Sightings: Monday 24 May 2021: Polarized Politics, Propaganda, and Post-Truth Populism

Sometimes bits of ufological and related news catch my attention. Either due to my time/energy or interests, these may not be provocative enough to inspire a whole post, so, on such occasions, under the category “Sightings”, I at least try to leave some trace of the thoughts these ephemera did in fact prompt. This week, there are three…

“…the issue is entirely political…”

That the topic of UFOs (UAP) is charged is surely an understatement. As an element of Twentieth and Twenty-first Century world culture, the UFO hovers over fields from science to religion, national security to science fiction, and even politics, in various senses both popular and more philosophical, gets caught up and drawn into its vortex.

Amid the increasingly bigger media splash UFOs are making since the breakout New York Times articles is the appearance of the topic on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, where Sean Cahil and Christopher Mellon as well as Mick West were recently interviewed. Apart from the question of just what the videos in question actually show, that the so-called “mainstream media” is covering UAP (UFOs) prompted the following comment on a Facebook group I belong to: “this is no longer a scientific issue. Now that 60 Minutes has made UFOs mainstream the issue is entirely political. Already we have the left wing CNN vs. the right wing FOX News. Now Chris Cuomo vs. Tucker Carlson,” an angle on the politics of American media shared by Robert Sheaffer: “On the right, we have Tucker Carlson on Fox News, and the New York Post. On the left, we have the Washington Post and The New York Times.” (Though I’m unsure just how, e.g., Cuomo’s and Carlson’s views on the matter significantly differ …).

The commenter’s take is backed up by a relatively recent Gallup poll conducted in the first half of August 2019. published just this month (May 2021): “Which comes closer to your view: some UFOs have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies, or all UFO sightings can be explained by human activity on Earth or natural phenomenon?” Again, apart from the unremarkable (if not problematic) question itself, what’s curious is the very first remark concerning the poll’s findings: “This is one topic on which Republicans and Democrats agree: 30% of the former and 32% of the latter describe UFOs as alien spacecraft from other planets. Belief is a bit higher among political independents, at 38%.”

That a topic, however “popular”, such as UFOs should get caught up in the cultural polarization that characterizes U.S. society presently in a social media comment is not too surprising, but when the question of an individual’s identifying as “Republican” or “Democrat” becomes a default question for, in this case, a Gallup poll, “politics” becomes an sign of a more grave, social malady. (With regard to the question of what someone believes about UFOs, why should party allegiance trump, e.g., education, religion, race, or income?). Clearly, UFOs are not political—a matter of social consequence—the way that gun, abortion, or voting rights are; it’s just that, in American media, any topic that catches its attention is immediately parsed in this all-too-familiar, polarized fashion.

There are, however, more profound senses in which the UFO is political, or, more properly, can be understood politically, i.e. ideologically. On the one hand, one can speak of Left or Right “ideologies”, the explicit set of beliefs and values adhered to by a group, the “everyday” (popular, vulgar) sense of the term. ‘Ideology’, however, denotes more usefully precisely those beliefs about society and its values that are unspoken and often shared across the (vulgar) political spectrum, assumptions that demarcate and maintain that social context within which differences, such as those between American Republicans and Democrats, play out…

On the one hand, Trotskyist Posadists and paranoid, right-wing reactionaries, such as Bill Cooper, both believe that UFOs are spaceships from a technologically-advanced, extraterrestrial civilization, but their (vulgar) ideological differences obscure the radically ideological content of the belief that UFOs are advanced, unearthly technology. The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis as such is ideological. As I formulated this thesis most recently:

However much technology is not essentially bound up with capitalism, it is the case that technology as we know it developed under capitalism as a means to increase profit by eliminating labour, a development that has only picked up steam as it were with the drive to automation in our present moment. When this march of progress is imagined to be as natural as the precession of the equinoxes, it is uncoupled from the social (class) relations that determine it, reifying the status quo. In this way, popular or uncritical speculations about technologically advanced extraterrestrial societies are arguably politically reactionary. But they are culturally, spiritually impoverishing, too. This failure, willed or otherwise, to grasp our own worldview as contingent legitimates if not drives the liquidation of human cultural difference and of the natural world. Identifying intelligence with one kind of human intelligence, instrumental reason, and narrowing cultural change to technological development within the lines drawn by the self-regarding histories of the “advanced” societies, we murderously reduce the wild variety of intelligence (human and nonhuman alike) and past, present, and, most importantly, potentially future societies to a dreary “eternal recurrence of the same,” a world not unlike those “imagined” by the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises wherein the supposed unimaginable variety of life in the cosmos is reduced to that of a foodcourt.

Something’s going on, but we don’t know what it is…

The recent media attention being paid to UAP focusses on videos and photographs all leaked from the U.S. Navy, whether 2015’s “Gimbal” and “Go Fast” videos, 2004’s “FLIR1” or “Tic Tac” video, the more recent “Pyramid” footage, or the “Metal Blimp w/ payload”, “Sphere”, and “Acorn” photographs (the featured image for this post, above) or now a video of a USO or “transmedium” vehicle from the USS Omaha. All these are problematic in two, provocative ways. First, none, on close examination, very persuasively show anything unusual let alone unearthly. The three photographs arguably picture party balloons (the Metal Blimp, a shark, and the Acorn, a Batman balloon) or something just out of focus (the Sphere). The Pyramid appears to be nothing more than a camera artifact. And the Gimbal, Go Fast, Tic Tac, and USS Omaha videos have their proposed mundane explanations, too. More troubling is how this video/photographic evidence is simultaneously officially stamped as “authentic” (taken by military personnel) but their provenance remains in the dark. So, many have posed the question as to why such unimpressive, officially-sanctioned “evidence” is being released, disseminated, and spun the way it is (among them, most recently, Andrew Follett).

