TThe truth is probably not there, but something is. Next month, the Pentagon will deliver to Congress a long-awaited report on its investigation into what the military calls unidentified aerial phenomena, but the rest of the world calls UFOs. From the New York Times reported The existence of a $ 22 million Pentagon program dedicated to studying reported UFO sightings by military personnel, along with startling videos of the phenomenon, has followed a steady stream of leaks. Senators from Harry Reid to Marco Rubio have weighed in, demanding that the issue be taken seriously. Now even Barack Obama has said that for years the government has been seeing flying objects that “we cannot explain.”
The reaction of a society to things that it cannot explain always tells us more about the society than about the thing itself. And so far, the reaction has been remarkably quiet. Perhaps the simplest explanation for the relative shrug with which these latest revelations have been fulfilled is that many Americans already believe in the most radical explanation for them. According to a survey, two-thirds of Americans believe there is intelligent life on other planets, 56% believe that we have already made contact with them or will do so within 100 years, and more than half believe that UFOs could be alien spacecraft. Surveys have shown similar results – albeit with a high sensitivity to how the question is asked – for decades.
Despite the enormous metaphysical and spiritual consequences that would flow from them, few people organize their lives around these beliefs. Those dedicated “ufologists” who do it are mocked. As America’s response to the coronavirus has shown, many people have trouble assimilating the moral implications of the existence of other human beings, let alone other sentient species. The issues absorbed by the country’s political and media elites are much more immediate and visceral. If the shapes in the sky have a position on abortion, gun rights, or Mitch McConnell, they haven’t released it yet. Until they do, their relevance to the news cycle will remain limited.
Some commenters, however, I have They have already dared to go where (almost) no commentator has gone before, and in doing so they are revealing our political moment. The liberal writer Ezra Klein, for example, has expected for a unifying moment, the kind that occurs in science fiction when first contact with an exotic species is followed by humanity setting aside their differences. But, like American society, science fiction has been changing in ways that show how suffocating and artificial such moments can be.
Science fiction has always been a kind of magic mirror in which we see what we want our own species to be or, on the contrary, we fear that it will become. A genre that used to consist primarily of strong white men rallying against alien hordes is also home to authors such as Becky Chambers, Ann leckie and Octavia Butler, whose fiction highlights the variety of human identities and relationships: sexual, gender, class, and racial. These different perspectives reveal just how politically and culturally divisive a real first contact would be. Observers would rummage through the evidence (What is the alien’s family and economic structure? Do you believe in God?) To find validation of their own values, and as a club to use against those of others. The modern identity fracture and the understanding that consensus often hides oppression makes unifying moments hard to imagine even in the most dire circumstances, liberal hopes notwithstanding.
On the right, Christian writers and thinkers have made a subtle statement by the superiority of his own worldview in the interpretation of the phenomenon. Some Christians argue that nothing in their faith precludes the existence of extraterrestrial beings, and that Christianity may even welcome such beings on the path of redemption. But more revealing of the views of the right is Tucker Carlson’s recent intervention in the debate, in which he criticized the Pentagon for taking diversity issues more seriously than the UFO threat. This reminds us that sections of American Christianity, especially white evangelical Protestantism, often have as much to do with identity nationalism as they do with religious faith. Groups that were the most supportive An offensive against refugees and other humans who consider “aliens” might feel differently about real aliens. But is it likely?
In fact, most of society seems to be willing to view UFOs primarily as a security threat to which a response is required from the military. Not only does this say something about the human psyche, it comes at a cost to understanding the phenomenon. It stifles the free flow of information. It also means that those at the center of the investigation are predisposed to certain types of questions. The narrow question of whether UFOs pose a national security risk is worth investigating, but it hardly exhausts what we need to know. A world in which most curiosity scoffs or shrugs as the military monopolizes serious investigation is one with its priorities off balance.
We should not expect the Pentagon report to provide proof of life on other worlds. But that does not mean that it is useless, or that it should be ignored by even the most ardent skeptics. After welcoming it and briefly directing our eyes to the stars, we should use it as an opportunity to recall the other truths that UFOs can reveal, the ones that are not out there, but are buried deep within ourselves.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism