Sightings: Saturday 26 June 2021: Contact, the Great Silence, and the Preliminary Assessment

Amid the breathless suspense leading up to Friday’s release of the ODNI Preliminary Assessment on UAP, I spun a discussion thread with a persistent interlocutor around the theory that UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft, aka the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis or ETH. In the course of that back and forth, he linked a YouTube video on the matter. Aside from the ETH, the video’s interviewees pursued two lines of thought that touched on other, more urgent concerns…

“Culture Shock”: Kent Monkman’s “The Scream”

It’s a commonplace in ufology and the more scientifically-formal search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) to contemplate the consequences of contact between humankind and a much more technologically-advanced extraterrestrial species (not race) in terms of that between Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, etc. For example, Tyler Cowen, a student of “Nahuatl-speaking villages in Mexico”, making the comparison, refers to “the Aztec empire, which met its doom when a technologically superior conqueror showed up: Hernan Cortés and the Spaniards.” The devastating consequences of this encounter are almost always couched in terms of “culture shock”, the approach adopted for instance by Dolan and Zabel in their A.D. After Disclosure.

It is perhaps no accident that those who speak in these terms are white, North American men; how such speculations are framed by interested parties outside this demographic in the rest of the world, I am unsure. What is striking about thinking of the consequences of contact in terms of culture shock is that it passes over if not represses the more painful facts of the matter implied in Stephen Hawking’s more laconic observation: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

The topic is timely because when we Canadians, for example, “look at ourselves” in the light of two fields of unmarked graves recently discovered on the grounds of residential schools what is revealed is that the disruption of the cultures of the First Nations is not so much due to some catastrophic shift in world-view, however radically unsettling, but the overt and covert violence of settler colonialism, i.e., that the very foundation of the Canadian nation state is premissed on the liquidation of the indigenous population as a means to exploiting the natural resources within its borders unhindered. Canada’s First Nations didn’t experience a spiritual crisis encountering the French, Dutch, and English, but have suffered being displaced from their lands and resources through violence or subterfuge and having their children forcefully removed to residential schools whose explicit purpose was summed up by Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent of the federal Department of Indian Affairs from 1913-32: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem.…Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department…” The shock to their culture was the result of intentional cultural genocide.

There is a not unrelated paradoxical irony at play in the way that one will hear in the same breath blithe speculations about civilizations thousands if not a billion years ahead of our own and reflections on “the Great Silence”, that we have yet to discover some bio- or technosignature of extraterrestrial life of a sufficiently-advanced extraterrestrial civilization.

Anyone familiar with the work that goes on here in the Skunkworks will be familiar with the implications of that first idea, but, here, I want to remark two other problems with this notion of so long-lived a civilization. On the one hand, one might ask “Whose culture?”, i.e., how to conceive of a culture or civilization that transcends the life of its biological substrate, the species of which it is a culture; a culture that outlives the species whose culture it is stretches the imagination, even moreso if that substrate is imagined to be transbiological, as such “artificial life” (if it can be said to possess a culture at all) would be more likely to change at an even greater rate than a biological species does under the pressures of natural selection. On the other hand, if we “look at ourselves” we find that one of the longest-lived, continuous cultures on earth is that of the aboriginal peoples of Australia, about 60,000 years. What underwrites the longterm stability of such cultures, however, is their having found a sustainable form of life, one rooted in a more harmonious relation to earth’s life support systems than that ecocidal relation characteristic of the so-called advanced, high-tech societies.

When it comes to the Great Silence, in an early articulation of an idea now termed “the Great Filter”, Sagan and Shklovsky in 1966 accounted for it by proposing that perhaps “it is the fate of all such civilizations to destroy themselves before they are much further along,” Unlike the pattern of repression that characterizes thoughts about contact, in this case UFO discourse has been explicitly related to existential threats to human civilization if not homo sapiens itself, from Jung’s proposals in his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky to George Adamski‘s Venusians and Klaatu of the classic film The Day the Earth Stood Still to recently revived stories of UFOs interfering with nuclear missiles to Vallée’s and Harris’ recent Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret the UFO has been associated with the danger posed by the advent and proliferation of nuclear weapons. More recently, beginning especially with the growing number of abduction stories in the 1980s, the mythology has come to weave itself into the more general ecological crisis, with abductees reporting they have been shown scenes of environmental destruction (a theme taken up by the 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still). Unsurprisingly, e.g., believers in and proponents of Disclosure (official transparency about the reality of and longstanding relations with extraterrestrial civilizations) maintain that zero-point or free-energy extraterrestrial technology can replace our stubborn reliance on fossil fuels. However much the UFO orbits these existential threats, the fantasies this association gives rise to by way of solutions are as weighty as the angel hair that used to fall from the flying saucers: either the extraterrestrial intervention is prophetic (revealing a truth, however much we already know it) or the solution to the problems technological development brings with it is just more technology. In either case, it seems, to paraphrase Fredric Jameson, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine an end to the social order than underwrites present-day technological change, capitalism.

In all these speculations about technologically-advanced extraterrestrial civilizations one can discern a play of revelation and concealment. On the one hand, thoughts about contact or the Great Silence relate and are related to mundane, human matters: the history of colonization during the Age of (so-called) Discovery or the resilience and sustainability of culture and civilization especially under the strain of increasing ecological pressures. On the other hand, on inspection, these reflections betray a repressed, social content that is the mark of the ideological. The (on-going) material violence of European colonization becomes a merely spiritual shock; “civilization” is abstracted from the bodies of the civilized, as if it might be possessed of some immaterial immortality, while, simultaneously, the real, long-lived cultures on earth are overlooked precisely because their form of life contradicts the self-estimation of the advanced societies as having superseded these more primitive contemporaries (i.e., precisely that these cultures are our contemporaries, that they are, therefore, no less modern than ourselves is what must be denied); and the solution to the problems “development” causes is thought to be ever more development, reinforcing the status quo at the base of the problem.

Just as UFOs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs) appear to fly free of gravity and the physical laws of inertia and momentum, so too the thinking about or related to them frees itself from the material base (society, culture, and nature) of its ideas to flit around as nimbly, but, just as the countless stories of UFOs might be said to constitute a myth, a collective dream, the truth of these speculations is no less their grave, unconscious, repressed, all-too-earthly content.

As for that preliminary assessment on UAP? What of it? Here’s something on a leaked draft of a report on an arguably more urgent matter…

16 thoughts on “Sightings: Saturday 26 June 2021: Contact, the Great Silence, and the Preliminary Assessment

  1. The wish for a “superior” ultra-technological and magic (in the Clarkeian sense) race of magic bipedes (formerly) / amorphous quasi-immaterial blobs (currently, judging by pop-culture stereotypes anyway) is risibly infantile, but to be honest so is the belief that certain groups of Homo Sapienoxious necessarily embody “a sustainable form of life, one rooted in a more harmonious relation to earth’s life support systems” simply because they find themselves in circumstances which seem to suggest – to a post-Romantic Occidental imagination anyway – the very opposite of the “ecocidal relation characteristic of the so-called advanced, high-tech societies.”
    Why not praise the vole for its unobtrusive subterranean ways and condemn the highly poisonous, highly “invasive” cane toad? Certainly one could if one takes life to be a moral puzzle (a plague of locusts, but always a ballet of swans) in which self-effacing spiritually in-tune goodies reasonably inherit the earth by settling for no more than their due while voracious baddies callously scorch, dry up and revel in their generally murderous ways. But is life really a moral puzzle? Is there anything (im)moral about the “gang rapes” which are part of the reproductive routine of the common mallard? Is there anything (im)moral about infanticidal and cannibalistic rats? Most scientists would not frame these and many, many other similar behaviours, none of which is ultimately actually aberrant, in moral terms.
    And yet these same scientists, who have supposedly disabused themselves of all post-religious hang-ups, and myriad other profound thinkers and connoisseurs of the absurdly termed “human condition” have for centuries and will continue, I suspect, to indulge in the hyper-moralization of everything that means human behavior. I don’t condemn this type of self-eroticization masquerading as philosophy, I simply don’t think it has anything new or interesting to contribute to our understanding of ourselves. It may feel good for some, but to me it ultimately seems like an embarrassing waste of time.
    Societies cannot function without their veneer of thou shalts and shalt nots, that is far from controversial, but they are not in actual fact the product of moral topiary; they – we – are simply co-dependently arising and ephemeral, tentative structures that reflect the quality (or lack thereof) of soil, food, water, weather, genetic diversity, adaptive behaviors etc. Indigenous Australians are not some obnoxious Victorian “garden city” movement avant la lettre. Their culture, like our modern “bad” one, represents an adequate, that is to say sufficient if never complete, response to a series of discrete, but ultimately highly interconnected, eco-social factors.
    The logic of “violence and subterfuge” (as you so eloquently put it) is not the exclusive preserve of capitalists, conquistadors, or even highly educated Aztec imperial administrators finding themselves culturally “shocked” by the equine extensions of the aforementioned (pig-ignorant) conquistadors. Violence and subterfuge (for lack of less charged and censorious terms) is the “E=mc2” of all terrestrial carbon-based life.
    It seems painfully obvious to me that as long as we, having lost touch with precisely what we fetishize in our illusory Edenic mirror-images, refuse to acknowledge that at the species level we control absolutely nothing, least of all our technological, ecological and social excretions and incretions, that, in other words, we are merely an eruption of the aforementioned biological mud dome (a stupid term I grant, but no stupider than “primordial soup”), we will continue to gnaw and to gnash in the desperate hope of deliverance from what is inevitably coming (in an ecological sense; I am not peddling Baptist eschatology), ravaged by fear and unreason, unable to truly come to terms with anything that’s been happening for the past few millennia.
    And to bring this back to the realm of the Otherworld, it seems evident to me that as long as we prudishly conceive of ourselves in increasingly elaborate moral terms (in contrast with the still wrong but less tyrannical mom-and-pop Manichaeism of former days), we can only conceive of extraterrestrial life as either ultra-moral or as essentially “evil” and inimical to us.

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  2. What a curious intervention!

    On what grounds do you compare belief in humanoid ETs (in their technology and supporting instrumental reason) to the arguably empirically-verified comparison of the culture of the longest-lived, continuous social order to the likely much-shorter lived one of the so-called advanced societies? The former is a fantasy (ET); the latter is there to be observed, nor does this latter indulge any sentimental Rousseauism, but a cold, hard anthropological lens.