From the first ripples of this splash (that gave us History’s Unidentified) to the present waves (or foam) of interest and commentary, the purported Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) have been presented as potential threats. Setting aside the proposals of Steven Greer and Michael Salla (…), that this spin is part of the preparation for a false flag alien invasion, others propose that the threat narrative is a way for the military industrial complex to secure greater support or funding. But this proposal is unconvincing, given the famously bloated defense budget of the U.S. that withstands every attempt to deflate it even a little. There’s already a Space Force, and, given that the threats posed by Russia, China, and even global warming are all officially acknowledged and monitored, what need would the Pentagon have to resort to such easily-debunked evidence of UAP incursions to make a case for itself? It’s precisely the shoddiness of the proffered “evidence” that seems to persuade only hardcore believers, themselves only a fraction of that roughly a third of Americans who will entertain the idea that UFOs are extraterrestrial spaceships, that gives me pause for thought. Even if these UAP are spun as earthly, foreign aerospace developments (as would seem to be suggested by the news about questionable patents for exotic propulsion systems, also part of the story), already-accepted real-world threats are hardly aggravated by unpersuasive video or photographic evidence, however “official”…

Time will tell, or, as is often the case when it comes to UFOs/UAP, it won’t, creating an abyss for neverending speculation to fill Google’s YouTube servers and swell the bookshelves of UFOphiles…

It’s just so much more complicated…

Finally, first in response to a blog post by Christ Rutkowski, then at the prompting of The Anomalist‘s Bill Murphy, I essayed some thoughts on the causes and character of the kind of thinking that goes into our post-truth iterations of New World Order, etc. conspiracy theorizing. I stand by the genealogy and the psychological and social aspects of the phenomenon I sketch, but, the matter being very complicated, I failed to remark two, essential dimensions. First, the disruption of our sensus communis has been undertaken by agents both domestic and foreign: there would be no “post-truth” crisis were it not for Trump and his ilk echoing, in their own farcical way, the Nazi rhetoric directed against die Lügenpresse and foreign (and now domestic) actors working to misinform and increasingly polarize the citizenry. More profoundly, the advent of digital and social media is overwhelmingly pertinent, both as a general condition governing the dissemination of information, both in terms of its content and velocity, and as the technology weaponized by the aforementioned actors. As well, I assumed anyone interested in the topic would be familiar with the ways that propaganda (from Operation Mockingbird to the Iraqi WMD scandal) and government secrecy (from Watergate to “deep events” such as the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11, among many other instances) had long tilled the soil for the crop we reap today.


Shining a flashlight down the rabbit hole: some reflections on post-truth populist thinking

Since I first responded to Chris Rutkowski’s short tirade against what he calls “metamodernism” William Murphy has been “looking for [me to cast] more light upon that larger-than-forteana malady [of post-truth populism and its conspiracy theories] and its ‘cure.'” So, here, I lay out some admittedly provisional thoughts on our “post-truth” moment, that populist worldview that articulates itself by appeal to “alternative facts” and in the form of various, contemporary reiterations of New World Order conspiracy theory, e.g., QAnon or other theories woven around “the Great Reset”, etc. “Populism” as such is of course a wider and deeper social phenomenon….

Roots in the Reformation sprout in Postmodernity

In my last foray, I posited that the phenomenon of post-truth, ironically (or dialectically), finds its deepest roots in modernity, first, in the shattering and ultimate atomization of spiritual authority in the Reformation, which democratized the meaning of scripture. This religious development has its rational corollary in the Enlightenment; Immanuel Kant famously exhorted his readers to “dare to know” (sapere aude), to have the courage to use their reason independently, to think for themselves (however much his argument in “What is Enlightenment?” is more nuanced and sophisticated than that). Just as faith and reason came to be housed in the individual, in a not unrelated way, so society in general, with the advent of capitalism and liberal democracy, after a long process, arrives at a maximum of atomization, with citizens being reduced to consumers or, with the gig economy, “entrepreneurs of themselves” and with near (if hardly unproblematic) universal franchise. Ironically (or dialectically) this distribution of power results in an ever greater financial, material insecurity and a no less widening gap between the individual citizen and the political decisions that impact their lives.

Along with the crumbling of a single, unified religious authority, the edifice of Aristotlean natural philosophy began to crack under the strain of the Scientific Revolution. The consequence of these developments is that the theological notion of a ready-made world that can be truly represented by the no-less divine gifts of thought and speech can no longer be assumed, which demands a new foundation for truth and knowledge be uncovered or laid down. The attempt to secure just such a firm, first principle begins with Descartes, who, famously, grounds certainty on the self-aware subject. Descartes’ solution along with those of Spinoza, Reinhold, Fichte, and Hegel all spectacularly fail, however. Two consequences followed: on the one hand, the natural sciences, encouraged by the successes of ever-more refined specialization, continued to proliferate to the point where the thought of an underlying unity that might harmonize them, if not with each other, at least with the lifeworld, became unsupportable; on the other, the philosophical implications of this abyss at the foundation of knowledge led to, among others, the tentative, open-ended reflections of the Jena Romantics. One of the most famous of their number, Friedrich Schlegel, sets out the position of modern (or postmodern) knowledge-without-a-first-principle in two fragments: “Philosophy is an epos, begins in the middle;” thus, “Demonstrations in philosophy are just demonstrations in the sense of the language of the art of military strategy. It is no better with [philosophical] legitimations than with political ones; in the sciences one first of all occupies a terrain and then proves one’s right to it afterward.”

In the trope that governs Schlegel’s latter fragment one can see the beginning of a line of thought that can be traced through the Marxist concept of ideology, Nietzsche’s metaphor of truth as “a mobile army of metaphors…”, Foucault’s archaeologies of power/knowledge, down to today’s (parody of) “postmodern” sensibility, for which all claims to truth or knowledge are merely rhetorical ploys in a language game of domination. The post-truth mind is not so much one that denies truth or facts but one that holds that claims to truth and knowledge are all invested or otherwise weaponized to the point that partial truths, distortions, or outright lies are deployed to enforce a worldview and maintain or entrench societal control. Since attempts to maintain control must come from those already in power, suspicion is therefore directed at institutions and authorities, “elites”; post-truth is consequently a “populist” attitude that sets alternative worldviews over against that perceived to maintain the status quo.

“Social existence determines consciousness”:  desperate inspiration

However much post-truth is bound up with Twenty-First Century populism, populism itself is no more homogeneous than the beliefs held by its members. American populism (Trumpism, in its most recent iteration) must be thought differently than its contemporary Brazilian, Filipino, Hungarian, Polish, or Turkish varieties, as all these nations have markedly different histories than the oldest modern democracy (or republic, if you insist); the soil that roots these varieties differs, well, radically. Nevertheless, what can be said of all these populisms, including the French Yellow Vest movement, is that they are arguably underwritten by a frustrated impatience with the material precarity brought about by decades of neoliberalism. This crisis is aggravated by the recalcitrance of national governments and the no less opaque, indifferent workings of the global order. If nature as the object of scientific research is now possessed of a complexity that transcends the ability of anyone to encompass it in a unifying vision, then how much moreso are our cultural, social, economic, political lives, compounded as such complexity is by the wilful obfuscation of private and public institutions, whether in the form of tobacco or fossil fuel corporations’ lies about the harmlessness of their products and activities or officials speaking about weapons of mass destruction or trickle down economics?

