highest) education and their renown experts and staffs.

In 2016 the film Denial dramatized these proceedings in British court, the case and the real-life characters, and was deservedly nominated for Best British Film in 2017. For these above reasons I highly recommend watching the movie. The official trailer:

When upsetting, distressing, or traumatic events and/or information arises that shake-up or shatter a person’s belief-system and/or our perception of life, our human brain and nervous system—and if we’re more fully comprehensive, our ego as well—can create a psychological coping routine, a mechanism that neglects and negates what is or has actually happened. Fear and anxiety over being wrong and confused or the potential of it, causes a large portion of the human population to simply deny those events/information exist(ed). For them it is easier to deny than walk the harder, troubling, longer road of learning to solve, adapt and cope. They will often seek out echo-chambers (organizations or groups) to further cement the psychological denial. Over time the repeated immersing into the neuro-cognitive pathologies and regular participation with echoing support-groups can and often do create long-term phobias.

Another powerful motive for denialism is self-interest, that prideful ego which convinces us we deserve favorable praise and inflated importance at the expense of reality and others. Self-preservation at any cost.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair

Or when his image of power is threatened! Sinclair could not be more correct when considering a long, long history of prime examples. I will name only a handful of examples, but the list of overly inflated egos (some tyrannical), self-preservation, severe denial, and paranoia through atrocious brutality is long and always growing:

  • Henry Ford and the too little too late Model A — Henry Ford, Sr. was in Model T La-La land (denial) virtually until his death. He blamed worker unions for the plummeting sales of the 20-year antiquated Model T automobile. When he finally relented to production of the Model A, Chrysler-Plymouth and General Motors had seized the industry’s top market positions, leaving Ford to wither and struggle until World War II arrived.
  • Coca-Cola — a small number of taste-test participants influenced or contaminated Coca-Cola Company’s (un)controlled market testing (Project Kansas) of a sweeter formula being considered as the New Coke to boost sales and market share. The change was an utter failure/denial by Coke executives because the facts of market data showed for decades it was Coke’s brand-name that made and kept loyal consumers, not a newer formula and change.
  • DuPont — and their disposal (or failure to properly dispose) of chemicals used to make Teflon that leak or eventually leak into human or animal drinking water-basins. Well over 3,500 lawsuits against DuPont and/or Chemours still await trial. Both mega-billion dollar corporations deny their chemical or waste management directly cause major health-injury problems in at least 27 U.S. states. However, since 1961 DuPont’s own scientists knew their chemical wastes caused severe and lethal problems in lab animals, but intentionally concealed (denied) these studies from the public and EPA.
  • Lehman Brothers — and their asset overvaluation (denialism & greed) then subsequent bankruptcy in 2008, a major player/cause of the 2008 Wall Street crash then bailout by U.S. taxpayers via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • Joseph Stalin — the “Great Purge” between 1936 – 1938 when Stalin murdered around 750,000 political rivals and dissenters and over 1-million others he perceived as threats. These are conservative estimates.
  • Saddam Hussein — aside from the gassing of some 5,000 Kurdish Iraqis and wounding over 10,000 more in 1988, Hussein convened a public meeting of Ba’ath Party officials in July 1979. He ordered the gathering to be videotaped. Hussein read a list of 69 names of perceived “traitors” who were then escorted out in custody then executed by firing squad or given weapons inside a courtyard and ordered to execute each other or themselves.
  • Intel — for nearly 3 decades (60’s – 80’s) Intel reigned supreme in semiconductors, with their memory-chip and microprocessors both. By 1983 Japanese semiconductors had stolen a big chunk of that market. Intel was in a nose dive. Like Henry Ford, old vanguard CEO’s at Intel thought their long dominance in memory-chips were the future (denialism, skewed rationalism) whereas Gordon Moore and Andy Grove realized the ominous hard data, facts and stats overwhelmingly pointed to the microprocessor and PC’s as the future. Their decision to change the business model—amp up and expand production of microprocessors while cutting way back on memory-chips—saved Intel from looming bankruptcy. “Pentium” is now a household name.
  • ExxonMobil — one of the most blatant hypocritical cases of denialism for self-preservation has been ExxonMobil. Within almost 200 in-house publications between 1977 – 2014, the oil giant’s own scientists admitted (click here) that climate change was unequivocally occurring and caused by human discharge and/or waste.
  • Richard M. Nixon — though a number of U.S. Presidents clearly fall into this denial, truth, phobic examination, President Nixon is the poster-boy of denialism for self-preservation during and after the Watergate scandal in the early 1970’s. A new poster-boy President of blatant denialism and inflated ego may(?) be just around the corner.
  • Adolf Hitler — Duh, of course. No explanation necessary.
  • Should I name all the evangelical pastors or Catholic clergy?
  • R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. — in tandem with The Tobacco Institute and PR firm Hill & Knowlton, Inc., the tobacco industry launched a massive counter-attack against scientific and medical-health researchers determining and publicly publishing the negative impacts of smoking. Their counter-attack? “Doubt is our product.
  • Merck and their VIOXX — Before the FDA could approve Merck’s blockbuster pain-relief rofecoxib hit drugstore shelves, health professionals were finding and reporting in 1999, 2000, and 2004 the drug increased the risks of heart disease. With 88,000 – 139,000 heart attacks (30% – 40% fatal) attributed to rofecoxib, over four years later the drug was finally banned in November 2004. Merck executives knew of these reports, but misled physicians, the public, and the FDA.
  • USS Indianapolis Capt. McVay Tragedy — in the dying months of the Pacific War 1945 the naval heavy battlecruiser, while carrying the atomic bomb to eventually be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was headed for her next assignment. At 12:15AM 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis was fatally struck by two Japanese torpedoes and sunk in 12-minutes. Due to her top secret cargo and mission she was never reported missing even after 24-36 hours after her scheduled arrival in Leyte. In the end and after an official investigation into the tragedy, the U.S. Navy solely blamed Capt. Charles B. McVay III and court-martialed him, putting the 1,139 lost sailors on his head and in self-preservation of and abdication by the U.S. Navy rather than take the public shame and embarrassment for numerous mistakes in combat intel. For many years after McVay received hate-mail from families of lost Indianapolis sailors. Declassified naval documents now reveal (though too late) that Capt. McVay was in truth not to blame for any causes leading to the ship’s sinking. But in 1968 McVay committed suicide.