    And what wayward logic swerves your discourse to the sociobiological, (“Why not praise the vole…”, etc.)? It should be clear that however much I am for expanding the concepts of consciousness and intelligence to include even plants (at least in open-ended principle), my analysis stays focussed on the human being (however problematic a category).

    We agree in our more or less shared _materialist_ analysis of culture.

    Where I must disagree with you is the thesis that society and history are “out of control”: in one regard, such a fatalism is reactionary (ideological); on the other, in light of the present, despairing. The question is without a doubt problematic,nor is it to answered merely theoretically: Until now, the philosophers have only interpreted the world, etc.

    Moreover, we part ways when you insist on invoking transhistorical characteristics, e.g., that violence is the e=mc2 (your metaphor is telling) of homo sapiens. As a historian you know that a fine grained analysis of such constants as, e.g., war (what a hopeless abstraction) reveal each instance’s being rendered intelligible by a constellation of determinants proper to a situation, thus “war” among the Australian Aborigines ten millennia ago is in a very serious sense precisely not “war” as Europeans fought in the trenches of the Great War. You know I am very much a more-or-loss Marxian historicist (a la Adorno) in this regard.

    All that being said, you seem to take my various statements _absolutely_, when they are here movements of thought in an ideologically-critical vector. E.g., when I write of violence and subterfuge, I do it to reveal what’s repressed in the ideological vision of contact-as-culture shock, i.e. a purely idealistic reading of this history.

    I was moved to write this post by the ideological investment of the ideas of contact and disclosure, the Great Silence and Funnel, in the context of Canada’s having its smug face pushed into the genocide that underwrites its national project and the recent release of the especially grim draft report from the IPCC.

    The background of this sensitivity is the failure of liberal/representative democratic regimes in the face of a clear and present health emergency to side (however even only biopolitically) with their own populations over against the interests of capital, which has seriously undermined any confidence I might have had that this same arrangement might somehow be sufficient to address the graver but less immediately present climate emergency, so my ideologically critical nerves are all the more exposed, while I prowl around for ways to avoid the pitfalls that befell intellectuals between the First and Second War, and, as I trust I make clear, fatalism and despair is not an option…

    Oh, what fun!

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  3. What a curious intervention!

    Predictably knee-jerk and exaggerated I would say, and hopefully not too off-putting.

    On what grounds do you compare belief in humanoid ETs (in their technology and supporting instrumental reason) to the arguably empirically-verified comparison of the culture of the longest-lived, continuous social order to the likely much-shorter lived one of the so-called advanced societies? The former is a fantasy (ET); the latter is there to be observed, nor does this latter indulge any sentimental Rousseauism, but a cold, hard anthropological lens.

    Maybe I’m just a bit thick, but I don’t see any hard anthropological lens in a statement like “What underwrites the longterm stability of such cultures, however, is their having found a sustainable form of life, one rooted in a more harmonious relation to earth’s life support systems than that ecocidal relation characteristic of the so-called advanced, high-tech societies,” which is indeed what prompted my reply post. Where do I start? “Stability”, “sustainable”, “harmonious”, “support systems”, “ecocidal”, “so-called”—these are all very much sentimental Rousseauism and its aroma is as subtle as a truckload of poorly refrigerated Emmentaler. I really don’t mean to attempt to score a point here though, so I’ll leave it at that. Insofar as you are taking things apart, I am and will always be in awe of your acuity; insofar as you are cheering things on or politely cursing them, well, I’m less taken with that, and sometimes I can’t help but let out a rambling neologism-laden overly dramatic vaguely pissy but actually entirely well-intentioned reply on your comments page. It was that sentence and that sentence alone, to come out with it fully, that prompted my intervention.

    And what wayward logic swerves your discourse to the sociobiological, (“Why not praise the vole…”, etc.)? It should be clear that however much I am for expanding the concepts of consciousness and intelligence to include even plants (at least in open-ended principle), my analysis stays focussed on the human being (however problematic a category).

    Sociobiological? I was expecting to be at least accused of vitalism! The human being is indeed a a problematic, moribund, raggedy category, and in the context of life the process, not the “lived experience” (particularly in its imagined extraterrestrial iteration, which is I what I took for granted as the overarching “issue” in your post) it seems entirely weird to now say you are fixated on the human being only. I don’t think you are but that is just my reading and it’s absurd to now insist on it.
    Suffice it to say that my point there was to illustrate that everything can be, and indeed usually is, moralized (good vs bad), and hyper-moralized (too many categories to list) to absolutely zero edification and 100% self-righteous self-mystification. If I can’t convince you of that, shame on me, and again I’ll leave it at that.

    We agree in our more or less shared _materialist_ analysis of culture.

    We do, though I reserve the right to lean on my Pascalian crutches now and then

    Where I must disagree with you is the thesis that society and history are “out of control”: in one regard, such a fatalism is reactionary (ideological); on the other, in light of the present, despairing. The question is without a doubt problematic,nor is it to answered merely theoretically: Until now, the philosophers have only interpreted the world, etc.

