Notes on the Sociopolitics of the UFO

M. J. Banias’ recent posts on the UFO community spurred me to reflect on the sociology and politics of the UFO as such and the UFO community. The topic is one with enough history, complexity, and open-endedness to found an academic career or research institute.  What I present here, then, is hardly more than very provisional reflections on the matter, more aimed at delineating the problem and imagining how to approach it than any findings or conclusions! (Astute readers will note I don’t delve into the myths of Men in Black or of Nazi UFOs, among many other imaginably pertinent topics).

Offhand, there are at least three sociopolitical dimensions to the UFO: 1. the (reported) politics of the ufonauts themselves (in terms of either what they say or how they behave), 2. the sociopolitics of the UFO community, and 3. the sociopolitical implications of the UFO phenomenon and its reception.

The Sociopolitics of the Ufonauts

What have the Ufonauts themselves said about their respective societies? Ufonauts tend http _www.bibliotecapleyades.net_imagenes_aliens_humanitymanipulation41_03to be tight-lipped (when they have lips), but the Space Brothers of the Contactees and channelers are overwhelmingly loquacious. To tease out the politics from the communications received since the 1940s (and before, from the denizens of the Solar System encountered by Swedenborg, the various Ascended Masters of Blavatsky’s Theosophy?…) would demand the dedication of a team of dogged readers, which, luckily, would not have to start from scratch. There is already a small body of research, produced primarily by religious studies scholars. One example of an explicitly worked-out utopia, however, whose blueprint comes from the ETs who created all life on earth (according to their designated spokesman Rael Maitreya) can be read about here….

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There is, further, what is said or cobbled together about the politics of ETs and the organization of their various races. In the 1980s, stories about crashed and retrieved saucers, their dead and living captured pilots, and subsequent contact and treaties with their respective races began to circulate. This current of rumour has since grown into a maelstrom, a vast and growing science fiction epic, involving dozens of races, suppressed technology, Breakaway civilizations and secret cabals on and off the earth, which, at present, is conveniently brought together as Exopolitics. This vast tapestry is stitched together from the testimony of a growing body of whistleblowers cultured by the Disclosure movement. The ETs and their societies in this material are human, all-too-human, with their technology (however “advanced”) and various Good and Evil roles. Much like in the Star Trek franchise, each race or species seems to function little more than as a nation on earth….

A more interesting study (perhaps) would be to determine in an almost anthropological or ethnographical manner what conclusions can be drawn from observations gleaned from close encounter reports. How do the ufonauts behave with and toward each other?…

Of course, from the perspective of the social sciences, at least, this body of data is informative inversely proportional to its volume. Channeled communications from Ashtar, interplanetary travelogues from Rael, or the speculative universe constructed by Michael Salla or Steven Greer reveal more about these respective sources and those who buy what they say than about the The Great White Brotherhood, the planet of the Elohim, or The Galactic Confederation. Likewise, experiences undergone during an Out-of-Body experience or retrieved through hypnotic regression are more akin to religious experiences or dreams and are revelatory in the same ways. Even if we take “sobre” close encounter reports at face value, there’s still the question of the truth of what the ufonauts show or communicate, given their bizarre, impish, and perhaps deceptive behaviour….

The Sociopolitics of the UFO Community

As proved problematic in Banias’ reflections, defining the UFO community in a rigorous way is vexedly difficult, but, perhaps, rewardingly so.

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In the course of articulating my response to Banias, I proposed one solution, in line with how I understand his own approach:  one can, offhand, perhaps characterize an apparently easily definable group I call “ET Fundamentalists”, those who believe UFOs are real vehicles for really existing nonhuman intelligences (Alien Others). Were it only so simple. For example, if membership in the UFO community is determined by belief, then the community makes up a portion of the general population, not necessarily those who would self-identify as members of a UFO community:  a recent survey found that more than half of people in the US, the UK, and Germany believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), while 30% of the 54% of Americans who believe in Extraterrestrial Intelligence believe ETs have visited the earth (but the truth is suppressed). As I wrote in my first intervention in the matter, if membership is dependent on belief

then who counts as a member …? Those fascinated by the mystery, who consume the videos, movies, books …, who maybe attend conferences, whose obsessions and beliefs and products are too flaky for the mainstream? Those innocents whom the mystery touches, witnesses and Experiencers? Those who study the mystery in orthodox manners (e.g., David M. Jacobs as a historian or John E. Mack as a psychiatrist) or who, like [Jacques] Vallee or other members of the Invisible College, bring to bear the research methods of the physical sciences? Academics and others, like myself, who may not be focused on the UFO mystery itself but are more puzzled by the social phenomenon, from the point of view of religious studies, sociology, cultural studies, etc.? Members of the police, armed forces, and intelligence communities who themselves are either Experiencers or are tasked with dealing with the mystery or even using the mystery for their own ends, (e.g. the infamous Richard Doty?). Journalists who investigate and write on the mystery, whether a one-off article or a book or books?…

A flip-side to the problems of defining the UFO community by its beliefs is that however unusual these beliefs, the vast majority of those who hold them, I’d wager, lead lives quite in harmony with the social order: they hold jobs, pay their taxes, obey the laws, and otherwise behave like good liberal-capitalist subjects. Even members of groups such as the Raelians, whose beliefs are surely in the minority and who, on occasion, dress differently, behave dramatically, and proselytize, are, otherwise, quite at home in society. It’s only very rarely (e.g. more notoriously Heaven’s Gate) that UFO Fundamentalists ever venture social changes even as radical as the Autonomist squatters in Hamburg and Berlin. I’m tempted to argue that much of the UFO subculture is marked less by its shared beliefs than by aspects of its patterns of consumption….