These 14 prime examples are a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the modern refined art of denial, distorting the truth and reality. I am quite sure you could name off several more I did not mention, right?

Public Outcomes of Denialism, Phobia, and Untruths/Lies

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Immunization Non-Compliance
— Despite the remarkable declines or near eradication of measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis across the U.S. and most of the world over the previous century and modern, universal availability of vaccines, resurgence of these diseases persist. CDC data for the measles:

immunization-us

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Paranoia Over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) — Despite the significant consensus by scientists, healthcare physicians, and bio-genetic engineers from many acclaimed prestigious institutions and universities across the world, who stake their lifetime careers and reputations on making these studies and publications, a large percentage of Americans are afraid and skeptical of foods that have been genetically modified. From the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering & Medicine:

gmos

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One such university, Purdue University’s College of Agriculture addresses the misinformation and conflicting media stories; click here for more details.

The Impact of Ignorance or Restricted Knowledge — Truth or fiction. Fiction or truth. Many selectively choose what they want to accept as factual if it aligns with their own political, social, or religious beliefs. They also choose what is fallacy or untrue, or will ignore the evidence/data when it doesn’t align, whether it is verified, confirmed, factual and true, or not.

9-11 and obama

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Ideological Divide On Climate Change — Despite the abundant evidence and facts over the last century measuring global climate change, there remains a deep ideological divide in the U.S. about whether it is very serious and harming people now.

climate change divide

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Holocaust Doubting and Denial — Despite the eye-witness accounts by thousands upon thousands of Allied liberating soldiers and their commanders at Nazi death or concentration camps across Europe in the last months of World War II, as well as the abhorrent physical and forensic evidence at the time, a noticeable population today believe the Holocaust did not occur or was greatly exaggerated by Jews and Jewish sympathizers.

holocaust denial

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Don Quixote: My lady

I am not your lady!…
I am not any kind of a lady! 

So of course I became,
As befitted my delicate birth,
The most casual bride
Of the murdering scum of the earth!
Aldonza

Don Quixote: And still thou art my lady.

And still he torments me!
How should I be a lady?

If you feel that you see me
Not quite at my virginal best,
Cross my palm with a coin,
And I’ll willingly show you the rest!
Aldonza

Don Quixote: Never deny thou art Dulcinea.

Take the clouds from your eyes
and see me as I really am!
Aldonza

Those are a portion of the musical lyrics from the song and scene “Aldonza” in the 1972 film Man of La Mancha. Though the beautiful, alluring, prostitute Aldonza is trying to convince Don Quixote that she is not the woman he imagines, it is clear for several reasons that he is not seeing it nor will he accept it. Such is the force of denialism lost in euphoric romance. Emotions have over-powered critical reasoning.

Recognizing Methods of Truthiness, Denialism, or Phobias

This will not be an exhaustive list, but I will spot-light more popular, modern methods of reframing, misdirection, or flagrant deceit by employing pseudo-science or pseudo-historicity (vs. accredited historicity & historiography) that an audience or people are so dazed by the audacity, they may doubt or question their own perceptions of reality. Here are five traits of denialism from the European Journal of Public Health by Paschal Diethelm and Martin McKee:

  1. Pinpointing emotionally based or controversial conspiracies and publicizing those opinions. This would include tainted or polluted peer review or checks-n-balances by other expert colleagues in the subject field. Inversionism is a variant of conspiracy theories which can be utilized.
  2. Employing fake experts or paper-vapor institutions to refute (and slander?) legitimate experts. The internet or world-wide-web is ideal for this tactic.
  3. Specifically isolating or cherry-picking support and sources while ignoring or overlooking exhaustive databases, research studies, and counter-reviews.
  4. Imploring near-impossible or ridiculous standards of confirmation, e.g. the Lenski Affair.
  5. Employing logical fallacies which might include red herrings, straw-men arguments, or false analogies.

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Attacking Intellectualism on the Rise

Why is the majority of the general public gullible and/or naïve to hyped or erroneous influences? Why do celebrity, charismatic personalities attract droves of people to ill-founded causes and misguided, immoral, unethical ideologies? When we are trapped by self-imposed fears and external turmoil caused and funded by targeted propaganda, it becomes easier to simply deny our imperfections and mistakes, as tragic as they might be, in order to feel right instead of the alternative:  shame or embarrassment.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and the 3rd President, opportunistically attacked intellectualism. John Adams, as well as Alexander Hamilton, got into heated debates with Jefferson about democracy and how it should be governed. Jefferson and his political party supported the wisdom of the commoners, a peer review, if you will, to hedge against tyranny and oligarchies or dictators. Adams Sr. and Hamilton, however, knew too well how poorly educated most commoners of that day were to con-men tyrants and charismatic persuasion by corrupt causes and ideologies. Yet, in today’s more advanced, more widely educated populations—primarily in first-world or advancing second-world nations—as opposed to 18th-century America, the mob revolutions in which Jefferson witnessed in his day occur less frequently due to informed early detection by the citizens.

In other words, today there exists exponentially more credentialed “experts” to police Cults of Personality and protect the less fortunate and more gullible against precisely the cunning tyrants Jefferson detested. One difference in today’s pool of experts is that they are all highly specialized in very specific fields of study, possibly two or three, maybe four on a basic level. But not ten or fifteen or more. Being a Nobel Prize winning expert or scholar in ten or more subjects is humanly impossible. Therefore, like it or not, we must… no, we have no choice but to rely on highly trained, vastly experienced professionals, the “intellectuals” in their fields of expertise. In this regard, even Thomas Jefferson fell short. Now, with all due respect to our 3rd President, if we commission a large pool of experts, ala a democracy of intelligent commoners(?), then we could hope Tommy would have approved.

