Saturday, April 17, 2010

Aliens, True Believers, Debunkers, and Me

I saw a comment on Facebook the other day that sort of snagged my attention. I resisted the impulse to respond to it directly because I've had this discussion before and it never goes well.

The comment went something like this:

"I don't even talk to people who don't believe in alien abductions anymore. They're so boring."

Really? You don't even TALK to people unless they believe in alien abduction? How do you buy groceries? How do you work out problems on your telephone bill? How do you meet girls?

One thing you discover fast when you start to study this topic is that UFO researchers and alien abductees sort into about four general categories and none of them like each other very much:

  1. True believers. This camp includes the ancient astronaut theorists, the New Agers who see aliens as trying to teach us about peace and whatnot, the creepy 'researchers' like David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins who sit on the bedsides of young women and ask them to recount weird alien/human sexual encounters under hypnosis, and pretty much anyone else who takes the phenomena at face value.
  2. Skeptics and Debunkers.  The mirror image of true believers, these guys can ONLY question and discredit, even if their methods of discrediting individual stories are as hypothetical and beside the point as the stories themselves. People like Joe Nickell and magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer (the printed arm of CSICOP) see only hokum and BS in UFO stories and pretty much devote their lives to exposing it. They are the lid to the True Believer's pot.
  3. The Mythologists. This group examines alien abductions in the context of myth, magic, and humanistic psychology. Although few people realize it, psychoanalyst and famous Freudian antagonist Carl Jung wrote a treatise on the psychoanalytical importance of UFO phenomena as early as 1953, so this  group is hardly new. They get no respect and are generally misunderstood. They are scorned by both True Believers and Debunkers. That's because the modern understanding of myth as "dumb made-up story explaining something science has since figured out much more coherently" is not the understanding of myth they deploy, and you can't explain their point of view in a sound byte. So they lose. All the time.
  4. Me. I don't think I fall cleanly into any of these camps (probably because I myself am an alien life form) but also because I am especially personally fascinated by the persistent cultural divide between the realm of the imagination and the realm of intellect. For this reason I am forever getting bludgeoned by all three groups whenever I open by mouth about aliens or UFOs, and I am forever whining a sad response along the lines of, "Why can't we all just get along?" 
 That's right: I am the Rodney King of alien abduction lore.

Seriously though, why can't we use the best of all these perspectives? Why can't we think critically about the phenomena and apply some science while acknowledging that the human imagination is not an annoying vestigal pathology for which science will soon find a cure? When a story takes on this kind of cultural strength and power, why can't we admit that that is, all by itself, kind of a big deal and deserves to be examined carefully and thoughtfully?

Anyway, I just thought for now I'd lay out the cast of characters and explain what role I play in this particular form of Kabuki theater.

Stay tuned for drama!


  1. I still have an open mind about aliens.

  2. Me too! I'm semi-obsessed with topic and have been writing about it for a long time, so I though this would be a fun blog for me and hopefully for some readers too.