    Well if I can’t get vitalism, I’ll have to settle for reactionary fatalism. Either way, that is not a refutation, especially in light of your previous avowal of materialism. There is nothing fatalistic in saying that human intentionality is not the sine qua non of any process transforming or otherwise affecting the bio(socio)sphere as a whole but, in large measure, a mere retrospective justification; that human actions are in fact the nexus of unnumbered material processes that are quite simply uncountable and certainly uncontrollable by our morality-fuelled self-belief. There is also nothing reactionary about refusing to be intentionally (and thus not even genuinely) naïve regarding ideology, hope, “changing the world” and other things that go bump in the dark night of the mind.

    Moreover, we part ways when you insist on invoking transhistorical characteristics, e.g., that violence is the e=mc2 (your metaphor is telling) of homo sapiens.

    I don’t think it’s telling, though I understand why you would latch on to that (proof of my supposed positivist vulgarity?); I just as well could’ve said the “hocus pocus of carbon-based life”. As for transhistorical, that comes closer to grazing my cheek I suppose, but if violence suffuses all of human history does that mean it is a crude transhistorical god in the machine? No. It means violence, devoid of all moralizing stigmata which I suspect you attach to the term, is and always has been foundational in the evolutionary process as well as the transformation of human society in general. All available theories that are even remotely falsifiable and all available historical records point to this. To say that violence is coursing through every capillary in the never-not- throbbing beautifully horrifying “mess” we find ourselves in is not a conspiracy theory (who would be conspiring? to what ends?), it is a profoundly factual – even if inevitably mediated and value-charged; but hey that’s language for you – observation.

    As a historian you know that a fine grained analysis of such constants as, e.g., war (what a hopeless abstraction) reveal each instance’s being rendered intelligible by a constellation of determinants proper to a situation,

    No argument here. I’ve been arguing for particulars from the beginning, and indeed particulars that exist in an all-encompassing constellation, as you so aptly put it.

    thus “war” among the Australian Aborigines ten millennia ago is in a very serious sense precisely not “war” as Europeans fought in the trenches of the Great War. You know I am very much a more-or-loss Marxian historicist (a la Adorno) in this regard.

    “Pre-contact” tribal warfare has one set of causes. World War One has a different set of causes. But that does not mean that highly ritualized liminal violence with a so-called spiritual dimension and expressed by means of the most rudimentary weaponry is fundamentally different from so-called mindless industrial violence expressed through scorched-earth artillery. All violence serves a social “purpose” (without attaching it crude intentionality), has a social meaning. If we don’t accept that, we fall into not even historicism, but something much more ludicrous. A sort of sociological astrology which personally I have no patience for, whatever twentieth-century illustrious names are affixed to it.

    All that being said, you seem to take my various statements _absolutely_, when they are here movements of thought in an ideologically-critical vector. E.g., when I write of violence and subterfuge, I do it to reveal what’s repressed in the ideological vision of contact-as-culture shock, i.e. a purely idealistic reading of this history.

    No, I got that. But I also got, earnestly though perhaps mistakenly, something else, something which you probably did not intend to focus on so much, but which I think comes through anyway. And it is a sort of quasi-religious leitmotif, one cogently articulated though a breathtakingly labyrinthine and sophisticated hermeneutics but ultimately boiling down to mere belief in staid moral categories (which cannot ever be assailed because that leads to bad reactionism and hopelessness). I hope you can forgive my being wrong, if I am wrong, but I can’t in all honesty apologize for gently poking at something that I think is ripe for a closer scrutiny. Fair enough if you don’t have the time for that sort of thing right now.

    I was moved to write this post by the ideological investment of the ideas of contact and disclosure, the Great Silence and Funnel, in the context of Canada’s having its smug face pushed into the genocide that underwrites its national project and the recent release of the especially grim draft report from the IPCC.

    I get that as well, and I wholeheartedly endorse your intentions.

    The background of this sensitivity is the failure of liberal/representative democratic regimes in the face of a clear and present health emergency to side (however even only biopolitically) with their own populations over against the interests of capital, which has seriously undermined any confidence I might have had that this same arrangement might somehow be sufficient to address the graver but less immediately present climate emergency, so my ideologically critical nerves are all the more exposed, while I prowl around for ways to avoid the pitfalls that befell intellectuals between the First and Second War, and, as I trust I make clear, fatalism and despair is not an option…

    Point taken, and not to be petty, but “interests of capital”? so violence is transhistorical pareidolia, but “capital” is a definitely real gorgon with “interests”? SMH.
    Also “their own populations”? What ever can that mean? Also, “failure”? What in the world continues to lead people to believe that liberal (and the world is really absurdly superfluous by now) regimes are somehow defective and not working as they’re surely supposed to and capable of? For “the people”. This is jacquerie wishful thinking, not Marxism (though they are cousins in so many uncomfortable ways). Anyway, let’s not get into “semantics” as they say nowadays.

    Oh, what fun!

    Well, what else is there? Thanks for taking the time to pass the ball.