Pessimistic or Vigilant?

Truth does matter. Truth backed up by incontrovertible, scientific or historical facts, repeatable ad infinitum, do indeed exist. In an interview about the movie Denial and her legal run-in with David Irving, Deborah Lipstadt said:

I try to be optimistic about things, but history teaches me that that is not always the case. There are people out there who are very much beguiled by these stories. When I see it seep into the general conversation of people not on extreme ends, that’s when I get worried. This is why it is so important to challenge liars about their lies. Challenge them with the facts.

deborah lipstadtI do have a lot of admiration and respect for what Ms. Lipstadt and her legal team showed and protected regarding accredited scholarship, freedom of speech, and the accountability one must always own in speaking or printing ideas or opinions as facts of science and/or history. She certainly deserves applause and recognition for protecting the atrocious reality of the Nazi Holocaust against saber-rattling, self-proclaimed, self-absorbed, charismatic trouble-makers calling them self a great leader, or reformer, or intellectual. Her victorious feat cannot be denied.

Ms. Lipstadt is Jewish by birth and by all available accounts and information it is reasonable to assume she is still active in practicing her Jewish faith. There is no easily accessible information to the contrary. This leads me to my own question for Ms. Lipstadt in regard to her quote just above.

There are increasing amounts of scholarly and scientific evidence and facts suggesting, even convincingly demonstrating that all three Abrahamic religions are based on beguiling stories which are indeed within general conversations of people not on extreme ends over 2-3 millenia that in the end are hoaxes, gross distortions of historicity, and the three religions worry and cause great concern for a large number of sane, reasonably intelligent secularists and humanists around the world. My question:

Have you or would you, Ms. Lipstadt, put your religious faith to the exact same rigorous scrutiny you afforded the defense of the Holocaust and put bogus Holocaust deniers through?

To my readers, followers, and visitors. Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions, or challenges. They could stimulate an invigorating discussion or debate!

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Unsung Songs

Several years ago I wrote a blog about how sound moves not only through the air and aether, but also through our bodies, our eardrums, and our hearts, and deep into your memory. Since even before recorded history on stone tablets, humanity has had an intimate relationship with sound, notes, melodies and harmonies, and rhythm. It should come as no surprise that vibrations resonate through every one of us.

We live on a planet of rhythm and time.  A planet that completes its cycle around the sun every 365 days, with a moon that cycles around us every 28 days, and we rotate around our own axis every 24 hours.  These cosmic cycles and our bodily ones, all connected to the circadian dance of day and night.  The mystery of rhythm and time found for a moment in the soul’s drum.  When it is right, you feel it with all your senses, every thread of your being.  It is the ‘sweet spot’ of connection.

If the rhythm is right, if the translation between inner mood and the drum membrane are perfect, then you know it instantly. “Ah, this goes with my body tempo, this connects how I feel today, how fast my heart is beating, what my thoughts are, what my hands feel like.”

When the rhythm is right you feel it with all your senses, every corner of your soul and being. You don’t fight it, but instead allow yourself to be propelled and consumed by its insistent yet familiar feeling.  All sense of the present moment disappears, the normal categories of time become meaningless. —— Mickey Hart, Drumming At the Edge Of Magic – A Journey Into the Spirit of Percussion

I’d imagine that most species on this magnificent planet experience the same thing as we do with sound, vibrations, and music. In some ways it is how we navigate through life. Imagine the endless beauty of all the world’s songbirds, whales and dolphins in the oceans, herds of mammals guiding their young, and all of humanity’s greatest concertos, bands of every genre, instruments from many cultures, and the powerful significance it all brings to life on Earth.

Now, imagine a world, a life, with no sound.

This is very hard for me to do. I can’t frankly. Sound, rhythm, and music are so deeply woven and engrained in my family heritage and my DNA it will never be silenced! At least for several generations or more; both my kids are crazy about their music, much of it they fell in love with from their parents. But imagine a life where none of these sounds, vibrations, or rhythms exist. How would our human bodies react? How would others react to us?

There is also a paradox here. Or maybe not a paradox, but a potential paradox, or a limit. Overkill. Excessive sound or noise. Is silence better than noise, interference?

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence…
—— Simon & Garfunkel

When a human being expresses their feelings, right or wrong it doesn’t matter at the time, is it better than silence, than omission? Are feelings typically honest and raw? From Paulo Coelho:

Telling the truth and making someone cry
is better than telling a lie and making someone smile.

What sort of perceived reality is achieved when one is fed half-truths, half-lies, or full-blown lies, or a more common form of silence:  omission. Is it human nature to express these forms of non-reality or blurry reality? Is it human nature to trust, or trust too much too easily? How often do we practice these techniques?

I’m in the dark, I’d like to read his mind
but I’m frightened of the things I might find
Oh, there must be something he’s thinking of
to tear him away
when I tell him that I’m falling in love
why does he say…

If we deny other humans — our dear friends, family, lovers, partners, spouses — OUR sounds, vibrations, words, feelings, rhythms, and “music” is it fair to expect or demand THEIR free expressions of sounds, vibrations, words, feelings, rhythms, and “music”? Where does silence, hush-hush leave us?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Listen to Songs Unsung

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Games of Unknowledging – Part III

Previously in Part II, methods of manufacturing uncertainty and five historical cases in which doubt was produced, the ignorance surrounding women’s bodies and pleasures both lost and suppressed, and the lost knowledge and worlds of West Indian abortifacients were briefly covered. Here in Part III I would like to cover cases of artful fabricated facts or conscious lying and how it might be recognized, how indigenous fossils have become lost worlds and knowledge, and finally how understanding the benefits and advantages of historical-interdisplinary hindsight can improve one’s bull-shit detecting skills.

Once again, I apologize for the length. I realize this Part is over 5,400 words, but its content is critical, too vastly unknown today by the general American public, that again I just couldn’t reduce the word-count anymore than I have. I hope you’ll understand why when finished reading. Thank you in advance for your patience.

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Fabricating Facts
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Profiling and discerning the who(m), what, where, when, and why of fabricators, their fabrications, infection, placebos and/or actual cures for individual or humanity’s honest betterment is not a Sherlock Holmes skill-set we are born with. It takes trial and error, often MANY trials and errors, over appropriate time, and hedged by just as many or more learners and teachers. Here are some uncinematic examples of prolific fabrication…

Secret Anecdotal History
In 6th century CE Palaestina Prima, Byzantine historian and scholar Procopius secretly wrote a collection of abusive defamatory works about Emperor Justinian and other aristocratic elite whom he glorified in actual published works. After his death the writings became known as Anecdota, which means a short obscure account of an event or events often for amusement and unsubstantiated. In our case here, truthy… maybe, possibly, probably fabricated. Political anecdotes are most suitable for casting degrees of public doubt.

Benjamin Franklin’s Boston Newspaper Hoax
In 1782 a Boston, MA newspaper, the Independent Chronicle, reported a Native American tribe allied with the British had committed atrocities on American frontier settlers. The hoax-article written intentionally by Benjamin Franklin was to rouse pro-American and anti-British Crown sentiments. It was a significant propaganda success and proved very beneficial at later peace negotiations with the British Ministry.

Old French Canards
17th and 18th century French tabloids, known as canards, disseminated propaganda, one about a Chilean monster being discovered and shipped to Spain. This animal supposedly had “…the head of a Fury, wings like a bat, a gigantic body covered in scales, and a dragon-like tail.” The report was completely fictitious, but nonetheless became one of the best-selling broadsides in the streets of Paris — readers couldn’t get enough of the fake-news and ate it up.

Delmer’s “Black Propaganda” Radio Show
From 1941 to 1943 in Nazi-occupied Europe, Sefton Delmer, known as Der Chef, regularly broadcasted what was thought to be actual news about the war and Nazi corruption to German listeners. The German High Command tried to block the radio signal, but unsuccessfully. As a result, Der Chef — who had a Berliner accent and came across as an old high-ranking Prussian officer — disclosed negative news such as German infantry receiving infectious blood-transfusions of syphilis from captured Poles and Slavs, two ethnic classes many Nazi-Germans despised. Delmer also gossiped on the airwaves that Italian diplomats in Berlin were bedding the wives of high-ranking officials and deployed officers. Through other radio stations, he introduced a youthful Nazi named “Vicki” that spread a mixture of real news taken from intercepted German intelligence sources and invented items like a nasty outbreak of diphtheria among German children. By most accounts of the radio broadcasts, as well as his Nachrichten für die Truppe (News for the Troops) air-dropped on the Western front, Delmer’s propaganda was insidiously effective and contributed at minimum to the disintegrating cohesiveness and morale of Nazi Germany.

The King Wizard of Fabrication
One of the biggest, recent fabricated-facts scheme in American history was accomplished over a seventeen-year period by Bernie Madoff. The HBO film below summarizes the impact and ripple-effects well…

Bernard L. Madoff masterminded a multi-billion dollar Ponzi-scheme, defrauding thousands of wealthy investors, over 17-years until the Wall Street market began collapsing and imploding in 2008 from a Made-off-esque, unregulated, financial culture of greed, dishonesty, and severe lack of protective measures for common Americans wanting to trust and invest in the free-enterprise market.

Why Fabricate or Lie?
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The June 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine writes specifically about this common, (natural? chronic?) human condition. According to the studies and researchers the article cites, We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People [and assemblies of people] lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal:  ‘We lie if honesty won’t work,’ says researcher Tim Levine. This graphic vividly illustrates the percentages of 11 reasons to fabricate, grouped under four general explanations:

The NatGeo article lists many other classic falsehoods, hoaxes, identity thefts, hoodwinks, scandals, and presidential untruths which infer the symptoms, behaviors, and mechanisms that manifest at certain rates from the cognitive psychology of one or a group. Hence, in this day and age an intimate familiarity with forensic psychology can be quite useful.

Be open as well as skeptical (to necessary degrees) to all sources of information and corroboration. When you have eliminated the impossible, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth or highly plausible, as I like to quantify. This does assist one in profiling, impeding and/or countering fabrications. In my limited subjective experience and education, I’ve learned that the larger a collective database with interdisciplinary methodologies, i.e. verifications, comparisons, variance including reasonably opposed or contrasting perspectives, offer at the moment the best hedge against fraud(s). Presently, even technology must not be solely trusted because even it has proven vulnerable — e.g. internet phishing — and Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes, has opened up a new frontier for deceit.

Lost Worlds and Knowledge of Indigenous Fossils
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When the word “indigenous” is used here, it often indicates those peoples living on the continents other than Europe and Eurasia in the late prehistoric period, the ancient history period, and up until the Age of Exploration/Discovery (1400’s). Here specifically I will be referring mostly to the peoples of North America during those time-periods, also known as Native American Indians.

Secondly, it is probably important to quickly review modern techniques of fossil-dating before diving into this area, lost area of Indigenous Fossils Knowledge. How do modern archaeologists and paleontologists calculate the age of fossils? They have more than a dozen very reliable methods, all able to corroborate (or not) the others. Click here to learn more from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Adrienne Mayor is a research professor in the Classics-History and Philosophy of Science department at Stanford University. Her speciality is how ancient “folk science” precursors, alternatives, and parallels [that of] modern scientific methods. She calls attention to five cases from Imperial Colonization to the Enlightenment where indigenous people’s knowledge of Miocene-Pleistocene fossils are completely missing in Euro-American paleo-histories. Of Mayor’s five cases, I wish to introduce these three: Mather’s Claverack Giant, Cuvier’s Mastodons, and Simpson’s Dismissals, with a very short mention of the Lakota’s Agate Springs Corkscrews.