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Assuming for the moment we can identify members of the UFO community, what are, in fact, the politics of some of its members? Jacques Vallee is haughtily dismissive of the French Left. Richard Dolan is a staunch believer in that precarious wedding of representative democracy and the free market. Michael Salla et al. seem to support Trump and his crusade against the Deep State (whatever they might mean by that expression). Indeed, the UFO more often than not draws into its vortex libertarian, reactionary, conspiratorial themes… The only overtly leftist political stance with an interest in UFOs I know of are the Posadists….

More acutely, however, there are moments when the UFO believer bumps up against state institutions, usually military and intelligence. Most obviously, in the case of hackers, such as Gary McKinnon, they break laws in pursuit of “the truth” about UFOs and ET. Trespassers in the area of Nellis Air Force Base also come to mind….

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At the end of the day, however, it shouldn’t be that difficult or impossible a question. Given the plethora of data gathered by Google, Facebook, et al., a sufficiently canny graduate student with a research grant should be able to very precisely delimit various communities according to sets of specific criteria, a kind of “digital sociology” analogous to the digital humanities. Given the possibility (if not actuality—and here my own ignorance of contemporary methods of sociological research is all too painfully apparent) of such a digital sociology (the term is actually used with a different sense in the discipline itself), it’s not too difficult to imagine how such a serious sociological investigation would seek to characterize the social formations of various UFO groups, e.g., research groups, formal and informal; communities, corporeal and virtual, etc. The advantage of such a methodology is its precision. Not only can social groups be characterized by their predilections, but by more materialist considerations, such as class, gender, and race. Moreover, such an analysis could rigorously describe UFO subcultures whose social dynamics could then be studied:  how do the UFO-philes behave among themselves in their various communities, fleshly and virtual…?

Perhaps the most important question is the one surveyed year after year since the appearance of Flying Saucers, what portion of the population believes in ETI and that UFOs are its visiting spaceships. It’s the contents of this belief that hold the most interesting implications. In one regard, there is a clear class-struggle visible in the contradiction between the sincere claims of witnesses and experiencers and those elites who will have no truck with the wild and ignorant tales of such benighted hicks, between the interests of researchers working even within the institutional discourses of the human and natural sciences and those orthodoxies (at least) in control of these institutions that will not let their disciplines be sullied by such pseudoscience. (The case of physicist James E. McDonald, whose UFO research discredited his much more mainstream work, is a case in point). There are as well further patterns that call for more research, gender, for example (the prevalence of women among abductees (?))…

The Politics of the UFO

More interesting, perhaps, and, perhaps, more easily probed, are the sociopolitical implications of the UFO, both overtly (the reaction of social institutions to the mystery) and implicitly (what the various interpretations of the phenomenon imply socioculturally, ideologically, spiritually, etc., which has been the focus of my more scholarly efforts so far).

If the UFO, if not those interested in the mystery, is at all related to power, then we should see the powers that be interact with the phenomenon. At the civil level, the institutions of the press and education interact with the phenomenon; in the latter case, not only at the level of the natural sciences (however marginally or surreptitiously), but of the social sciences and humanities, too. The culture and entertainment industries take it up as material, and its imagery has been commodified in a vastly varied manner. Public officials have played a role, usually in response to sightings and encounters, smoothing a community’s ruffled feathers. Police and military personnel interact with the phenomenon in their responding to reports or interacting with the phenomenon themselves. Given intrusions into a nation’s airspace is a breach of national security, countries’ defense institutions have initiated investigations into individual interactions with the phenomenon and into the phenomenon itself….

Perhaps the most compelling evidence the UFO subculture is a concern of power are the interventions by intelligence services in regards to UFO research groups or new religious movements (NRMs), whether by their outright creation, infiltration, or manipulation, actions that have arguably resulted in the ruined lives of researchers, such as Morris Jessup, James E. McDonald, and Paul Bennewitz. Jacques Vallee has argued in his Revelations (1991) that military and intelligence agencies might well have exploited the phenomenon themselves, for various purposes (training, psychological warfare, social engineering experiments…). These more surreptitious activities have, at least, a certain blowback, eroding public trust in government, military and intelligence agencies, reinforcing the “paranoid style” in American (at least) politics. Little surprise that some writers of both research and fiction connect secret human experimentation (e.g., Tuskagee, etc.) with speculations about Alien Abductions and Animal Mutilations….And of even graver import are those UFO cases that have involved physical injury or death, as the Cash/Lundrum affair and the death of Thomas Mantell….