Slavoj Žižek in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown already characterized the reaction to this situation that gives rise to our present versions of New World Order (or Great Reset) conspiracy theories:

Populism is ultimately always sustained by the frustrated exasperation of ordinary people, by the cry, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve just had enough of it! It cannot go on! It must stop!’ Such impatient outbursts betray a refusal to understand or engage with the complexity of the situation, and give rise to the conviction that there must be somebody responsible for the mess—which is why some agent lurking behind the scenes is invariably required.

What results are attempts to resolve the problematic complexity that are simultaneously overly simplistic (identifying that one “agent lurking behind the scenes”, e.g., “the Jew”, “the Illuminati”, “Elites”, etc.) and endlessly complicated (as exemplified by the way conspiracy theories modify themselves, shift ground and expand in response to criticisms and new “information”). Populist, post-truth worldviews (if they can be termed such) are thus a kind of vulgar ideology critique, attempts to disperse the lies that maintain an increasingly insufferable status quo and replace them with a “true” description and explanation of the workings of the world. The post-truth populist does indeed touch on a truth: society represents itself to itself (in a partial and incoherent way) that naturalizes the purely contingent, historical state of affairs to the benefit of those who materially profit from the status quo. The wild fictiveness, however, of the resulting counter “theory” of society results from at least two features. On the one hand is the aforementioned drive to (over)simplification; on the other, how the competing, conspiratorial worldview is constructed and modified: its “alternative facts” are chosen not so much because they are epistemically robust but because they are in the first instance contrary to the official story. “Facts” are chosen for their rhetorical (persuasive), not their truth, value. For example, what’s important about the numbers reported by the Vaccine Adverse Effect Reporting System is not in fact how they are meant to be understood but how, taken in a perverse way, they contradict the official view (“vaccines are rigorously tested and safe”) and support the alternate view (“even the government’s own numbers show thousands of deaths and injuries!”). The persuasiveness of “alternative facts” is ultimately not their factual but their emotional truth. They give a “rational” support to bitterly-felt grievances and a kind of purchase to attack, even if only discursively (e.g., in the Facebook posts I share), the powers that be. Perhaps this understanding goes some little way to illuminating the irony that those who most vociferously denounce more mainstream media as “fake news” or propaganda are themselves often the first to fall for the most egregiously flimsy and unsupported counterclaims.

Unsurprisingly, on inspection, the post-truth position falls prey to its own premises. It is not that truth and falsity have been abandoned: the populist appeal to alternative facts couldn’t function without an appeal to truth and facts: the official facts are accused of being distortions or outright lies, while the alternative facts give the otherwise suppressed or marginalized truth of the matter. The populist has grasped that claims to truth possess a rhetorical power independent of their truth value, i.e. even a convincing lie can be persuasive, and the picture of the world presented by the mainstream media and the powers-that-be are seen to be just such persuasive lies, lies in the service of power and oppression (which, in a sense, as ideology, they are, just not as an elaborate fiction constructed by a small, secretive if not secret elite that controls dictatorially the world’s media all in order to hide its nefarious agenda …). Over against the lies of officialdom are the true facts of the matter as revealed by alternative sources of news and information. Of course, as far as mainstream, consensus reality is concerned, these alternative facts are mistaken and indeed can be shown to be so. There was no “Kraken” to be released; the generals who arranged to have Trump elected to drain the swamp and oust the Deep State didn’t move to prevent Biden from taking office, nor did they arrest, try, and execute Obama and Hilary Clinton at Guantanamo; the authorized Covid vaccines were indeed tested on animals, etc. Ironically, the claim to truth of alternative facts is grounded in the first instance on their contradicting the official version, i.e., inspection reveals them to be the mere rhetorical ploys the populist accuses the official facts to be. The post-truth populist might be said to be cynical—“They lie to promote their agenda, why shouldn’t I?”—but for the fact (!) that they do in fact (!!) seem to believe their alternative facts are true. Aside from being unconscious of the irony of their thinking in this regard, the post-truth populist seems insulated against the repeated, relentless assault on the edifice of fictions that make up their worldview by cognitive dissonance, a phenomenon long recognized by social psychologists: each clear refutation (e.g., “the storm” foretold by Q failed to materialize, etc.) only inspires the believer to double down in their belief. Psychologist Jovan Byford sums it up well:

Conspiracy theories seduce not so much through the power of argument, but through the intensity of the passions that they stir. Underpinning conspiracy theories are feelings of resentment, indignation and disenchantment about the world. They are stories about good and evil, as much as about what is true.

At root, the far out views held by post-truth populists are not in the first instance (necessarily) rooted in stupidity, ignorance, or sheer perversity, but a desperate need to understand if not alleviate real material precarity and suffering or a perceived threat to well-being or cultural identity. That this “resistance” is carried out almost exclusively at the symbolic level (sharing social media posts, collectively defending and elaborating the theory, or even waving flags or signs), even or especially when it expresses itself in the spectacle of the January 6 riots, ironically reveals the truth of a canonical formulation of the early Marx from 1859’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” That is, on the one hand, the appeal to alternative facts is a subliminal appeal for an alternative social arrangement (their material conditions and their unhappiness with them motivate the populists’ symbolic revolt), while, on the other, the elaboration of a counter discourse is insufficient to alter those conditions that give rise to the populist’s frustrated exasperation (how the populist views the world has no real purchase to “determine their existence”): the conspiratorial worldview promises to reveal how the world works with one hand, while withdrawing any solution to this horrible truth it uncovers with the other. Perhaps precisely because conspiracy theories lack that pragmatic dimension that would answer the question, “What is to be done?” they inspire such incoherent, real-world interventions, from the Oklahoma City Bombing, to Pizzagate, to the burning of 5G telephone towers, or, more generally, to the election of relatively unhinged politicians or the spread of misinformation that cultures, e.g., vaccine hesitancy, right on down to the casualties suffered during the January 6 Capital Riot. Such desperate, impetuous actions serve only to underline all the more how byzantine fictions built up around, e.g., the Great Reset, function ideologically: they are “imaginary solutions to real problems” that, materially, leave everything as it is.