Mather’s Claverack Giant
Bear with me a moment while I state the obvious. Though the last of the Cretaceous dinosaurs went extinct over 65-million years ago, falling exactly where they were, then buried over several millenia under many levels of geology, erosion and/or excavation unearthed and still unearthed today all across the Americas. Native American Indians discovered these massive bones of giants long, long ago, countless centuries before the first Europeans set foot in the Americas. The bones became the oral traditions of the 800+ tribes (est. population of 50—100-million) on the N. American continent alone. When European settlers first heard of these bones from giants in 1705 from Iroquois, Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot, and other tribes along the Hudson River, they had to see for themselves. Debates broke out between the Indians and European settlers over what the bones were and meant.

North American mastodon tuskIn 1712 Cotton Mather, a celebrated New England Puritan minister, wrote the Royal Society of London about the gigantic bones from Claverack, New York. What is a minister, a theologian doing interpreting archaeological finds? Dr. Mayor offers her expertise:

“Mather was a complex man: he demonized the “savages” as devil worshippers, but his writings show a keen interest in their knowledge of natural history, and Mather took the trouble to learn Algonquian. In his letter to the Royal Society, Mather argued that the bones belonged to a giant victim of the flood. This and similar finds in North and South America were “scientific proof” that giants had once inhabited the Americas and died when the flood inundated the whole world.”

Wanting to support his (and the world’s) Christian beliefs Mather used these Indian stories while at the same time asserting that the Albany Indian folklore was ridiculously unreliable. Though many Euro-American church ministers and theologians argued the massive bones legitimized native oral traditions of ancient giants. Adrienne Mayor:

“In contrast, Mather believed that all pagan mythology was inspired by Satan. Could the seemingly spontaneous interruptions in the letter [to the Royal Society of London] be an artifact of a collision between Mather’s faith-based belief system and his scientific impulse to be objective and inclusive by citing Indian giant legends as proof of Christian doctrine?”

Using contradiction for an end-game, Mather’s humoured dismissal of indigenous accounts further cloaked valid evidence to broader knowledge:

“With [his] decision to cancel out native fossil knowledge, Mather became the first authority on record in North America to deny Indians a role in interpreting fossil evidence. I suggest that Mather modeled his tactic on a similar strategy of the Roman historian Plutarch, whose reports of giant bones Mather cites in his letter. Plutarch described the amazing discovery of a gigantic skeleton in North Africa in the first century BC, but dismissed indigenous explanations as “fantastic legends” and scorned their language as “absolutely unpronounceable.””

Cuvier’s Mastodons
Following the 18th century Euro-American indifference of indigenous explanations of enormous ancient fossils, the 19th century records and accrediting was hardly improved. In spite of Georges Cuvier‘s extensive use of both native South and North American Indian traditions of their non-whereabouts, he went against popular prejudices. Cuvier is considered the founding father of paleontology and due to his exhaustive work in comparative vertebrate anatomy, his theories of Earth’s extinction-events were often aggressively challenged by mainstream socialites claiming why God, having created all things and commanded them good, would only turn around and raze it to into the ground. Mayor explains…

“Cuvier was especially impressed with Shawnee and Delaware legends surround the “astonishing abundance” of fossils of mastodons and other mammals in the Ohio Valley. In 1762, five complete mastodon skeletons were described and measured by “les sauvages shawanais.”

The details that emerged from indigenous accounts were consistent. The giant beings had lived in the remote past but were wiped out by some violent destruction event before the era of present-day Indians:  no one claimed to have seen them alive. These widespread extinction scenarios, from Peru to Canada, helped Cuvier to rule out migration and focus on catastrophic extinctions, and therefore were significant in developing the theories that established the new science of paleontology.”

Historians of paleontology today give no credit to Cuvier’s intimate deliberation over Greek and Native American fossil accounts and finds, nor any speculation of their impact on his theories. Only by reading Cuvier’s original memoirs and publications can one recognize the Native American sources. Cuvier’s modern translator, Martin J. S. Rudwick, does not disseminate any of the indigenous finds either. They’re simply ignored leading the audience to assume Euro-Americans found them.

Simpson’s Dismissals
In the July 1935 issue of the Journal of Paleontology, E.M. Kindle, from Cornell and Yale Universities in geology and paleontology wrote that Native Americans deserve credit for their fossil discoveries. This was not to happen. Not then, and for the most part, not in the 21st century either. Why? In 1942 – 1943 renowned U.S. paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson vowed to keep out Native American compensation or recognition in their field of science. In two popular monographs Simpson all but blocked any exchanges between the tribes and Euro-American “finds and accounts.” G.G. Simpson maintained:

“The first vertebrate fossils to be seen by Europeans in the Western Hemisphere were mastodon bones collected by the Indians in Tlascala, and shown to Cortez’s army in 1519. A few casual finds were made in the next two centuries but these also had no sequel and cannot be called scientific discoveries.
— Simpson, George Gaylord (1942 September). The Beginnings of Vertebrate Paleontology in North America. Abstract p. 130. Retrieved from: http://www.blc.arizona.edu/courses/schaffer/249/Ohio%20Animal/Simpson%20-%20Beginnings%20of%20VP%20in%20NA.pdf

Mayor continues about Simpson’s indifference toward indigenous involvement:

“Since there was no record of “continuous consciousness” of fossil knowledge in Indian culture, argued Simpson, their discoveries never resulted in scientific advancement and thus had “no real bearing on paleontological discovery.” Why would a towering figure like Simpson go to such lengths to deny Native Americans a role in the early history of paleontology?

