aNewDomain — Ancient Aliens started airing on the History Channel in 2010. Informational and educational television has been moving away from actual education and towards infotainment for years now. I mean, when was the last time you saw something educational on The Learning Channel?
Of course it is tough to make a living as a purveyor of factual information. Facts just aren’t sexy. That’s why the factual information channel keep changing. Twenty years ago it was TLC. Then it was History. Next, Discovery Network.
Now, only the Science Channel shows anything seriously scientific at all, and that is interspersed with segments about viral Internet videos that can be used to illustrate some principle or other.
And Ancient Aliens is a case in point. Essentially nothing at all about the program has any basis in reality. The history being portrayed here has little to do with the histories of fallen civilizations or human evolution, and everything to do with the history of paranoid conspiracy groups. It might as well be Hoarders: Buried Alive or Doomsday Preppers.
So, here is a video refuting Ancient Aliens and making the case that every single fact on the show is wrong and that they know its wrong.
What I really want to you attend to here is that the film is over three hours long.
Ancient Aliens and shows like it are great at doing one single thing: bombarding us with false information that takes a great deal of time and energy to refute. Each sentence in the show takes several minutes of explication in this film. Around minute 8, we’re still talking about whether you could work some special stones with ordinary tools, about four minutes after the false claim was introduced. The easy, simplistic claims of the conspiracy theorists require a fair amount of background science to understand well enough to refute. But they are, ultimately, easily refutable.
The same sort of strategy occurs in Ken Hamm’s version of Biblical creationism. A hundred false claims all strung together sound like science, and to the uninitiated seem convincing. Hamm shows a list of dating methods that don’t agree with one another, for example. Flashes through it in a powerpoint. It would take hours to go through each of the dating methods, explain its strengths and limitations, explain how different methods are good for different scales of time, and that we use multiple methods exactly because they do not always agree exactly.
Nobody has time for all this refutation. Serious scientists leave it alone, as a rule.
It’s getting to be that most science programming is this pseudo-science programming instead. Mermaids, the New Evidence. Ghost Hunters International. Finding Bigfoot. UFO Hunters. Monster Quest – the best of a bad lot. Shame on you, TLC, History, and especially Discovery Network. Discovery has given up on us completely, switching to a strategy of nudity and titillation.
But that’s not what this is about.
It’s about Internet trolls.
If you think someone might be trolling, first be aware it isn’t really our place to judge other folks or call them names – but our peace of mind might be saved by being able to detach and ignore. And when should we ignore?
A good rule of thumb here is when you find yourself writing pages of refutation for a line or two of antagonism. Trolls are great at provoking reasonable people with a few keystrokes’ worth of nonsense.
Look how much time the guy in the video had to take over one single claim: that the stones at Pumapunku could not have been worked by Earthly means. This is trolling at its finest.
As stated in a previous article, we keep being driven back to the basic elements of reality. Arguing the very existence of racism certainly keeps us from addressing it in any meaningful way; ditto sexism and climate change. Or anything at all else worth talking about. Income inequality? Wage slavery? NAFTA? Gay rights?
It’s easy to be sucked in, suckered by, trolls. To be diverted off track, away from the broader points and into wasting dozens of hours creating a three hour film about maybe two dozen spurious claims. That’s what they want.
Some people might be misunderstood or have valid points that disagree radically with mainstream views. They aren’t trolls. Now I said we wouldn’t be judging… but science is. Trolls, it turns out, aren’t misunderstood out-of-the-box thinkers. Trolls and griefers* actually more than likely are sadists and psychopaths who feed off of our disconcertment, outrage and upset.
One can spot a dangerous psychopath because their blood-pressure drops when witnessing another person in distress. They feel no fear or guilt, shame or remorse, and are not motivated by empathy. It seems they can turn their empathy on and off as it suits them, using empathy to find and manipulate prey more effectively rather than to build deeper relationships.
The best thing to do if one is unsure is to just say, “I appreciate that point of view,” and then move on – back to the real point of the discussion. The best thing to do if one is reasonably sure is just ignore the trolls completely.
And that is why I don’t watch Discovery Channel any more.
*Griefers are the video-game equivalent of trolls, really. Let’s say I’m waiting for a boss to spawn in Warcraft so I can finish a quest. The Griefer hangs out there, hiding nearby, and waits until I have nearly finished killing the boss – then leaps out and kills me before I can complete the job. One game (was it Everquest?) was essentially killed by griefers: high-level psychopaths hung out where the newbie characters would arrive in the game world and just killed them all as they popped up. A great lark that made the game unplayable.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover image: Wikimedia Commons