They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction

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From The Square

Anthropologist Bridget Brown thinks that the similarities in alien abduction narratives tell a story not just of individual experience but of the collective psyche, and are a reflection of our fear about war and scientific progress. Bridget Brown : These are such rich narratives about the experience of life in the late 20th and early 21st century, during this period of incredible technological progress, of globalisation, of really changing ideas about ourselves and our place in the world that are made possible through new technologies, and that they offer this kind of counter-story to the stories that say this is all fabulous and this is all progress and look at what we're able to do and look at how we can bound into the future.

They offer the underbelly of all of that, the scary Sarah L'Estrange : So this is one way that you look at the history of the 20th century, or the pathological history of the 20th century I guess I would say, the stories we tell ourselves to explain the world. Part of that is the connection in the belief in alien abduction and conspiracy theory. Can you explain that connection and how that has developed as part of the narrative of alien abductions?

One part, not all of it. Bridget Brown : Yes, there's a certain sort of subset of alien abductees who are also conspiracy theorists, not all of them are, and what that generally means is they don't just believe in a sinister alien presence, they believe that the aliens are colluding with humans. So it's tied in with other sorts of conspiracy theories about groups of people who are controlling the rest of society, secret groups, groups with power. A lot of the discussion among conspiracists becomes about secrets. Who has the secrets?

Who has the knowledge about what's really going on? Here we move from And yet again we are the hapless outsiders trying to do what we can to find out what really happened. How did JFK really die? That's the classic, very popular example of conspiracy theory. It's people trying to offer their own theory of what really happened in history.

Bridget Brown : There is so much secrecy around what has really happened, and especially The belief in abduction has grown alongside this period during which there's been not just a lot of government cover-up and secrecy but the revelation of that. So people have become aware, at least in the US, since the 60s and 70s of a seemingly endless number of cover-ups. And no matter how much revelation there is of cover-ups, senate hearings and inquiries, it doesn't comfort people to know that that's been revealed, it's more disturbing.

Sarah L'Estrange : There are similarities with the way Bridget Brown characterises the intersection between history and belief in aliens with the view of analytic psychologist Carl Jung. He turned his analytic mind to the proliferation of belief in close encounters and UFO sightings, particularly since the WWII 'foo fighter' incidents. This was an attempt to explain the belief from a psychological point of view.

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He accounted for these beliefs as a reaction to the feeling, as he said, that 'our time is characterised by fragmentation, confusion and perplexity'. Reading : The signal for the UFO stories was given by the mysterious projectiles seen over Sweden during the last two years of the war, attributed of course to the Russians, and by the reports about 'foo fighters', that is lights that accompanied the allied bombers over Germany. These were followed by the strange sightings of flying saucers in America. The impossibility of finding an earthly base for the UFOs and of explaining their physical peculiarities soon led to the conjecture of an extraterrestrial origin.

With this development the rumour got linked up with the psychology of the great panic that broke out in New Jersey just before WWII when a radio play based on a novel by HG Wells about Martians invading New York caused a regular stampede with numerous car accidents. The play evidently hit the latent emotion connected with the imminence of war. The motif of an extraterrestrial invasion was seized upon by the rumour and the UFOs were interpreted by machines controlled by intelligent beings from outer space.

Sarah L'Estrange : And these sorts of narratives which reflect a fear of external power and a loss of control are also evident in the abductees' accounts of reproductive manipulation and sexual molestation. Anthropologist Bridget Brown says these stories are a reaction to the reproduction revolution. Rather than being stories of invasion of airspace or nation, they are about the intimate invasion of the body.

Bridget Brown : These accounts of abduction, they reflect, in my view, anxieties about progress on many fronts, technical scientific progress on many fronts. But the one that seems to be the heartbeat of the story is anxiety about physical violation and reproductive tampering. I think that it's just incredible to see how the imagery even of abduction and of the aliens themselves has been shaped by advances in biotechnology and reproductive technologies, because at the same time that you're seeing this alien grey emerge as the sort of really fixed idea of what the abducting alien looks like, and at the same time that that abducting alien is increasingly being accused of egg harvesting, sperm harvesting, stealing embryos, stealing this and that That's increasingly commonplace, and the foetuses in utero look an awful lot like the abducting aliens.

