Saturday, August 7, 2010

Whitley Strieber Revisited

I've been re-reading Whitley Strieber's UFO books and listening to old interviews with him on Coast to Coast and other You Tube radio and TV clips, and frankly I'm finding the exercise a lot more enjoyable than the first time around, back in the late '80s when Communion was selling like hot cakes and everyone and their mother suspected aliens were lurking in their closets (or at least their driveways).

Coming back to this stuff after 25 years or so, it is striking how the whole alien contact/abduction thing has become normalized and at the same time, bracketed off, more or less put on the shelf indefinitely.

Aliens? Oh, that. Aisle 5, right next to the werewolves.

I think U.S. government intelligence helped this mainstreaming process along, but it's also a function of the enormous tension the topic generates. It's hard to stay hyped up forever.

At some point, there's the dog and the wife and the electric bill.

Life goes on.

Today no one really cares too much about this UFO stuff anymore except for people with direct experience, and even those people have come to some conclusion about it all long ago and have either 1) let it go and moved on with their 'normal' lives, or 2) started their own religion, web page, investigative organization, or whatever based on UFOs, aliens, or New Age philosophies.

UFO interests today subdivide into odd but passionate little factions: the religious contactee New Agers, the dark Malleus-wielding 'investigators' and their victim devotees (a la Hopkins and Jacobs), the MUFON folks and other mechanistic pseudoscientists, the annoying and often woefully un-credentialed debunkers (if you're going to ridicule and be snotty, shouldn't you yourself have a leg to stand on?), the consciousness gurus, the neurologists and psi researchers... it's quite the circus, and you have to pick your act, straight up.

Declare your bias or bug off.

Strieber is almost unique in being a direct experiencer who not only has no axe to grind, he refuses to pick any specific bias or declare it. Instead, he insists on the importance of not pretending to know more than we really do. This is refreshing coming from anyone talking about UFOs these days, since most folks seem to want to impress you with their credentials immediately (or at least slam someone else's credentials and then compare themselves favorably by contrast). 

Strieber on the other hand talks repeatedly of the importance of not choosing a box and not putting this stuff on the shelf prematurely, of allowing the mind to stay open and admit, "I don't know what this is or why it is happening."

That's really hard to do.

It's SO hard to do, in fact, that I think it may well be the whole point of the experience--at least from the human side. Can you let go of certainty? Can you stop yourself from forming an explanation that nails it to the wall? Can you stop yourself from labeling it evil OR good and just let it be what it is?

Most people can't. Not for long.

As a culture we value knowledge and authority, but personal experience we discount ruthlessly. I believe we've paid a high price for this highly selective epistemology. In fact, I personally think it is killing us.

Descartes said that his cogito statement was founded in a moment of radical doubt. It seems to me that the ability to stay open in the face of mystery requires exactly the opposite--a moment of radical trust.

This is not to say that Strieber's 'greys' are trustworthy--if anything they are the penultimate tricksters--but only to say that perhaps the medicine for runaway rationalism and its ill effects involves openness and a willingness to dream--no matter how strange the dream, no matter where it takes you.

Strieber's current website is called Unknown Country, his broadcasts Dreamland, and he refuses to even use the word, 'paranormal' because it doesn't mean anything.

There is no normal versus paranormal experience. There is only experience. Experience is what it is. If we don't edit it, sometimes we are utterly amazed at what we find.


  1. WAY cool conclusion.

    So much of human consciousness is locked onto this great big fictional notion about what reality is: it has been peopled with judges and lawyers and teachers and journalists and philosophers and psychoanalysts, who all encourage the big fictional notion, whether they are aware of it or not.

    Thanks for this intro to Strieber.

  2. Ditto to what Teresa said! I can remember when even uttering "UFO" could get a person hauled off to a rubber room. Now, like you said, it's "Aisle 5, right next to the werewolves". How times have changed - for the better.

  3. Hi Sheila & JamaGenie. :)

    Yes we really are missing the mystery element I think, and at the same time commercializing and commodifying it like so many bags of Fritos. Nobody knows what is going on but everyone is anxious to look like they know.

    I'm so weary of the net lately I've been working on a popular, readable first person version of my thesis, which so many people did ask me to write back in the day, but I didn't have the heart anymore. I've been rereading lots of fun stuff and finding new stuff.

    Now I kind of feel like, oh hell, I'm going to write what I want even if NOBODY buys it and damn the consequences.

    Thanks for reading and for the vote of confidence.