Simpon’s drive to erase Indians from the story let to convoluted reasoning. In his descriptions of the historic 1739 discovery of mastodon fossils by Abenaki hunters in the French army, Simpson’s logic is torturous: “Even though Indians were probably involved in the real discovery” of the Ohio fossils, “they cannot fairly be called the discoverers.” Despite the Indians’ “absolute priority,” which has been acknowledged by French scientists since 1764, Simpson went so far as to create an ahistorical discovery scenario in order to give credit to the French commander of the expedition.”

This bias for Euro-American findings, procedures, and ingenuity Simpson ardently portrays can be further gleaned from the same web link above (Beginnings) pp. 132-138.

Agate Fossils Bed - Nebraska

Agate Fossils Bed Museum, Nebraska

As in many cultures around the world, including the U.S., there are longstanding mythos of elusive, mystical spirits or angels of good, as well as evil. Have any been caught on modern video which support or prove their existence? The validity of tangible paranormal activity with the aid of advancing electronics and technology is still an emerging (scientific?) field. In the case of the Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska, the Lakota Indians named the site “Animal Bones Brutally Scattered About” because their ancient oral traditions — like those of the desert nomadic tribes of Judean Hebrews pre-Old Testament — were legends of Unktehi, ‘evil water monsters killed by Thunder Beings‘ long ago. Lakota elders believed that disturbing the giant bones of the dead was “bad medicine.” Hence, on moral grounds, or virtuous ignorance, these details were kept not just from outsiders, but within the general tribe too.

[The silent-secret virtue] “evokes some aspects of the Puritan witch hunter Cotton Mather’s anxiety about the satanic influences of Indian fossil legends 300 years ago. Mather deliberately created ignorance as a strategic ploy borrowed from Plutarch.”

The fact that many modern place names originated from antiquity’s legends and continued into the 14th century New World and through today indicates people, no matter their continental ethnicity or methods of knowledge-preservation, observed and theorized sedimentary traces of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene life-forms before “modern” Euro-American scientific investigations officially began.

These are a few cases of lost and/or dismissed knowledge. Would interdisplinarity help lower or uncover cases of knowledge-ignorance? Would that have positive or negative consequences on humanity’s progress?
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Advantages of Historical-interdisplinary Hindsight
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A Prelude — I feel it bears importance to mention or reiterate that with regard to all hindsights of history and science there are pervasive varying degrees of knowledge and ignorance inherent in their operations. Further still, there is no one extant human activity (e.g. religion; theology and their claims) that operates with complete impunity from interdisciplinary examination, verification, and universal collaboration. No one discipline of human activity should ever be above these jurisdictions, yes, including science and history. The concession to or theft of complete impunity, with its implicit power extensions, has too often had disastrous consequences for thousands-to-millions of souls.
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∞ ∞ ∞ § ∞ ∞ ∞

Ask yourself and answer this question, “Where will I be and doing what on July 15, 2023 at 12-noon?” Think about your answer for a minute before reading further.

Do you have a precise answer? Is your answer full proof and exhaustive? It might seem a silly exercise, but it does characterize several mechanisms involved in and constrained by ignorance. Dr. Alison Wylie of the University of Washington, USA, and Durham University, U.K., specializes in the epistemological unknowns of archaeology, its research ethics, and the social sciences relative specifically to feminism. It is her epistemic expertise in archaeology that I find useful in a broader spectrum. Allow me to summarize her archaeological approach to ignorance, in as few words possible, while also interjecting my own wider glimpses, then elaborate more the shadowing onto advantages of historical-interdisplinary hindsight.

Intro: Mapping Archaeological Ignorance
There are a number of factors and constraints to consider at archaeological sites when attempting to understand what is uncovered, unknown and why it might be unknown. Wylie examines several.

Epistemological Factors — a chief source of ignorance is the poverty of empirical data. For example, the scarce fossil evidence of hominid evolution compared to more plentiful prehistoric vertebrates of the Triassic through Cretaceous periods; the former strangely being significantly more recent! One might think most recent artifacts would be most plentiful. Another is technology which today can better locate, recover, analyze, and interpret data had not yet developed. Neurology and brain research are an obvious example. Epistemic deficiency isn’t the only factor; a noticeable inadequacy of theory also contributes. Observations without invigorating theoretical interpretations becomes mundane procedure. R. L. Gregory, Sir John C. Kendrew, and W. B. Webb, all contributors to the Encyclopedia of Ignorance (1977), elaborate:

[Mundane observations]“…are awash in detailed knowledge of form but not function, of correlations but not causal relations, of manifest pattern but not mechanism.”

Joined with historical-interdisciplinary hindsight, causal determinism, the language of precision, conjecture, and extraneous control, though always present everywhere, are further unpacked.

Ontological Constraints — levels of ignorance are often directly proportional to the expanding scope of knowledge, e.g. the more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know. R. W. Sperry explains this illusion of absolute certainty:

“A psychobiologist considers the implications of ongoing evolution:  it “keeps complicating the universe by adding new phenomena that have new properties and new forces.” […] But the most daunting for these scientists is any phenomenon that is conditioned by human action and intention.”
Sperry, Roger W., “Problems Outstanding,” Encyclopedia of Ignorance, pp. 432-433

In gathering evidence we must factor in the projection or contamination, if you will, of the observer’s limitless ability to construct new frameworks, new twists, and new endings. From an intrinsic standpoint this is in essence theory and valuable. However, it also means exact science is impossible. That said, degrees of probabilities — the infinite divisibilities notwithstanding — can be, well, more exact when complimented with expansive historical-interdisciplinary hindsights.