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Gerald Heard’s Super-Bees from Mars

Some readers of my review of Gerald Heard’s The Riddle of the Saucers might wonder why I bothered, given my obvious distaste for the book, and why they should bother, given that, considered ufologically, the book’s value is strictly historical, really adding nothing new to solving that riddle of the book’s title.

In the first place, the review is part of one of the projects underway here at the Skunkworks:  to read and review all the Ufo books mentioned in Jung’s Flying Saucers, reviews that will be collated under the category “Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf”. Aside from being an interesting task in itself, the project will contribute to better understanding Jung’s reflections on the subject, and, more importantly, begin the process of concretely articulating the material that Jung develops, connecting it, for instance, to his alchemical studies.

As should be obvious to anyone reading this blog with any attention, my central concern is to reveal the ways the UFO illuminates or takes up in its vortex (considered both poetically and para-scientifically) galaxies of other concerns, including our most pressing, social, ecological, and “spiritual” (Geistig), all in the hopes of someday presenting the work as a book or, ideally, a poem. (Though, I fear, the project will more likely end up a textual version of  Jonathan E. Caldwell‘s…).

I observed already in my review the prescience of Heard’s imagining the ufonauts to be insects. imagesIn the Alien Abduction literature, the ETs are often described as being insectoid in various ways, and the figure of the Mantis is prevalent. So, in the context of the development of the myth (if not the hard core of the mystery), Heard’s book is, intentionally or not, significant.

But consider Heard’s description (150) of how the Martian Super-Bees might appear:

A creature with eyes like brilliant cut-diamonds, with a head of sapphire, a thorax of emerald, an abdomen of ruby, wings like opal, legs like topaz.

From a strictly literary critical, stylistic or philological, perspective, this description is tired, but from a poeticreative one, much more suggestive.

Within the context of the myth as a whole, the insectoid form of the Super-Bee will rime with a more general insectoid theme that reappears, at least, in the context of Alien Abduction stories, as noted. Moreover, the red of the ruby, green of the emerald, and pure white light of the diamonds rimes with the colours of lights reported, for example, on the Phantom Airships of 1896/7. That UFOs are often described as flashing or strobing multicoloured lights or to be scintillating (like gems might be said to) winds another thread into the aesthetic texture.

However doubtful it is that Ezekiel’s Chariot is analogous to a modern-day UFO, that Ezekiel’s vision is read as a premodern sighting report makes it, too, part of the myth. (Parties, skeptical and curious, are encouraged to consult (Milton scholar!) Michael Lieb’s Children of Ezekiel:  Aliens, UFOs, the Crisis of Race, and the Advent of the End Time that unfolds the developing meaning of Ezekiel’s Chariot from the prophet’s own times to the present). In this context, it becomes not insignificant that “the appearance of the wheels [of the chariot] and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl” (Ezekiel I.16) and the throne on the chariot has “the appearance of a sapphire stone” (Ezekiel I.26). This happenstance rime is more suggestive than it might seem offhand.

Jung’s Ufo study is artistically compelling by its associating aspects of the Ufo visionary rumour not only to the concrete historical horizon within which flying saucers first appear but to Alchemy, that vast literature that functions as a subliminal inspiration in the works of Shakespeare, Blake, Yeats, Pound, H.D., Robert Duncan, and others. A few minutes of paging through the indices of Jung’s Alchemical Studies and Mysterium Coniunctionis turn up allusions to a description of

the sapphire stone, [which] takes on divers colours from the highest powers, and works in created things now in one wise, now in the contrary, administering at times good, at others evil, now life, now death, now sickness, now healing, now poverty, now riches (Mysterium Coniunctionis, 447)

taken, unsurprisingly from the Kabbala denudata. One of the goals of Chinese Alchemy was the creation of “the diamond body” (Alchemical Studies, 21). And, if one, understandably, were to associate the Latin lapis (as in the Alchemical expression Lapis Philosophorum, Philosopher’s Stone) with the constellation of  associations generated by just some of the precious stones that go to make up Heard’s Martian Super-Bee, one might be forgiven to call to mind the Alchemical “Visita Interiora Terra Rectificanto Inveniens Occultum Lapidem“: Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying [purifying] you will find the hidden stone.

Hear, the most preliminary tracing of associations leads us to the Hollow Earth, another famous dimension of the myth, as one putative origin of the UFOs (which rimes, too, with other associations, underground bases, or Earth Lights and ELF waves (which pun, in turn, brings in the whole dimension of Faery lore…)). Along with the depths of the earth’s oceans, the deeps of space, or even the depths of past or future time, or equally infinitely distant and near other dimensions, all these homes of the Other, all Other places, rime with Jung’s Unconscious (the psychoanalytic Other)….

Nor should one eschew the phonemic near rime of lapis and ‘laugh’ or the interlinguistic rime with French lapin….As Whitman said, “the theme (or, in this case, a kind of rabbit hole (!)) has vista”….