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    1. Your disagreeing with my characterization and contrast of traditional and “advanced” cultures continues to furrow my brow. How is a 60,000 year-old society not “stable”? Is its longevity not premissed on its finding and culturing a homeostasis with the environmental / ecological / biological basis upon which the survival of its members is based (i.e, a harmony with this “support systems” (an ironic wording aimed at the discourse of the technoscientific advanced societies))? Has capitalism (via the metabolic rift that characterizes it) not demonstrated increasingly its ecocidal character, not least in the latest pandemic? Is not the self-characterization of the “First World” as “advanced” in contrast to “primitive”, traditional societies not self-serving and grist for at least philosophical rumination? Seems to me an argument could be made that the Aborigines are more advanced, given the parsimony of their technology and the practical proof of its effectiveness, if the life of its members and the unbroken endurance of its culture are to be considered evidence. I’m not advocating we all abandon the cities and move back into the trees, though I have often with only a little irony joked that “after the end of the world” perhaps our teachers will be the Aborigines, who learned long ago how to survive and thrive in the harshest conditions, though, now, one would have to add the proviso that climate has left the temperate regularities of the Holocene (as traditional societies all over the world have observed, sans weather satellites) and we will have to dance to the improv jazz tune this new one will play for the foreseeable future (though we have it within our means _now_ to begin to reduce C02—see Project Drawdown…).

      As you can tell, I in no way give ground to systems theory or any other view of society that renders its “movements” mindless (whether from the sociobiological or dialectical materialist points of view or what have you). At the same time, I do admit that just how to gain admittance to the wheelhouse is a headscratcher. To bring the matter down to earth: what material comforts we enjoy, and we do, didn’t just fall from heaven or appeared automatically but were won, with struggle, violence, and blood, and intergenerational determination. (And to be dialectical about it, are also premissed on oppression and exploitation, often violently enforced, e.g., the function and behaviour Canadian mining companies. “There is no right life in the wrong one”—Adorno). That being said, the way things are wasn’t the outcome of a pure voluntarism, either: the outcome of actions, individual and collective, bring unforeseen consequences. But given the urgency of the situation, any passive fatalism in any regard on any grounds seems to be in the final analysis reactionary, i.e. it leaves everything as it is, which is undoubtedly unsustainable.
      Your remarks on violence are curiously one-sided (one multiple sides!): “violence is and always has been foundational in the evolutionary process as well as the transformation of human society in general.” Yes, but you disregard the contributions human sociability make to the species survival; observation confirms no less that social cohesion and altruism remain “foundational”. Even more importantly, how do you slip so easily into talking about evolution? The way the genome of the genus homo varies over time is something other than, e.g., anthropology or history. To presume to speak of humankind in purely “naturalistic” categories is perverse at multiple levels: it ignores the “play” at work in human behaviour (even recent, unbiassed research into animal behaviour is discovering culture and freedom where before we posited only automatism (instinct); even fruit flies can be shown to make decisions!), it ignores the hermeneutic dimension in anthropology (the subject and object are the same being), and it reduces complex, social, historical (in oh so many senses) phenomena to the anthropomorphized behaviour of a “selfish” gene (though I don’t believe you’re going _there_)…

      When you write about war, then and now, you reveal a confusion that confuses our back and forth, I think. On the one hand you write of, e.g., the War of the Roses and WW1 as having different “causes”, then, later, about how violence has a social “meaning”. When I write of “determinants”, I don’t write of causes, but the grounds of understanding social phenomena, in the sense that Marx writes about economic relations as determining (not causing, it’s a German idea, related back to Spinoza: “all negation is determination”) all other social phenomena (the famous base / superstructure metaphor).—And from what imaginable point of view can one take a nonmoral view of violence: even said view is “moral” in its pretence of withdrawing itself above the fray…
      I do thank you for poking at my text’s own unconsious; every text, even those that hope, like a shark, to stay in motion, has one, abyssal, at that. On the one hand, the thinking at work here aspires to being immanent, working within the object-text’s own premisses and assumptions; on the other, I freely admit values inform or orient my stance; _every_ stance is “engaged”, the one that pretends to pull itself up from the mire by its own pony tail the most, precisely in its pretence to disengagement (objectivity).

      RE my remarks about the way the pandemic unmasked the real investments of democratic governments. The constant invocation of the false dilemma of “public health vs the economy” and the consistent choices made in favour of capital (i.e., to use an old-fashioned term, the bourgeois class) led to needless suffering and death (and nb my deployment however ironical of the term “biopolitical”). The same values are at work in the staunch refusal to declare eminent domain for the vaccines, so they can be freely produced more “cost effectively” for and in the “developing” world: the defense of this stance is the (ideological) lie that pharmaceutical companies need to recoup their investments in “capital” (research and facilities), when it is an open secret that the majority of that research is conducted in public instutions, however much evermore underfunded by the state. That an economical argument (corps deserve a fair returnon their investment) is so shamelessly deployed is an index of the moral depravity of those set it forth. So, here, I point, at least, to the space between the mask, how our society represents itself to itself (ideology) and the ugly face of capital (class membership and interest: I mean, why does no one twig to the significance that the uniform of our governing class, elected or bureaucratic, is “business attire”?). I’m not going to apologize for siding with health, relative material security, and life, however complex those values are in action…

      On that note, I do hope and trust you and yours are well, health-wise.

