from MUFOB New Series 15, Summer 1979. (Originally published in Ufology Notebook Newsletter, and reproduced with permission)
Over the years that I have been an observer and participant in the UFO subculture in the USA I have made considerable efforts to place on the public record my own observations of trends and customs in the field. In the sixties I watched NICAP under Major Donald Keyhoe and Richard Hall reach the heyday of its position as the civilian UFO organisation. later I saw the Midwest UFO Network and the long-enduring APRO come to overshadow NICAP. I got in early enough to see the last flowering of the classical contacteeism, and saw the birth of a new, more ‘acceptable’ contactee phenomena, begining with the Hill case. I was saddened by the deaths of many of that first stellar generation of near-legends of ufology: Adamski, Edwards, Palmer, Shaver, and too many others. I saw flaps come and go in 1964, ’65, ’66 and ’73
There was great diversity of opinion during all this period as to the way ufology should go. In the early sixties, in the NICAP period there was a thrust, a goal-orientation if you will, towards criticising the Air Force investigation on one hand, andd calling for serious governmental recognition of the problem on the other. After congressional investigations, the negative results of the Condon Committee, and possibly the decline of NICAP’s influence on the field, this goal orintation became blurred.
There was great diversity too, in the theoretical area. At the beginning of my involvement in 1960 the ETH seemed to be the near universal belief among ufologists But by the later years of that decade the influence of John Keel was making itself felt (though it seemed more so with British ufologists than their American counterparts), opening the door to speculation about psychological aspects, alternate realities, paranormality in UFO cases and suchlike. The only thing that seemed beyondd the pale of open discussion within ufology was the possibility that UFOs were a misaprehension of natural phenomena – in essence a rumour, without basis in objective reality.
This barrier of non-acceptability created some bizarre effects. In effect it created a de-facto belief system under which UFO investigations operated. Individual cases could be evaluated and considered explained in conventional terms, but the general assumption was that this was a part of the process of proving that UFOs did exist; separating the signal from the noise assumed that there WAS a signal in there somewhere. People who looked into the UFO phenomenon and openly held the view that UFOs were not real were classified as ‘sceptics’, rather than as ufologists who held a negative view. In other words, to be a UFOLOGIST one could not, by definition, be a sceptic. It should be noted that one or two ufologists of this period may have been sceptics in fact, but their writings at the time are so cryptic that it is unclear to me even at this remove, just exactly what they believed at the time. In any event the rigid definition carried forward into the 1970′s, and remains to this day. Even the critical ufologists themselves seem to have adopted this mode, and one can note this same artificial division in the most current UFO literature.
In reality though, the lines have never been as rigid as the formula specifies. Menzel’s contributions to FSR mark him as an early contributor to ufology, and in his last years one could find friendly, cordial letters by the late Dr. in amateur saucer publications. Dr Condon attended the giant 1967 UFO Convention in New York, an event which was the quintessence of the amateur ufology movement. J Allen Hynek the Air Force Consultant becomes J Allen Hynek the leading ufologist – but only after he put swamp-gas and the Air Force behind him. The ‘new wave’ sceptics Klass, Sheaffer and Oberg all have had interactions with “pro-UFO” ufology. The line blurs in practice, but remains rigid to this day on an ‘official’ level. Even the sceptics seem to accept it, though they are certainly ufologusts.
But there is something new in the wind. I few years ago I became gradually aware that a number (and I say “a number” for reasons that I shall illuminate in a moment) of people long established as ‘ufologists’ as opposed to sceptics have decided that the UFO phenomenon does indeed boil down to a series of misidentifications of conventional events. I suspect, but can’t prove, that in the history of ufology there have been any number of instances where such has happened before. The difference is that in the past the conviction that UFOs aren’t real has resulted in a decision to leave the field, perhaps through disillusionment with a previously held belief system, or perhaps through just not knowing what to do with this new found conviction.
The difference this time round is that the latest group of ufological converts to scepticism do NOT seem to be leaving the UFO field. But on the other hand neither have they spoken out to their fellow ufologists not formed a distinct faction in the field. Their reasons can only be guessed at.
Here are some educated guesses:
- A. Nobody wants to kill Santa Claus; the UFO belief-system is a very deep, emotional one explainable in part in terms of the psychology of the religious faculty. Such a change of conviction from belief to scepticism may have brought about a crisis of values of major proportions, and though some may have resolved their own personality crisis, they may feel reluctant to inflict this on their still pro-saucer fellows.
- B. Fear may also be involved. People deeply involved in ufology over a long period will have developedd any number of social ties in the field and may fear a negative, even hostile response from their previous allies. Still, they have not left the field, and this too is a mystery.
