Magonia 4, Summer 1980
Jacques Vallee's new book on UFOs ought to come with a Government health warning. Its one redeeming feature is Vallee's sporadic wit; otherwise it will appeal only to sick minds of the type of person that enjoys John le Carre and Dennis Wheatley. I only survived two readings of Messengers of Deception with the aid of much sympathy from my friends, and liberal doses of high volume Stravinsky. .
Less together individuals would be advised to obtain supplies of a good anti-depressant before embarking!
Had it not been for the author's name, the presentation might have constituted fair warning. The publisher is an outfit called 'And/Or Press' (based in California where else) and the back cover sports an enthusiastic recommendation from Robert Anton Wilson. The front cover exposes one to a close encounter with the kitschiest tradition in American art that the cover is intended as 'Art', and not mere decoration, is made clear by the credit for 'cover painting". The book is liberally illustrated with photographs, and facsimiles of contactee-cult literature. The latter are all credited 'The Vallee Collection', a joke which is mildly amusing the first time, just plain irritating by the tenth.
Vallee's early books, Anatomy of a Phenomenon, and Challenge to Science are impeccably scientific, pursuing Cartesian statistical techniques well beyond the point at which they show themselves to be inadequate. Although Vallee claims that Passport to Magonia was not intended as a scientific book, apart from a certain wooliness, it does not stray far from the scientific method. Messengers stands in stark contrast to the delightfully illuminating and generally harmless Magonia.
Following the advice of a mysterious character named 'Major Murphy', Vallee quite consciously adopts a very different methodology. From astrophysicist to information scientist to intelligence buff is a logical but disturbing progression. You see, in this book, Vallee has adopted the methodology, world view, and writing style of the spy. It's all here: the clinical date-time-place writing style, the assumption that there is 'another side', and that everything distasteful is the result of the evil machinations of the 'others', and everything that seems attractive is a disguised evil machination. In short, by adopting the thinking of the intelligence community which Vallee seems to regard as more rigorous than that of science he has also adopted the paranoia which is inherent in that way of thinking.
|The front cover exposes one to |
a close encounter with
the kitschiest tradition in
Vallee's thesis is that there are three distinct aspects of the UFO phenomenon: the physical phenomenon, the psychological phenomenon, and the sociological phenomenon. These three entities can be thought of and analysed as separate effects. He states that the main aim in the book is to look at the possibility that the physical and psychological UFO phenomena are being used to create specific social effects. He concludes that the phenomenon is being manipulated by sinister forces bent on authoritarian social control. Two alternative hypotheses are considered: that the phenomenon is not caused by, only manipulated by, these forces; and, that the 'Messengers of Deception' possess the technology to actually create the phenomenon as well.
The weakness of the book is that it never identifies the 'manipulators', leaving the reader to project the charge on to his favourite bogeyman. The Russians, a secret group of Nazi scientists, extraterrestrials, occult groups, a group of scientists trying to save humanity from destruction, and a conspiracy of world governments are all hypotheses given some credence by Vallee. Such undirected belief in a conspiracy is dangerously close to clinical paranoia.
The book ends with an epilogue by Prof. David Swift, a sociologist. Swift seems to be attempting to 'scientize' Vallee's conclusions. In an interesting reversal of the usual situation, we find Swift 'explaining' Vallee's obscurer points to the reader. Thus Vallee says that the fact that large numbers of people believe in UFOs makes them real. Swift carefully explains that Vallee is talking here of social reality - people act not on the basis of reality, but on the basis of their perception of rea1ity, thus in social terms perception is reality. Swift clearly finds Vallees' conclusions about unidentified manipulators as unacceptable as I do only rather than condemning them (which he could hardly do in Vallee's own book), he tries very hard to explain them away.
"Vallee did not mean to say that the UFO phenomenon is being manipulated", according to Swift, "all he meant to say was that it behaved as if it is being manipulated". Unfortunately, while this may be what Vallee means it is certainly not what he says. He always refers to the 'manipulators', if not as a proven fact, then at least as a definite aspect of his hypothesis.
Messengers of Deception is at its best when Vallee sticks to factual reporting about the various cults which he has investigated, and to his very perceptive analysis of them. He described his encounters with various manifestations of the 'Order of Melchisidek'. At Order meetings run by one Dr Grace Hooper Pettipher, one is lulled into a kind of semi-somnambulist state by waves of tepid, pseudo scientific prose: "there are seven times seven aethers that form the garments of your soul, radiating in etheric wavelengths that rotate clockwise about you". Vallee chronicles the associations between these organisations, and extremist political and racist sects. His conclusions on the social effects of the UFO-cult beliefs are the soundest contributions of this book to any increased understanding of the phenomenon. He isolates six effects as follows:
- The belief in UFOs widens the gap between the public and scientific institutions.
- The contactee propaganda undermines the concept of humanity as master of its own destiny.
- Increased attention given to UFO activity promotes the concept of the political unity of the planet.
- Contactee organisations may become the basis of a new 'high-demand' religion. (By 'high-demand' Vallee means making a high demand on believers, in terms of social morality and standards. He emphasises that contactee groups are strong on conservative issues such as sexual repression and racial segregation, which places them in a position to capitalise on the 'puritan baoklash'.
- Irrational beliefs baaed on faith are spreading hand in hand with the belief in extraterrestrial intervention.
- Contactee philosophies often include belief in higher races and in totalitarian systems whieh would eliminate democracy.
Towards the end of the book, Vallee falls into the old trap of ascribing universal significance to a purely personal experience. In the middle of his researches into the Melchizedek cult, Vallee made a journey in a taxi, for which he obtained a receipt. On later examination he found that the receipt was signed 'M. Melchezedek'. Does he fol1ow this up with a simple phone call to the cab company (the receipt gives both company name and a cab number}? No, he merely notes that there is only one Melchezedek in the Los Angeles telephone directory, ad goes on to expand this coincidence into a completely new structure for the physical universe! Much of this section reads like one of Dr Pettipher's tracts: it is woolly, speculative, inadequate, and relies too much on analogies.
In the final analysis, it is Vallee who is deceived, and the messenger of this deception is the mysterious Major Murphy. Is Murphy real, or is he a literary device used by Vallee? He certainly presents him as real, but the relationship between the two men is never convincing. Vallee, who reveals himself as an intelligent and sensitive man, always plays the slow-witted pupil to Murphy's patient teacher. But in any case Murphy systematically sells Vallee a cow. The methodology of the spy makes certain assumptions, one of which is that one is dealing with a definite enemy, and that this enemy will be using devious techniques to further its own ends with respect to you. So Vallee's conclusion that there is 'another side' manipulating the UFO phenomenon, is not in fact a conclusion at all, but an assumption built into the methodology chosen.
For a former Vallee fan like myself Messengers is very disillusioning. I now realise that I was prepared to tolerate Vallee's tendency towards woolly and speculative thinking while he presented ideas of a scientific and humanist nature. As an intelligent and rationally-oriented individual, Vallee should realise the dangers inherent in this kind of undisciplined speculative writing.