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  4. I think I can say I “side” with all the things you “side” with, and even though I’m chomping at the bit to piss up another meandering 700 worder, I won’t continue abusing your patience by dragging this on needlessly.
    I’m not so simple as to believe, or so ridiculous as to feign morality-free “objectivity”, nor do I think that criticism and in-the-world behaviour are siamese twins, or even related, practically speaking. I am a bit like a cornered ungulate in a china shop epistemologically, but it’s not to rationalize some behaviour, to soothe a guilty conscience or obfuscate some class interest (your “superstructure” notwithstanding). I simply cannot take myself seriously even momentarily if I accept, on supposedly impregnable evidence (60,000 years; “German” determination; nice [patriarchal] societies; freedom; indecisive fruit flies) any solid ground. It does open the door to all sorts of confusions and tail-swallowing, that’s true, but I’d much rather take my chances with that than risk chanting Te Deums.
    Everything more or less well on my side; I hope that goes for you as well.

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  5. Just to clarify: You write “I simply cannot take myself seriously even momentarily if I accept…, any solid ground”. But I am the first (if I understand you), along with all post-Kantians, that there is no solid ground or first principle; knowledge is abyssal. But it doesn’t follow from that that there are no grounds for any belief, either, just that said grounds can always be dug deeper. The Absolute can only be approached by an endless approximation. And who’s chanting Te Deums? (Though you might find yourself happier if you took up, however much in play, chanting “OM”!).–Do contineu to keep well!

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  6. From reading Pasulka, Vallee, Halperin and dipping into Peeble’s “Watch the Skies!”, it seems to me that UFOs – as human psychosocial constructs – have a number of magical properties that are reflections of anxieties about technology and the yearning for deliverance from our technology-laden ecological and social woes:

    — the UFO’s movements are often haphazard, implying a break with science, logic and the prevailing social order, something that often accompanies the “trickster” aspect of paranormal characters and entities and the adoption of superstition and the supernatural during times of upheaval, transition and feelings of disenfranchisement from conventional institutions

    — the nonsensical nature of many UFO close encounters, with bizarre procedures that are ostensibly medical but have more in common with dream logic, implies that the gibberish IS the message, not a deviation from or corruption of it. We also see this gibberish aspect played out in some UFO-themed cults, with their gurus spouting insane drivel that literally doesn’t mean anything, as a way of initiating and screening new recruits into a worldview (if it can be called that) which rejects categories of logical consistency. Many of these recruits have grown tired of the human experience, and wish for the space brothers to rescue them not just from the confines of our planet’s atmosphere, but of all worldly categories of established science, the strictures of institutions, etc. Vallee makes this point in his study of UFO cults (even as he pushes numerological and “inter-dimensional” interpretations of the UFO)

    — UFOs combine the mechanical and the magical into a seamless, irreducible package: they are conceived of as technological contraptions, but their propulsion systems are supposed to run on some form of “free energy”, or violate laws of thermodynamics, or to traverse distances by circumventing distance itself. This seems to me a clear projection of the anxiety about and tension between the existential risks of nuclear technology (and scientific technology more generally), and the salvation we want via technology (perhaps in order to retain its benefits and to transform ourselves into something “higher”)

    — Disclosure is a religious movement in that its canon calls for great “revelations” that will finally set everything right, reward the “true believers” with affirmation, punish the “sinners” (skeptics) for lack of faith, and usher us into a new era where we will literally be whisked into the sky to be with our saviors

    — Technology is itself perpetuating the UFO myth by allowing for powers of dissemination unheard of in prior times, with the Internet allowing claims to acquire the stamp of “truth” within minutes of a Tweet; for digital fakery; and for the blending of reality and fiction in infotainment-style news presentation and movies filmed in the style of a “realist montage”. Social media also feeds into and fans what Colavito refers to as the collective malignant narcissism of Trumpian “truthiness” and science-denial

    — A lot of the discourse about UFOs is tied in with speculations about the nature of consciousness, hinting at the true motivations at play, and perhaps offering another route for salvation in the eyes of the proponents (while also validating Colavito’s stance that the “UAP” flap is being used as a battering ram against material science). Vallee’s involvement in parapsychology and his notions of a relational/informational universe replete with synchronicities and symbolic meanings, which he hopes might finally solve the riddle of the UFO (not to mention his notion of UFOs as interdimensional visitors, implying a fluid reality); Pasulka’s crediting of (or at least sympathetic hearing of) the meditative/mind demon routes to scientific revelation espoused by her sources (and apparently some people involved in the early US and Russian space programs, who believed that they were in some sort of contact with non-human intelligences through psychic means) and the Catholic reawakening at the Vatican.

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  7. Luis—thanks for your very substantial comment! We’re very much on the same page here…

    Your reading of the way UAP “transcend our physics” in their flight characteristics is very much consonant with my own, and I think that’s rich vein that contains still more, rich ore…

    Having entered this field in the guise of a sociologist of religion, I frown on the expression “cult”; professionally, “New Religious Movement” is preferred, nor would I say the founder’s / leader’s discourse is “gibberish” (Rael’s? Unarius’ Normans? Etc.); it tends to be more vaguely post-Theosophical / New Age vacuities (though I haven’t had the patience to dip into an of the channelled tomes, yet…). The collection of papers _The Gods Have Landed_ is invaluable in this regard; Vallée is not much of a scholar of religion…

