UFOs, Ufology, Alien Abductions, etc.

11 Jun 1998 17:28

Probably most people have seen a UFO, in the strictest sense of the term --- that is, something in the sky they couldn't identify. For instance: In mid-March 1997 I happened to take a bus from Madison to Chicago at two in the morning (don't ask), and I saw a light in the sky which at the time I thought was Hale-Bopp. In fact the position and timing were wrong, and I don't really know what it was. I'm pretty confident, however, that if I'd sat down with an astronomical almanac, when my memory was fresher, I could have identified it without much trouble as some star or planet or other.

Of course, "UFO" does not mean "unidentified flying object", i.e. something whose nature is undetermined; it means "alien spaceship" --- a curious bit of semantics, to say the least. One might expect the transformation to have been forced on those who devote themselves to tracking down and studying reports of UFOs by some very great weight of evidence or reasoning --- or one might if one were exceedingly naive. In fact, the transformation happened very rapidly, within a few years of the beginning of the modern wave of UFO sightings in 1947, at a time when those claiming to have bits and pieces of UFOs, or alien corpses, or to have been aboard UFOs, were quite properly treated as fools, lunatics and hoaxers by the ufological community itself. This was peculiar, to say the least, but, intellectually speaking, it's been all downhill from there. There is, simply, no worthwhile evidence at all that UFOs are alien spaceships. (I am, thus, a skeptic; and considering my employer, doubtless in the pay of the military-industrial complex, etc., etc.)

On the other hand, the belief in alien spaceships provides (to be honest) not only a great deal of amusement at the expense of the foolish, the credulous and the conniving, but a fascinating look into the soft dark underbelly of the polity, the collective, half-articulated fears and hopes, and as neat a case study for psychoceramics and the the sociology of science and pseudo-science as one could hope for. It is these beliefs and their determinants which interest me --- why the flavor of this decade is little grey men from Zeta Reticuli with dirty minds, instead of (to cite one notorious instance) theosophical Aryan space-brothers in the 1950s.