Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Roswell, Bamboozelment & False Scholars
There goes the Jedi mind trick.
Every American knows the story by now.
In the summer of 1947 something technological crashes just outside Roswell, New Mexico. At first the Air Force sends out a press release announcing that they've recovered a flying saucer. The next day however, they hold a press conference explaining it was really a weather balloon.
Major Jesse Marcel, the Air Force officer who initially accompanies rancher 'Mac' Brazell back to the crash site spends the rest of his life insisting that no, it really was a flying saucer. Rumors of recovered alien bodies surface, and for the next 60+ years writers like Kevin Randle and Stanton Friedman write books and go around the country insisting that there was a big government coverup.
Meanwhile, skeptics and debunkers like Joe Nickell--English major and UFO hater of Skeptical Inquirer fame--perform lame experiments meant to show that the whole thing is not true. So we have lame UFO researchers on the one hand insisting on veracity, and lame debunkers on the other insisting it's all a big lie. Harsh words are exchanged. Believers and non-believers come forward to voice their positions and contribute snark.
Every so often the military comes out and denies something, or denies a denial, or releases some heavily censored document a la The X-Files to keep the argument going.
Every fire needs an occasional shot of gasoline--even one as old and tired as this. This puppet show is still going strong, right now, right this minute--which in itself is unbelievable, because the discussion is not complex, interesting, or especially polite.
The Roswell problem is always framed this way:
Either UFOs are physically real and their material reality can be readily proven by 'science', or else UFOs are figments of the public's hungry imagination (and therefore 'not real') and 'science' must therefore do everything it can to laugh them off.
Yet neither side of this debate is very scientific and both sides use dubious research and logic so rudimentary and so bad that even I can see it is kind of pathetic. The government deliberately adds periodic confusion.
Here's what I think:
I think that some UFO sightings/experiences are genuine and worthy of further study, and that their material reality (or lack thereof) is their least interesting and least germane attribute. Information scientist Jacques Vallee, a guy who now runs venture capital firms and is hardly a nut, thinks the same thing.
I also think that whether or not a UFO was recovered at Roswell is by now almost certainly less important than the fact that the main players in this boring game are now running an old con also commonly known as "baffle them with bullsh*t, or "control through the confusion."
Street thugs know that one good way to lift a wallet quickly is to confuse the victim by presenting contradictory, baffling cues that distract and disorient the person marked for robbery. Create a diversion, take that cash. Similarly, hypnotists sometimes use a technique of deliberate confusion and contradictory cues to get stubborn subjects to relinquish conscious control long enough that they can be 'put under' and be made open to suggestion.
In short, UFOs may well be a real phenomena worthy of study on many levels, and many different and separate phenomena might be unfolding simultaneously. A UFO might have crashed at Roswell AND the government may well be opportuntistically using that to mess with the public's mind.
One certainty is that a disinformation campaign waged by the U.S. military to divert attention away from their own unsavory activities--and there are many--is not at all hard to imagine, and they've certainly done such things before. And why not keep it going for 60 years, Roswell bodies or no Roswell bodies? It's working. If a thing ain't broke, you don't fix it.
When people are arguing about the reality of UFOs (or their unreality), they are not arguing about weapons development, biological weaponry, military intrusions on civilian life, poisonous chemicals, medical experiments (Google 'Tuskegee' for more on that), or any number of other legitimate issues that the general public maybe just ought to care about a little more--or at all.
In 1947, the U.S. military needed attention diverted away from the bomb and the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Today, the dangers we should not be considering (per the military) are so many and so lethal it would take far more than a blog post to list them all.
"Look over there!" is a sad distraction, but it's a distraction that works, and really well too.
Distraction and deception is a definitely a part of UFO lore and history, but it isn't the most interesting or most valuable part--just the most annoying one.
To get to the heart of the matter, I'm convinced we have to think outside of that tired old box.