Safari Scholarship Reinvents History
by Ilana Mercer
Hollywood is usually the one to peddle historical fiction, which the public doesn't hesitate to accept as Bible from Sinai. For some time now, Hollywood has been getting stiff competition from unexpected quarters. Now, coming to an African Studies department near you is some startling information: The venerable Greeks, the founders of Western Civilization, stole their philosophical and scientific know-how from Egypt. Egypt, and not Greece, is the fount of western tradition.
In an unchronicled trip, Aristotle sojourned to Egypt with Alexander the Great, snuck books out of the Alexandrian library, and slapped his name on these books, parlaying them as his own. He wasn't alone. Socrates, Pythagoras and Plato were plagiarizers in their own right. Is there no end to the antics of those Pale, Patriarchal, Bad Boys?
You may never have given much thought to the skin color of the ancient Egyptians. Artifacts at least indicate that they were a diverse people, more Benetton than black. So it must come as a surprise that the Egyptians were actually Black Africans. Elizabeth Taylor had no business playing Cleopatra. The Macedonian of the Ptolemaic bloodline was really a long limbed Black woman. Even the Sphinx had Negroid features. That is until it fell prey to one of the first 'documented', racially motivated, acts of vandalism. The facial crater the Sphinx stoically bears, comes from being socked on the nose by Napoleon's racist troops. There go those Bad Boys again.
This mythistory is called Afrocentrism. It's promoted by a number of undistinguished African academics, and taught to students from grade school through the university level all over North America. Accordingly, Africans have an ineffable claim against Europeans. For how does one put a price on the mugging of a civilization?
Unlike the equally nonsensical Holocaust denial, which immediately raises establishment and media ire, this remedial revisionism has been met with little objection. For the most part, rebutting this bunk has fallen to a Greek Classicist by the name of Mary Lefkowitz.
Afrocentrism circulates in the form of books such as Black Athena by Cornell professor, Martin Bernal, Stolen Legacy by George G. M. James, and the school tracts known as the Portland African-American Baseline Essays.
For 'scholars' whose mission it is to promote a view of African superiority, Afrocentrists are indeed doing a poor job. The Science Baseline Essay claims no less that "thousands of years ago Egyptians"- cum blacks "flew in electroplated gold gliders, knew accurately the distance to the sun, and discovered the Theory of Evolution. According to the Senegalese Afrocentrist, Cheikh Anta Diop, Africans invented everything from Judaism, to engineering, to astronomy, including dialectical materialism.
One question: These folk persistently aver that practically every reprehensible occurrence in history is an excrescence of the Great White and his linear thinking. Put differently, if "Eurocentric" culture is so odious, why do Africans want to lay claim to it? By coveting it, aren't Afrocentrists providing the ultimate validation of Western Civilization?
Entire civilizations, moreover, are not the item of choice for the kleptomaniac. As Mary Lefkowitz points out in Not Out of Africa, "If the Greeks had learned their philosophy from a large theoretical literature produced by Egyptian writers, surely some trace of that literature would have remained in Egypt".
Don't look for congruity where there is only African chauvinism and the approval of the lickspittle, postmodern, pseudo-scholars of the academe.
The methodology of the Afrocentrist consists in neglecting chronology, treating myths as history, and using citations fraudulently so that these don't support the crux of the argument. In Afrocentric works, hypothesis morphs into fact, authorities that don't bolster a thesis are recruited in its service, and absence of proof becomes evidence of conspiracy. Dogged repetition of the lie is key, as are the vicious ad hominem attacks leveled at the few scholars who dare confront the evidence.
Not least of the jarring deceptions is a reference to the Egyptian Mystery System from whence the Greeks allegedly stole their philosophy: the reference comes not from an authentic historical text, but from eighteenth-century French fiction and Freemasonry. Furthermore, the city of Alexandria was founded only after Alexander's conquest of Egypt, and the library from where Aristotle allegedly pilfered his genius was founded after the philosopher's death.
Mythical thinking thrives and is nurtured in a culture which eschews objective truth. Where once there was an understanding that there exists a reality independent of the human observer, students are now taught that 'truth' is a social construction, a function of the power and position a person holds in society.
Casting fact and objective truth as mere opinion, or as no more than a perspective, is a handy bit of egalitarianism: if nothing is immutably true, then all positions are but a matter of preference and can be said to be equally valid. This standardless intellectual vortex is the scaffolding for Afrocentrism; the public school system its perfect foil.
John S. Mill pointed out that "a general State education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another." Indeed, public school indoctrination goes a long way towards explaining how orthodoxies like multiculturalism, radical feminism, and state granted entitlements couched as human rights, become articles of faith to most people.
This intellectual chaos results from the chokehold government has on education. Pedagogues have in many instances approved of Afrocentrism because it is seen as the means through which to increase self-esteem among young Africans. Why not? Haven't other self-styled victim groups--notably natives and women--had their suppurating historical wounds tended with similar curricular concessions? The raison detre of public schooling lends itself just as well to teaching Holocaust Denial in schools in order to allay the guilt that plagues students of German descent.
Adapted to the public school system, history is doomed to be more palliative than factual.
If black students want to be taught that their apparent superior perceptual gifts come from an abundance of melanin in their skin, that's okay. But the free market--not the public teat--ought to be the proper place to exercise this educational option. Other Hollow Earth Society movements fund their own flights of fancy. So should Afrocentrists.
© 2001 Ilana Mercer