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Remarks Re: M. J. Banias’ “The UFO Community; a Counter-Cultural Movement”

Over at  Terra Obscura M J Banias finished off 2018 and began 2019 with a bang, probing the nature of the UFO community and the implications of its more-or-less shared beliefs (read Part I here, and Part II here).

The social and political features of the UFO myth is an important topic, one too often overshadowed by speculations around the mystery of the phenomenon itself. Consistent with the intent of Skunkworks, Banias brackets the question of the truth, nature, or being of the UFO phenomenon to inquire into its, here, social meaning.

And it’s the resonance of that topic and approach that inspires my attempts to come to terms with Banias’ thoughts. I must admit up front I find much of what he writes  obscure and his conclusions often unwarranted, but I have done my best to present what I take to be his positions as strongly as I can and to use them more as jumping-off points for further reflection on the matter than as targets of criticism, though I will register my points of disagreement. (I’ll gladly send him my annotated version of his posts on request!).

Banias’ thesis seems to be that the UFO community is a subculture, some of whose defining beliefs are so at odds with mainstream culture they constitute a kind of critique of that culture, making the UFO subculture thereby into a counterculture.

There is a tension in just how the UFO subculture is to be delimited, a tension not without interesting consequences (that I pursue, below). On the one hand, the subculture is nebulous and ill-defined, to the point that it is “difficult to pin down, [difficult] to be able to clearly ascertain who is a member and who is not,” while, on the other, one can identify certain beliefs with sufficient clarity and force making it possible to claim that this sub/counter-culture “challenges every major established power system” in mainstream culture.

The starkest example in this regard is the belief in nonhuman intelligences, an Alien Other, “whether it be the Greys from Zeta Reticuli, Blue Avians, or a complex and intelligent overarching control system.” The single, and exemplary, example provided are the conclusions John Mack draws from his research into the Alien Abduction phenomenon, that “we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off…”

How is that the Alien Other “challenges every major established power system”? On the one hand, by being above and therefore free to ignore political and legal orders, national sovereignty or laws that protect the person or property:

The UFO as object does not obey laws regarding sovereign airspace or national borders, nor do the extraterrestrial beings apply for visas before landing on foreign soil to scoop up plant samples, mutilate cows, or abduct people.

Moreover, “the events that seem to present themselves throughout the UFO and contactee narrative indicate extreme technological and/or intellectual abilities,” i.e., the UFO and ET are possessed of a technology and intelligence or wisdom that equally ignore our present physics and philosophy in their transcending them. And underwriting these challenges are, perhaps more importantly, the ways the UFO and the Alien Other are an affront to the mainstream view of reality, which, more reflexively that reflectively, denies their reality in defense of its own.

What’s important here is that, regardless of the ontological status of the Alien Other, the very idea proposes that our consensus reality, the self-evident validity of our social order, of our scientific knowledge of nature, and of our understanding of ourselves as human beings and of our place in these orders, is relative and questionable, i.e., in a certain sense, unreal. Of course, what gives the Alien Other this critical purchase is its possessing precisely an ontological ambiguity, an uncertainty as to whether it is merely a fictional delusion or not, its being, in this sense, mythological. That such phenomena may be true in a manner so at odds with what passes for the way things are is what irritates orthodox minds to react with such violent, irrational denial in place of sobre, inquisitive curiosity.

In some regards, Banias is in good company in holding these views, if I have understood him correctly. In terms of the challenges observations of UFOs or UAPs pose to our current knowledge of physics, no less than Jacques Vallee and collaborator Eric Davis state in a paper published 2003 that “continuing study of reported UAP [Unidentifed Aerial Phenomena] events is important: It may provide us with an existence theorem for new models of physical reality.” An important caveat, however, is that UAP or AAP (Anomalous Aerial Phenomena) can challenge our current physics only if they are in fact real phenomena whose behaviour and characteristics are at odds with our theories.

When in comes to potential social repercussions, Banias makes a strong claim:  “alien visitation…would call into question the concept of nationalism, state loyalty, and even citizenship itself. It would call into question the very nature of society and culture.” Ronald Reagan in a famous speech delivered before the UN in 1987 would seem to echo this sentiment:  “…how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” But, in this case, unlike that of the challenges AAP pose to our physics, widespread public acceptance of an Alien presence, i.e., the mere belief in its reality and its thereby becoming part of our consensus reality, would be sufficient to catalyze the changes Banias imagines, if his claim is true in the first place. Those members of the UFO subculture worried about a false-flag alien invasion staged to usher in a New World Order would, I imagine, agree (not that I take Banias to be among their ranks).