We are left facing a rather melancholy impasse. The rupture of a social sensus communis we experience, e.g., in the political / cultural polarization in the U.S., has been long in coming, arguably landing with those Protestant refugees who arrived on the Mayflower. Albert Hofstadter outlines the history of “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in his 1963 lecture, article, and, later, book from the American War of Independence down to his day, and many scholars since, especially since the 1980s (with the rise of militia groups throughout the United States) and 1990s (with the advent of the internet) have studied the phenomenon of what today we know too well as “conspiracy theories”, furrowing their collective brows trying to make sense of it. The approach I adopt here would see the problem as being baked into the very foundations of modern, “Western” civilization itself, both at the level of “consciousness” (what we think) and “social existence” (how we in fact live together). The problem—and it is a problem, as it causes grave troubles, from the political impasse of American political life to hindering actions to mitigate the present pandemic’s harm let alone climate change, all the way to mob violence and violent death—cannot be countered only at the symbolic level (the level of “consciousness”), either through educational reform (increased literacy, numeracy, and general education) or better communication (about, e.g., the virus itself, public health measures, the science of vaccines, etc.). The anxiety, resentment, and anger that motivate the turn to post-truth agonisms is rooted in “social existence”, and the appeal of alternative facts and theories about their causes will not lose their allure until these anxieties are addressed at their root.

Idle minds are the conspiracy theorist’s workshop…

Regular visitors here will know production has stalled at the Skunkworks. So, after arriving in those repurposed school busses with the blacked-out windows, the staff not working on settling in to the new installation have way too much time on their hands. One result has been their weaving conspiracy theories from their newsfeeds and attendant discussion threads.

The most recent concerns the appearance of COVID-19, the Corona Virus. Of course, they’ve been batting around the official and more paranoid theories, until one’s tinfoil hat lit up in a veritable explosion of sparks. A colleague had remarked he was afraid the virus might dampen participation in the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. come November, at which point the following theory was proposed:

COVID-19 neither arose naturally, arrived from space, or escaped from a Chinese bioweapons lab, but had been engineered by some agent aligned with Trump, let’s say, for the sake of argument, the American military under his administration’s direction. Said weaponized pathogen, engineered to appear imaginably naturally occurring, 1. conveniently disrupts Chinese society, slowing and if not temporarily crippling its economy, China being the single greatest threat to American economic and military hegemony at present, (and inflicts no little damage on Iran, as well) , and 2. arrives on American shores at just the right time to give the regime good reason to declare a state of emergency and institute martial law, delaying the election ad infinitum and inaugurating Trump’s presidency-for-life.

I’ve been told the conversation stopped momentarily, while everyone at the table looked at each other in frightened wonderment as the proposed theory sunk in…

Remember:  you read it here, first.

 

A speculation on the making of a modern myth

Decades before our era of fake news and the bots who disseminate it, I once half-jokingly pitched a book idea to an old English teacher and friend. I imagined writing a tell-all exposé by a creative writer who had been drafted on graduation into a secret government project whose purpose was to produce cultural materials, novels, television and movie scripts, and so forth, with the intent of tweaking and guiding the culture at large. The UFO mythology, of course, played a central role. But recently having had the opportunity to view Corbell’s Bob Lazar:  Area 51 & Flying Saucers, it strikes me I may well have been beaten to the punch.

Corbell’s documentary omits some very telling details of Lazar’s story, but includes one I hadn’t known, that early in his tenure at Area 51, Lazar was shown a number of briefing documents concerning UFOs and their extraterrestrial pilots. To the cognoscenti, Lazar’s experience is not unique:  Bill Cooper and Bob Dean both tell similar stories of being given materials that deal with crashed saucers, recovered and back-engineered technology, and captured and autopsied ETs. What Lazar, Cooper, and Dean claim to have read seems pulled from the same filing cabinet as the MJ-12 documents. If we refuse to take these at face value, then we need to imagine their possible significance and purpose.

There are a number of potential uses. One not too out-of-this-world is as a kind of test. Given that since the postwar advent of the phenomenon roughly half the general population believes that “flying saucers are real”, it follows roughly half of military personnel will hold similar beliefs. Imagine a junior intelligence officer is up for promotion. You present them with materials like those shown to Lazar and ask them to prepare a brief for a superior. A candidate whose critical faculties fail to filter such material as highly questionable if not outright disinformation is surely unreliable. The all-too-credulous might even be tempted to leak the world-shattering information they’ve been shown, and, when they are, understandably, demoted or dismissed, they can point to their discharge as proof of their claims and start a new career as a ufological whistleblower….

An important inspiration for my unwritten novel was the speculations of William Burroughs’ lifelong experiments on how to destabilize and destroy the reigning control system of image and association. Since, I’ve read Frances Stonor Saunders on how during the Cold War the CIA sought to weaponize the arts and learned about the related, farther-reaching Operation Mockingbird. Robbie Graham has explored ways the cinematic presentation of flying saucers and ETs was possibly spun in similar ways. Given the persistence of reports of the kinds of documents Lazar claims to have read, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some version of the stable of writers I imagined actually exists.

This Gnostic-paranoid speculation concerning the manipulation if not outright fabrication of our collective imaginarium also brings to mind Jacques Vallée’s proposal that the UFO phenomenon itself might operate as a kind of control system, inspiring and guiding belief. If we combine these ideas, a compelling if somewhat giddy vision suggests itself,  that collective consciousness is a battlefield fought over by human and nonhuman players. In this context, the thought, whether Elon Musk’s or Nik Bostrom’s, that we might be living in a computer simulation appears a cheap rip off of The Matrix.

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Who Knows

Håkan Blomqvist at his UFO Archives blog asks a provocative question:  “How to introduce esotericism as a profound philosophy and tenable worldview to the intellectual, cultural and scientific elite?” Blomqvist poses his question from within an esotericism for which Contactees such as George Adamski play a central role, so the question is easily extended to the matter of UFOs and ufology in general:  “How to introduce UFOs as a legitimate object of research to the intellectual, cultural and scientific elite?”

On the one hand, esotericism and ufology are topics for serious, scholarly research, only as cultural or social phenomena. Moreover, from the point of view of religious studies scholars, the various beliefs about UFOs and their pilots and the communities that form around these beliefs are, methodologically, treated as tenable worldviews. That is, as I’ve argued elsewhere, scholars can take UFOs seriously as long as they bracket the question of their reality. On the other hand, there are those both within and without the natural scientific institutions who are driven or press to have the question of “UFO reality” taken seriously, either as a topic of research in its own right or as a political / social concern, as in the case of those working toward “Disclosure”.

