Magazine article The Spectator

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Magazine article The Spectator

Mumbo-Jumbo

Article excerpt

It's been a bad week for the paranormal on television, I'm pleased to say. Dreadful programmes such as Beyond Belief - charlatans claiming superhuman powers perform conjuring tricks in front of an astounded David Frost - and The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna (ditto in front of Paul McKenna) infest our screens almost every night. When a politician claims he can improve the common weal in some marginal way, interviewers feel obliged to talk to him as if he were a lunatic. A person who really is mentally unbalanced says that he was abducted by space aliens, or is the medium for a 3,000year-old faith healer, and he is addressed in the respectful manner once reserved for bishops.

Possibly the people who make these programmes imagine there are enlightening spiritual truths to impart, or, much more likely, they have a contempt for their audience; since we will believe anything, they might as well shove it down us. Viewers are treated like cattle, fed the intellectual equivalent of diseased sheep ground into slurry. It's cheap, it's nasty, and after prolonged use, it rots the brain.

So Flightpaths to the Gods (BBC 2) was particularly welcome. This was about the vast and astonishing carvings found high on an arid plateau in Peru. For years the Swiss writer Erich von Daniken, a millionaire from his many best selling books of paranormal bunkum, has claimed that these were created by extra-planetary beings who built the long straight lines as runways for their spaceships (even though many dipped into deep valleys). The programme discovered the far more interesting fact that the carvings were closely related to the religious beliefs of the indigenous people, some of whom use the same rituals and imagery today. The carvings could only be viewed from the sky because they were meant to propitiate the gods, rather than serve as landing lights for pilots from the Planet Tharggg. Occam's Razor, a handy tool which should be incorporated in the Swiss army knife, tells us that the former explanation is infinitely more likely, and it was good to see a television company agree for once.

The notion that only alien beings could have created such gigantic works is another example of political incorrectness which I shall call 'epochism' - the belief that ancient peoples, the chronologically challenged, weren't just less technically advanced than us but were incapable of doing anything more artistic than spearing wild animals and hitting each other with clubs.

And the truth tends to be expensive. …

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