    That UFOs represent a techo fix for the problems technological arguably brings with it (on reflection, that coupling of “trouble” and “technology” needs to be dialectically disentwined) has been a theme of mine since my earliest sociological intervention, so we absolutely agree, there!
    That ‘Disclosure’ rimes with ‘revelation’ is absolutely a very germane point: that the movement seems to be centred in the US (do you know if this is so?) would seem to point to that peculiar American version of fundamental Christianity as perhaps rooting this consonance…

    That the rumour is turbocharged by social media of course needs to be underlined: it is interesting how the way the myth has been used for DISinformation now dovetails into its being a kind of MISinformation.—That the myth inspires and thrives on hoaxes, linguistic and pictorial is a whole other dimension (!)…

    I think you put it quite precisely when you write “A lot of the discourse about UFOs is tied in with speculations about the nature of consciousness”, which, offhand, to my mind (!), seems a historical accident, in a way: consciousness has been a philosophical problem since Descartes (i.e., the beginning of the Scientific Revolution), because there’s no “space” for it in the three or four dimensions of physically articulated nature. That the UFO, with its New Agey religious connotations should touch on this contradiction should come as no surprise. Strieber and Kripal come to mind here more than the figures you remark, or even someone like Kastrup, with his philosophical idealism. That, with the demise of orthodox, dualistic religions, even in our post-secular age, the soul should return as something repressed by physicalist science, is hardly surprising. Those of us with a philosophical training see the same agon play out between cognitivism (Dennett, et al) and the phenomenological / hermeneneutic tradition (Manfred Frank, Dieter Henrich, and others…) in a far more intellectually satisfying way…

    Again, thanks for your very provocative comment. I see it came from Twitter: did you produce this text with your thumbs?! Oh, strange new world…

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    1. Of course! How could I have forgotten good old Whitley? That dude just seems to give play to any and every idea that comes his way. He’s hosted virtually everyone in the UFO scene on his YouTube channel and has treated them all with the deference that he’ll never get from Robert Sheaffer 🙂 Of course, the problem with that is that many UFO narratives contradict the other ones, yet Strieber seems to continuously imply that they’re all eminently sensible commentators. Not that he’s very big on diligently checking for logical consistency.

      (didn’t he also host Avi Loeb not too long ago? I can’t seem to find the video now, but I’m adamant that I listened to the podcast)

      Actually, now that I think of it: Strieber’s indifference to the logical inconsistency of different UFO stories in relation to one another might itself be another manifestation of the motif I alluded to: eschewing logic to make ways for non-Earthly categories and modes of thought. Of course, this is far from harmless, as it feeds into the aforementioned collective malignant narcissism that Colavito describes, though in Strieber’s case it might be better to describe it as “toxic open-mindedness”.

      I also forgot to mention Steven Greer, with his CE5 scam (itself highly reminiscent of Brad and Francie Steiger’s “The Star People”). I’ve posed the question of why nothing scientifically verifiable ever comes from these “mediations” that could serve as confirming evidence (such as the chemical composition of the alien’s host star, or solutions to unresolved mathematical theorems), and the response I’ve literally gotten is “That’s not what CE5 is about!” Indeed. And that says it all.

      I wonder if Dennett and Chalmers have anything to say about the UAP saga and whether their respective takes might diverge in a way that expresses their different positions on the nature of consciousness? Some of the “invisible college” types have notions of consciousness that are at least suggestive of panpsychism. Vallee has expressed notions very close to that.

      You’re right that I was being too all-encompassing about cults. I had in my mind some examples that Vallee gave in “Messengers of Deception”, in which he conveys a vivid story about attending a sit-in and watching one of these cosmic gurus launch into unadulterated gibberish (not merely post-Theosophical musings). But yes, you’re right: there’s a broader class of belief that doesn’t all fall under the catch-all of “cult”, though it might usefully be classed under an umbrella phrase like “the emerging UFO religion”, even if that religion has many branches and twigs on its tree and many independent origins with similar motifs (expressing underlying themes and archetypes. Certainly, it has a tendency towards sectional warfare, with different sects hurling invective at one another, accusing each other of being in league with the government, pushing false narratives, etc.).

      I find Halperin’s speculations eminently sensible, largely because he doesn’t try to credit supernatural explanations but pays them the proper scholarly respect they deserve: items to be investigated in the pursuit of understanding ourselves as sentient beings concerned about life and death. As he says, there is enough alienness in the recesses of the human mind to fill a galaxy, and that should be interesting enough for all of us. I find his take more haunting and fascinating than anything that goons like Greer or Lazar could ever conjure.

      Haha, no about writing the message on my phone. I just happened to be logged into Twitter.

      BTW, just another couple of points about the religious aspect of UFOs:

      — in “Watch the Skies!”, Peebles talks about the subterranean imagery that peppers UFO/alien lore. Underground bases, like the “Dulce base”, often play pivotal roles, where aliens are reputed to be performing gruesome experiments on unwitting citizens or fighting pitched battles with commandos after the government catches wind of an alien double-cross. These images are reminiscent of hell, with the aliens as demons or even Satan himself. There are also anti-Semitic themes that crop up, such as MJ-12 as a play on the Elders of Zion (and I think 5 of the supposed members of MJ-12 had Jewish-sounding names, if I’m not mistaken).

      — the theme of alien/human hybrids (an extreme biological absurdity, perhaps subordinate only to Young Earth creationism in its stupidity) and genetic experiments/cultivation of abductees, calls up the imagery of human/angel copulation and half-god offspring like Hercules.

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      1. The irrationalism that has been too much in our face of late is a troubling puzzle. You know, eh, the early Xtian apologist Tertullian said, “I believe _because_ it is absurd!”. But there is a middle ground, as it were, between the “Aristotlean” logic of STEM and more dialectical varieties, whether we refer to the post-Hegelian tradition down to Adorno and Zizek or the relevant pages of ‘logic’ at the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy. Perhaps the most charitable approach to folks like Strieber and Kripal (himself, at least, a scholar) is that they are chipping away at the too narrow and rigid logic that identifies itself with STEM and the physicalist worldview that underpins it and its categories, chipping away at those categories to “Ptolemize” them to the point some Copernican revolution is induced…

        “Steven Greer, with his CE5 scam”, you said it! Here’s one of those sham gurus you remarked in your previous intervention, one who dissembles even to his own followers!

        Sadly, Dennett, Chalmers, et al. would be unlikely to find much of interest in the whole topic, apart from its epistemological implications (why do people experience / believe such strange things?)…

        Vallee in _Messengers of Deception_ is a very poor sociologist / ethnologist / anthropologist of religion! His French anticlerical, hyperrationalist prejudices are very deeply embedded, which might explain, ironically, his openness to latter day “Rosicrucianism” (and I don’t think we’re talking about the Renaissance apparent psyop! (see Frances Yates’ book on the matter…)”,–Happily, I’ve never been witness to any of the infighting you remark, between, e.g., the Raelian Movement, Unariaus, Aetherius, etc. The behaviour you describe sounds more like what might go on between various, new New Age-ist groups, like the Blue Sphere Alliance, etc. Who do you have in mind?

        And, yes, the underground, even Hollow Earth, motif is germane. At one level, UFOs emerging from underground, undersea, or the deeps of space all suggest their origin in the Unconscious…

        The accounts of medical experimentation are what (officially) twigged my whole thinking about this matter. In the 80s and 90s the Human Genome Project was well underway and research into IVF and cloning. Little wonder women under hypnosis should dream up a story of their being experimented on! THAT was my moment on the road to Damascus…

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      2. “Who do you have in mind?” Meh, I’m not really sure actually. I guess I was thinking about the Meier cult and Michael Horn’s psychotic rantings against anyone who even breathes in the direction of hinting that Silly Meier is a fraud (i.e. that anyone who tells the truth is therefore lying) (funnily enough, John Lear was among the people who said that Meier’s photos were fakes. In a 1988 interview with George Knapp, he says as much but shortly thereafter, he went over to the Meier camp, and likely promoted the Meier videos to Bob Lazar, who duly copied a “Type 1 beam-ship” and rechristened it the “sport model”. Lazar has said in an early interview that the Meier videos/photos “look fake”. To my mind, this is a tacit admission of fraud on his part).

        I think he and/or Meier have accused some other UFO bigwig of being phonies, but I can’t remember who. I think the Nation of Islam also got into a spat with another group or with a splinter group (which was lead by a guy who eventually got busted for hundreds of counts of child molestation).

        The followers, perhaps more than the leaders, of various UFO “whistle-blowers” and proponents regularly accuse each other’s idols of fraud and/or of being shills or disinformation agents (for example, Richard Doty is loathed by many in the UFO “community”. Greer – or Dr Greed as I call him – is also despised by many for his cash-grabs, even though these detractors still cling to the allure of “disclosure” and are sure that he has merely “lost his way” and “become about the money”). I’ve seen Greer’s proponents bad-mouth Lazar, and Lazar’s proponents bad-mouth Doty. Vallee’s proponents have bad-mouthed Greer, Doty and Lazar. Some Lazar proponents bad-mouth Travis Walton. Even though the figures here are not cult members, a type of personality cult (or something tending towards it) can arise in which it becomes blasphemous to hint that such-and-such is anything but pure (George Knapp has managed to square the circle by effectively saying that Lazar is being honest because he’s not of good repute – i.e. that the government chose him for the reverse engineering job BECAUSE he’d be easy to discredit and that he’d have been “the perfect guy for such a job”). I’ve also seen Elizondo and Fravor accused by some disclosure advocates as being Pentagon shills who are part of a psychological operation to manage expectations and initiate a fake alien invasion (Lazar has also been accused by some of being “CIA”).

        And of course, there are the Christians who talk about UFOs as being “fallen angels” or “demons”; they must, surely, chastise Meier, Greer and other ET hypothesis advocates as minions of Satan?

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      3. Yeah. Luis, these folks are very “cultish” and despicable in their behaviour. I viewed yesterday an interview John Greenewald did with Anthony Braggadocio and was reminded of how Plato talked about our fascination with the horrible, how we are both repelled and fascinated by a chariot accident, AB a very unpleasant character, like those you remark above.

        One might (following the title of M J Banias’ book) refer to such as “the toxic UFO people”.

        Christians of the kind you remark are an interesting case, being not a UFO NRM, but a reception of the UFO by an existing orthodox religion. I think the ones you refer to might refer to Meier and Greer as misguided _by_ the deceptive minions of Satan…

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