Search This Blog

Sunday, March 29, 2009

History lessons

Unusually (weekends are not a terribly relaxing time for me at the moment) I had nothing to do for a while last Sunday. After doing the football run, the play rehearsal run, the shopping run etc, I sat down with a cup of tea and the rest of yesterday's paper. Feeling tired, I decided to put my feet and watch TV for a while. I flipped on the History Channel, thinking that I might relax and learn something interesting. Guess what was on: something about the French revolution maybe, or perhaps an old episode of Time Team, maybe a David Starkey programme? No. It was a "documentary" about Nostradamus. When I check in later on, there was something about Roswell. Now, the only reason that I can see for having these programmes on would be to remove the name of anyone viewing them from the electoral roll, but since it's not against the law to show patent rubbish to a credulous populace I suppose I should simply shut up.

But it bothers me. It's distressing enough to live in a society that shows programmes purporting to communicate with the dead, photograph ghosts and contact UFOs, but it's even more distressing to see this claptrap presented as factual rather than as mindless entertainment (even though they are not in the least entertaining). Note that I'm not being grumpy about people paying for demonstrably false services. Since I'm of a broadly libertarian bent, I go along with Brian Dunning from Skeptoid:

Most of the time, people who buy paranormal products or services — be it goddess worshipping seminars, homeopathy, acupuncture, or psychic readings — are buying completely harmless services that P.T. Barnum would have been happy to sell... The customer is happy, the peddler is happy, nobody is hurt, everybody involved is enriched by the transaction. This is their choice. They don't have a problem with it, why should you? It's none of your business.

[From Ethics of Peddling the Paranormal]

Yet I'm not completely comfortable with this laissez-faire attitude. As society becomes stupider, the populace more gullible and our scientific base crumbles, that will affect all of us negatively, not just the goddess worshippers. It's a bit like leaving the Taliban alone and then, when they ban vaccinations as being un-Islamic (as they in fact have done), saying "oh well, it's their culture, it's racist to interfere" but accepting the fact that you are now more likely to get polio.

I wonder just what it would take to get the History Channel to show some actual history? Oh wait, I apologise. Right now they are showing "Eat like a King", a show about Henry VIII's diet, so fair enough. But I am a tad concerned about the forthcoming Nostradamus 2012, which is being trailed. Here's the blurb...

Could we be facing a massive cosmic collision, a global environmental disaster, or an Armageddon on December 21st 2012? Throughout history, prophets including Nostradamus have independently produced these doomsday predictions pointing to the year 2012. Could they be right?

[From March Season | Nostradamus: 2012]

No, of course not. It's total bollocks, and a pretty poor advertisement for their "Award-winning history site combining professional articles on historical events people and places, as well as study aids for GCSE and A-Level students." Is it any wonder that the lack of historical knowledge in Britain is so shocking?

The survey found that 47 percent thought the 12th century English king Richard the Lionheart was a myth. And 23 percent thought World War II prime minister Churchill was made up. The same percentage thought Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale did not actually exist... Meanwhile, 58 percent thought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Holmes actually existed; 33 percent thought the same of W. E. Johns’ fictional pilot and adventurer Biggles.

[From Winston Churchill a Myth, Sherlock Holmes Real]

There's a toxic cloud of stupidity steadily spreading out across our once-great nation.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

No comments: