I love watching Penn and Teller's Bullshit; it's an excellent series.
I was catching up with it a bit and watching a few of the older episodes (thank you OnDemand cable), and got fascinated by the one on people who believe that they've been abducted by aliens.
One person said that people had been abducted by aliens for thousands of years, and that there were records of it.
No, there aren't. It's like Wicca (if anyone practicing Wicca thinks they're going to be annoyed by this, find the little "back" button and stop reading now) adherents claiming their religion is ancient and that they have a deep spiritual bond to the poor women burnt/sliced/hung as witches in the Middle Ages - just not true.
Wicca is a religion that was invented in the twentieth century by people who made some weird slumgullion of a belief system out of equal parts of celtic mistydeepdawnoftime stuff, druid lore, Catholic hysteria about demon-worshipping "witches", and any touchy-feely New Age stuff they could get their hands on. UFO believers picked up most of their stuff from Hollywood.
(UFO believers took the easier route, I think.)
Understand, I'm not knocking either of these things - well, not much. But I have a Voodoo shrine in my studio, and I believe in telepathy, so I can't claim that kettle is too much blacker than my own slightly bent saucepan.
I do, however, feel free to laugh at people who try to make their belief seem ancient just to try and give it more seriousness. Heck - embarace your newness! There's nothing wrong with making up a new religion - look at L. Ron Hubbard; he made millions of dollars.
I was amazed looking at the footage of a UFO convention in the program. These people have a deep need to be special - even though their memories seem to be entirely the product of too many 1950s invasion movies and a whole hunka hunka wishful thinking. The more I watched the support groups, and the hypnoregression therapy, and the consipracy theorists, the more it seemed familiar.
200 years ago, they'd have been seeing sea monsters and fairies. 400 years ago, they'd have been abducted by demons. 1000 years ago, they'd have been probed by Druids.
(They were a party bunch, those druids. I wonder which one first thought up the Wicker Man, and if he was drunk at the time.)
The neurosis is the same as it always was - just the trappings change. People have a great desire to be special and unique - attention is a heady and addictive thing, and who gets more attention than a victim? Demonic possession or UFO abductee, it's something the majority of (sane) people cannot say they have any experience of.
If you can't be brilliant, be weird. If you're kind of sucky at the weird thing, be a victim of something weird.
Now - I went and saw "Lilo and Stitch" and MIB (I and II), just like many of you. I adore old space movies, and have a habit of buying silly space-themed toys (me and everyone at NASA), and I have, in fact, entertained the possibility that there is life beyond this pretty blue marble we call home.
But there's a difference between entertaining the possibility and convincing yourself that not only is it happening, it's happening to you, personally.
Some would say maybe there is a giant conspiracy, and we're all being blind not to see it, but I've never seen proof. Like Mulder's poster, I want to believe, I just can't.
...And I'm the person who follows superstitions, and thinks that maybe stuff beyond our immediate senses is possible. I just can't believe in UFO abduction - mostly because people's "recollections" (pictures, no photos - don't any of these people have cameraphones?) look too much like old Hollywood movie aliens, and because no-one was screaming about being abducted by aliens until the 20th century (I'm looking at you, H.G. Wells). Before that, it was fairies and demons and creatures from the Underworld (wherever that is). They didn't come from outer space, they came from beneath our feet.
A changeling is no different from an alien baby, save the language used to describe it. A pack of demons with supernatural powers are indistinguishable in manner from a dark-eyed race of aliens with technology far advanced of our own.
Give some people a new thing to worry about, they will adapt their current neurosis to accommodate the new information. People are easily persuaded of the truth of things they want very badly to be true, otherwise there'd be a lot of crystals and "magick" potions sitting around unsold in Laurie Cabot's shop.
Witches and demons, fairies and ET - we make them all up in an effort to make the world (and by extension, us) more special. Why be plain old Joe Schmoe when you can be an abductee? Why be boring Sally Smith when you can be "Desdemona, Ninth-Level Witch"? Which is more special? Which gets you attention? Which has better hours and a snappier wardrobe and more possibility of getting laid?
If you aren't special, make something up. Obviously, someone is going to believe you - and if you can get a couple more people , why then - you have a movement! Time to lobby for special tax breaks! Time to make millions off your book!
...L. Ron says hi, and don't forget the "initiation" fees - that's where the real money is.
It's all a lie, I tell you! 10/4/05
I watched a highly entertaining (and yet, amazingly annoying) programme last night about conspiracy theorists and the "fake" moon landing.