I think there's an awesomeness to being able to know everything about the reproductive process, the process of creation, there's also a really kind of alienating effect where the female body is this sort of terrain that's being explored and vivisected and probed and seen and viewed, and that the unsettling aspects of that really register in abduction accounts.

Sarah L'Estrange : Bridget Brown thinks that the many sci-fi novels and films about aliens feed the narratives of abductees, as do the firsthand accounts that populate bookstores. One of the earliest accounts of abduction is by Betty and Barney Hill. In when they were driving through New Hampshire at night they saw something mysterious, a bright light moving in the sky. After this sighting they said they lost or couldn't account for two hours of their lives. These lost hours required untapping by hypnotherapy.


Bridget Brown : It's the kind of origin myth, in a way, of alien abduction. Oh, so there were times when he felt like it was a literal Roman Empire that was still in existence and other times, it was more of a metaphor-ish thing. He went to church because his third wife Anne made him go and through the church, he met Bishop Pike. Tessa: Is it Bergman or Bergson?

There was a lot of bed hopping back then, I guess. Riz: Right, but it was through Bishop Pike that he started to investigate the religious side? Was that where he sought the connection to his past life? It really hit so hard when he learned about it.

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He was certain that someone had murdered him, possibly his second wife, Diane Kennedy. Tessa: Anyway, Phil was focused on the idea that there are two gods, a good God and a bad God, and that this world is ruled by the bad God, but the good God will take over someday. The gnostics believe that they can achieve salvation through knowledge, but Phil believed that you achieve salvation through the source of that knowledge, in other words, through God, in the form of a savior who walks on the Earth, which, of course, would be Jesus.

Riz: Right, so Phil was sounds like very much in the Christian, at least the tradition going back to where it came from and what it meant. He saw the empire as a force that suppresses Christians. Make a cake or go to jail. Well, personally, I would make the cake because of the church is supposed to accept everybody as they are. Coming back to this idea of this alternate history, you mentioned in your book about Billy the Kid and the website and how it was different. Could you maybe talk about that a little bit?

I first heard about it on Art Bell. One of the callers said he was in a college course on American history and that his textbooks said that Billy the Kid was shot and killed during an attempt to break out of jail, but he distinctly remembered that Billy the Kid was shot in the back while riding on the trail. Same guy did it in both stories. I looked it up and the website said he was killed during an attempt to break out of jail.

That would be Jesse James. What are your thoughts on that? Tessa: I kind of think that time is not what we think it is. I remember my education. Who knows? He was still dead. Riz: Well, kind of like the JFK assassination, right? It seems like there may be different versions, but it seems like it happened in more than one timeline. There was an attempt in Florida. There were two attempts in Chicago. We do know that they all tried to kill him. Riz: Well, and, perhaps, according to what you said the future people told Phil, in different timelines it was some other people who assassinated him.

Tessa: Right, so maybe they put a stop to the attempt in Florida by changing the route of the parade. Maybe they stopped the attempts in Chicago in other ways, but they succeeded in Dallas. The former CIA guy who told his son on his deathbed that he did it. Dick: Remembering Firebright. Riz: Yeah, so that was from probably had more recent memories of things, as well, so yeah, that would be great.

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Riz: Yeah, I know. Tessa: Yeah, and I was able to publish things that had been rejected.

"Kidnapped by UFOs?"

I have some of the nicest rejection letters. Riz: Nice. Well, speaking of books, I know you did a review of Blade Runner …. Tessa: Howard Hunt.

