Friday, March 29, 2019

Indoctrination by Any Other Name

QAnon is a failure of critical thinking, but it's also a failure of community. People with thriving familial and social circles simply don't waste their lives pretending John Podesta eats babies and Michelle Obama is actually a man.
- Mike Rothschild, Twitter

It could be argued whether fringe subcultures cause delusion or attract those predisposed to it, but one thing's for sure: once involved, irrationality is cultivated among participants. Unsubstantiated and extreme group beliefs are reinforced through p
roviding and withholding emotional support. I've discussed the dynamics rather lengthily on a variety of mediums, and it continues to be an evergreen topic. Let's consider some ways we got to a point in which ever increasing numbers of people emphatically believe wild, unverified stories, and we'll reflect on the UFO community's part in the mishap.

Image tweeted by POTUS from a rally and containing apparent support for QAnon (center, right)

The final two decades of the 20th century in American UFO circles were full tilt alien abduction. It was pretty much the hay day of the abduction scenario. Authors such as Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs (and a whole lot more) spread terrifying tales of midnight rambler aliens. Conferences, late night talk radio, daytime television talk shows, even "documentaries" explored the topic. Regularly.

Significantly, the most widely used so-called investigative tool was regressive hypnosis. The moral and ethical dilemmas were many - and continue to be - but for the purpose of this particular blog post, the manufacturing of alleged alien abductees was in many cases strikingly similar to extreme born again religious or cult indoctrination.

I personally attended a variety of meetings of UFO groups, ranging from small local gatherings to large conferences, from the early 1990's off and on up until recent years. Again and again, newcomers would be emotionally embraced or rejected by the more vocal participants - and subsequently the group majority - in proportion to the extent the individual towed the party line. The preferred beliefs were distortions of speculation presented as fact most of the time.

Moreover, it was typical to see newcomers steered into premature and unsupported conclusions. People would attend a meeting where they seemed to expect to find either a professional facilitator or obtain science-based information (MUFON, for example, claims to be dedicated to scientific study), yet would be treated as if they were in denial or uninformed if hesitant to fully embrace the popular dogma. This rather naturally overlaps into reward of inclusion (or punishment of exclusion) in other social dynamics as well. 

It should be obvious that the more one desired emotional support, the more likely one would be to arrive at conclusions and offer stories consistent with a group or researcher's particular take. That was especially true over time, as one became increasingly isolated from former support systems while simultaneously becoming more attached to attention and acceptance received from UFO pals. That can particularly be the case when remaining the subject of a high profile researcher's next book or film is contingent upon the way the person forms their beliefs and interpretations of their experiences. Such individuals often sincerely believe their otherwise uncorroborated stories and questionable memories, especially when methods like hypnosis were employed during the "investigative" process.

If you didn't care to attend live UFO meetings, you could observe the same dynamics unfolding on most any UFO message board, or forum, which were popular online discussion outlets prior to the rise of more universal social media sites. Well into the last few years it was easy to see an individual open an account when they had a desire to talk UFOs with like-minded people, often wanting to share a sighting from long ago or similar personal memory. In a significant number of circumstances, such a person who joined the group discussion with no apparent particular agenda or opinion, and wanted to hear what others thought, would seem to become awakened to profound experiences of alien abductions and otherworldly interactions within a matter of weeks or months. It was not unusual. Then they, in turn, would become part of the group who welcomed newcomers and "helped" them navigate the labyrinth and supposedly understand what it's all about. 

Many undoubtedly had good intentions, but it can't be denied that extreme ideas about interactions with omniscient entities who pop in and out of objective reality became discussed with casual indifference. Their existence becomes taken for granted, not even up for discussion, and those who explore explanations for even some reports are typically considered to be undermining the group and insulting the integrity of the participants. 

The consistent tainting of the well does not necessarily mean no one anywhere ever had any interesting experiences, but confirmation bias thrived in the vast majority of UFO meetings and organizations. It seemed that whatever symptoms you experienced, from insomnia to craving salt, they were indicative of alien abduction. Surveys were administered to prove it. I have personally witnessed such surveys distributed to a group to be filled out after a meeting was held in which specifics of alleged alien abduction were discussed at length - more than once. It deserves emphasis that our culture manufactured alien abductees

David Jacobs
Specific case studies supporting the point are available, as well. The events that befell Leah Haley and Emma Woods, just to name two of the many, are ethically atrocious. Both involved excessive hypnosis and blatant peer pressure, to put it mildly. Both involved wildly questionable actions of what purported to be educated authority figures (John Carpenter, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and MUFON honcho, in the circumstance of Haley, while David Jacobs, an Associate Professor of History and self-proclaimed expert of alien abduction, in the Woods saga).  

In Haley's case, a chorus of accusations of being a disinfo agent followed her rejection of the alien abduction narrative, among numerous other shameful occurrences. Similar accusations followed those who heard her out and wrote about it, which included yours truly.

Woods was threatened with circumstances ranging from doxing to public shaming if she continued to ask what were rational and overdue questions about, among other things, Jacobs' entourage conducting hypnosis sessions on one another by telephone and text - which were allegedly getting hijacked by ET-human hybrids, no less. Woods eventually reviewed recordings of her dozens upon dozens of hypnosis sessions and published audio of indefensible behavior on the part of Jacobs, the amateur hypnotist. 

The pendulum has a long way to swing back to center. I covered aspects of both the Woods and Haley sagas in my book, The Greys Have Been Framed, and provided many citations, as well as quotes from first hand interviews and other public sources.

It's not just alien abduction. There are sects of the UFO community which do not support the alien narrative, yet operate on many of the same dysfunctional herd mentalities. Variations evolving out of the core story involve alleged Targeted Individuals, mind control, theories of what became known as high strangeness, and other such scenarios where we can observe pockets of similar cult-like elements. This is the case regardless of what events may or may not have actually occurred in the lives of those who share their stories, and what varieties of explanations may account for the diverse range of reported phenomena. 

There are a lot of reasons people wade into the UFO community. Some hope to learn more about something they remember seeing in the sky once. Some want to learn more about a series of odd events, and they see some movies or hear a radio interview that makes them wonder if answers can be found at a UFO conference. Some just find it interesting. There are lots of reasons people ever start browsing UFO sites and wandering into gatherings, but we can observe some things that evolved over the last few decades. 

During the 1980's and 1990's, one pretty much heard about a UFO conference on the radio or by reading about it in a newspaper. The brave and interested would show up. A percentage of those got somewhat inspired, bought a book or two, took home info about ways to get involved, and eventually made it to more events. Relationships were formed. Letters were written. Phone calls were made. 

It was not a better time, not for truth, quality of research or investigative methods, not at all. It just happened less rapidly and people did not cluster together electronically under screen names without actually meeting one another.   

As the century turned, computers were increasingly popular, along with internet access. This was accompanied by some tiger traps while needs arose to take deeper responsibilities. Perhaps many of us never had much reason before to think about such responsibilities. A lot of us were understandably unprepared for the new frontier of cyberspace.  

Entire electronic communities opened up via UFO forums and listservs. We gained previously only imagined access to the relatively high profile researchers and apparent witnesses we'd seen on TV, heard on the radio, and met at the conferences. The UFO topic grew from being discussed by a few via snail mail into untold numbers of individuals - spanning continents - interacting on a daily basis, if not all day long. A lot of head space was gifted rent free, and we got our first glimpses of internet-induced false senses of familiarity and credibility. 

This was bound to detract in some instances from other aspects of life. I'm of course not hanging this all on UFOs. The topic was just a vehicle, as were many. Online activity involving everything from researching car engines to playing blackjack substantially eroded workforce productivity and personal relationships.

We now can isolate ourselves to large extents while insulating our minds with only the rhetoric of QAnon, both literally and metaphorically. Emma Woods encountered and documented a group of people revolving around David Jacobs who were reinforcing the unfounded beliefs of one another to extreme extents. In Jacobs' case, he was writing emails in code and using aliases, purportedly to keep the mind-reading hybrids from knowing the abductees were working with him (It's often built into the group narrative that other people don't understand, secrecy is essential, and figures such as law enforcement officers and psychologists can't be trusted because most of them subscribe to the gov disinfo). Jacobs' security measures particularly made no sense whatsoever, even more so than other cases, because he was publishing books and regularly speaking publicly about what he called the "threat." Many unanswered questions remain about his motives. 