Contextual & Normative Factors — standing opposed to the above factors and constraints are those doctors, scientists, and scholars who move their figurative microscopes away from ontological and epistemic ignorances, focusing instead on normative cultural, economic, and social factors. With chemical addiction general society has a complex and robust reaction to drug dependency, so much so that what defines addiction is less precise than the convictions about our knowledge of its causes. Geologists ask why is so much ignorance allowed right under our feet when scientists and engineers have been drilling in the deepest oceans with technology available for many decades? Considering epistemic, ontological, cultural, economic, and social factors within their contexts Dr. Wylie continues:

“…it is striking that these [geologists and addictionologists] do not chiefly blame biasing intrusions from outside science for the failures and limitations of inquiry they describe. […]

With the benefit of hindsight — specifically, thirty years of development in science studies — there is clearly considerable scope for asking why particular lines of evidence and theoretical insight had languished while others were avidly pursued, rebalancing the weight of the factors [above] in the direction of the political economy, the institutional structure, and the culture of the sciences in question, as well as the larger social contexts in which they operate.”

Dr. Wylie has begun inferring a symmetry thesis on ignorance she firmly believes:  that contexts and factors which produce knowledge “are quite relevant for understanding the production (and maintenance) of ignorance.” She insists that though these factors are symbiotic, we cannot always predict at any given time what all factors might be, their full impact, or the exact interactions.

How might these afflictions in archaeology or ignorance be minimized? Perhaps refining our powers of identification, a hearing the silence, if you will, can offer guidance.

Historical Silence
Regarding the hazards of ignorance, the definition or composition of ignorance is inevitably sucked into battles of “objectivity” versus relativism and constructivism. The anxieties over error and ignorance, at least in archaeology admits Wylie, had created emergencies about every 30-years since these scientific disciplines began to professionalize as well as commercialize early in the 1900’s. It wasn’t until around the 1960’s that this fixation with ontological and empirical constraints on the depravity of insufficient theory shifted to political and sociocultural factors. Enter Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s study of “Silencing the Past.” Wylie finds Trouillot’s analysis of history very useful here:

“…there is no prospect, [Trouillot] argues, for eliminating the systematic ambiguities inherent in the way we use the term history to refer both to events in the past and to the narratives by which we understand the past in the present. History, the narrative, is produced at innumerable sites, few of them controlled by professional historians and all of them deeply structured by contemporary interests and power relations. What we do not know, as much as what we do know, tracks power as it operates in social contexts both past and present.”

Trouillot considers four stages of historical productions:

  1. genesis of textual clues or traces
  2. collection of these clues/traces into an archive
  3. retrieval of clues/traces as facts for deposit into historical narratives
  4. development of narratives with retrospective impact

At every juncture of the aforementioned epistemic and contextual-normative factors, coupled with the ontological constraints, these four stages symmetrically outline our knowledge and ignorance. Dr. Wylie probes these stages with three lenses.

Empirical & Ontological Factors — empirically speaking, the attrition or decay, displacement, or destruction of material traces and artifacts, as well as hyped optimism over the nature of garbage, are significant imprinting factors upon Trouillot’s first and second stages. Regarding a peoples garbage and artifacts, explains Wylie…

“…the production, consumption, circulation, and discard of material culture are as deeply structured by power relations as is the creation [and collection] of a textual record. […]

Here ontological constraints enter:  what archaeologists can know (or know reliably) is conditioned by the differential survival of stone tools and metal artifacts, fired ceramics, and architectural features, by contrast, for example, [to biodegradable items].”

Silencing-the-Past_Trouillot

Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Further still, the seemingly egalitarian nature of a population’s waste or discarded items (which does provide a general theme of the people’s lives), is not represented equally from the rubble. Hence, this takes us to Trouillot’s third stage:  retrieval of facts for entry into a narrative. “Here the entire spectrum of epistemic and sociopolitical factors are in play” says Wylie. What is understood about a subject is as dependent on visibility, the means to find it/study it, and manage it technologically, as it is to what the observer finds valuable. Retrieval and formation of usable facts of an archive or pool of data “…is very largely a function of what questions we know to ask and what material traces we know (how) to look for in attempting to answer them” for a narrative.

Given these considerations, factors, and constraints, archaeologists and historians alike must respect the reasonable parameters of evidence, taking care not to indulge too deeply in the forms and speculative practice of social configurations or religious dynamics, both with their hazards. Consider Diogenes of Sinope and his large wine cask — the researcher-observer may find his tub, but altogether miss its resident.

Theoretical Considerations — by the 1960’s and 70’s there was a strong reaction to the traditional skepticism of reliable archaeology. New modern archaeologists insisted the limitations of full understanding reflected, not ontological obscurity and empirical scarcity of extant clues/traces, but rather deficiencies of the valuable theories supplied to inquiry. As a result, the New-Era Archaeologists brought two strategies for redesigning Trouillot’s stages three and four to the skeptics:

  1. reorientation of all retrieval modes:  all evidence and artifacts (excavation, data analysis, survey) should be tested to problem-oriented questions, not (random?) open-ended exploration, i.e. theorem building on evidence/artifacts.
  2. increased expansion of stage three and four:  frame or rent independent background knowledge, “mid-range theory,” within and from the sociocultural contexts and norms.

Dr. Alison Wylie cram-packs her summary of these two strategies. Get your oxygen tank and mask, take a deep breath, and bear with me (and her):

“The contours of possible knowledge and probable ignorance are shaped by the resources—technical, empirical, theoretical, economic, and social—that archaeologists [and historians] recruit for the purpose of constituting facts of the past:  identifying, recovering, recording material traces, and, crucially, interpreting them as evidence. What facts (of the record and of the past) archaeologists can establish has everything to do with what resources they have internally, or what connections they cultivate with the collateral fields that supply  the crucial linking principles, and this is a function of institutional dynamics as much as of internal, problem, and theory-driven judgements of relevance; of conventions of authority and prestige, and the shifting availability of research funds, as well as accidents of personal interest and connection.”

