“Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution” – Vladimir Nabokov
We don’t want to be alone in the universe. It limits our dating options. It’s no surprise that over the millennia we’ve populated our world with all manner of preternatural beasties. I mean, have you met us? Humans are boring, usually obnoxious, and that’s when we’re not just plain homicidal. Not you, of course. You’re a shining example of humanity. If you think that’s a compliment, I rest my case. Luckily, we talk pretty. And since nobody else is talking, we kind of control the conversation. Along comes the Enlightenment. Which one doesn’t really matter, but in most societies there comes a point in time where we conclude that ghosts, monsters, faeries, and the rest of the paranormal taxa are psycho-social phenomena. It sucks to be a metaphor. Personally, I want to be a metaphor for existence as just another link in the chain that binds us to this waking nightmare we call life. Sadly, we don’t get to choose our own metaphors, so I haven’t really risen above existential ennui. Them’s the breaks. Which brings us to extraterrestrials.
Ever since we decided that we probably weren’t the center of the universe (still waiting on a few people), the notion that there were alien critters out there, and that they were probably smarter, better looking, and gosh darn it, better liked than us, has loomed large in popular consciousness. Doesn’t hurt that they have a cool ride. And where once we had gods and supernatural envoys to remind us what a better world might look like or how we’re screwing up the planet and manhandling human relations, we now have aliens. This is why we’re hearing a lot of speculation these days about how ufology is the next religion. The proper response to such a facile observation is “Oh Portia, do shut up”. Lacking a strong inclination towards propriety, I’m obviously not going to leave it there.
The ufological community certainly shares features of nascent religions, but frankly such a simplistic conclusion could equally be drawn about vegetarianism, post-modern philosophy, baseball fandom, or comic book hobbyists. Even those who devoutly object to the classification of marmalade as a food. Anything specifically designed to dislodge fillings is clearly the work of a cruel desert god. More often than not, the accusation of religiosity is levelled by smug skeptics of all things anomalistic, merrily declaring that the upsurge in interest in paranormal phenomena is heralding the advent of a new theology. We’re replacing angels with aliens. As with most things skeptical, this is a gross oversimplification. But let’s give credit where credit is due – while superficial, it’s not an entirely inaccurate assessment in so far as facts and belief are often at odds in any number of human endeavors, and religion is meant to bridge the gap. Of course it’s meant as an insult, since if skepticism has any epistemology it is one of abject disparagement rather than rationality. The theoretical construct of ufology as a religion may explain one peculiar aspect of modern UFO studies. That is, the current obsession with “disclosure”.
Human beings don’t like uncertainty. I’m not certain about this. And while uncertainty may be painful, certainty is a prison, for as Robert Anton Wilson once said, “the only thing convictions make are convicts”. Hence, the popular academic strategy of finding the biggest ideological guy on the cell block and shanking him. Unfortunately, individual human lives and all of human history, upon inspection, seems to just be the same damn thing time and time again, and if you want existence to amount to something more than nothingness and death, you need a little sacred space. Mircea Eliade captured this in The Sacred and Profane when he observed, “Repetition emptied of its religious content necessarily leads to a pessimistic vision of existence. When it is no longer a vehicle for reintegrating a primordial situation, and hence for recovering the mysterious presence of the gods, that is, when it is desacralized, cyclic time becomes terrifying and it is seen as a circle forever turning on itself, repeating to infinity”. Heavy, man. I thought I was inclined towards a depressing perspective.
The general desacrilization of Western society suggest to us common folks that there are no more mysteries. The only mysteries are secrets. And secrets lead to conspiracies (and conspiracy is just other people agreeing that you have nothing to contribute to the discussion) to protect the integrity of those secrets. And since “two can only keep a secret if one of them is dead”, leaks are inevitable. Of course, one of them used to be a priest. And historically, the other one got dead. While we abhor uncertainty, we do like a little mystery. It’s why we gamble. We know the odds are against us, but more importantly, we know the odds.
So, if we go with the metaphor of ufology as a new religion, disclosure needs be the equivalent of revelation, to what is otherwise the mysticism of ufology (and I don’t use “mysticism” disparagingly, rather as a reference to encountering the noumenal in a world that only respects the phenomenal). Revelation is intellectually lazy in so far as it maintains there is a conspiracy to hide what is otherwise taken for granted. Revelation is knowledge of truth received directly from the horse’s mouth, whereas mysticism takes work. Mysticism is insight into hidden truth gained through practice and experience. That’s why it is so predictable that Paranormal TV is an easy target, as revelation is its hook. Prophets make money. Mystics wind up living alone in caves eating nuts and berries. Similarly, revelation is inevitably the precursor to fascism. Received truths are indisputable. And thus it is no surprise that the connection between fascism and fringe history is a popular topic of discussion. The prophet is a personality, while the mystic is busy sublimating his individuality in the interest of greater insight into the machinations of the universe, for which he or she observes that current epistemologies are inadequate to explore.
Anomalistics may very well be mysticism, but the flavor of mysticism that recognizes the poverty of current explanatory models, and questions whether it is the method that is obscuring the meaning. Disclosure is simply the prayer for revelation amongst those who are seeking the significance of their otherwise desacrilized experience of existence. As Denis Diderot once said, “Only a very bad theologian would confuse the certainty that follows revelation with the truths that are revealed. They are entirely different things”.
I popped out of my cave to gather more berries and nuts and noticed this excellent post. The labeling of ufology as nascent religion is very annoying, but your argument is a cogent reminder that ufology and anomalistics in general mean different things to different people. Of course, this applies to all experience. You can never be certain that your apparently shared view of anything is in fact the product of similar cognitive and emotional processes. Cathecting on disclosure does suggest that ufology may be addressing an unconscious need in some people. But that’s also true of most interests in which we invest a lot of time. It’s also worth noting that what appears to be well-orchestrated conspiracy may be little more than the knee-jerk tendency of people who make up an institution to protect the status quo. They rarely need instructions from superiors to do this inasmuch as institutional survival seems to require avoidance of transparency. But for those who are invested in revelation, it’s probably more statisfying to envision big evil than prosaic evil.
Proofreading is not my strong suit: I meant satisfying rather than statisfying (whatever that might be).
I think the second half of my April 13, 2019 comment makes it sound as if I discount the existence of concerted efforts of organizations to suppress the truth. Not so—there’s ample evidence of this. I merely wanted to point out that secrecy tends to be the default positions of organizations in general. Incidentally, I’m also a bit surprised that the Tin Foil Haberdashery post hasn’t generated more comments.