Such scenarios are absolutely more common than we might like to think. The cult staples of indoctrination through isolation, getting in someone's head, and rewarding and punishing their compliance through emotional gratification are not new to the UFO scene, not by any means, but it appears easier than ever to do it en masse and quite effectively. 

Isolation contributes to yet another dynamic that deteriorates the reliability of information circulating: self-proclaimed knowledgeable individuals become social media staples without ever needing any first hand experience in what they pontificate about. They read like anyone else in a social media feed and they sound like anyone else on podcasts heard by the isolated untrained ear. It all blurs together in a sea of irrationality and fragmented, untested philosophies.

The technology and devices aren't to blame. Brainwashing and exploitation were around before mobile phones, but humankind indeed seems to have a self-destructive knack at making it easier to manipulate one another into bad situations. 

We indirectly encourage runaway irrationality by enabling it. We each have personal responsibilities to support best practices in research and reporting. It is each of our responsibility to cultivate dialogue that accurately identifies differences between fact and opinion, in both electronic and face to face interactions. 

It's unreasonable to demand people agree with something you can't prove to be correct. Don't expect it, and allow challenges to your proclamations. Expand horizons, explore possibilities, and be fascinated by the unknown, but be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Disclosure Fever Spreads While Facts Remain Scarce

Sen. Harry Reid
Former Sen. Harry Reid continued to attract attention from the UFO community, this time suggesting AATIP files should not remain secret, according to a March 7 article by George Knapp. This is seemingly a complete backpedal from Reid's 2018 statements to New York Magazine when he chastised reporters, declaring there are "hundreds and hundreds of papers" on the project, "80 percent, at least is public," and "the press has never even looked at it." 

Earlier this month, Knapp reported:
The longtime Nevada lawmaker admits he sponsored a secret study that was coordinated by a Las Vegas contractor. But very little of what was produced by the study has been made public. So, what's hiding in those files and when do we get to see them?
For more than a year, the public has heard about the secret study initiated by Senator Harry Reid and other lawmakers. The study continued for years, but whatever files or reports it created, very little of the material has been made public.
It could be argued the former politician could be more specific as to exactly what material he is referencing from one interview to the next, and doing so might help clear up discrepancies. However, that will not stop others from pointing out fans of Reid and TTSA are enabling ambiguous sensationalism by acting as apologists for the perpetual lack of detail. Well over a year now since claims were set forth in the initial NYT article, many rather extraordinary assertions remain unconfirmed and, perhaps worse yet, largely unaddressed by those responsible.

Tom DeLonge
In related developments, A+E Networks announced its History Channel will air Unidentified: Inside America's UFO Investigation. The show is described as a six-part non-fiction series produced by Tom DeLonge. The six one-hour episodes feature Luis Elizondo and a collection of personalities easily recognizable to those following the TTSA plot lines. Let's hope the show ties up some of those loose "metal alloy" ends, among many other looming questions, and either justifies previous assertions or walks them back.

Last but not least, UFO-film producer Robert Kiviat reportedly filed a lawsuit against CIA man Ron Pandolfi and others. Kiviat apparently seeks to bring disclosure to a UFO and extraterrestrial truth embargo. 

Those with longer standing interests in UFO culture will recall Pandolfi for numerous reasons, including reportedly running the CIA "weird desk," being a central figure in the cultivation of the "core story," and seeding the online community with questionable tales. According to Bruce Maccabee, Pandolfi also suggested in 1990 that official CIA interest in UFOs involved counterintelligence purposes. Maccabee wrote that Pandolfi claimed the Agency obtained firm evidence the KGB devised a plan to use U.S. citizens, including ufologists, to penetrate the defense program (The FBI-CIA-UFO Connection: The Hidden UFO Activities of USA Intelligence Agencies, p354).

UFO activists sought assistance from the courts in the past with mixed results. It tends to be much more practical to obtain specific documents and files, for instance, than pursuing actions of intelligence personnel. We'll stay tuned while the judge sorts it out.

A central theme of many of the disclosure narratives seems to be the players' lack of understanding, sincerely or otherwise, that UFO reports themselves are not disputed. It remains yet to be seen how much more than hearsay and speculation can be applied to the reports to confirm context and alleged extraordinary origins. The track record of UFO disclosure is not flattering, to be quite forgiving in its description.