And it’s just at this point that the tensions in Banias’ definition of the UFO subculture become salient. Who might be said to be a member, and why? Membership seems to be, to borrow Banias’s expression, a question of ideology, here, what someone thinks. After addressing the difficulty in delimiting membership, Banias goes on to essay some tentative commonalities:

…one common motif that runs through these communal moments is the notion of the extraterrestrial, the alien Other. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs regarding the notion of aliens, the history and mythology of the UFO narrative has fused the ET construct to the subculture….one ought to be clear on the fact that not everyone in the UFO community interprets the idea of the alien in the same way…

Notions, beliefs, discourses (such as history and mythology), and interpretations are all, in what I take to be Banias’ sense, or at least one of his senses, ideological. Membership in the subculture, then, depends upon one’s beliefs and concerns.

Banias is at great pains to argue that this set of beliefs and concerns is marginal to mainstream society; how else could it be counter-cultural? However, because, I would argue, of its ideological character, an interest in, fascination with, or concern over the Alien Other is, in fact, ubiquitous to, at least, North American society. Banias himself quotes anthropologist Debbora Battaglia in this regard:

…the alien Other is a “lived experience.” It is a construct that is everywhere. The alien, the flying saucer, UFOs, and various other paranormal symbols, appear in film and television, video games, corporate logos, beverage containers, laptop stickers, smartphone cases, and much more. These mythological realities are entrenched in popular culture, and perhaps more interestingly, under the control of human economic and social systems [or at least circulate within these systems…].

If “the alien Other is a ‘lived experience'” in this way, then who counts as a member of the subculture? Those fascinated by the mystery, who consume the videos, movies, books (all the commodities Battaglia lists above), who maybe attend conferences, whose obsessions and beliefs and products are too flaky for the mainstream? Those innocents whom the mystery touches, witnesses and Experiencers? Those who study the mystery in orthodox manners (e.g., David M. Jacobs as a historian or John E. Mack as a psychiatrist) or who, like Vallee or other members of the Invisible College, bring to bear the research methods of the physical sciences? Academics and others, like myself, who may not be focused on the UFO mystery itself but are more puzzled by the social phenomenon, from the point of view of religious studies, sociology, cultural studies, etc.? Members of the police, armed forces, and intelligence communities who themselves are either Experiencers or are tasked with dealing with the mystery or even using the mystery for their own ends, (e.g. the infamous Richard Doty?). Journalists who investigate and write on the mystery, whether a one-off article or a book or books? And, further out, what of those fans of UFO/ET themed fictions, regardless of media, e.g., the X-phile or even Trekkie? And those artists who produce the variegated UFO/ET themed works the members of the “subculture” consume? The subculture seems to run deep in the mainstream.

Nevertheless, one marginal, UFO subculture is, I think, definable, and amenable to much of what Banias says. Let me call its  members here for convenience “ET Fundamentalists”, those who believe UFOs are real vehicles for really existing nonhuman intelligences (Alien Others). Like their Christian counterparts, ET Fundamentalists share a core of beliefs that separates them from the nonbelievers in mainstream society but whose finer points are subject to differences in interpretation to the point of violent disagreement among believers. This space between the core beliefs and their nuances Banias, following Lorin Cutts, calls “the mythological zone,” which opens the way to schisms, sects, and denominations in fundamentalist Christianity or different “ideologies” in the UFO subculture. Both believe in a cosmos inhabited by nonhuman intelligences (angels and demons or Space Brothers or Greys) that take an active interest in the fate of individual human beings and the ultimate fate of humankind. Where Christians believe in the power of prayer and the suspension of the laws of nature (miracles), the ET fundamentalist believes in telepathy or channeling and the transcendence of our understanding of physics by ET technology. Both engage in a variety of pseudoscientific pursuits that mimic and sometimes engage with mainstream science:  think how similar much of ufology is to Creation Science that seeks to prove the truth of some particular, “literal” reading of the Bible. One might object that, where Christianity is essentially a religion of revelation, much of the fascination with the UFO is inspired by its mystery, but, for the ET Fundamentalist, the strip-tease of Disclosure takes the place of revelation, both the Christian and ET versions moving toward their own versions of Apocalypse, whether the millennium following the return of Christ at the End of Time, or the era “After Disclosure” of the truth and nature of the ET presence. Both subcultures create their own institutions, congregations or conferences, churches or groups, media producers and publishers. Nor should it need much pointing out how much intersection there has been between these two groups, whether Christian Fundamentalist interpretations of the UFO phenomenon or taking up of Christian themes and materials by the UFO subculture, e.g., the Ancient Astronaut interpretation of Biblical events that has been part of ufology from very nearly the beginning. Indeed, the parallels between American Fundamentalist Christianity and the American UFO subculture of ET Fundamentalists and their crossover suggest fertile ground for research by sociologists, scholars of religion, or cultural theorists.

This central problem with Banias’ essay, the character and scope of the UFO subculture, rises, in part, from how he (mis)applies (or so it seems to me) the cultural theory of Dick Hebdidge and his work Subculture:  The Meaning of Style (1979). Simply, Banias’ appropriation elides the materialist aspects of Hebdige’s analysis—class, race, socioeconomic conditions, etc.—in favour of the “ideological” (notions, beliefs, interpretations), which is why, once he brings to bear the work of more materialist anthropologists and political scientists, Battaglia and Jodi Dean, the subculture bleeds out into the mainstream.

