Saturday 29 December 2018

In Search of the Miraculous #16: The Color Turquoise

The New York Times recently ran one of those "what books do you like reading?" Q&A puff pieces in its review section, featuring Alice Walker, the writer, as you probably know, of The Color Purple. In this piece, simply a list sent to the New York Times correspondent by email, she recommended a book called And the Truth Shall Set You Free and equally warmly recommended its author, David Icke.

"In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about. A curious person’s dream come true," she said.

Jewish magazine The Tablet immediately followed with an angry article by Yair Rosenberg carrying the headline: “THE NEW YORK TIMES JUST PUBLISHED AN UNQUALIFIED RECOMMENDATION FOR AN INSANELY ANTI-SEMITIC BOOK”. Now, Alice Walker has been writing worryingly weird and nasty things for some years now; her antisemitism has been front and centre in her writing, so in fact yes, the headline isn't inaccurate, because yes, all the stuff that Rosenberg says is in the book Walker mentions is in fact there. But what makes this weird and strange and worth mentioning (because I wouldn't actually put it past the New York Times to accidentally publish a recommendation for an antisemitic book, that's a basic given, I mean they have form, although to be fair the format of the piece doesn't allow comment or reflection) is that Alice Walker, that Alice Walker, recommended a book by David Icke. And for Icke the antisemitism (and there is antisemitism, it's right there, Protocols of the Elders of Zion and everything) has always been subordinate to the 100% literal belief that giant alien lizards run the planet.

Rosenberg doesn't mention the lizards. He followed up on Twitter shortly afterwards by saying that this was deliberate, that he wasn't going to fall for Icke's obvious smokescreen, which covered what was first and foremost full on conspiracy theorist antisemitism. Rosenberg said that he refused to dignify it, the subtext being that no one actually really believes in aliens secretly ruling the planet. Which is possibly the most directly reasonable response, to be honest. 

But every evidence I've ever seen suggests that David Icke is in his own way the Real Deal. Jon Ronson's 2001 book Them: Adventures with Extremists says much the same, and pretty much the whole of Chapter 6 of that book is dedicated to tackling the extent to which “alien lizards” is a code for “Jews” and whether this counts for any material difference (Ronson eventually settles for “probably not” and “not in any important way” respectively). I think Icke genuinely believes in the lizards. And that's wild, but it isn't in fact outside of the realms of historical belief. It's part of a continuum. It has a context, an origin. But this doesn't make the man any less of an antisemite.

Icke's philosophical trajectory has always fascinated me. I'm old enough to remember when he was a former professional footballer who became a BBC sports commentator (the most usual former career for BBC sports commentators); he was also a spokesman for the Green Party. In 1991, Icke abandoned the world of TV sports, and openly announced his ties to the New Age movement. He appeared, memorably, on the BBC chatshow Wogan, a broadcast I remember seeing (this on 29th April 1991). He'd just launched his book The Truth Vibrations. Icke used the sort of boilerplate New Age language that sounds like wild nonsense to the uninitiated but which goes back to Blavatsky. He had made a statement about how he was linked to the Godhead, and the press immediately reported that Icke thought he was the Son of God. Even then, Icke was prophesying disaster, an imminent end to the world. The Wogan interview was an attempt to fix that.