Since the earliest days of the modern era of ufology inaugurated by Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 sighting there have been investigators who probed the phenomenon with more than a journalist’s tools:  one thinks of Aimé Michel, Jacques Vallée, J. Allen Hynek, James McDonald, Stanton Friedman, Harley D. Rutledge, and Peter Sturrock, among others, and even professionally journalistic ufologists, most famously John Keel, have contributed. James McDonald is an important case in point:  his public interest in UFOs sullied his reputation as a senior physicist at the Institute for Atmospheric Physics and professor in the Department of Meteorology, University of Arizona, Tucson. Because of the stigma attached to the topic of UFOs, many natural scientists interested in the subject pursue their research sub rosa, constituting what J. Allen Hynek famously called “The Invisible College”.

Not all curious scientists are as tactful as their peers in the Invisible College, however. Some dare submit their theories and hypotheses to the scrutiny of their peers, as members of, e.g., the Society for Scientific Exploration do. There is, at the same time (usually related to the perceived amount of public interest in UFOs), a media phenomenon that shadows these more socially marginal efforts, purporting to present “findings” and “proof” while in fact being at best infotainment. The most recent iteration is To the Stars Academy’s limited series Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation, which promises, among other things, to

produce tangible evidence to build the most indisputable case for the existence and threat of UFOs ever assembled [and] reveal newly authenticated evidence and footage, interviews from eyewitnesses and former military personnel who have never spoken out before and extensive breakthroughs in understanding the technology behind these unknown phenomena in our skies.

Keith Basterfield at the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena blog sums up well the likely response of more conventional or institutionally-trained researchers: “While I, in general, support the work being undertaken by the TTSA [To The Stars Academy], the apparent direction for us to learn of the analysis results is hardly a scientific one—simply entertainment.” At the end of the day, the only scientific difference between History’s new series and the numberless YouTube videos of scientifiques bruts sharing their anti-gravity discoveries is production values.

But underlying these differing approaches to the question of UFO reality is a profound, social fault line revealed most recently by the advent of the internet but arguably reaching back at least to the Reformation.

A froth on the wave of political populism surging across the planet in recent years is a kind of epistemological populism afloat on the ocean of ready information, fake, partial, and otherwise available on-line. This “populist epistemology” expresses itself, most recently, in the voices of Flat Earthers and anti-vaxxers, who find arguments and data in support of their “theories” primarily online. Like believers in alternative cancer cures Big Pharma keeps from the general public to generate profits, these graduates of Google U often cast a paranoid glance at the institutions of power, political, legal, and scientific. Thus, ranked on one side are those “intellectual, cultural and scientific” elites Blomqvist remarks and on the other mostly ordinary folk empowered and emboldened by their sudden access to sources of information they uncritically marshal and seem hardly able to logically deploy.

Ufologically, this conflict between elites (government, military, and scientific institutions) and ordinary citizens is a cliché, a most famous instance of which is the Swamp Gas fiasco when J. Allen Hynek in the employ of the United States Air Force was forced to debunk a remarkable series of sightings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, much to the understandable surprise, disappointment, and disgust of the many witnesses. The haughtiness of such elites goes back to those French scientists who dismissed peasants’ stories of stones falling from the skies (meteorites) up to Stephen Hawking’s statement (@5:00 in his Ted talk on YouTube) that he discounted “reports of UFOs” because the phenomena appeared “only to cranks and weirdos?” Hawking is, of course, mistaken about the social status of UFO witnesses, which famously includes everyone from US Presidents to shipyard workers with the unfortunate surname Hickson.

Thus, throughout the history of UFOs, and forteana in general, one can discern a kind of class struggle between the more-or-less uneducated general populace, whose members see ghosts or are abducted by aliens or faery folk, etc., and those authoritative institutions peopled by educated elites, governmental, scientific, or ecclesiastical, which dismiss the claims and stories of the uninformed and credulous. This conflict, though traceable at least back to the Roman elites’ dismissal of the new, barbaric cult their bored wives indulged, is imaginably not unrelated to more historically-recent developments, namely the Reformation, where the interpretation of the Bible was wrested from the monopoly of a learned priesthood and radically democratized.

Conflict over the reality of the UFO in general, then, is a site of more general social struggle whose deeper historical context is, first, the Reformation, which gave each believer warrant to interpret scripture individually, then the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, that replaced the authority of the church(es) with that of Reason and its new, elite representatives. Today’s vulgate, driven, perhaps, by a well-founded frustration with the impotence of its universal franchise (given a vote but no choice) and the illusion of its freedom (merely to consume), extends its otherwise unrealized democratic claim to the purely ideal realms of truth and knowledge, where the vehemence of its voice and convictions is enough to disperse what verbal tear gas or deflect what truncheons of argument might be deployed by the tribunal of reason to police it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dark Side of the UFO: Racisms, Nationalisms, and Extremist Politics

I had the pleasure to explore with M J Banias the relation between the UFO mythos and various racist and extremist ideologies. The thoughts that follow I owe to Banias’ welcome invitation to discuss the matter and to our subsequent lively conversation, which, happily, posed more questions than it answered!

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That UFOs might impinge in any way on “the real word” is a bizarre thought. That flying saucers and their extraterrestrial pilots have been ubiquitous in the popular imagination for a lifetime now will meet with ready acceptance, but that such a flighty fantasy might bear in any way on the grave matters of real life is a proposal not to be taken seriously. At least until one learns that the leader of a Brazilian UFO contactee group carried out false-flag terrorist attacks with members of Brazil’s security forces between December 1967 to August 1968 to prop up the nation’s dictatorial regime, or that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a fan of Bill Cooper’s radio show, had visited Area 51 and while on death row watched Contact six times in two days.

On the face of it, it shouldn’t be surprising that members of the UFO community, being ordinary people, too, will have their opinions concerning politics and society, from the banal to the extreme. That Jacques Vallée has little patience for the French Left or that Richard Dolan believes that the marriage of free market capitalism and liberal democracy is the best of all possible worlds have likely little or nothing to do with their ufological concerns. Likewise, racist ideas shared by a member of MUFON or racist and anti-Semitic slurs from the mouth of a channeler are probably inspired by the racist and anti-Semitic ideas of these respective people not their ufological or New Age interests and beliefs.

But the relation can be more complicated. James Gilliland’s pronouncements from the ECETI ranch, despite their claiming to take up “an objective non-party non-political approach” are vehemently anti-“Left”, critical of identity politics,  pro-Trump, and conspiracist. That his newsletters evoke both the “lame stream media” (modern American English for that bit of Nazi propaganda, die Lügenpresse (“lying press”)) and New Age “Universal” or “Natural Law” suggests a less than accidental relation between his politics and ufological beliefs.