That the beliefs of ET Fundamentalists are at odds with mainstream culture is well-taken, but the relation between this “subculture” (that awaits a rigorous characterization) is more nuanced than the ways it might be said to be marginal, critical, or counter. Indeed, mainstream culture takes up, envelops, or includes the subculture variously:  as kooky but harmless, as a market for goods and services, as personally dangerous (e.g., Heaven’s Gate), as a threat to national security (both because of the curiosity of its members and how membership might be used to cloak espionage), as a system of beliefs to be experimented with and perhaps exploited, etc. That the mythology, whether restricted or general, can function as a kind of ideology-critique (as I’ve outlined, above) is not uninteresting, but it need do more than merely contradict and thereby relativize mainstream notions (any fiction can do this); it needs to reveal as fictions those truths the powerful maintain as natural and given (“reified”), truths that serve to maintain power and privilege as natural and unalterable, e.g.. Margaret Thatcher’s quip that “There is no such thing as society.”

Indeed, as I’ve long maintained, the UFO myth tacitly repeats and thereby maintains and entrenches the reigning ideology of present-day, advanced societies, instrumental reason if not the commodity form. Banias himself seems to unwittingly agree when he writes in the concluding remarks to his posts: “To look deeply into the UFO phenomenon…we realize that we are staring into a mirror.” When we behold the humanoid-all-too-humanoid ETs and their technology, we do indeed gaze at distorted versions of ourselves. And it is in the failure to recognize ourselves in this distorted form that reifies, makes immediate and unconscious, everything we project there.

For all my points of disagreement with Banias, his brief foray opens interesting and rewarding vistas. The sociology of the community of UFO believers and the more general semiotics of the UFO and ET as a sign in society in general are fields yet to be surveyed with sufficient thoroughness and rigor. The UFO is, further, and more importantly, a site of social struggle, between experience and authority (witnesses and experiencers vs. skeptics and debunkers, official and unofficial), competing claims to knowledge and legitimacy (i.e. the UAP and nonhuman intelligence as topics of institutionally sanctioned research), access to information and political suppression or disinformation, and much more, all informed, if not formed, by class, gender, race, etc. Here, the analogy is not so much to Plato’s Cave as it is to scientists’ dismissing peasants’ claims to have witnessed meteors and finding meteorites. Let the prospecting begin!

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What’s so compelling about ET, Cover-up and Disclosure?

A post of Robbie Graham‘s at Mysterious Universe coalesced with some of my recent, casual ufological reading (Jung’s Flying Saucers, Heard’s The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real, Vallee’s Revelations…) to prompt the question that titles this post.

Of the “10 Shocking Statements about UFOs by Scientists and Government Officials” Graham presents, eight have to do with official secrecy or dissimulation (that governments in fact know the nature of UFOs but suppress that knowledge), while four openly espouse the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), that UFOs are spacecraft piloted by intelligent, unearthly beings. What’s as curious (if not shocking) is that this coupling of the ETH with accusations of an official suppression of its supposed truth has been part of the fabric of the UFO myth from the very beginning:  Project Sign’s “Estimate of the Situation” proposed the ETH as a possible explanation for flying saucer sightings in late 1948, while Donald Keyhoe concludes the Author’s Note that begins his 1950 The Flying Saucers are Real

I believe that the Air Force statements, contradictory as they appear, are part of an intricate program to prepare America—and the world—for the secret of the discs[,]

namely, that they are extraterrestrial spaceships.

Given that flying saucers first appear as such within the horizon of the Cold War, it should come as little surprise that the USAF personnel tasked with identifying them had to come up with some positive answers. If the flying discs were in fact real objects (as observations seemed to imply) and that aeronautical technology, domestic or foreign, was incapable of manufacturing such aeroforms, some alternative explanation had to be supplied; the urgency of the times could not allow for a shrug of the shoulders and admission of ignorance. That the most persuasive alternative proposed was that the flying saucers were extraterrestrial artifacts produced by “civilizations far in advance of ours” is as curious as it proved to be fateful for the development of the myth….

This concatenation of the ETH and an early instance of conspiracy theory will develop over the coming decades into a complex tale of crashed saucers and the retrieval of their pilots living and dead, reverse-engineering of alien technology and secret treaties between governmental or even more shadowy organizations and an ever-growing number of ET races, alien abductions and ET-human hybridization programs, secret ET bases, Secret Space Programs and Breakaway Civilizations, the suppression of free energy and other technologies, and, hanging over all this, the ever-imminent official Disclosure of these matters engineered by government insiders, ever-growing numbers of whistleblowers, and even benevolent ETs. (One should not ignore that alongside this more secular development is an equally lively and creative religious one rooted in Theosophy, that extends through the early Contactees to channelers and the New Age and various New Religious Movements). As Jacques Vallee relentlessly discloses in his Revelations (1991), the genesis and on-going production of this “powerful new myth, perhaps even the emergence of a new religion” (18) has more to do with human machination and manipulation than any suppressed science-fictional reality. Nevertheless, as Jung himself discovered in the 1950s “news affirming the existence of UFOs [and ETs] is welcome, but…scepticism seems to be undesirable” (3). Why should this be?

