Is there room in the Para/Crypto/Fortean world for a gun-toting, paranoid, bipolar, opinionated bastard? A lonely romantic in search of his lost soul? A knight, Samurai, gunslinger, born in the wrong century? A self-destructive, doom-driven survivor seeking redemption? A heavy drinking gonzo outlaw cryptozoologist whose ego is exceeded only by his libido?
No, there isn't. That's why I'm here...

16 January 2010

Cultural Elitism and Cryptozoology

Disclaimer: This post may contain certain generalizations, stereotypes, and phrases which may seem insulting, bigoted, and/or racist. These are included for illustrative purposes only, and do in no way reflect the views and opinions of your humble author. So no whining, complaining, or calls to the ACLU!

The Ahool, Mokele-mbembe, the kongomoto, the mapinguary, orang-pendek. These cryptids are all reported in exotic, distant locales. They are known and and their existence is accepted by the respective indigenous peoples. Yet, science still denies, or in the least, questions the possibility of their existence. Why?
If you troll around the internet, it's easy to find sceptics. I have no problem with scientific scepticism. "Show me the proof" is a valid argument, and a necessary part of the investigative process. But blanket statements ("Anybody who believes this stuff is just an idiot"), false assumptions ("We've discovered every large creature on earth, there's nothing else out there") are not. This Sceptical Elitist attitude I keep encountering got me to thinking about the early European explorers and the so-called White Man's Burden.
When the European explorers set forth to impose their superior culture, religion, values, morals, and language (not to mention influenza and syphilis, mustn't forget the syphilis!) on the ignorant savages of the world, naturally they had to eradicate any traces of opposing views. We can naturally assume this would also include "rational scientific explanation" of any unknown creatures or phenomena which didn't fit with the White Man's Version Of The Truth.
The ignorant savages of the Congo region tell the explorers about a giant water creature, who "stops the flow of rivers". The creature is described in detail, the native people tell the explorers of the danger the creature presents, they even include such details as its diet and that its flesh is poisonous to consume. Our intrepid explorers determine that the creature is just a misidentification of known animals. A hippo here, an elephant there, the occasional crocodile, and the locals have nothing to fear. And if any of the local populace don't join in the celebration of the victory of reason with a deep bow of gratitude and a hearty "Thank you! Thank you, b'wana!", they're just written off as hopelessly ignorant and unable to accept the findings of the intellectually superior Great White Hunters.
This same story can be repeated time and again, from the dark jungles of Africa, to the rain forests of South America, to the wild regions of Australia or the shores of a newly-discovered America.
I find it more than a little racist and Euro-centric to assume that these native peoples, these indigenous inhabitants, don't know what they're seeing. The people of the Congo have seen more elephants, hippos, crocs, or other "exotic" (to the Europeans, anyway) animals than the explorers have. They've been sharing the land and living with these animals as far back as they can remember. They KNOW what an elephant, a hippo, or a croc looks like. They KNOW that's not what they've seen. But the superior White Man takes it upon himself to "correct" them, to tell them that they don't know what they're talking about, they don't know what they're seeing. Same goes for the Austrailian aborigines, the peoples of South America, or the Native Americans.
Zoology, "crypto" or otherwise, is full of accounts of disbelieving newcomers being proven wrong by these ignorant, uneducated, savages. The pygmy hippo, the okapi, the mountain gorilla, to name but a few. Heck, sometimes established science doesn't believe its own people. The existance of the duckbilled platypus was denied by European scientists time and again. Written off as nothing but a legend or fanciful tale. When mounted specimens were sent back, they were pronounced "hoaxes". It wasn't until they got their hands on a real, live platypus that its existence was conceded.
But, surely today, in the modern, enlightened, tolerant world of 2010, we've risen above such stereotypes. Or have we? Despite the number of "legitimate" scientists, guys with alphabet soup after their names, plus everyone from doctors, astronauts, government engineers, military and law enforcement personnel who have studied or experienced strange phenomena from monster sightings to UFO's, the perception of the Sceptical Elitist is that such things are confined to inbred trailer park dwellers.
We've come such a long way!


Jeff said...

Great post Gummerfan. Not much has really changed over the years. History is one of my favorite subjects, and one thing that I have really noticed in my study of history is that people haven't really changed that much. Fashions come and go and new gadgets come along as time passes, but human nature has changed very little, if at all. Not everyone is alike of course, but there are always aggressive people, passive people, elitists, leaders, and followers. Throughout history, there have been elitist types who present themselves as authorities on reality and try to tell everyone else what to think and believe. The skeptical 'scientific' elitists are just the latest in a long line elitists who try to tell everyone else what to think. They like to toss around the words 'science' and 'scientists' to make themselves sound authoritative, but many of them are more like scientismists than scientists.

Autumnforest said...

Great post, Burt! You are ridiculously intelligent and I really appreciate your keen mind. Admittedly, when you watch most documentaries about Bigfoot, you see them interviewing local rednecks. Yeah, another generalization, but most of these rural folks they talk to about Bigfoot are not considered "reliable" witnesses. It isn't until a doctor comes forward or a senator that someone would sit up and take listen. But, do you know any doctor or senator would admit seeing Bigfoot? To locals, it's just a fact. The Phoenix Lights were seen and filmed by a local doctor and she took years to come forward. The fact is that the people that see cryptids live in remote areas, often times without Ivy League colleges and other more important tasks like fishing and hunting to stay alive, than to get an education in the traditional sense. You won't find cryptids in your college town or an artist colony in New England. But, local legends have a bit of truth embedded in the tall tales. If they talk about something that to them is a real creature of their land, it either is or has been there. No more critiquing pedigree when talking to witnesses of cryptids when a large percentage of them believe they have a creature living amongst them. However, if you get one backwoods hunter complaining about a devil with three toes and red eyes and wings, but no one else has reported it ever, you might be accurate in believing it's Jack Daniels' induced. Great post!