Right wing politics and ufology are even more intimately related for Michael Salla, who finds support for his exopolitical beliefs in the Q Anon conspiracy theory. He gathers that some of the crumbs dropped by Q confirm his http _lindapariscrimeblog.com_wp-content_uploads_2017_12_q-anonbeliefs about human-extraterrestrial interaction and a Secret Space Program. However, in the same mouthful, he also swallows the line that Trump was recruited and placed in power by a group of “White Hats” working to unmask and destroy the “Deep State” (“aka Cabal / Illuminati / Global Elite“). Here, he takes up whole cloth an old elaborate conspiracy theory first elaborated by fellow Australian Stan Deyos in his 1973 The Cosmic Conspiracy, which weaves strands of the UFO myth together with older threads about the Illuminati, which, in turn, Salla twists together with fantasies about Satanic pedophile rings and even more sinister, anti-Semitic ones, in this case, attacks on the Rothschilds and George Soros.

This tendency of certain aspects of the UFO mythology to combine with extreme right wing ideologies was noted with some anxiety by Jacques Vallée in his 1991 book Revelations.

Another aspect many researchers of this field—with a few courageous and notable exceptions—have studiously ignored, is the link between the more eager proponents of imminent extraterrestrial contact and the American extreme right….

It could well be that the same kind of fanaticism that leads people to join neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and survivalist movements in the American southwest also induces them to believe in the imminent arrival of aliens from the sky. It could be that these groups who are convinced that government secrecy is abused in order to hide political truths from the public also believe that the reality of UFOs has been kept from us… (256-7)

That nexus of stories about “imminent extraterrestrial contact and the American Pale_Horseextreme right” had been growing in the decade leading up to Vallée’s expression of concern and was about to effloresce in the years following. Ufologically, an important set of rumours was begun, first thanks to Stanton Friedman’s groundbreaking research into the crash at Roswell in 1978, which was quickly followed by Berlitz’s and Moore’s 1980 The Roswell Incident. By 1984, the MJ-12 documents had surfaced, and, by 1988, an entire submythology had developed, about crashed flying saucers, retrieved and back-engineered alien technology, recovered ufonauts living and dead, treaties with alien races that traded technological know-how for the rights to mutilate cattle and abduct human beings, underground bases both human and alien, and the struggle to reveal this “horrible truth” that culminated in the TV documentary “Cover-Up: Live!” and the most ambitious synthesis of these tales with New World Order conspiracy theories, Bill Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse (1991). Following the incidents at Ruby Ridge (1992) and Waco (1993), those “neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and survivalist movements in the American southwest” and the conspiracy theories that went with them would in turn explode in number, only to slowly decrease until the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump breathed new life into their paranoia and sense of legitimacy.

The belief that “that the reality of UFOs has been kept from us” has a long ufological pedigree. Donald Keyhoe already in his first book The Flying Saucers are Real (1950) http _n7.alamy.com_zooms_8cc5dfbc46da4bf2ba6cdd908204e6a0_the-flying-saucer-conspiracy-a-book-by-donald-e-keyhoe-the-cover-shows-g36p85posits that the USAF knows UFOs are extraterrestrial spaceships but suppresses this acknowledgement and actively debunks sightings in the name of national security; the truth will be revealed only after a careful process of acclimatization via strategic leaks, disinformation, and the entertainment media, all leading up to a moment of “disclosure”. It’s not until the process of decay of public trust in the US government sets in, with the growth of the American national security state, beginning with the founding of the CIA in 1947, and with “deep events”, such as the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and, most recently, 9/11, (which in turn lead to notions of an “invisible government” as early as 1964, the “shadow government”, and the “deep state”) that The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (the title of Keyhoe’s 1955 book) devolves into the “horrible truth” expounded by the likes of Bill Cooper and John Lear that finds affinities with the New World Order conspiracy theories of the American militia movement.

This parallel development of narratives around UFO secrecy and the conspiracy theories held by various American anti-government groups arguably shows that UFO conspiracy theories are not essentially racist and that those of anti-government groups don’t necessarily entail an interest in UFOs. The UFO conspiracy discourse is merely consistent with and can therefore all the easier enter into conversation with the anti-government conspiracy theorizing of the various American patriot / militia groups, whose ideologies are also often racist and anti-Semitic, White Supremacist or Neo-Nazi, and vice versa. Thus, it is the intersection of anti-government sentiments that creates the space where a certain kind of UFO belief and extremist ideology can fuse.

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However little UFO and New World Order / Illuminati conspiracy theories entail each other, various extremists haven’t shied away from invoking advanced aeronautical technology or extraterrestrial origin stories to bolster claims to their own legitimacy. One instance are stories about Nazi flying saucers, whether as experimental prototypes recovered by the Allies or Soviets at the end of the WWII or as actually functioning aeroforms developed by the genius of Germany’s scientists, with or without extraterrestrial coaching, stories already extant at the writing of Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real (1950). These rumours are often promulgated as evidence of the superior intelligence and technical ingenuity of the Third Reich and sometimes developed into narratives about a “Fourth Reich”, with bases in South America, Antarctica, the Moon or other planets, or even as an element of the evolving New World Order. In this extended form, the idea of the Nazi flying saucer is used as a tool for Neo-Nazi recruitment, fund-raising, or a means to insinuate Neo-Nazi ideas into more conventional conversation. As the Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel explained:

I realized that North Americans were not interested in being educated. They want to be entertained. The book [UFOs: Nazi Secret Weapon?] was for fun. With a picture of the Führer on the cover and flying saucers coming out of Antarctica it was a chance to get on radio and TV talk shows. For about 15 minutes of an hour program I’d talk about that esoteric stuff. Then I would start talking about all those Jewish scientists in concentration camps, working on these secret weapons. And that was my chance to talk about what I wanted to talk about.

Of course, white supremacists make reference not only to imagined technological achievement, but lay claim to the totality of human knowledge, science, and civilization in general, as ex-MUFON director John Ventre so infamously did in 2018. Not only that, but it has been remarked that a similar imperialist rhetoric is at work in Ancient Astronaut / Alien Theory, that, since we moderns cannot imagine how the non-white peoples of antiquity constructed certain instances of monumental architecture, whether the pyramids, Macchu Picchu, or the heads of Easter Island, for example, they must have received technical support from extraterrestrial “gods”. However much some particular versions of the argument might find their inspiration in or lend support to white supremacist beliefs, a little research quickly shows that the same discourse also points to the “equally impossible” construction of Stonehenge or the Goseck Circle in Germany. stonehenge ufoMore importantly, the white supremacist sentiments that underwrite views about the inability of ancient, nonwhite peoples to construct monumental architecture spring not only from beliefs in European intellectual and technological superiority, articulated and entrenched in natural history and anthropology (race theory) but from the more deeply-entrenched technocentric / technophilic prejudices characteristic of European colonists, race theoretical hierarchies, and ufology in general, because it is the ideology of the so-called advanced societies.