One might venture the following. Since the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution, humankind, especially in the West but increasingly globally, has found itself displaced. In the Christian cosmos, Man was the crown of creation, made in the image of God. With Copernicus, the earth ceased to be the centre of the universe; further discoveries in the Eighteenth century revealed the earth to be vastly older than 6,000 years; Darwin disabused homo sapiens of pretensions to any uniqueness in the animal kingdom; and cosmological discoveries since have revealed a God-less universe, if not multiverse, as vast in time and space as the earth and humankind upon it have become correspondingly tiny and insignificant. Add to this story the existential threats of nuclear war and ecological collapse and one will be unsurprised at attempts to imagine ways to alleviate the anxieties such a precarious situation inspires.

Enter one or more ET civilizations “far in advance” of our own or Space Brother incarnations of Ascended Masters to lead us on to a higher plane of spiritual evolution. In the first case, the history of one society on earth, that of the technologically advanced “First World”, becomes an instance of a universal tendency of life in the universe, to evolve towards intelligence, a sentience like our own, and evergrowing technoscientific knowledge and mastery of nature. In the latter case, again, the human being is understood as a stage on life’s way, from matter to spirit, from ignorance to enlightenment. In both cases, that dethroned, decentred, disoriented species finds a new orientation in a universal scheme, as either one species among a galaxy of others ranked according to their place on a  linear scale of intelligence and technoscientific development, or on an equally linear scheme of spiritual wisdom; humankind finds again a home in a cosmic order, a kind of Great Chain of Being, whether material or spiritual, except this time, humankind creates God in its own image. Even the paranoid and fearful version of the myth, that certain ET species and their human allies are evil, working toward conquest, colonization or domination, weaves itself on the loom that projects our kind of intelligence, the self-image of our present technoscientific culture, onto all forms of life, on and off the earth.

Michael Persinger R.I.P.

The one post at Skunkworks that has sparked the most interest was that concerning the Electromagnetic Hypothesis (EMH), that some UFO/UAP sightings and perhaps even encounter experiences could be accounted for by observed but unexplained naturally-occurring EM and plasma phenomena.

One of the major researchers to develop this idea was Michael Persinger, who has died at 73. The Daily Grail has posted an obituary and summary of Persinger’s research and the controversy and criticisms it inspired. Interested parties will be pleased to find at least two videos and links to ten blog posts Persinger wrote in reply to his critics.

As a partial explanation for sightings and encounters, Persinger’s work strictly falls outside the purview of Skunkworks, exploring, as his research does, the being rather than the meaning of the UFO phenomenon. What is compelling, though, is the way his research suggests that the Earth herself might be imagined to communicate with human beings via EM phenomena.

That Flying Saucers arguably reveal more about how we think and feel about technoscience and the fate of society than about extraterrestrial visitors has been a mainstay since Jung’s pioneering speculations. That Contactees and Abductees both have received warnings concerning environmental catastrophe segues nicely with the notion that the Earth articulates her concerns via tectonic energies and an available image reservoir, whether a Collective Unconscious or not. That Earth itself transmits EM energies at 30-33 Hz (an instance of a numerological pattern that runs through the whole mythos) and that these transmissions are called Extra-low Frequency (ELF) waves is also poetically suggestive, especially in view of the links made to Faery lore and the UFO mythology by, among others, Jacques Vallee….

Having recently secured a copy of Persinger’s and Lafrenière’s Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events (Chicago:  Nelson-Hall, 1977) I hope to share a review sometime in the future.

QAnon as (post)modern art

The conspiratorial mindset likely goes back at least as far as the paranoid cosmologies of who-runs-the-world-1the Gnostics two millennia ago. One of its latest iterations is Q or QAnon, a conspiracy theory that in its manner of dissemination, the style of its expression, and the wildness of its content makes it more impressive as an instance of modern art than a revelation of the secret order of the world it pretends to be.

Q appears first 28 October 2017 on /pol/, a sub-board of 4-chan, unwinding a thread titled “Calm Before the Storm” alluding, supposedly, to a remark made by President Trump early that month. The thread’s author claimed to have Q-level security clearance, having access to highly-classified information he then prolifically released in idiosyncratically worded “crumbs” that outlined an increasingly complex and bizarre vision of contemporary world politics, focused on Trump’s battle with the Deep State. Anyone familiar with the Exopolitics and Disclosure movements will also know UFOs and ETs have also been woven into the Q narrative.

Why anyone would take the incoherent and madly speculative worldview Q lays out for the way things really are is as much a psychological or sociological as an epistemic question. However, if one brackets the question of the truth of Q’s revelations, then the trail of crumbs Q has left his public appear as a work of fiction or poetry that meets Rimbaud’s famous demand that “we must be absolutely modern” in remarkable ways.

