Welp, time to mock and belittle someone’s sincerely-held religious beliefs.
So, the news has been full of reporting on and discussion of Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s ridiculous statement about the pyramids. In case you missed it, he thinks they are not tombs at all but the granaries built by Joseph to hold the supplies stockpiled in the story of the seven fat years and the seven lean years.
On the one hand, this is obviously untrue. The pyramids are massive damn limestone mounds with proportionately not very much empty space inside them, and we have quite detailed information about their ritual, funerary function, not to mention the fact that we have pretty good information on Egyptian granaries.
The story here has generally been understood as either that Ben Carson, wotta bonehead or, more generally, the Republican party, wotta buncha boneheads. And while it certailny seems to be true that Ben Carson is a bonehead and the fact that the Republicans are willing to treat this bonehead seriously is not a hopeful sign, I don’t think this story illustrates it as clearly as people might like.
Because the “on the other hand” here is that, if Ben Carson believes some crazy stuff about the pyramids, he’s hardly alone. Lots of people believe nonsense about the pyramids — that they’re full of unspecified pyramid power, that they were built by aliens, that they conceal mystical secrets, etc., etc. Remember, Carson dropped his ignorant bombshell as a more plausible alternative to the idea that aliens dunnit. Which I guess it is.
Essentially, Carson is really talking about Aegypt, the mythological, magical approximation of the historical Egypt that is what most people actually care about. For Carson, Egypt isn’t really real — I mean, I’m sure he’s aware that it is a country and it has a history, but when he thinks about it he thinks about it mainly in terms of mythology. And I think that for most people, that’s the most important thing about a lot of historical civilisations — the same is true of the Maya, for instance, for whom popular discussion of their mystical significance must outnumber discussion of the actual history ten to one. People think things about Aegypt that they’d never think about the country they live in, because it’s not real. It’s a magical, faraway place.
All this is mostly harmless as long as you don’t wind up making decisions based on your mythological understanding — thinking about England and Scotland based on romantic songs rather than what those actual places are actually like, for instance, or settling your opinions on the situation in the middle east based on Biblical exegesis. I think that most people are aware that they don’t really know anything about these topics — they enjoy thinking about mystic secrets and yadda yadda, but they don’t really interact with the actual history of them so the two views don’t ever come into conflict.
But to come into conflict with the actual view of a subject by experts and just assert that your magic-ass view of the subject trumps theirs, without trying to understand their view … that is a failing of character. The kind of thing that running for office can really shine a light on.