If you're one of the two people who hasn't heard about the bunch of fruitcakes who claim that the moon landing was a fake, you haven't missed much.
(Objective reporting? Not here. We deal in mockery, pal.)
There is a small select (for relative values of the word "select") group of people who have written extensively about how the entire US government, the entire media, and everyone employed at NASA from 1960 to the present has participated in a conspiracy so vast that the Paris-Paris broken engagement and the J-Lo/Ben split put together pale in comparison.
(Throw in Renee Zellweger's breakup, and you might come close, but really, nothing can compare.)
The presenters of the programme (who clearly thought the conspiracy people were complete basket cases) said it was suprising that so few people could effectively spread the idea of a conspiracy theory so that almost everyone has heard of it.
Well, I think all the programmes that interview them might be contributing to the general dissemination of their crackpot idea, but what do I know. The ways of the world are mysterious, my son, and it must be an incredibly huge conspiracy, or else people wouldn't know all about it, right?
(You'd also think that these people would be savvier about knowing how they were going to be portrayed in programmes like these, but I guess they're too excited about the prospect of their inane theories being aired on TV to consider how they will come across.)
The theories are monumentally stupid, and rely on the perpetrator of the theory not only ignoring all the contrary evidence, but also having no real knowledge of engineering and physics.
Especially the physics.
I imagine it must be quite hard to make yourself single-minded enough about a subject that you can dismiss anything that doesn't fit into your conspiracy theory as bogus, no matter how many times it's been proven, but I've seen it done with academic research, so I am not surprised that it's possible. I can't make myself believe something once it's been demonstrated to me as false, but then, I never was very good at the whole "it's all a conspiracy!" thing anyway.
I am a big fan of out-of-the-box thinking; some of the best discoveries and thoughts have come from people venturing outside the mainstream. Many of those ideas have been mocked, because taking a sideways look at life can seem to threaten the status quo. Still, there's a big difference between going outside the mainstream and abandoning all logic and evidence in pursuit of a pet theory.
The trouble with conspiracy theorists is the complete refusal to believe anything but their pet theory, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (it's pretty hard to fake a moon landing when people from countries all over the world are independently tracking the progress on their own instruments). That's when "outside" thinking slips, sprains its ankle, and falls into a dark cave, whereupon a large boulder is rolled in front of the opening.
And unlike Jesus, those ideas don't come out of the cave three days later alive and well and ready to kick butt.
(Don't stand too close to me - I'm liable to get hit by lightning.)
I am not surprised by their fanatic devotion to their particular conspiracy theory - there's great romance in being the only one who sees the truth when everyone around them is blind. Writers make use of this phenomenon all the time (most notably in horror movies, which amuses me for some obscure reason). The person who claims to know the "truth" is special - and in the realm of conspiracy theories, the person who accepts the common truth is a willing tool of an oppressive government.
(A government that is clearly a million times more effective than ours at keeping secrets, but I digress.)
I've touched on this idea before, and I think it's a valid one - some people want so badly to be special that they have to create a reality where they are the only one who knows what's really going on. They are not content with the life that they have, so they have to create a special purpose that throws them into a risky and romantic struggle with the Forces of Evil Oppression.
It's much more fun to be the misunderstood prophet crying in the wilderness than it is to be a lonely old man living in a trailer in the middle of Nevada (watch out for those secret bomb tests!) with too many cats. One scenario makes you important and clever, while the other makes you - well, a lonely old man living in a slightly radioactive Western State with the aforementioned menagerie of felines.
I'm sure the cats all meow reassuringly at him when he tells them about his latest theory.
I'm being mean, I know it. In truth, we all create a reality that puts our lives in the best possible light; there isn't a Universe, not as far as our perceptions go. Instead, there are Verses, one apiece, that revolve around our lives. We are the center of our world; it's hard (not impossible, mind you) to see life from any perspective but your own.
For instance, I have a dentist appointment this afternoon, and it's interesting to me (and probably the dental office which will be taking my money), but not many other people care at all that I will soon have a temporary crown on my third right upper molar, even though it's going to be all I can think about for a while as my tongue gets used to the new "tooth" in my mouth.
My world revolves around my senses and my thoughts; it cannot be any other way. If I think that my teeth are important, well then, they are.
The trouble happens when people erroneously think their reality impacts anyone else's. You personally may believe that the Earth is flat, men never set foot on the moon, and that aliens carried away the members of the lost Roanoke colony1, but don't expect me to believe it just because you do.
