Hoaxes, Beliefs and Probability
Everyone seems to have certain preferred beliefs. Some of these are grounded in rationality and fact, but others seem to be a belief that fills you with satisfaction without any facts or, perhaps, disregarding any facts that disagree with your views. The old comedic phrase is “Don’t confuse me with facts; I know what I believe!” Hopefully, my beliefs are backed by facts and will change if new facts come to light; I was trained as a journalist and in those days at least, the journalist was taught to have a fluid and pragmatic view of reality. Journalism—at least when I learned it four decades ago—differed from academia, science, history, etc., where if you want to get ahead, you better reject any revisionism and tow the current line! My views, of course, may contain self-perpetuated blind spots, but I hope that I am being honest!
I cannot speak for such areas as science and academia since I am, believe, completely disassociated from these. On matters of history, I am much more familiar and far close closer. I know that there are certain beliefs that are sacred cows, if only because conventional historians have lectured me when I have espoused a revisionist theory that was brought about by reading facts set forth by revisionist theorists. This is not, of course, to say that I mindlessly follow any revisionist theory. Theories about the Roman Empire not being as bold and original as presented are backed by believable facts; conspiracy theories about John Wilkes Booth escaping with his life seem just a little too vague, ambiguous, capricious and contradictory, attempting to replacve facts only with unproven innuendo.
This sort of thing, of course, can be seen in modern history; look at the beliefs repeated by some people about Paul Revere’s ride for example. When we go farther back into history, into a period that is more vague and more open to interpretation, it increases. We do not know, for example, exactly what the clothes of the Viking Age looked like, and the interpretation of a hangeroc used by my group and that used by another might differ but both still be a legitimate interpretation. Vague literary description, occasional scraps of textile and ambiguous illustrations are all that we can go on. On the other hand, no matter how much some people might object, we know what these clothes did not look like (no horned helmets, no furry loin cloths, no bare chested Conanesque costuming, no polyester trim).
And it is there that we encounter more than a little bit of trouble. I think it is fair to note that the Norse might have included people of different races and appearances because they traveled very far, encountered these races and probably brought them back as thralls to the homeland. Seeing the acceptance of foreign beliefs–Christianity—indicates to me that it is likely that theories about conversion to Judiaism and Islam by Viking raiders are correct (although I stress that it the beliefs might be no more orthodox than Christian beliefs of the Vikings).
On the other hand, there are those who assert that the Vikings—they tend to use that term rather than the more correct Norse—were a pure Aryan race, not bringing in anyone of a different hair color, etc. At shows, we have been congratulated by racists for sticking to the Aryan ideal (these sots usually get angry and sullenly withdraw when we quickly and resolutely disagree), and low-brow humor has been poked at the appearance of non-Aryans in Viking movies. We have been lectured by Viking aficionados who are certain that the Norse rejected all efforts to turn to Christian beliefs, that they were independent people who always had their own way and who traveled everywhere. One such person was certain that many Norse heathens came to America and continued their heathen ways in secret after the conversion (and are vehement should you dare argue with their theory), that Asatru is just beliefs from the Viking Age brought out of hiding, that runes are just the Viking equivalent of tarot cards, etc. The same person who became apoplectic at the suggestion that some Vikings were black (this was presented into an academic article) a week later proudly pointed to the story of a Viking voyage to New Zealand and trumpeted its truth (this was presented in a magazine which also had articles about how space aliens influenced Terran culture).
Recently, a list of supposed devoted early medieval renactors has devolved into a series of increasingly far-fetched defenses of such things as the Kensington Stone, mooring stones in Minnesota and deification of the Norse beyond practicality (and the Vikings were, above all else, practical, believe it or believe the Christian propaganda!). My forehead hurts from the times I’ve facepalmed at a new defense of a hoax or new proof that something is a fact because they believe the hoax. It will probably continue, because the adherents believe they are right, and no amount of facts are going to make them change their minds! And I’m really surprised in one sense; no one has brought forward “Outlander” as documentation!
Loren Schultz of the Fellbjorg Vikings has noted an article on folks who have their beliefs and ignore contradicting facts at http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney. It deals with matters beyond the ready belief in Viking hoaxes, some pertinent to modern political thought, but it is well worth reading and—in many cases—ignoring! Of greater relevance to the subject is a new article by Christie Ward, the Viking Answer Lady—http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/Kensington.shtml—that deals with the Kensington Stone and other hoaxes and provides clear, understandable and fair facts. No doubt, and unfortunately, it will be ignored by a few people as well!