To my mind there are at least two UFO mysteries. Firstly, what are UFOs? where do they come from? What is their purpose in being here? This is the question-context which has been the major focus of ufology since its formation – including the sceptics. But there is another question which is not so easy to formulate, although Jung took a stab at it in the fifties, and over the years a few scientas with no direct involvement with the first question have examined aspects of it. Namely, what are we too make of the whole world-wide rumour-complex? Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether there is anything to the rumour, what are we to make of the rumour – the UFO mythos? It is my contention that the second question may be of more ultimate importance than the first.
It’s time for me to say something on the record – perhaps past time. In 1960, when I joined NICAP, I was already a true believer; UFOs were real and they were interplanetary. I was interested in evidence which supported this premise, and hostile to people who opposed this point of view. As the years past I began to entertain doubts about the ETH as such, but in adapting other theoretical positions I continued to be emotionally attached to the notion that, in some sense, UFOs were real, nonconventional phenomena.
By the mid 1970s however, I had begun to seriously examine the sceptical case, getting a series of inputs from both inside and outside ufology. I had to admit that a number of cases I once considered prime were much more doubtful in the light of investigation. My personal clashes with the ufological establishment caused me for the first time to take a look at the structure of ufology and the personality make-up of many ufologists from the outside, not as a committed co-partisan. I reviewed my own past investigations with new eyes, and what I saw of the influence of belief was none too flattering.
I was moving towards a sceptical viewpoint. When I realised this I twice tried to write a candid article explaining to my fellow ufologists this honest change of view, and was twice unable to bring myself to do it. For a long time I floated around in a depression not unlike the depression that followed the loss of my childhood religious convictions at the time of the death of my father in 1971. Eventually I emerged, not without a sense of loss, but with a new, meaningful life-framework with which I have some measure of inner peace. This too is precisely what took place after my earlier crisis in values. I have not made the mistake of falling from one cultic belief system into anther, but rather have tended to place greater emotional involvement in my other long-time interests including music, the exploration of eonsciousness, speculations about the future, etc. For example, during this period I moved from being a long-time armchair political theorist to being a political activist.
It was this latter, with the attendant realisation that cultic belief systems probably carried some of the responsibility for preventing many people from getting involved in real-world problems – waiting for pie in the sky, or ufology as an opiate of the people – that has moved me towards writing this article. But… I haven’t quit ufology, and I haven’t quit being a ufologist. My reasons for this are by no means simple.
Let me admit that I do have deep social ties to ufology, and a great many of my personal friends are ufologists. I am in for one reason – because many of my friends are in ufology – and for another because I really cannot imagine NOT being in ufology.
But this isn’t my only reason. Over the last few years I have come to a greater and greater realisation that the SECOND question I mentioned earlier – the question of the meaning of the spread and mythologising of the UFO rumour – is an important one, whether UFOs are spaceships or meteors, psychic projections or swamp gas. In fact the question becomes even more important if we assume for the moment that all UFOs are explainable as misidentifications or hoaxes. Riddle: Why are people looking at birds, balloons, meteors, spots in their eyes, and seeing spacecraft, etheric ships, marvellous phantoms? Riddle: Why have hundreds if not thousands of ordinary people all over the world made fraudulent claims that they have seen little men, giant beings, things that hum, beings that give messages? Riddle: What are to we make of a belief system that spread from obscure events in World War Two all the way to Close Encounters?
Of course these questions, at least as framed here, apply only if the phenomenon has no unconventional basis, which brings me to yet a third reason why I am still active in ufology, still writing, still publishing: To wit, I may be wrong. Most of the established sceptics don’t seem to give much room to this, but I am not at all sure of my new convictions. Since 1960 my theoretical journey has taken me from the ETH, through the Alternative Reality theory to that hazy borderline between real and unreal, subjectivism; and now to a considered, measured, but no longer reluctant scepticism. With this much evolution of thought one develops a sense of detachment, even from ones present belief system. I would not be surprised if the weight of events again moves my viewpoint back to something old, or on to something entirely new.
I’m not at all sure. There are many cases over which I remain truly puzzled, and these include cases which have been thoroughly gone over by the sceptics. I say only that enough cases that I once considered ‘good’ evidence for unconventionality have had enough doubt cast on them that there is for me enough doubt about the case for the UFO itself to move me in to a sceptical stance.
I don’t know if UFOs are real or not. I feel not, but I don’t know. But I tell you that there is more mystery, more beauty more numinous meaning in this universe than was ever dreamed of by little green Martians dreaming dreams at sunrise on the Red Planet. Your very being in ufology shows that you are in search of those mysteries, and you have but to look to see them. UFOs may indeed not be there, but flying saucers are real!