As we continue analyzing the historical silences, a less-fuzzy picture is emerging. Compared to our pool of knowledge, we are finding ignorance to be atlantic! Indeed, the distant horizons where “dragons” lurk, recede and turn into minnows as we frequently embark. Not necessarily as authorities, but as explorers, finding other explorers in unchartered and newly charted seas. However, there has risen a new phenomena, a strengthening storm, if you will. It is loosely known as modernized scientific skepticism.

Sociopolitics — since the early 1980’s, with an increased fervor in the 2000’s, there has been a strengthening reaction to whether science can know and understand the past, particularly archaeology. This storm challenge is explicitly cast in sociopolitical terms, even with threads of religiosity mixed in — the Christopher Hawkes top-rung of his Inference Ladder (Evans, C. (1998). Historicism, chronology and straw men: Situating Hawkes’ ‘Ladder of inference’. Antiquity, 72(276), 398-404. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00086671). The eye of the storm is directly against Trouillot’s fourth stage, narrative construction.

These new warriors against archaeology, science, and history argue that stage-four narratives about the past are inescapable from contemporary bias and significance. Though this is a plausible, universal argument, it overlooks genre or discipline-specific credibility-tests designed to expose possible contemporary bias and significance. What exactly is meant by this?

One could characterize this modern reliability debate as Exclusion vs. Inclusion. Consider Ian Hacking’s counter-argument to these new warrior’s skepticism. In 1986 Dr. Hacking presented his lengthy essay-argument to the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, and I paraphrase:

In the field of lucrative high-stakes weapons-research, when boards and scientists target specific troubles, time and resources are not only rechanneled away from other equally bright lines of research, but future options of research are also revamped before given a chance of success. This diverting reshapes the “world of mind and technique” where science operates.

Accurate and reliable scientific research and development takes necessary time, sometimes years, and the ripple-effect of these redirections, refunding, and defunding has consequences, as Wylie explains:

“By extension, this canalization of inquiry in any one field has implications for what is or becomes possible in other fields, determining what technologies of investigation, what collateral knowledge, is available for application in the kinds of interdisciplinary exchanges that have enriched archaeology [and history] from its inception.”

The present-day skepticism and worries by new warrior-critics has formed and morphed into an implicitly uncompromising constructivism for which at its core assumes there is little archaeology, history, and sciences, perhaps even technology can exhaustively account for other than layered silences; “expansive ignorance and exuberant invention” says Wylie. Trouillot would certainly take exception to this new-age opposition and posture.

In his Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Trouillot superbly uses the folklore, myths, and legends surrounding the battle of the Alamo in Texas — today and for almost two centuries a popular lucrative tourist-site and sociopolitical extension of Texas’ proud Anglo-American image, “history(?)” and heritage intensively taught throughout primary and secondary public school levels — to make the crucial point of just why strategies and credibility-tests are necessary for historical silences or ignorance. I am also inserting two pieces of embellished artwork highly treasured inside our Texas state capitol.

“The lesson of the [Alamo] debate is clear. At some stage, for reasons that are themselves historical, most often spurred by controversy, collectivities experience the need to impose a test of credibility on certain events and narratives because it matters to them whether these events are true or false, whether these stories are fact or fiction.

Dawn-at-The-Alamo

“Dawn at the Alamo” – click here to enlarge, Texas style

That it matters to them does not necessarily mean that it matters to us. But how far can we carry our isolationism [exclusionism]? Does it really not matter whether or not the dominant narrative of the Jewish Holocaust is true or false? Does it really not make a difference whether or not the leaders of Nazi Germany actually planned and supervised the death of six-million Jews? […]

But how much can we reduce [oversimplify, extrapolate, biasedly project] what happened? If six-million do not really matter, would two-million be enough, or would some of us settle for three-hundred thousand? If meaning is totally severed from a referent “out there,” if there is no cognitive purpose, nothing to be proved or disproved, what then is the point of the story? [Hayden] White’s answer is clear: to establish moral authority. But why bother with the Holocaust or plantation slavery, Pol Pot, or the French Revolution, when we already have Little Red Riding Hood?

Siege-of-the-Alamo

“Siege of the Alamo” – click here to enlarge, Texas style

Constructivism’s [anti-science warriors’] dilemma is that while it can point to hundreds of stories that illustrate its general claim, that narratives are produced, it cannot give a full account of the production of any single narrative. [his emphasis] For either we would all share the same stories of legitimation, or the reasons why a specific story matters to a specific population are themselves historical. To state that a particular narrative legitimates particular policies is to refer implicitly to a “true” account of these policies through time, an account which itself can take the form of another narrative. But to admit the possibility of this second narrative is, in turn, to admit that the historical process has some autonomy vis-à-vis the narrative. It is to admit that as ambiguous and contingent as it is, the boundary between what happened and that which is said to have happened is necessary.

It is not that some societies distinguish between fiction and history and others do not. Rather the difference is in the range of narratives that specific collectivities must put to their own tests of historical credibility because of the stakes involved in these narratives.” — Trouillot, Silencing the Past, pp. 11-14.

And personally I would add “…must put to their own tests disclosed and compared to those of interdisciplinary credibility tests as well for increased accuracy” because of the stakes involved between fact-or-fiction!

∞ ∞ ∞ § ∞ ∞ ∞

Given the hitherto three-part coverage and hopefully amplification of some of the intricacies and mechanisms constituting knowledge-ignorance, how it’s produced, and why it has silences, it becomes clear that a form of enlarged intellectualism is presently needed, especially in the U.S., and nurturing (versus uncompromising) in the general population, or at minimum a trust in those few credible experts who have obtained it, in order to better monitor and counter severe imbalances. Therefore, in Part IV, the conclusion, I will examine social theorems of ignorance, perhaps white (yes, Caucasian/Anglo) ignorance, should time permit and you readers/followers demand it in your comments below, and then finally ask Where are America’s Public Intellectuals?… to help in this imperative movement. I hope you will join me. Meanwhile, please leave your thoughts about Part III below and I will do my best to respond.
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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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