The alien abduction narrative has been a part of popular culture for many years, and the UFO discourse has countless allegations by experiencers of abduction and contact. Initiated by some intelligent other, those meetings flow along a spectrum from kind and benevolent visitations to abusive and violent kidnappings. In dealing with the phenomenon, two prevalent camps arise in the abduction enigma; the benevolent spiritual meeting, generally, but not wholly, accepted as “contact,” and the cruel malevolent snatching of a person, typically known as “abduction.” There is significant discourse concerning these events, and even more debate. Contact and abduction has become a significant aspect of the broader UFO question, but little has been done to explore the ethical dilemma these two events create. For many, it may be clear that abductions are a violation of ethics, but what about the countless people who have had alleged visitations from benevolent beings who have come to impart some kind of divine knowledge? Is contact, on the part of the intelligent other, ethical?
In abduction cases, which can range from painlessly mild to terribly frightening, the ethical dilemma is simple because humans have established laws that govern this type of behaviour. A person being kidnapped against their will, regardless of the physical harm caused, is unethical. The abductors in the abduction narrative function quite similarly to their human counterparts; people are taken away for a reason and then, hopefully, returned later. While the acts, heinous or not, committed during the event may make a difference for the abductee, they are ultimately moot. Abductions occur without consent; therefore all are unethical.
We deem abductions unethical because the abductee is essentially left to fearfully wonder what occurred. In some abduction stories, they are left with no memories of the event until a trigger occurs that allows them to recall what occurred. Whichever the case, the rights of the individual are violated, and the damage that is done is generally of the psychological sort, with a few cases where physical damage is done. There is no real surprise here; regardless of the experience had by the abductee, being “taken” without prior consent is a clear ethical violation.
The stories of contact are much more difficult to understand. The ethical quandary is much more complex, but when fully explored, contact is still an unethical practice. The stories of contact are generally the same. A person is visited by a powerful being that gives them information. The being is described in various ways, from humanoid to angelic to an orb of light. The being, an intelligent other, follows a mythological narrative in that they arrive, meet the contactee, and impart some sort of wisdom or idea that the contactee would never have known had the other never made contact.The information given is typically a warning, a message, a prophecy, or simply a notification for the contactee that they are special or unique in some way.
Ethically, this becomes problematic when we examine the power dynamic present in the relationship between the contactee and the being initiating the contact. The dilemma arises in two fundamental ways; the matter of agency and deus ex machina.
The first ethical question that arises is the agency of the contactee during the contact event. While the event may not be damaging in any physical or psychological way; it may even be beautiful and spiritually awakening as many claim, the contactee loses their agency to the more powerful being. If it is accepted that the intelligent other is more powerful, be it technologically, psychologically, magically, or spiritually, the contactee is essentially helpless to resist the contact. Much like any religious visitation, it is the human that must take on the responsibility placed upon them by the deity. For the deity, there is no risk, no difficulty, and no change to their status quo. Rather, the visited, the contactee, bears the burden of the information, be it a task, prophecy, or even a message of “being chosen.” The contactee receives all the turmoil and risk to their existence.
The contactees’ agency, their ability to exercise free choice in life, is essentially lost when they accept the power of the other. If the intelligent other was an equal, and the power dynamic was not differentiated, any epiphany, insightful knowledge, or mission would be decided upon via an act of freedom. If two people engage in debate, and one manages to sway the other to their side, both maintain their agency because one is no more powerful than the other. This is not the case in contact phenomena. There is a clear power imbalance in favour of the intelligent other; it is not important that they demonstrate that power, which they usually do in some way according to many versions of the narrative, rather that the contactee believes that the being is “greater” than the self. It is not free will to accept the word or actions of a being more powerful than oneself; rather, it is coercive.
The contactee narrative, especially recently, has taken on an environmental tone. Fears over global warming have moved the messages of the intelligent other away from nuclear war to a greener message. Messages about saving the planet from humanity’s consumptive behaviour, the burning of fossil fuels, and other similar themes, pepper the contact phenomenon. Contactees are told to spread the word about a new world, free of pollution, poverty and death. They are told that they themselves will play a role in this change. They are told to open their minds, expand to higher vibrations, and to become one with “reality”. In simple terms, the contactee is informed that humanity needs help, and that only the intelligent other will be able to bring salvation.
The second ethical dilemma stems from an ancient narrative device known as deus ex machina. The term comes from Greek tragic theatre in which the gods, during the final moments in the story’s plot, would resolve the conflict in some way and save the day. By expanding this concept out of its literary roots to the contactee narrative, the ethics behind a powerful being saving humanity creates a problem; a false sense of consolation where humanity is unable to save itself. Not only is agency lost yet again, humanity becomes the child of a helicopter parent who shows up to save them before they can learn from their own mistakes. Much like the characters in a story which contains the deus ex machina plot device, the contactee has no choice but to accept the fate mandated by the intelligent other. While we may be able to applaud the being for warning humanity to avoid calamity, we should take issue when humanity is not allowed to scratch out its own destiny.
The contact phenomenon is fundamentally more unethical and damaging than the abduction phenomenon. An abductee, after the unethical act, is free to move on and find peace with the actions of the other. Much like any victim of a horrible crime, they can find catharsis and solace in knowing that others have experienced their pain, and more importantly, that they are free to heal and attempt to move on. While it may not be easy, their scars, both mental and physical, will heal. They can find peace in their loved ones and friends, knowing that they were wronged. They can grow from their experience, find resolve, and develop greater fortitude. The contactee, on the other hand, has no such freedom.
The contactee is trapped in the coerced world. The status quo is removed, and they wait patiently, albeit begrudgingly, for their saviour to return. They experience a moment with a being that is greater than themselves, yet they gain no significant insight that will allow them to transcend. Promises are made, but how many are actually kept? While new understanding may be tentatively gained, can the contactee successfully spread that message to the rest of the world?
It is not that the contactee is weak or lazy, rather, it is that they have been placed in this position by a more powerful other that has alienated the contactee from their own world. They do not become free from the limits of humanity, rather, they are chained by the coercion of the other. The more powerful being gains and loses nothing in this transaction, as they themselves are undoubtedly powerful enough to alter any human endeavour or trajectory. Instead, they opt to provide a chosen human with enough information to entrap them, but never enough information to begin a world changing revolution. The contactee is unable to go back and “un-experience” the contact event, and they are unable to move forward, to create change and to save humanity, since only the intelligent other has that ability. While the abductee is able to move forward with their life, the contactee is handcuffed to the phone booth, hoping for another call.
Whether the abduction and contact phenomena are real or not, we can argue that both events are equally problematic for the people involved. Peaceful or not, these meetings beg significant ethical questions. Since the intelligent other is, according to the narrative, more powerful than the humans involved in the meeting, they bear the burden of maintaining the ethical standard for the benefit of the weaker party. Human ethics generally accepts this idea; schools, for example, have stringent and specific codes of ethics for educators working with young children. The ethical burden is not upon the children to maintain these mechanisms, rather, it is upon the adults since they have the power to uphold them. If, and it is a big IF, alien beings from other worlds or dimensions are visiting people on Earth, and the abduction and contact narratives are legitimate, those beings are in serious violation of human ethical standards. Perhaps someone should let them know...