I remember quite clearly that David Icke (him off the snooker and the Olympics) was there in the studio, dressed all in turquoise (a colour that attracts "love and wisdom") and the audience were laughing, and then, as Icke presented fairly basic New Age ideas to host Terry Wogan and an audience unfamiliar with them, we got the now legendary exchange:
Wogan: Let me interrupt you. Was it a great shock for you to discover this at 38?
Icke: I think the – I think the word is gobsmacked. But again – you know the best way of removing negativity is to laugh, and be joyous. So I'm delighted there's so much laughter in the audience tonight.
Wogan [interrupting]: No, it's, ah –
Icke: Just let me – just let me say this –
Wogan: They're laughing at you. They're not laughing with you.
Icke: Fine.
[Laughter, cheers, applause]
Wogan: I didn't mean that – I didn't mean that to be hurtful. I don't want you to misinterpret it. They're not laughing in sympathy with you.
Icke: No. Let me say two things to that. First of all, if anyone believes – after 12,000 years of this truth being lost... ah... and forgotten – that coming out with it initially is going to get any kind of reaction other than that one, or condemnation, then I would be a crackpot if I thought that that was – that was the case. The other thing is, there is this great illusion, you know, that Jesus was born, and stood up, and said, “I know who I am.” It was revealed to him in stages. He was very, very close to beginning the mission which is described in the Bible, but not described brilliantly accurately, um, before he knew who he was.
Accounts of this exchange almost always stop with Wogan. But the audience aren't laughing at the end, when Icke confronts them quite seriously and calmly. They stop. 

Have a look yourself. The famous bit starts somewhere about the six minute mark.

To some extent, Icke was right.

Their laughs are nervous, the laughter of people who find tht someone they know has suddenly become a fervent convert to a religion who is trying to evangelise them. And they know him. He's a celebrity. He's off the telly. He's David Icke, the guy who they last saw commentating on the Steve Davis/Alex Higgins standoff. But he's also seriously saying New Age stuff.

He's very much not saying he's the Son of God, he's just not saying he isn't, because he's a relatively new convert and he's very keen on being accurate, because that's what new converts are like. He's trying to say throughout the interview "It doesn't work like that" and yeah, it's true, it doesn't, but he's not making any concessions, because it's clear to him, and if it's clear to him, he doesn't see why it shouldn't be clear to you. In a lot of ways, he's no different from a charismatic evangelical describing the Toronto Blessing a few years later (or a worker for a Christian youth organisation called Steve, who, in 1999, told me that his fillings had miraculously turned to gold in a meeting). Icke uses the jargon of a religious group, with the basic lack of understanding of the newbie that just because it lit a fire in him, it doesn't mean that it works for everyone.

Even Wogan has to pause and say "This is not entirely unreasonable." He engages then, and suggests wholly reasonably that Icke has confused his message with his prophecies of disaster, with his hints at conspiracies. And this is important, because while Icke hints at cosmic masters communicating to him the future in 1991, it is not how he sees things now; and also it's important because Icke's conspiracy theorist tendencies were, in a way, already in place. 

Notwithstanding his directness and calm, Icke's predictions of catastrophe didn't come to pass. Between this and the Wogan interview, he destroyed his own career in TV, and more or less singlehandedly wrecked the Green Party's credibility for a generation. So he took to writing more books and going on the conference circuit. And at some time between 1991 and 1994, something happened to David Icke, and in fact, I would actually suggest that this is a more important breaking point for him.

He appears to have had what you could probably call a Dark Enlightenment.

Now, this goes back, as these things seem to, to Theosophy. In the 19th century, Madame Blavatsky, who was basically the founder of the New Age, said she was in contact with the Secret Rulers of the World, cosmic beings who were now incarnated as Tibetan Mahatmas. While New Age gurus often abandoned this idea (Gurdjieff and Ouspensky had no truck with it, for instance) it didn't go away. Later generations of New Age teachers maintained that they too were in psychic contact with the cosmic beings who ran the world, and in some of the more literal versions, the Secret Rulers were just cosmic beings (for instance, Murry Hope would write about Cat People from Sirius founding Egyptian and Atlantean civilisation, Doreen Virtue's angels and so on). In the New Age movement in general, they're always benevolent, they're always Kings of the Aeon who guide us to Better Lives and Better Evolution, and whether they're framed as cat people, fish people, reptile people, or extraterrestrial angels, they're seen as having Our Interests At Heart.