Curiously, such appeals to technological achievement are not restricted to Neo-Nazis or white supremacists. In 2015, Y. Sudershan Rao, recently appointed by India’s ruling Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party to head the Indian Council of Historical Research made glowing references to vimanas or Vedic aircraft. “Capable of interplanetary travel and invisibility, possessing radar systems and mine detectors, they capture the imagination of this resurgent, neo-­Hindu India like nothing else.” Just like allusions to Nazi technological genius, references to a mythic Vedic Golden Age of futuristic technology by Hindu Nationalists support claims to cultural / racial / national priority and ascendancy. However much references to fictitious vimanas and other technology belong more to discourses concerning Lost Civilizations or Ancient Discoveries, ufophiles will be quick to recognize the vimana from Ancient Astronaut / Alien Theory. In any case, the rhetoric at work is recognizable.

Upping the ante from boasts of technological prowess to extraterrestrial ancestry is the anti-Semitic, Greek nationalist Team Epsilon. We owe what we know about Team Epsilon in the anglophone world to religious studies scholar Tao Thykier Makeeff. He draws our attention to various forms the ideas of this very protean group have taken. Like the Neo-Nazis and Hindu nationalists, Team Epsilon asserts its members have been involved in the invention of an array of science-fictional weaponry. An important figure in this regard is physicist and inventor George Gkiolvas,

who claims to have worked for NASA developing a number of secret weapons including a sound cannon and special anti-aircraft technology. Gkiolvas’ real claim to fame is the invention of the so-called Bevatron, which according to epsilonist mythology is a secret weapon, sometimes referred to as the Greek ‘Golem’ against the Jews.

The Epsilonists add to technical prowess extraterrestrial ancestry. George Lefkofrydis in his Spaceship Ep­silon: Aristotle’s Organon: The Researcher (1977) advances that “Aristotle was an extraterrestrial from the star Mu in the constellation Lagos.” In 1996, Anestis S. Keramydas expands on this notion of extraterrestrial descent, stating that “not only the Greeks, but also the Jews, were originally from outer space.” For this reason, modern Greeks, descendants of a divine alien race (the gods), possess superior DNA, which is not to be mixed with that of lesser races.

Not to be outdone, American Black nationalist groups The Nation of Islam and a protean group whose various incarnations might be collectively termed Nuwabians enlist the UFO and extraterrestrial mythology to support their claims to being superior to “the blue-eyed devil.” 4a4aeeb0ae77a2ad0ea982494eeb496e.1500The Nation of Islam’s founder, The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, makes of Ezekiel’s Chariot a wheel-shaped “Mothership”; his followers, therefore, have taken UFO sightings as verification of their founder’s prophetic knowledge. The Nuwabians, on the other hand, have developed a mythology concerning their own descent from the ancient Egyptians, who were themselves interstellar refugees, the Annunaqi Eloheem, from the planet Rizq. This genealogy lets the Nuwabians claim both extraterrestrial ancestry and the technological ingenuity and know-how of these ancestors.

These Hindu and Black nationalist appeals to technical virtuosity, however, fall into a problematic dialectic. Every appeal to technical superiority, because such superiority is in the first instance always associated with European / Western / White civilization, must always, even and especially when it’s enlisted to empower the Hindu or Black, play into a white supremacist discourse. By trying to “beat the White Man at his own game” one plays by his rules, plays the opponent’s game, thereby affirming the prior and inescapable legitimacy of one’s opponent’s position, namely, his prior superiority.

Most importantly, this dialectic is itself governed by what I’ve come to term “Promethean idolatry”, the unquestioned valorization of technological sophistication and power that Jürgen Habermas already in the 1970s fingered as the ideology of the so-called developed world. In every case examined here, the same fateful orientation is at play, which allows one to speak of more or less technologically advanced societies at all, whether in the future, the lost past, or the far reaches of space. This ontotheological foundation of arguably all ufological discourse is the most obscured, if not the darkest, side of the UFO.

Comando Ashtar

Addendum:  Any member of the cognoscenti reading the above will likely notice how schematic my account of those pivotal decades of the 1980s and 1990s is. Interested parties are here referred to Michael Barkun’s A Culture of Conspiracy (2nd ed., 2013), especially chapters 5-9, whose summation of the version of events (98) confirms mine. I regret not having had Barkun’s study, which I cannot recommend highly enough, in hand at the time of writing this post. As I have observed in this regard, the phenomenon and its attendant study both possess an ever deepening history, and to know or claim to have broken new ground requires a knowledge of that history, a task made greater every day.

Breaking the Ground: Donald Keyhoe’s The Flying Saucers are Real

If it’s not too bizarre a claim to make in the context of a cultural field as marginal and questionable, in ufology Donald Keyhoe is a monumental figure. No history of the UFO can overlook his contributions as a researcher and activist, as director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and one of the first and most forceful figures to press for Congressional hearings into the question of the UFO, arguably inaugurating similar, continuing efforts on the part of today’s Disclosure movement. What’s telling, either about the UFO as such or Keyhoe’s insight into the phenomenon, is the the way his original conclusions set forth in his article for True Magazine “The Flying Saucers are Real” and his book of the same title, both published in 1950, continue to set the ufological agenda.

In line with the USAF’s own reasoning, Keyhoe posited what is now known as the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), that UFOs are spaceships of interplanetary origin. Keyhoe and the Air Force arrived at this conclusion by a process of elimination. Some of the reported sightings could not be explained away as misidentifications or hoaxes; neither the American military nor any of its allies or enemies possessed the aeronautical technology to produce aeroforms with the flight characteristics of the disks, nor did it make sense that if the disks were experimental aircraft that they would be tested in ways that might allow this new weapon to be observed or even captured or that threatened civilian life and limb and that had actually resulted in the death of one airman, Thomas Mantell; therefore, since no conventional, earthly explanation existed to explain these uncanny flying machines, they were most likely of extraterrestrial origin. This argument in support of the ETH is repeated to this day.