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Oh, the magic of Google. Howard Hunt made the deathbed confession about assassinating JFK. Kind of reminds me of that character from The X-Files. They have the cancer man, cigarette smoking guy. Tessa: Oh, okay. Well, anyway, then I think Trump is making the same mistake Nixon did. Riz: Yeah, makes sense. Well, staying off of politics, but going back to TV shows, what did you think of that new Man in the High Castle series? Have you watched it all, all the season?

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Tessa: I watched the first episode. It was very good. I watch murder mysteries. Tessa: I think both, but mainly the Nazis. Well, what did you think of the fact they used films in the show showing the alternate reality? I thought that was quite clever, yes? Tessa: Oh, I think so. He liked to tell a story. At least with the newsreel, you can see the alternate reality. Do you believe that, as well? Tessa: Sometimes it appears to be so. Riz: Yeah, definitely, and so who did Phil think was outside the simulation changing it? Is it people in the future? Is it aliens? Is it God and angels? Any other questions?

I think they were more than just inspired. You can decide whether to escape the matrix. I have trouble remembering which book is which. In his Ubik where dead people are hooked up during half life and you can talk to them on the phone. Tessa: Well, Ubik you never know for sure who died and who survived. The book never resolves that question. Sometimes he thought he was being lectured by philosophers like Erasmus and why do I blank, the guy who wrote the New Atlantis. Oh, I can get that. Tessa: Yeah, and Michel de Nostredame, Nostradamus.

Of course, he spoke French. Tessa: Well, yeah. It was the middle of the day. He was lying down and meditating, but not really asleep. He came to believe that these were all really one entity disguising itself as different personalities that would be familiar to Phil. Even though he dropped out of college, he continued to educate himself, just practically lived at the library reading books.

Tessa: Yup. I was reading about the Adjustment Bureau. There was a lawsuit. I guess it settled eventually, about it. Tessa: I think he would find it in the little things, not the major events. Riz: His best description of it in that Metz speech, you think, or is it in his, how do you pronounce, the exegesis? Tessa: His story was the Adjustment Team. The dog forgot to bark and it all went downhill from there.

Tessa: There. I have my desktop open. Nobody defeated them. Anyway, yeah. Yeah, but did Phil believe that we could wake up from this matrix-like reality and see what was beyond it? Tessa: At least in small parts. Riz: Yup. It sounds a lot like some of the Buddhist ideas about dreaming yoga where you learn to lucid dream to wake up in the dream so you can realize that the world around us is a dream.

Of course, back then, computers were not a big part of our lives. Nowadays, every bank can just enter the amount and date and so forth of your check and send it over the internet to downtown. Riz: Right, yeah, they can send digital images. They just send a little computer message to the bank. Tessa: A lot. He said that he used it to plot The Man in the High Castle.

Whenever there was a choice, a decision to be made, he would ask the I Ching what would Juliana do now? Will she go with him or will she stay alone? Tessa: His Japanese translator was up in arms about that. The I Ching is Chinese. Japanese would never use a Chinese oracle.

After that book was published in Japan, the Japanese started using the I Ching. Riz: Oh, really? Did you ever use the I Ching yourself? Tessa: Oh, here and there. Not obsessively the way Phil did. He finally concluded that the I Ching was evil. Tessa: Well, he said he did. He kept the book. They thought she was just in one of her trances, so that delayed her getting to the hospital. There is some nasty critters in that realm. Tessa: I guess that would fit in with his theory of orthogonal time. Not really in another dimension.

If I could go in this other direction and move above the filmstrip and drop myself down into that frame, then theoretically we could see each other and interact. Tessa: Phil did experience that. I think he was about seven or eight years old. He was at a day camp with a group of children and some counselors, adult counselors, and he ran off into the woods and got lost. When this little boy Phil turns to say thank you, poof, the man was gone.

He thought maybe that was his adult self helping him. Now, the reason he ran off was that it was a sort of Halloween thing, but during the day.

They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction
They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction
They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction
They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction
They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction
They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction

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