UFOs, Disclosure, and the Religious Impulse

There has been a remarkable increase in the attention paid to the UFO issue over the past several months. The New Yorker, for instance, published an enormous piece entitled “How the Pentagon Started Taking UFOs Seriously”; 60 Minutes ran a segment reviewing generally the same reports and persons, and which is now in the top five of their most-viewed YouTube videos; Russell Brand recorded a monologue, asking whether this all was an impending “paradigm shift” or a “distraction”; etc., etc. Algorithms can, and are designed to, give us an incorrect sense of just how prevalent, or important, our (supposed) interests are, but one cannot deny that there is a resurgence of curiosity here as news outlets, politicians, and personalities speak of UFOs in a way which I think has not occurred since, perhaps, the 1950s. Friends, family, and even my psychoanalyst have talked to me about the subject, and none have dismissed it as the domain of insanity.

There are several concerning things to me about all of this. A handful should be plainer to the critically minded. Others I believe most people would rather ignore because they may be too disturbing.

Fist is that this narrative is being “legitimized” by the news media and supposedly-begrudging government. First of all, let’s be real: if the government didn’t want any of this to come out, they could’ve done a much better of controlling the narrative than they have. Anyone who says otherwise is severely underestimating the competence of the US government in protecting its self-interests, and you hardly need to be a deluded conspiracy theorist to know that this is true. Second of all, the news media is ultimately driven by the attention it can get from the public. The Sun has run on nonsense for decades because it knows it has the audience to sustain itself on that. Now that UFOs are being highlighted on the NYT and CNN, it doesn’t mean that the issue is more real; it just means that public perception is shifting, and reporting on UFOs won’t sink your corporate ship under the waves of ridicule, regardless of if you’ve built your brand on respectability, rigor, and objectivity or not.

It is not just that there have been government “leaks”, though. There is a noticeable inconsistency to the material brought to light. When George Knapp’s reporting website Mystery Wire released three photographs showing, supposedly, three different UFOs, John Greenwald, Jr. astutely noted that these images could very well be from a UAP program manual which may give examples of precisely what are not UFOs, in part because one of the objects highly resembles a specific balloon. Greenwald further speculated, I think just as reasonably, that some of these “leaks” may be a form of manipulation — a PsyOp, as it were, wherein the public is led to hyper-fixate on a few images or videos, later realizes they are everyday objects, and becomes so frustrated that the UFO issue once again submerges due to disrepute and false leads, thereby disintegrating unwanted attention. Mick West has built his career on a kind of prejudging skepticism resembling that LessWrong-y, PZ Myers-esque attitude of so many Online Atheists, but his comparison between another recently released clip of “pyramidal UFOs” and out-of-focus prosaic light sources in the sky is highly convincing. To be clear, there are photographs and videos which I find exemplary of high strangeness; but the aforementioned media does not fall into that domain. So, yes: extremely odd that there has been no spokesperson correcting, or confirming, any of the UFO-leaning interpretations, and that the Pentagon’s responses, confirming the legitimacy of the media’s sources, have been as quick as they’ve been.

To conclude that this means either that all of the objects depicted are truly anomalous, or that everyone in the Navy is a fool who can’t tell the difference between X and Y, is to reach for an answer that easily satisfies a certain bias (Myers, predictably, reaches for the latter to prove that he’s more visually perceptive than anyone employed in a governmental or uniformed service capacity). Almost all of the responses I’m aware of have fallen on one of these sides, and I think to discount the possibility that the UFO narrative, at least in the US, is being manufactured in unclear ways and to unclear ends is detrimental to the subject’s scope and complexity. The mistake here would be to presume to know why the manufacturing and manipulation is occurring, and/or who its enactors are.

Here’s where things get more uncomfortable. As the amount and rapidity of release of service branch-derived material has increased, there has been a visible anticipatory sentiment of “disclosure.” For many people, this event is anticipated in the same way one giddily anticipates a guaranteed-mega-blockbuster movie. The comparison to movies is specifically made by me because most of our popular notions about UFOs and aliens over the past seventy years have been shaped by their depiction in cinema, wherein some event reveals the extraterrestrial beings to be either uniformly warlike, as with Independence Day, or almost innocently peaceful, as with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Anticipators conjecture thusly: if extraterrestrials indeed have been on Earth for millennia, monitoring humanity’s developments, surely they have been technologically advanced enough to destroy us; and so, because they haven’t done so, they are indeed pacifistic and waiting for an opportune moment to reveal themselves; and that moment is coming soon, because look at how far we’ve come! I meditate a lot! I’m ready!

It’s my impression that this is the current dominant speculative narrative among “believers”, and most disagreements herein involve how apparently long these visitors have been on Earth. Although naive and conceited, it reveals how successfully — and predictably — we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that our current technological status is indicative of any real shift in human psychology. If a hyper-advanced order of being were indeed observing humanity for thousands of years, it would be clear as day to them that we are as primitive as we’ve historically ever been. None of our shortcomings, aptitudes, or proclivities have changed. One need not believe or disbelieve in an imminent disclosure event, or even in the very idea of extraterrestrial visitors, to know that humanity is as ill-equipped to handle it in the 2020s as we would’ve been ten-thousand years ago.

It is due to my own belief in “aliens” (a term I use for convenience) and UFOs, and also because, as I wrote before, “…I find claims that UFOs are benevolent to be as naive as claims that they are maleficent”, that I am compelled to wonder what it would really mean to realize that, not only are we not alone on Earth, but that we have been observed and deceptively interacted with for millennia. Like Jason Reza Jorjani, given the seeming absurdity — false promises, inconsistent explanations, nonsensical statements, and apparently impossible physical demonstrations — of the phenomenon’s manifestations (a pattern noted by Jacques Vallée in his book The Invisible College), I am of the opinion that our experiences with aliens reveal archetypal behavior — that of the trickster. Jorjani describes this as “…a destructuring force which seems to invert the binary oppositions that undergird the social structures of various cultures in different epochs of history. […] …this absurdity is being used as a tactic of psychological warfare. When you hide behind the shield of absurdity, you are able to infiltrate a society by getting past its intellectual and political vanguard. The phenomena seem too nonsensical to be treated seriously by the scientists of a given civilization…” We do not have to share Jorjani’s value judgment that these interactions constitute a kind of warfare to understand and appreciate the point he is making, which is that the phenomenon has no discernible consistent allegiances or concerns, and that its appearances and effects encompass the devilish and angelic.

It is, of course, the power and right of humans to value-judge anyway. My judgments have now tended to skew negatively — not in the sense that I believe aliens are here to, ultimately, destroy us, but in the sense that I perceive within the account literature aliens’ presumption of a godlike status which keeps them immune to criticism and us forever guessing about their purpose; or, in the cases of many contactees, blindly trusting. What is so tricky is that as long as the phenomenon remains inexplicable or beyond our domination, religious impulses will play a part in interpretation. This is just how the human psyche works, and it’s pointless to critique it or, by association, try to explain away the supernatural by saying that it is merely that which lays beyond our scientific scope in a given time.

Consider how earthly events, and the god of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, may, by association, be not only excused but justified because “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” I’m not attempting to make a boring (and frankly idiotic) atheistic remark about god either not existing or existing and being evil and/or inept. I am instead illustrating how mystery and ambiguity can distantiate scrutiny, even if the scrutiny, should it occur, may on the surface appear to be us arguing with ourselves. In other words: oh, sure — aliens may have raped Whitley Strieber and given him an anal wound that lasted for years, but how can we judge that when they’ve also come to tell us how to save the world from global warming? I think you see what I mean. Obviously, these diabolical acts must be for our own good, and our discomfort or horror over them simply has to do with us failing to appreciate the big picture; and so on.

Before I conclude with, what is to me, the most disturbing point of speculation, I want to momentarily backtrack to lightly touch on a key issue with contactees: the manipulation of sensation and emotion. As an example, in the famous case of Betty and Barney Hill, Betty recalled that, during her examination by a figure, “…he thrust [a] needle into her navel, which caused Betty agonizing pain, whereupon the leader waved his hand in front of her eyes and the pain vanished.” In many other cases precluding what seems to be physical experimentation, the individual who is panicking or terrified suddenly finds theirself inexplicably trusting of the being(s). I find it as fascinating as it is troubling that there is this common simultaneity of contactees being, as far as can be seen, manipulated, yet having the impression that these experiences were “positive.” Here, one could defer to the aforementioned element of mystery — that these are trials whose importance, and ultimate goodwill, is sensed by the experiencers alone, rendering their positive aspects inexplicable to the non-experiencer. Well, fine. People may believe they have been given positive existential insight — but their accounts of who these beings are, what their purposes are, and what their knowledge of humanity’s future is remain largely incompatible. One wonders what the positivity is, really, if the information is comparatively conflicting and, if prophetic, unfulfilled. As an outsider looking in, I am inclined to see these as people who have been burdened with misdirecting fantasies and implanted with emotional suggestion which grows over time into a nigh-religious conviction. It is a fine line separating this description from possession — so fine that I cannot determine it myself. And so we find ourselves back in the realm of demons.

With that said, I’m going to describe what I see as the most frightening possibility for a disclosure event. It matters little to me how possible we think this scenario. What I’m concerned with is its interpretation as a hypothetical. The Low Society podcast recently put out an episode, and on it guest Chris Gabriel condenses the narrative from Arthur C. Clarke’s book Childhood’s End, whose premise is that, as the Wikipedia article states, “…the peaceful alien invasion of Earth by the mysterious Overlords […] begins decades of apparent utopia under indirect alien rule, at the cost of human identity and culture.” It is already being imagined by some that such a disclosure event would entail the initializing of such a program. Fears over oncoming climatic catastrophes, and knowledge of contactees’ experience with beings ostensibly concerned for Earth’s future, are stoking that religious impulse, leading to hopes for the unveiling of a savior who will show us how to preserve ourselves in our darkest hour and, finally, assume overt input in humanity’s projective strategies. Yet little thought is given to what the cultural and spiritual implications of this would be.

Gabriel explains further: “So [in Childhood’s End] essentially, children — people are no longer having children, and the children are gaining, like, psychic powers; and, basically, the aliens just fucking take the kids; and everybody is left. Humanity ends. Humanity is over. The aliens were there to kind of just take the kids and bring them to another place to join a collective being. There is no future for humanity. And it’s said, like, you know — they’re saying, like, ‘Did we meet you in the past? Did we know to be afraid of you? You look like our devils. Did you know that we were going to meet you?’; and they’re like, ‘No, we never met you before. This was a collective premonition. Humanity collectively predicted their ending. You knew innately to be afraid of us, not because we’d met before, but because you could see your own ending.’ And we see something similar in Philip K. Dick’s Work The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, where humanity just kind of slowly gives itself away for comfort and for peace. We lose everything. When, you know, your spiritual conman comes with peace, love, and hope, and the end of war, the end of suffering, it means the death of what makes humanity great.