In the end, if you're the only one with the truth once or twice in a lifetime, you may be right. However, if your whole existence revolves around the fact that you're the only one with the truth and the world is against you, you're probably wrong.
Especially if the Government hasn't come for you yet. After all, they are in on the conspiracy.
1. A theory put forward this weekend by a friend. It could be true; there's no evidence that it isn't. However, in my world, they were carried off by giant bloodsucking insects, and "Croatoan" is an old Elizabethan word for "Fuck! Mosquitoes!".
More sex, lies, and conspiracy tapes... 10/5/05
You know, it is awfully difficult to get people to stay quiet about anything. When it's a particularly juicy bit of information that has the potential to embarrass vast numbers of people, then it's a complete impossibility.
Heck, I've blurted out stuff without meaning to just because I was having a "stupid" day. On the other hand I'm sure there are plenty of things going on in government that none of us know a thing about.
The thing is, they're all terribly, terribly boring.
It's hard to get people interested in things they really should know about, like how the budget works, and where our taxes go, and how, oh, I don't know, a huge program like Medicaid can help people with low incomes and health problems, but no-one can work out how to get the benefits (the previous set of instructions was so complicated that people shied away from it in huge numbers, so the new ones are supposed to be easier to understand).
Believe me, people would much rather read about conspiracies and scandals and things that, while juicy, have no real effect on our lives than try to wade through ten hours of speeches on C-Span and/or attempting to find out how exactly one does apply for a grant to revitalize one's crumbling neighbourhood.
Most Americans can't even name most (not even all) of the original Bill of Rights, let alone actually understand what those rights are.
(I can't, either, but I'm sure I can name more than some people and I'm giving them a pass on all the amendments.)
Yet somehow, everyone knows about the fake moon landing and Paris Hilton's sex tape (no, I don't think they're connected, but you never know).
I'm not even talking about the government programs so complicated and obtuse that they appear to have been written by a rat on crack dancing across a keyboard.
(And, for all I know, rats may have an excellent grasp on government policy.)
I'm as guilty of MEGO as anyone else when confronted with the inner workings of the US government, you know. I think I slept through my High School Civics classes, though my complete lack of knowledge about US policy didn't stop me from refusing to write a letter of admiration to then-president (and then-alive) Ronald Reagan. I protested that I shouldn't be made to write something I didn't believe in, and that my rights were being trampled when I was threatened with an F for the assignment if I didn't do it.
I'd missed the whole "in loco parentis" bit in class, so it wasn't until I protested that I was apprised that minors in a public school do not have the same civil rights as adults.
So, I got an F on that assignment.
The right to protest is one thing we all think we understand though, isn't it? Most forms of protest are pretty basic - marching, chanting cheap snappy slogans, and making impassioned speeches based on poorly researched facts. Some get violent - the Watts riots, the Rodney King riots, and basically, any form of protest that occurs in Los Angeles. Some are disemminated as irritating chain letters that demand you forward the chain to ten of your friends, or the little kittens/puppies/disadvantaged children/Ted Kennedy will die.
I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the goofier kinds of protest - the guys drumming for peace in Lafayette Park, the chick who climbed up into a tree and refused to come down, and, especially, the fringe nutters who believe the Guv'mint is coming after them with the black helicopters any day now.
(Actually, I think the black helicopters are funded by the individual States; the Federal government is probably still using black school buses because Bertha in Finance refuses to sign the acquisition form.)
The people I have heard talk about the heady days of the 'Sixties all seem to come back to the idea that it was cool to be an outsider. The "fake moon landing/Hilary Clinton murders people who get in her way/9-11 was masterminded by Bush/Katrina was a plot by the Bush administration to kill black people" assholes are the leftovers from a generation that eventually realized pubic lice and sleeping on the floor wasn't that comfortable, so they put away Mao's little red book and became lawyers.
Rich lawyers defending the "rights" of certifiably insane people, but hey, you go where the money is.
We need those kinds of people (not the lawyers, but I like them, too) for several reasons:
1. To remind the Government that free speech covers every fruitcake American with a conspiracy theory (it keeps them on their toes).
2. The sudden lack of weird stories would put my highly treasured "Weekly World News" out of business.
3. It stops them from becoming wacked-out fundamentalist Christians (except for the ones that already are).
4. They're fun to watch on TV.
Never underestimate the power of entertainment value. And most cable companies have more discretionary funds than the Federal Government, so maybe when the black helicopters come, they'll have CNN's logo on them. That would be cool.
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.