The ETH found further support and elaboration in matching the patterns of reported sightings to speculations about how humankind might explore inhabited planets in the future with the result that the way the story of the flying disks had developed to this point mirrored the way human beings would proceed with their own explorations. This projection of an imagined human future behaviour also extended to the disks’ extraterrestrial origin:  the pilots’ technology must be in advance of our own, given what their ships can do and how far they must have traveled to have reached earth from some distant planet if not, as was thought more likely, star. That is, their intelligence is an anthropomorphic one, that, like our own, proceeded along a path of tool-using, technological development. At work here is a fateful generalization and failure of imagination that posits human intelligence as singular and archetypal and the radically contingent history of industrial civilization as typical of intelligent beings. Such a projection of the “human form divine” finds its culmination in Keyhoe’s finding himself unable to picture the extraterrestrials as anything other than anthropomorphic, because of

the stubborn feeling that they would resemble man. That came, of course, from an inborn feeling of man’s superiority over all living things. It carried over into the feeling that any thinking, intelligent being, whether on Mars or Wolf 359’s planets, should have evolved in the same form. (The Flying Saucers are Real, 136)

These anthropocentric and technocentric prejudices remain as operative in much of the UFO imaginary as they go unremarked.

An equally persistent set of concerns orbits the potentially disruptive consequences of the revelation of the reality of extraterrestrial, technologically advanced civilizations having appeared in our skies. Keyhoe mulling this matter over with his editor as they prepare to publish his article for True Magazine reflects that “public acceptance of intelligent life on other planets would affect almost every phase of our existence—business, defense planning, philosophy, even religions” (139), a supposition that inspires the 300+ pages of Richard M. Dolan’s and Bryce Zabel’s 2012 book A.D. After Disclosure:  When the Government Finally Reveals the Truth About Alien Contact.https _visibleprocrastinations.files.wordpress.com_2014_10_mars

More acutely, in the wake of the purported reaction to Orson Welles’ 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, many feared the most immediate reaction to the news would be widespread panic. These considerations guide the development of official reaction to the phenomenon. As Keyhoe saw it, the USAF first set out to “investigate and at the same time conceal from the public the truth about the saucers” (173). Then “it was decided to let the facts gradually leak out, in order to prepare the American people.” However, “the unexpected public reaction [to the True Magazine article] was mistaken by the Air Force for hysteria, resulting in their hasty denial that the saucers existed.” The problem of just what to reveal and conceal concerning the saucers was also complicated by Cold War national security issues. As Keyhoe saw it

The education problem is complicated by two imperative needs. We must try to learn as much as we can about the space ships’ source of power, and at the same time try to prevent clues to this information from reaching an enemy on earth. (174)

Here are nascent themes in ufological speculation that persist and have been developed to the present day. First is the belief that militaries and governments around the world have or continue to investigate UFOs. Secondly, their efforts have borne fruit in determining the (usually extraterrestrial) truth of the phenomenon. Thirdly, because of the explosive nature of these discoveries, those who hold these secrets dissimulate concerning the phenomenon to dissuade serious, public interest and to maintain either the potential or real technological advantage these secrets bestow, or, alternatively, they are engaged in a process of public education through a combination of leaks, disinformation, and popular culture (such as movie and television) to prepare society for the ultimate revelation of the reality of the extraterrestrial presence.

https _photos1.blogger.com_blogger_6956_659_400_majic6Hand in hand with this motif is that of the insider able to access this otherwise secret or tactfully unpublicized information, a figure that has morphed, today, into the whistleblower. Keyhoe, as an ex-Marine pilot, maintained many contacts within the military and government. Most of the narrative of his books is conversations he has with these inside sources. The final chapters of The Flying Saucers are Real find Keyhoe studying over two hundred secret Air Force files released to him and his petitioning a general of his acquaintance for the more than one hundred he had been denied! This figure with access to inside information undergoes a change as the official relation to the phenomenon (at least in its public guise) develops from secrecy, to debunkery, to indifference. The truth is no longer obtained via official documents from official channels, but via leaked or hacked documents or whistleblower, witness testimony.

Two other dimensions of the UFO myth appear in Keyhoe’s first book. At one point, an informant tells him that he has learned that the flying disks are British secret weapons developed from German plans and prototypes captured at the end of the Second World War (122). https _cagizero.files.wordpress.com_2016_12_nazi-ufo-flying-saucer.jpg w=592&h=350Here, the myth of the Nazi flying saucer, arguably first popularized by Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel as a money-making scheme  but since elaborated perhaps most fully by Joseph Farrell, makes very likely its first appearance in print. Moreover, although, tellingly, the Roswell incident is not mentioned in The Flying Saucers are Real, another of Keyhoe’s informants relates to him a story about “little men from Venus”:

In the usual version, two flying saucers had come down near our southwestern border. In the space craft were several oddly dressed men, three feet high. All of them were dead; the cause was usually given as inability to stand our atmosphere. The Air Force was said to have hushed up the story… (139)

The source of this particular story is given as George Koehler (165), who later admits to its being “a gag”. But the rumour also brings to mind a more famous fabrication by Frank Scully, whose Behind the Flying Saucers is published the same year as Keyhoe’s first book. Regardless of who first invents this scenario, we find here the vector for what will be called Crash/Retrieval Syndrome, a string of increasingly elaborate stories concerning crashed and retrieved flying saucers and the capture of their pilots, dead or alive, that will bloom with the rediscovery of the Roswell Crash and subsequently flower into a wildly variegated myth of reverse-engineered alien technology, secret treaties between various ET races and earth governments, breakaway civilizations, exopolitics and disclosure, a term that perhaps appears for the first time in the UFO literature in Keyhoe’s important first volume.

Addendum:  …and just to be clear

Some readers might be tempted to take this post as a panegyric to Keyhoe. My purpose, however, was to outline how even his earliest ufological publications set the ufological agenda to this day.

Most ufology, arguably, adheres to the anthropocentric ETH Keyhoe sets out. The social repercussions of the truth of the ETH are likewise seen to be still as acute and wide ranging. For this reason, the motives to maintain secrecy around private and state research into and discoveries concerning UFOs and ETs are the same Keyhoe saw. The way this secrecy is breached has changed since Keyhoe’s day, as I note, but the basic patterns of disclosure (Keyhoe’s word) are still affirmed. Moreover, the myths of Nazi flying saucers and Crash/Retrieval Syndrome are still with us, however much in more developed forms than the nascent ones present in The Flying Saucers Have Landed.

Why ufology should remain static in this way is itself a question that demands to be looked into….

 

flying_saucers_are_real_cover_keyhoe

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.