“What we have here is a failure of imagination….”

Sometimes, like Rich Reynolds at UFO Conjectures, I roll my eyes over the ufological, which seems to perennially re-invent the wheel, only to spin it in the same, well-worn rut.

Paul Seaburn at Mysterious Universe informs us of a new book Die Gesellschaft der Außerirdischen: Einführung in Die Exosoziologie (The Society of the Extraterrestrials:  Introduction to Exosociology) by scholars Michael Schetsche and his research assistant Andreas Anton at the Institute for Sociology of the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, Germany.  Schetsche and Anton essay three scenarios of human contact with an advanced, extraterrestrial civilization:  remote (via some medium of communication), indirect (through the discovery of an artifact of undeniable alien manufacture), or direct (in the form of a piloted or unpiloted alien spaceship). The first scenario is the goal of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI); the second and third are believed by some to have already happened, not only by the adherents of Exopolitics and the Disclosure movement but even (it would seem) by religious studies scholar D.W. Pasulka in her American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology, wherein an inexplicably “alien” artifact plays an important role. At any rate, Schetsche and Anton contend that an instance of alien technology could pose a material threat (imagine small children playing with a hand grenade) or inspire conflict between nations eager to secure and exploit what they can learn from it. The third scenario is compared to the contact with and colonizations of the Americas and Africa by technologically superior Europeans; even if the extraterrestrials don’t conquer or colonize the earth, the social repercussions of such contact might incite social chaos. Says Schetsche, “Even if people do not kill each other, direct contact can destroy the social, economic, political and religious structures of countries.”

It’s getting to be a tiresome exercise explaining just how dreary and somnambulent such speculations are. In general, they develop a deeply questionable anthropocentrism that merely projects features of human society on to imagined extraterrestrial societies. Aside from perversely restricting “intelligence” to the Promethean, technoscientific version characteristic of one chance vector of one part of human history, it assumes an immediate recognition between Us and Them. Even the writers of Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home had more imagination, probing the possibility that intelligent life on and off the earth is not restricted to only those “made in God’s own image.”

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The second scenario, the discovery of an alien artifact, is, by extension, no less problematic. First, it is assumed we could in fact recognize an alien artifact as such. The recent controversy over the possible artificial, extraterrestrial origins of ‘Oumuamua among institutional researchers or the longstanding if less respectable speculations that one or more moons in the solar system (including the Earth’s) may be artificial illustrate the problem. More problematically, any piece of technology sufficiently within our own relatively primitive, earthbound purview would be unlikely to belong to a spacefaring civilization, unless technology-as-such is fairly uniform throughout the universe and the discovery of warpdrive is right around the corner, or we have already back engineered the propulsion systems of crashed flying saucers or been taught their principles and construction by their manufacturers as part of an agreement, Faustian or otherwise, an arrangement within the parameters of Schetsche’s and Anton’s speculations but not likely one they would ascribe to.

The third scenario is also all-too-recognizable among the cognoscenti. Offhand I can’t recall the earliest instance of Europeans-meet-the-Native-Americans analogy, but the prediction that direct contact would “destroy the social, economic, political and religious structures of countries” has a history that runs from the earliest, anxious investigations into the phenomenon by the United States Air Force to the most recent “After Disclosure” writings of Richard Dolan. It is curious that sociologists don’t explore the fact that for decades more than half of people in the developed world already believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial, intelligent life and its either having already contacted us or the possibility of such contact. Indeed, the default understanding of ‘UFO’ is “alien spaceship”. That the reality of the third scenario is in a sense already accepted, either as an all-too-mundane possibility or as a real if suppressed reality for believers, witnesses, or experiencers surely calls for sociological scrutiny, especially since the undeniably real social, economic, political, and religious disruptions we in fact suffer seem utterly unrelated to exosociological events.

Of greater sociological import are the reasons why books like Schetsche’s and Anton’s obsessively repeat the anthropocentrisms outlined above, while ignoring the very real “social, economic, political, and religious” significance, effects and implications of this reflex and its projections. As Pasulka makes repeatedly clear in her recent study, regardless of whether “UFOs are real” the belief they are or may be has real world effects.

Alien “Races” or “Species”?

At the end of January, I had the pleasure of discussing with M. J. Banias the topic of “Abducting the Alt-Right: Race Politics and Paranormal Subcultures”, a conversation I followed up on here.

