Rebellion Upon the Fringe and "Looking Awry."
In part 1 of this 2 part series, I presented the notion that UFOs, and the UFO subculture, are cast out to the fringes of culture. The very notion of the Other is uncomfortable to mainstream discourse, and the community which often engages in the mythologizing of that Other, becomes also problematic.
The UFO community is inherently rebellious, and mainstream culture is duty bound to put the rebellion down. It challenges every major established power system, and while ideas of flying saucers and aliens will not undo these power systems, it creates an entire population of individuals who begin to, as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek brilliantly puts, “look awry” at the world around them. They begin to see, much like Nada in They Live (1988), through the illusory filters of the ideological reality that has been constructed for them.
Plato, the Greek philosopher, explores this in the allegory of The Cave. A person who is born and raised in a cave their entire lives and is only shown shadows of the world projected onto the wall by a fire, believes that to be reality. If released from this prison, they venture outside and see the world for what it truly is, would the others in the cave believe their story if they returned to tell them? Would the others in the cave shift their perception of reality, or would they choose to stay in the darkness?
In dealing with the construct of the extraterrestrial, we come to a very specific conclusion. It, whatever it may be, directly challenges our reality. It problematizes a duality that we inherently assume to be natural. The UFO and the alien are both present and absent, real and illusion, but to us, it calls into question the illusionary difference between human and non-human.
As anthropologist Debbora Battaglia suggests, the alien Other is a “lived experience.” It is a construct that is everywhere. The alien, the flying saucer, UFOs, and various other paranormal symbols, appear in film and television, video games, corporate logos, beverage containers, laptop stickers, smartphone cases, and much more. These mythological realities are entrenched in popular culture, and perhaps more interestingly, under the control of human economic and social systems. One can possess the alien or the UFO, buy it, wear it and slap it on a backpack. I can master the Other and take ownership over it. Yet, simultaneously, people experience a very real moment where the Other has taken control over them. Anxiety dwells in the gap between power; I can “control” the meaning of the UFO, all the while, aware that it can also “control” me.
Battaglia points out that this “ET effect” is intersubjective, and even though a whole subculture exists which potentially challenges the mainstream, the flesh and blood alien itself comes from a very human origin. UFO cults, conspiracy theorists and Ufologists are “prospecting starward for social connection…being both of this world and out of it.”
The UFO narrative at times has significant variation, but a few consistent through lines exist. One of those through lines regards the UFO as sovereign object which seems to have significant “diplomatic” freedom. The UFO as object does not obey laws regarding sovereign airspace or national borders, nor do the extraterrestrial beings apply for visas before landing on foreign soil to scoop up plant samples, mutilate cows, or abduct people.
If we look at the UFO phenomenon as a whole, the alien Other, whatever it may be, may not recognize the construct of a national government. Regardless of whether the UFO phenomenon is physical or mystical, the events that seem to present themselves throughout the UFO and contactee narrative indicate extreme technological and/or intellectual abilities.
On a broader philosophical level, it is silly to assume that human deference to a ruling body, such as a nation, state, or government, would be the same for another intelligence with a totally separate evolutionary path, assuming that intelligence is even biological to begin with. The concept of ‘government’ is a human construct that appeared via a very specific human political evolution. This does not mean that a political system of governance is universal. In simple terms, we cannot assume that another intelligence would consider government as a legitimate form of social organization, assuming "they" or "it" even have social organization. While government is a fundamental aspect of modern human civilization, it may not exist anywhere but here on Earth.
The result of alien visitation then would call into question the concept of nationalism, state loyalty, and even citizenship itself. It would call into question the very nature of society and culture. To put it plainly, humanity could become a planet of stateless refugees. Ironically, the extraterrestrial outsider would make outsiders of all humanity. The ideological prerogative to consider oneself a member of a specific country, for example, would seem silly. A citizen of one nation would no longer need to differentiate themselves from another. While a pessimist could argue that xenophobia is a part of human nature, that anxiety of the other would potentially turn from other humans to the radical alien other; an exophobia of sorts.
Beyond a potential dissolution of citizenship to a particular state (or perhaps the development of a ‘citizen of Earth’ ideology) and government, so too would the human concept of the self be altered forever. The ideologies and illusions of what it means to be human would change insurmountably.
According to theorist Jodi Dean, this entire notion forces people to reassess their own identity. She writes that,
“the alien reassures us that everything is not up for grabs, but anything could be. Some things are certain. We just don’t know what they are.”
Fundamentally, the perception of alien visitation, whether it is real or not, puts humanity into a conflict with itself. Fact and fiction are pushed to the edge when in contact with the alien Other.
The key position of the scientific and political cultures, in other words, the mainstream, is that aliens do not exist, at least not in any way that allows them to interact with humanity, because they would call into question the validity of those establishments. However, if a person comes to the table with an open mind and begins to consider that extraterrestrials may exist and are interacting with humanity, they are pulled into a battle with the self. Regardless of whether someone knows or believes the Earth is being visited, that individual opens themselves up to a possible shift in perception. A sliver of doubt in the contemporary world order, in science and nationhood, in the illusion of mainstream ideology. It is all well and good to hypothesize that extraterrestrials may exist somewhere far away in the distant cosmos; however, to suggest that they are coming here is unthinkable.
Treading down this path puts humanity into contention with itself. The phantom of the self becomes lost in the gap between what it means to be human and alien. To look deeply into the UFO phenomenon, deconstructing the ideologies given us by the media or the charlatan Ufological gurus, we realize that we are staring into a mirror. The extraterrestrial stands as a direct opposite to humanity, yet, simultaneously subverts "us versus them."
That is not to say that humans and supposed aliens would be the same on a biological or materialist level; rather, if we are correct in saying that the extraterrestrial challenges our current paradigm of reality, and the zeitgeist of human social and cultural constructs, does it not then call into question the very nature of what it means to be human? Here, our assumptions concerning what is real and what is not are thrown into a disjointed middle ground, a gap between who and what we are.
The UFO subculture, that group which has essentially climbed into this gap, or fallen into it, is in such a state; human and non-human, existing yet simultaneously not existing. Perhaps this is why the UFO community, the subculture, is so difficult to pin down, to be able to clearly ascertain who is a member and who is not. Moreover, this is why it is so dangerous to established official culture. The UFO community does not exist, rather, it haunts, and it is impossible to kill a ghost.