Thursday 20 April 2023

Temporal Racism, Thor Heyerdahl and Stonehenge

Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian explorer and ethnographer who is best known for his Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he sailed a balsa wood raft from South America to Polynesia to prove that it was possible for ancient people to have made the same journey. Heyerdahl was also a vocal critic of racism, and he coined the term "temporal racism" to describe the tendency to view people from different times as being inferior to those from the present.

In his book "The Kon-Tiki Expedition", Heyerdahl wrote:

"The most harmful of all these phantoms is the acrochronism, the belief that our own time is the highest and that all earlier times were inferior. We believe firmly that our time is the time of the greatest progress, the greatest civilization, the greatest humanity, and that far behind us lie the times of savagery and barbarity. We call our time the Age of Reason and behind us we imagine the times of faith and superstition."

Heyerdahl argued that temporal racism is a form of prejudice that can lead to discrimination and oppression. He believed that it is important to challenge temporal racism and to remember that all people are equal, regardless of their time period. 

Thor Heyerdahl

National Archives of Norway, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

As he laid there [atop the altar stone], drifting off in thoughts about the engineering skills of the masterminds who built Stonehenge, and how wonderful life must have been 4,000 years ago compared to the abominable present, the starry sky was suddenly distorted by the pale beams from gigantic searchlights. A dim, dispiriting light came soaring overhead, followed by a buzzing hum as from an old Ford engine. This was the wonder of current times, the pinnacle of German science. The V-1 flying bomb made Stonehenge’s mossy “slaughter stone” an amateur in the art of killing. Speaking as if he was Jacob the patriarch, and the altar stone was the stone of Bethel, he tells his wife how the irremediable problem with the world is that people are dumb and self-centred. This idiocy and in-group mentality results not only in industrial bloodshed and ethnocentrism, but in the superiority complex of modern civilisation over those past. Praising the genius of the Stonehengers, he ridicules modern man’s proneness to deem his predecessors a moronic bunch.

Thor Heyerdahl’s sleepover at Stonehenge in 1944

Amesbury: Newsletter of the Amesbury Society, 110 (pp. 1–6), quoted by Stokke, E. (2022). Beforeigners, Thor Heyerdahl, and Ludwig Gumplowicz: The concept of timesism, temporal racism, or acrochronism. Academia Letters , Article 4644.  ©2022 by the author — Open Access — Distributed under CC BY 4.0

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