Of those generous enough to comment on the conversation, one observes:

You could argue that ufology as it currently exists is inherently racist in that it’s an effort to place aliens (the really radical Other!) into categories based on appearance. The fact that white/European/male flavored aliens keep turning out to be at the top of the hierarchy just shows that ufology is very much an outgrowth of Western modernity.

The commenter explicitly takes her cue from anthropologist Christopher F. Roth’s chapter in E.T. Cultures:  Anthropology in Outerspaces (ed. Battaglia) “Ufology as Anthropology:  Races, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult”. Roth’s thesis is that “ufology is in one sense all about race, and it has more to do with terrestrial racial schemes as social and cultural constructs than most UFO believers are aware” (41), i.e., that extraterrestrials (ETs) are made sense of according to racial categories and notions about race already in place, in ways that are often as unconscious as explicit. Some of Roth’s conclusions are tenuous while others are quite compelling and provocative, but I think both his and the commenter’s thoughts on this matter likewise elide in a telling manner an important distinction that is also confused by UFO believers, that between race and species.

Despite acknowledging that in the literature one finds “a bewildering array of alienGreyAlien abductors, with the typical Grey only one species [!] among a panoply that include[s] mummies, trolls, sasquatches, and robots” (69) (one could point to the the many volumes of ET entity reports compiled by Albert S. Rosales, as well), Roth restricts his analysis to humanoid ETs that lend themselves to a racialized understanding, such as Nordics or Greys. ETs range in their morphology from the human (such as the Nordic), to the (to coin a distinction) humanoid (such as the Grey), to the anthropomorphic (such as the Reptoid or Insectoid or Mantid), to creatures such as one reported in Japan, a combination of “starfish and human.” ETs, then, might be said to appear along a continuum that ranges from the human to the animal, which would explain why web searches for both “extraterrestrial races” and “extraterrestrial species” tend to return nearly identical results, depending upon one’s search bubble. Even among those ufophiles whose efforts are most heavily invested in ETs, the terms ‘race’ and ‘species’ are used inconsistently:  Michael Salla refers to ETs as other races without exception, while Corey Goode uses the terms interchangeably.

This confusion, on the one hand, reinforces the charge that ufology is a pseudoscience. Any ET as such will be another species both with respect to terrestrial homo sapiens and in regards to each other. Even the concept of race as anything other than a cultural construct has been consigned to the proverbial dustbin of history. Moreover, the idea often found in abductee, contactee, and conspiracist literature that ETs interbreed with humankind is nonsense. How such imaginings emerge from and play into various aspects of racism is fairly well laid out by Roth.

But, on the other hand, this muddle among the believers also touches on the relation between the human and the animal in a richly contradictory manner. ETs, first, reflect an anthropocentric thinking, as I have often pointed out before. That ETs are identified as other races reinforces how much they resemble us. Morphologically, they are humanoid (in the case of Nordics or Greys) or anthropomorphic (in the case of Reptoids or Mantids); they are, moreover, like us, technological and social, but, most importantly, they spontaneously pick out human beings from the manifold other species of life on earth as the one most like themselves, mirroring our identification with them as extraterrestrial intelligences, the very same prejudice that underwrites the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

However much ETs are anthropomorphic, that they appear in forms closer to the animal http _in5d.com_wp-content_uploads_2015_03_dnghdgthan the human, whether reptilian, insectoid, avian, feline, picsine, or what have you, and that they are grasped equally as different species ironically effaces the anthropocentrism that governs their morphology and by the same stroke negates the anthropocentrism that divides the human from the animal, itself a cultural, ontotheological distinction no more scientifically tenable than that of race. That ETs appear more animal than human (seeming different species) while at the same time appearing as our equals in sentience (as different races of the same species) overturns the speciesism that haunts so much ufological discourse.

The inability to distinguish race from species is contradictory. On the one hand, it can be understood to articulate and support racism, in the ways Roth outlines, that would alienate human beings from each other, making other races into other species, as well as maintaining the fateful division between human and nonhuman life. On the other hand, the confusion fuses the two terms, revealing the kinship of all species of life, as if every organism were a sibling of every other.

This blurring of race and species is, therefore, not so much a symptom of ignorance and backwardness as a psychoanalytic index of the repressed contradiction of our culture’s actually living between two worlds, one, ontotheological and anthropocentric and by extension necrophilic, the other biocentric and biophilic. Ecological anxiety and environmental consciousness have been constants in the more religious or spiritual dimensions of the phenomenon, as the messages from the Space Brothers about the dangers of atomic power, the visions of catastrophe shown abductees, and conspiracist rumours about suppressed, free energy technology attest. The manifest content of this collective fantasy, of “extraterrestrial races interacting with humanity”, in its ignorance and surreal irrationality, leads us to discover a radical latent content, revolutionary in its import, in the way it reveals and overturns the foundations of the anthropocentric domination of the earth that has stamped itself on the very geology of the planet in the guise of the Anthropocene and resulted in the most recent mass extinction. As the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin wrote “…where danger threatens / that which saves from it also grows.”