Most of these more extreme New Age beliefs are reactionary in character. Don't think I'm dumping on the New Age uniquely here: religious thought is prone to its extremes, and it's fully equivalent to Christians into six day creationism, or Wiccans into Margaret Murray and her witch cults and burning times thing. All ideological units have their extremes and fringes, and often these fringes are symptoms of problems that are right there in their foundations. If Christianity has a baked-in problem with textual misogyny, the New Age's resident pachyderm is race. This doesn't mean that the New Age is always racist, any more than Christianity is necessarily always misogynistic, just that the textual foundations have these things baked in, and need to be approached as problems to tackle.

New Age beliefs about cosmic masters feed into the same thinking that gave us Root Races (that is, the thankfully more or less defunct idea that Lemurians – black people – evolved into Atlanteans –Asian/indigenous American people – and then into... Aryans). And the same thinking that gave us dear old Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock, the idea that ancient civilisation was founded and bequeathed on "lesser" people by something both more alien and ultimately whiter.

And what interests me about David Icke is that while he's repudiated the New Age movement, he still literally believes that there are Cosmic Masters ruling the world. In 1991 they're talking to him. He's on side. But it's around 1994 (with The Robots’ Rebellion) that his writing flips tone. He still believes the same literal stuff, but appears to have decided about then that actually the Cosmic Masters ruling the world was a Very Bad Thing. It'd be the equivalent of a fundamentalist evangelical still believing the literalist narrative but deciding God was the bad guy.

And with his beliefs being reactionary in character, as white New Age beliefs on the more radical side often are, he got more reactionary, more of a rightist conspiracist. When you take the Erich von Däniken approach to evidence (and more of that in a future post maybe) where you find a thing that looks vaguely like what you want to believe and so it becomes a central plank, it's easy to find any old shit and use it as evidence for your thesis, regardless of relevance and authenticity. And so he flips. He starts to suspect that the Secret Masters are evil. Suddenly the Protocols of the Elders of Zion makes sense to him.

Did Icke get into antisemitism because it read the same as his idea of the Secret Masters being evil, or did he start reading antisemitic conspiracy theories and then realise with an “Oh my God, I have been blind” epiphany that they were talking about the Masters and that the Masters were these bastards and hence were evil? I suspect that it's the latter, partly because I have a gut feeling that it makes more sense that way around, and partly because the fringe of the New Age, with their talk of human evolutionary progress through the races, were always, yeah, a bit racist.

And of course this stuff is seductive. I mean, I described myself a while back as like the philosophical version of the sort of epidemiologist who looks at their collection of toxic petri dishes through the microscope a little too lovingly, and when Icke came to Swansea a couple of months ago I thought a little about going to see him, and I decided not to based partly on not wanting to give money to an antisemitic conspiracy theorist who literally believes that alien lizard men are using the Jewish people to rule the world, but mostly based on the fact that his talks are often six hours long and I'm not sure I could endure that. This stuff fascinates me. But not that much.

But it is seductive. It is. And you can be a member of a group that suffers from racism (and even write one of the greatest 20th century novels about that racism) and yet still be horrifically racist towards other oppressed groups. It works like that.

Still, for me, the discovery that Alice Walker of all people is into it, and has been for years now, and might even have got here because she's been radicalised by YouTube (no, wait, especially that), is the damnedest thing. But then, why should a great writer be immune to radicalisation? Why should having made something beautiful and important immunise you from the taint of evil? If anything it should serve as a warning.

And as nuts as all this sounds, we can't forget this: getting into antisemitism because you sincerely believe that the Jewish people are the tools of space lizards is still getting into antisemitism. Hitler's second in command, after all, acted on theories that civilisation came from Atlantis, and it's not like that made any difference. If anything – and OK, this is where I stand on this point – it's worse. To some extent I've always been of the opinion that the ideological frameworks – I mean politics and religions, but mainly religions here – we adopt are the means for us to justify doing what we were going to do anyway. But if you have a cosmic, faith-based, unprovable justification for your march towards genocide, it's ironclad.

Unprovable things are harder to rid people of. They don't go away. Even if they're imaginary lizard men.

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