Monday, November 17, 2008

When Ufologists Become Skeptics

[Gustavo Fernandez, editor of the “Al Filo de la Realidad” bulletin and host of the radio show with the same name, shared with us an extended article on the phenomenon of UFO researchers who suddenly switch sides and join the ranks of skeptics. We have taken the liberty of translating an abbreviated version of the piece for INEXPLICATA readers, striving to preserve the core of Gustavo’s message. While the conditions he discusses apply to his native Argentina, some parallels clearly exist in the Northern Hemisphere – SC]

When Ufologists Become Skeptics
By Gustavo Fernandez – “Al Filo de la Realidad”

In Psychology, it’s customary to discuss the destruction of the “object of desire” – stated plainly, this is the unconscious and overwhelming need of some minds, bewildered by the enormity of having to accept the fact that the object of their desire will be forever out of their reach, to destroy what they had lusted after until that very moment. Weakened souls and emotionally unprotected minds feel unable to resign themselves to the fact that what they love, seek or covet will never be theirs. Ever. Police blotters are filled with examples of this nature on a daily basis, spurned lovers who murder (out of love?) the person who rejected them. Folk wisdom recalls this brilliantly in the fable of the fox and the grapes, the one about the fox, who desperately strives for an unreachable branch after many hours of efforts, shrugs and finally walks off saying “Bah! They’re still green.”

In our specific case, it is my belief that some characters, tormented by the awareness that they will never divine the true nature of UFOs (and much less come into contact with them) preserve a certain emotional balance by triggering a denial mechanism (which is ultimately one of the defensive mechanisms of the unconscious ego) and seek to destroy it, slaughter it, thus achieving a certain degree of intellectual peace through the gratification that such compensation affords.

History (in uppercase or not) is loaded with examples of this. Many religious converts are more devoted than those who were born into the faith. Let us not forget, by the way, that fanaticism is a psychological aberration, a behavioral and personality disturbance that has nothing to do with education. Therefore, receiving a college degree does not safeguard any human being against fanaticism. A fanatic is the individual who concocts a theory to belittle and attack the ideology espoused by others. A fanatic is someone who, distressed by the dissemination of another’s ideas, claims journalistic censure against these ideas, which is a patent manifestation of cultural regression. A fanatic necessarily thinks that he or she possesses the truth because the other is wrong.

There are other motivations that logically concur with the destruction of the object of desire. When one closely follows the creation of groups like the Comisión para la Investigacion y Refutacion de las Pseudociencias (Commission for Research and Refutation of Pseudosciences) in our country – so scientific that they commit the basic mistake of knowledge, since an organization whose very name seeks “refutation” cannot seriously and objectively propose research – or others, which are created, fight and dissolve with the same swiftness and ease characterized by teenage UFO study groups. One cannot help but feel certain tenderness toward the solemn and fatuous manner in which these crusaders present their task. Its only natural, being aware of the cyclic waves of human emotion –- the same which caused tens of thousands of youths to embrace left-wing causes, imposing the psycho Marxist fashion, and who later became comfortable bourgeois free-market defenders. After a huge wave of pro-UFO passion, a UFO backlash was inevitable. But to believe that the proliferation of [skeptics] in recent years is because current generations have a keener scientific understanding than in the past is an effrontery to common sense. After all, who remembers groups of “professional skeptics” back in the ’60s and ‘70s?

Being a skeptic is nice work. It’s no longer unusual to see someone on TV defending the extraterrestrial hypothesis as the source of UFOS, or to see someone holding a lecture on paranormal phenomena. But to have someone seriously, and with a sardonic smile, say that UFOs are bunk, or a publicity-starved stage magician “prove” that telepathy exists, is really different, and therefore newsworthy. Unfortunately, a large segment of the public is amused by heated exchanges and the vulgarity (my grandma used a far stronger and effective word) of “researchers” fighting in front of the camera. One of them will surely lose the exchange, usually the one who is less skilled in managing on-air time, since television has no time for the truth. This creates ratings. Moderators don’t care who’s right or wrong: only the Nielsens matter.

On the other hand, representatives of the skeptical fauna are usually invited to conferences, even if only to avoid being labeled “cultists” should they not do so. Many times this results in per diem allowances and other gratuities.

Furthermore, being a horse of a different color is eye-catching. In Argentina, some former ufologists and progressive skeptics have taken advantage of this repositioning and their contacts in the journalistic world in order to boldly attack other researchers, employing all manner of fallacious arguments to settle old personal scores.

It is for this reason, among others, that I praise the members of RAO (Red Argentina de Ovnilogia – Argentinean UFO Network) for unanimously voting to bar the entry of naysayers into their organization. What for? I know that my stance may be decried as lacking objectivity and displaying fear of dissent, but I’m a simple fellow. Not only is it not worth feeding these vultures, just to have them benefit from the work of others, turning their own structures against them.

I believe that Anti-UFO Skepticism is a fad, surely a transient one. A sort of intellectual snobbery that will exhaust its followers when they reach the critical mass that no longer makes them attractive or original to others. Some will undoubtedly continue to embrace their fanaticism (we all believe that we have a mission in this life); hesitant to let go of what has given a sense of meaning to their lives. Others will feel the anguish of looking over their shoulders and seeing that the same old mysteries are still there. They will harden their brain cells and will turn skepticism into a cult. As long as there are those who believe that “Dr.” preceding their names gives them the right to petulantly state that “there are no scientific investigations that have proven the reality of these phenomena,” as long as there are people who believe that UFOs do not exist because a UFO photograph can be doctored (overlooking the fact that Hollywood simulates amazing airplane crashes, which unfortunately doesn’t mean airplane crashes do not exist), these Torquemada wannabees will continue meddling with the credulity of others. An apparently contrary form of credulity (it-cannot-be-and-therefore-I-must-be-convinced form of credulity), but which remains credulity, in the end.

Opposite, yet complementary. The ying and yang of this cosmic sideshow.

Finally, I think we’re taking matters too seriously. Something has been lost when knowledge needs to garb itself in solemnity. I believe that neither skeptics nor defenders of “whatever” are so important that we can waste time that we’ll never recover on this childish quarrel. So don’t waste your time either, dear reader. For this reason I am ending these lines with something that perhaps does matter. Not brainy “scientific evidence” or quotations from ominous encyclopedic treatises. This intellectual feast I set aside for minds more enlightened than my own. With regard to this subject, I only wish to leave behind a treat for the spirit, in the form a poem written by Chesterton: “when practical minds invite us/to discover the cold calculations that the world is made of/our souls shall reply from the shadows/yes, perhaps, but are there others?”

(Translated by Scott Corrales)