Saint_Francis_with_the_Animals

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! You can hear that conversation, here.

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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, Sallas 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, America 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.

 

 

 

“The UFO Canon” and Other Embarrassments

A recent remark by UFO Conjectures‘ Rich Reynolds, a passage from Jacques Vallee’s Revelations, and my recent interventions with M. J. Banias’ thoughts on the UFO-community-as-counterculture all swirled together in this morning’s vortex and gave me pause for thought.

In the tempest-in-a-teacup (tsunami-in-a-saucer?) of reactions to History’s new series Project Blue Book, Rich Reynolds writes that he’s “ashamed” of “all UFO enthusiasts who accept this horrendous ‘entertainment’ as a worthy addition to the UFO canon.”

Just what might be said to constitute the ufological, if not the UFO, canon, was brought home to me as I was following up the topic of the sociopolitics of the UFO.

I find M. J. Banias’ approach not uncompelling, and I look forward to its book-length exposition, and I was not unpleased with the admittedly very provisional, preliminary notes I’d written on the question, until I reviewed some of the existing research. A foundational and still vitally pertinent book on the sociology of belief in UFOs is the 1995 volume The Gods Have Landed:  New Religions from Other Worlds (ed. James R. Lewis). One of the ten chapters is John A. Saliba‘s “UFO Contactee Phenomena from a Sociopsychological Perspective:  A Review,” forty-three pages, including seven-and-a-half of references, outlining sociological and psychological approaches to the phenomenon from 1948 to its present.

Despite its likely being somewhat dated after more than two decades, Saliba’s paper concretely maps the foundations for any subsequent sociology of the UFO community. In terms of sociological approaches, he provides an overview of the various ways of conceiving of the UFO mythology, the cultural context of the UFO, the social status of ufophiles, folkloric dimensions of UFO sighting and close encounter reports, and of the ways people group together to share their varying kinds and degrees of fascination with the phenomenon. In the course of this survey, I was reminded of G. E. Ashworth’s structuralist approach, of the important distinction to be drawn between sightings and reports, and research that had already been done on what Banias’ might call “the UFO subculture”. I was made aware, as well, to my shame, of the shallowness and fragility of the foundations of my own most recent reflections on these matters.

Whether one believes the phenomenon begins no earlier that 24 June 1947 or not, the phenomenon is one with a history. And with this history goes a parallel history of reflection, investigation, and research. And in this regard, writing about the UMMO affair around the same time Saliba is researching his survey, Vallee makes the following observation:

There are now three generations of UMMO ‘researchers’…

The third generation is young and naive. It has neither the long-term background in ufology of experienced researchers…nor the healthy scientific skepticism of the sociologists. They start from scratch and they believe anything that comes along. (125-6)

Surely, more senior members of “the UFO community” recognize in those who flock to websites devoted to Exopolitics or Disclosure, who comment feverishly on the universe of YouTube channels devoted to these topics or “the latest sighting” those who “start from scratch and [who] believe anything that comes along.” But, given the modern phenomenon goes back over seventy years, who can claim a complete knowledge of even the history of the phenomenon, of the “UFO canon”? On the one hand, anyone acquainted with it knows the phenomenon is global, but is it not the case (and I ask honestly not rhetorically) that ufology is still predominantly parochial, e.g., American ufology proceeding as if the land mass of the continental United States is the most important zone for sighting and encounter reports? And even if this is less the case within the context of the more generalized globalization of culture facilitated by the internet, has the whole story of the UFO up to, say, 2001 even been written (a review of Richard Dolan’s UFOs for the 21st Century Mind is in the works!)? And does not the same hold true for those who seek to “reframe the debate” (and, yes, a review of Robbie Graham et al.’s UFOs:  Reframing the Debate is also in the works) or those who would reflect on the phenomenon’s sociocultural (or, as they can say in German, geistig, “spiritual”) significance?

Given the perplexing nature of the phenomenon itself and the historical depth of our various relationships to it anyone tempted to tug at the veils of its mystery must at some point find themselves out of their depth, which is salutary, for it prompts us to find again our footing.

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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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