Adopting a mask or persona, an identity other than the author’s, is an old literary device, intensified for various reasons in the Twentieth Century. Replacing one’s given name with one’s initials became a bit of a fashion among anglophone poets, T. S. Eliot or more radically H.D. being perhaps the best known. Postwar or postmodern poetry probing the implications of the death of the author have worked to compose works wherein the language rather than the author might be said to be what speaks. Q, too, in a not dissimilar manner, adopts a persona, a move with rhetorical affect. This pseudonym, evoking both James Bond and real-world security-clearance designations, lends Q an air of credibility that tellingly draws on both fictional and factual connotations. Moreover, his revelations are made to appear all the more true as their being shared in even such a piecemeal, obscure manner is made to seem to endanger his life. In the conspirosphere it’s an old trick of putative insiders to lend their leaks gravity by their being secret, to whatever degree.

Aside from developing and coining the expression “the death of the author” French critic Roland Barthes also articulated an important distinction, that between “work” and “text”, most fully explored in S/Z. All too simply put, the classical work stands over against the reader as a seamless, polished, finished monumental aesthetic object achieved by the labour of the genius of the author; the text, on the other hand demands as much engagement and work from the reader to complete the aesthetic object. Barthes describes a text as “a galaxy of signifiers” that need be “constellated” by the reader. (Admittedly, the distinction goes back to the Jena Romantics and is roundly deconstructed by Barthes himself in S/Z; nevertheless, it remains valuable in discussing modes of avant garde writing). In this light, QAnon’s conspiracy theory is a text, at both the micro and macro levels.

The theory is articulated by a thread spun of “crumbs”,  a series of short, telegraphic, sometimes encoded lines, that resemble, at least typographically, poems:

Q-Iran-Potus-in-Control

Some lines are complete sentences; others (e.g.,”Suicide watch” or “Bigger than people can imagine”) are more cryptic, demanding an active interpretation. Often, the reader is addressed in the imperative tense (“Ask yourself…”) or is posed questions (“Why is HRC in NZ?”) supposedly to push the reader in a particular, interpretive direction. The lines that make up each crumb are organized paratactically, demanding the reader supply the grammatical and logical  connections that would lend them even a linguistic coherence. These demands on the reader’s engagement reach a limit in encoded crumbs.

Q-Anon-Coded-message

Thus, at the lowest level of composition, the crumb and its components, the theory is very much a text, lent a significant amount of logic and significance by the reader.

At the next higher level of organization, that between crumbs, both consecutively and in general, the same demands are made. Just as each line of a crumb need be understood and each line connected with the other, the revelations of each crumb need be worked up into a coherent whole that is subject to subsequent modification by rereadings of already released crumbs and subject to revision with the release of each day’s new crumbs. The theory is thus in a state of constant flux, an instability exacerbated by the basic incoherence of the crumbs taken individually and as a totality, as well as the added complications added to the mix by contributions to the thread by its readers. The theory then is in a state of constant expansion and complication.

Another characteristic of avant garde art is its interest in exploring and exploiting the latest media technology makes available. In this light, QAnon is strikingly modern, availing itself of the possibilities of the digital medium:  being digital, appearing where it does to address a particular audience, being open-ended both in its own on-going composition and in its readers’ participation. In a more profound way, though, the theory depends on another dimension of our modernity born with digital culture, that of the demand for “transparency” and its consequences. As theorist Stanley Fish eloquently observes, the demand for equal access to data, free of the editorial manipulations of elites or other gatekeepers, produces precisely an informational galaxy of signifiers that are then open to an absolutely “democratic” or anarchic constellation by those with access to it. QAnon’s unwinding story is premissed on precisely this situation, made up as it is of just those bits of data that the thread’s readers in turn organize into a more or less coherent if incomplete picture.

QAnon, then, is a remarkable example of absolutely contemporary ((post)”modern”) art, in its adoption of a pseudonymous persona for rhetorical affect, in its inventing a new genre of linguistic expression (the crumb) that puts to use poetic and rhetorical devices, in its overall organization reminiscent of avant garde literature, and in its very medium and exploitation of various aesthetic possibilities of that medium, all premissed and arising from the media if not epistemic conditions of the age, the ascendancy of data over news and the increasing anarchy of world views and political polarization this shift enables and gives rise to.

Space/Time: a temporally entangled addendum to “…our Descent to Eaarth”

I was reminded that just a year ago I had read this opinion piece by William B. Gail, a founder of the Global Weather Corporation, a past president of the American Meteorological Society, and the author of Climate Conundrums: What the Climate Debate Reveals About Us.

In it, Gail proposes that the ways the climate has and will continue to change from the patterns that nurtured civilization during the Holocene render the earth unrecognizable, requiring that our descendants along with those of all the other plant and animal species must learn to inhabit a radically different planet whose climactic patterns have not only changed but become chaotic and unpredictable. Gail’s speculations here are one might say “temporally entangled” with those I set out in “The Anthropocene as the Beginning of our Descent to Eaarth”.

I share them here for those for whom the more poetic logic of my own recent post might be too wild and who might find Gail’s more down-to-earth musings more grounded.