Posts Tagged ‘Lynn Picknett’

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

Is Black Anti-Semitism Behind the Attacks on Jews in New York?

December 30, 2019

Yesterday came the shocking news that there had been yet another anti-Semitic attack in New York. The attacker had pushed into a rabbi’s house where he and a group of others were celebrating Hanukkah, and stabbed five of them. And Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon, has posted a video about it.

Sargon is the right-wing ranter, who broke UKIP. He’s a ‘classical liberal’, or rather Libertarian, who believes in privatising everything, destroying the welfare state even further, and is anti-feminist and racist. So it should come as no surprise that he supports Donald Trump. Sargon is the man who sent the Tweet to Jess Philips telling her that he wouldn’t even rape her. When he joined UKIP and was selected as one of their two candidates for the south-west constituency in the Euro elections, the branch in his own town of Swindon asked for him to be deselected. Gloucestershire UKIP disbanded in disgust, and he was greeted with protests and thrown milkshakes and fish in places like Bristol and Truro on his election tour.

But this time Sargon seems to have raised an interesting issue and made a decent point. In his video, he goes through some of the newspaper coverage of the incidents. Yesterday’s attack is sadly only one of a number that have been carried out in recent weeks, so that several of the members of the Jewish community affected have said that they felt they were living in Nazi Germany.  Sargon noted how the newspapers claimed that the attackers were of both genders and all races, male and female, Black and White. He found a piece where one newspaper columnist called for Jews and Blacks to unite against their common enemy, white supremacy. But Sargon stated that in all the incidents he’d seen, the perpetrators had been very largely Black, although there were a few Hispanics. And he quite naturally wondered why.

Now it could be that the idea that the attacks are committed by Blacks is an illusion. It’s possible that there were equal numbers or more of Whites involved, but for some reason these were not covered as examples. Or else they were reported, but Sargon couldn’t find them when he searched the net. Certainly there have been terrible anti-Semitic attacks carried out by White racists this year.

But some of the attacks may also be due to causes peculiar to certain forms of Black radicalism. If that’s true, then it must also be stressed that this is only going to be a minority within America’s Black community, just as White racists like Richard Spencer certainly do not represent all White Americans.

Sargon suggested that it might be connected to a speech by the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, which was taken down from YouTube. Farrakhan, whose anti-Semitism is notorious, had ranted about the Jews, at one point comparing them to Termites. Given that the attackers seemed to be largely Black, he didn’t see how Trump or White supremacy could be blamed. He claimed that Trump didn’t have any problem with Jews, as his daughter had converted to Judaism. So, he asked, why were Blacks attacking Jews? He then made the perfectly reasonable point that we wouldn’t know unless somebody asked them.

It is possible that Farrakhan’s highly inflammatory rhetoric against Jews could have inspired some of the attackers. Farrakhan is the head of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organisation that, from the standpoint of orthodox Islam, is highly heretical. It’s a mixture of 19th century Freemasonry, Sudanese Sufism and elements of Ufology. It’s central doctrine is that W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, is the Son of God. Farrakhan claims that he was taken up to a flying ‘mother wheel’ by a UFO from a mountain in Mexico, and shown that Fard is alive and well and living on Venus, directing the war against Whites. The religion calls for the creation of a separate nation for Black Americans as it considers that they will never have justice or equality under White domination. They also believe that hundreds of thousands of years ago Blacks had an advanced civilisation, travelling to and exploring the Moon. White people are albinistic mutants created by a renegade Meccan scientist. Way back in the 1990s Farrakhan was predicting that American would be destroyed by a nuclear attack from an alliance of Muslim nations, that would free Black Americans. The religion is obviously bitterly hostile to Whites, or at least White civilisation. Given the immense exploitation and injustice Blacks have suffered in American and western history, it’s understandable.

Farrakhan also has a particular hatred of the Jews, because he blames them for the slave trade. Mainstream, respectable scholarship, such as Hugh Thomas’ comprehensive The Slave Trade, actually shows that Jews formed a tiny minority of slave traders and slave-owners.

A number of right-wing American websites also reported that the man responsible for an attack on a Jewish supermarket just before Christmas was a member of the Black Hebrew Israelites. This was a response to one of the left-wing Democrat politicos, who claimed that it was the vile work of a White nationalist. The Black Hebrew Israelites were founded c. 1964 by two preachers of Black Judaism, Gerson Parker, who took the name Nasi Hashalom, and Louis Bryant, who became Nasi Shaliach Ben Yehuda. Hashalom was the group’s spokesman, and revered as the Messiah. In 1969 they established a community in Dimona in Israel. The group believe that the only real Jews are Black Americans of slave ancestry.  Jews are fakes, and are part of the conspiracy to hide Black Americans’ real, spiritual identity from them. They will be destroyed, along with the rest of the religion’s enemies, at the Battle of Armageddon. This didn’t impress the Israeli authorities, who ruled that the Black Hebrew Israelites were not genuine Jews, and so could be legally deported. However, this hadn’t occurred by 1992, and the group was reported to have good relations with the Israeli authorities.  

It’s possible that the growth in the Nazi and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in the White population may also have encouraged similar poisonous ideas in the Nation of Islam. The September 8th, 1992 issue of the religion’s newspaper, The Final Call, carried an article that suggested that the American government was planning to fake an alien landing in order to set up a tyrannical one-world government. The article featured an interview with UFO researcher Nario Hayakawa, who said

The U.S. government behind a veil of secrecy, is testing these aerial devices or select pilots may be receiving instructions [from alien beings] on how to fly these disk shaped crafts developed by the government for the purpose of staging a fake extraterrestrial event in the very near future, perhaps around 1995… Secret international banking groups and other global secret groups are going to forcefully eliminate international borders and create some kind of controlled society… The most amazing weapon they will use to do this will be the extraterrestrial threat. 

(See Donna Kossy, Kooks: A Guide to the Outer Limits of Human Belief (Portland: Feral House 1994) 27).

This is very similar to some of the ideas promoted by White conspiracy theorists at the time, like Bill Cooper in his book, Behold a Pale Horse. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince also suggested that there was a conspiracy to create a Fascist social order with a fake alien landing in their book, The Stargate Conspiracy, published at the same time. This last book does not, however, blame the Jews and is certainly not anti-Semitic.

These ideas have been around for decades, however. This raises the question of why these attacks are being carried out now.

While Sargon is right that Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism – she did so when she married Jared Kushner, his son-in-law – Trump’s administration did contain allegedly genuine anti-Semites like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, and he did have links to and sympathy for the Alt Right. It might be that the growth in far right activism and racist rhetoric that his presidency has encouraged among White nationalists and racists like Richard Spencer has encouraged a similar increase in racism and anti-Semitism among some Black radicals.

On the other hand, it may also be that these attacks arise from tensions that a particular to the Black community. But left-wing commenters may also be right in that Trump’s neoliberal economic policies have resulted in more Americans of all colours facing terrible poverty. This is going to exacerbate racial tensions as groups compete over scarce resources. And the economic and social sense of threat this creates may cause some to seek out the Jews as scapegoats.

Racism and anti-Semitism have to be fought in all their forms. But the underlying economic causes have to be tackled as well – the poverty and the sense of despair and alienation this generates.

And that means electing a government that Sargon is definitely opposed to: one that will overturn decades of neoliberalism and restore genuine prosperity and a proper welfare net to working people. A government headed by Bernie Sanders.