The Conspiracy Theory At The Bottom of the World
There is a small gurgling noise out there, online. A babbling brook. Past the government takeovers, the Sam Harris plausible alien landing silliness, well past the flat earth merchants, keep your ear down and listen. If you scroll long enough through your environment, you’ll find a small collection of what can only be described as ‘architecture skeptics’ who are looking for answers. Why did ornate, beautiful stone buildings get replaced with concrete towers? Why did vast plaster-wall halls and palaces make way for shopping centres?
Two decent write-ups have been made about the shape and purpose of the conspiracy; “Inside the ‘Tartarian Empire,’ the QAnon of Architecture” by Zach Mortice for Bloomberg, and “Inside the wild architecture conspiracy theory gaining traction online” by Josie Adams for the Spinoff, both originally researched and worth your time.
What binds the small community together is a stirred disbelief in the development of civilisation. A temple with a grand entrance cannot possible be superseded by modern buildings. We must have the order wrong. From that, adherents believe that the world is covering up the existence of a vast, planet-spanning civilisation that had ornate architecture, power on demand, interstellar communication, and so on.
Warning before a Tartarian conspiracy video, “The Tartarian Meltdown Documentary: Meltology Explained”, available on Youtube.
Both the Bloomberg and the Spinoff article note that this is a highly visual conspiracy theory. You could even accurately describe it as evidence-driven - in that the content on Tik Tok and Youtube is perfectly calibrated to catch interested fellow travellers skimming past quasi-conspiratorial content. Archive photos captioned with “secrets revealed”, slow-burn pacing and exacting arguments. The conspiracy equivalent of ambient drone music - which happens to feature pretty regularly.
In a way, it makes a very particular perfect kind of sense. With no way to teach what modernism was, let alone the intricacies of post-war building practices, all you’re left with are photographs and an active mind. Of specific interest to Tartaria enthusiasts are the obvious calamitous breakdown in social and political knowledge that would allow the elaborate, gorgeous, finely-detailed World’s Fairs of ages past to become sad, futile little car-show pavilions.
Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893
Brisbane’s Expo 88
So yes, the whole thing comes down to turning the bromide of “they don’t make them like they used to” into the only place it can go - a vast pan-planetary conspiracy to hide a secret civilisation.
In the details of the Tartaria subculture, there’s deep links to alternative Russian history enthusiasts and ‘new chronology’, which is another nest of wasps. But I don’t think most of them care about the chronology element - what matters is that the they can be respected in their niche. To grind away at the evidence, to find some improbable building to zoom in on, to deliver the goods. While sharing some ground with Flat Earth movements, it lacks their theological and spiritual tack and replaces it with science-fiction fabulism. Tesla coils, plasma conduits and mysterious melting beams feature heavily as explanations for buildings being “buried” (aka, having foundations) or for temples being carved from heavy stone walls.
The wikipedia for the term ‘Tartary’ (an old colonial European word for, well, most of Central Asia and China), is now constantly updated to reflect the activity of the conspiracy. The reason it leaves a mark on me is that it respects the child-like wonder of comparing buildings in your mind’s eye, and if anything, evidences a lack of space for people to learn about the intangible weird mysteries of our recent past. Like “vast and beautiful building demolished to make way for 5-lane highway”, or “stately homes demolished to make way for 6-lane highway”, and so on. Isn’t the conspiracy more comforting and more sensible than the truth - that we destroy things for 99 cents to make a buck, and will continue to do so?
At the other end of the spectrum of history, we’ll likely never be done arranging the pieces of the past. An unfathomably ancient penis-worshipping cult is emerging from the sands of Turkey. The Neanderthals of Europe made cave paintings, which makes it non-human (but humanoid) art.
65,000 years old at least, in a cave with only Neanderthal remains.
Beyond that, we may not be able to ever retrieve information or evidence of what occurred, or what rose and fell, or what structures were made, or by what. We have some bare hypotheses about how to find out, but if ‘we haven’t found anything’ is our definite end-point, the question of what we’re looking for is a possibility space that constantly changes.
The background hum of climate disaster makes the Tartaria conspiracy a marker of its time. We’re watching in real-time as our own cities get crushed by mud, and we do nothing to stop it. From the viewpoint of a future archeologist, we can’t assume anything we say or think will translate. Just where we moved our stones. They had flat cities, they had box towers, they seemed to move on these big lines all together. This is where they gathered.