Magonia 8, 1982
A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies – thus did Jung sub-title his astonishingly perceptive book on UFOs (1) and even today, nearly a quarter of a century later, we could not easily better his description. During that quarter century, a great many people have reported seeing a great many more UFOs; a great many people have written books and articles about them; cults have sprung up around them, some to persist and others to fade back into oblivion.Theories have been constructed to account for them in terms technological, sociological, psychological – religious, political, millenaristic – fervently affirmative, paranoically rejective, wonderingly speculative. How justified Jung was, in his later years, in recognising the significance of these new myths how gratified he would have been, had he lived a little longer, to see that myth grow and proliferate to a complexity unmatched by any other phenomenon of the kind.
If UFOs are a construct of the human creative imagination, then they are our masterpiece. If they originate elsewhere, then how profoundly perceptive the mind that could devise a device which would dazzle, baffle or intrigue so many sorts and conditions of men. Some of us study them, some chart them on graphs and others feed them into computers; some of us worship their creators, accept them as gurus, look to them for solace and salvation; some of us hail them as harbingers of scientific breakthroughs, space shuttles on whose lacks we can ride into tie cosmic future.
And others of us study those who study them — with the consequence that articles like the one Peter Rogerson wrote in the last issue of Magonia get written; and for that matter, this one.
It is the special wonder of UFOs that they can be all things to all people. You have only to look across the room at your bookshelf to see the variety of response mankind has made to the phenomenon. If UFOs were deserving of our intrest on no other grounds, they would still warrant an inquiry to find out what sort of phenomenon could call forth such a diversity of response. No other mysterious anomaly – not ghosts or sea-monsters, not falls from the sky or visions of the Virgin, not psychic healing or poltergeists – appeals to so many different kind of people in so many different ways. No wonder that, of all the branches of science, it is the sociologists who have taken the UFO most seriously.
And, of course, human beings being what they are, we start looking for patterns. Somewhere, we feel sure, in the amorphous polyfaceted data-lump we call ‘the UFO problem’ there is a vital clue we can hold onto and which will lead us through the twisting twin els of the labyrinth to the heart of the matter.
We read the Bible and say ‘Aha!’, we read fairy stories and wonder ‘Mmmm?’, we discover the millenarists of the Middle Ages and start speculating about them, we read accounts of solar phenomena and detect correlations… and of such speculations, such tentative theorisings, such doubts and wonders, are our articles made.
Peter Rogerson’s exercise in pattern making deserves book-length treatment, raising so many fascinating issues which the narrow confines of Magonia are inadequate to house. So often, too, one would like chapter and verse for his sweeping statements – statements we do not necessarily wish to question, simply that, as they stand, naked and unreferenced, they do not carry too much weight or conviction. For example, Peter asserts that “evidence from French experience suggests that the UFO was already becoming a symbol of the transforming power of technological progress”. I don’t riecessarily argue with that, but I would like to know what French experience he means, to what extent was that experience typical of other French views, and to what extent it was peculiar to the French as compared with, say, the Russians oi the Australians.
The other thing lacking is dates. The pattern Peter is endeavouring to impose on the material is largely a chronological one: he is trying to make out that interest in, and attitudes towards, ufology have shifted in correspondence with events political, social, economic and cultural. In this most readers will surely agree that he is right. But are we so happy about his presenting it in a linear sequence, in which one attitude fades to be succeeded by another, because of fading imperialism or Watergate or the rise of the standard of living or the decline of employment levels? I for one, am not.
To prove his point, what Peter would have to do would be to draw us a multistream graph, showing how one kind of attitude to ufology fluctuated as compared with the others, and all arranged along a chronological time scale which also indicated traumatic causative factors such as presidential assassinations, moon landings, World Cup victories and other events capable of transforming cultural attitudes on a massive scale. Not an impossible task, given Peter’s impressive range of reading. But even then he would have to convince us that his attitudes and trends were really such. For it is only too easy to take as your straw in the wind an isolated wisp that isn’t really all that significant – using a single sentence from Arthur Constance (hardly an opinion shaper of global significance) or from Girvan Gibbons (ditto) as though they characterised a whole generation of ufologists.
Again, let me insist, I am not saying that Peter is necessarily wrong, just that we really need more documentation. If we can get it, then I think this approach could be immensely illuminating. For then a second graph would show us a whole spectrum of cultural trends rising and falling with the passing years – millenarianism fading into settle-for what-you-can-get, Christian values insisted on with Festival-of-Light intensity as church attendance slumps even lower than cinema ditto, respect for science rising as it lands us on the Moon and falling as it covers our beaches with tar, acceptance of elitism dying with each successive Tory scandal, only to be revived whenever a Prince gets married, along with all the multifarious parameters of our cultural pilgrimage.
And yet, even if such a survey could be carried out, and even if it confirmed what Peter asserts, it would be something less than the whole UFO Story. It might indeed register the broad trends; but that might actually obscure the fact that UFOs are simultaneously all things to all persons. Just because people are not reporting UFOs does not mean that they are not using them for their own particular purposes: as objects of worship, as bogeys (sent by the Devil to lure us into evil ways), as saviours, as escapes, as scapegoats, as dream vessels laden with whatever cargoes our cult desires.
Of all my UFO literature; there are few books I value more than a slim volwue entitled Letters to the Air Force on UFOs (2). It contains just what the title says. Here, taken almost at random, are some quotations:
I would love to go on, but you must read the book for yourself. It only relates to the American experience, and all were written within a twelve month period 1965-1966; yet the letters cover an astonishing range of attitudes. If so restricted a sample – restricted in place, and time, and in its make up, confined as it is to ‘the kind of people who write letters to the US Air Force’ – can give indication of such a wide range of response, any pattern-making process would run the risk of over-simplifying.“This is to advise the Secretary of the Air Force that I have been in possession of the breakthrough to the Cosmos ever since May 1952, which can and should be added to the Air Force, Navy or the Army. This is what I can do for the Air Force and for our country. President Kennedy deleted the best part of my recommendations that would have caused Mr Khrushchev to wonder why the Communist Party was invented in the first place…”“You are really silly and whitewashed about shooting down the flying saucers. You are crazy and cruel to them. Do you hear me? Now don’t try to disturb the flying saucers again or trouble with them will come. All we want is peace…”“Dear Sir, I am an inventor and I am eleven years old and now I have the plans and sketches of how you can make a flying saucer…”“What brought me to my conclusion that the genuine UFO is nothing more than spirit messengers on reconaissance are the two facts that you did not pick them up on radar, nor has there been any report of a sonic boom accompanying their reported high speed…”“The complete price for one flying saucer is one million dollars. This is, if my theory works. Until I build a working model I merely want a laboratory and enough money to live on, around $5,000 per year. However there will be a few other things thrown in. One: I get to go along when you shoot for Mars…”“The saucers are neither from outer space or earth, they are from the interim state. The ‘beings’ that captain these saucers number 79, each has his own saucer. The 79 pass as earth men. Before 1983 the saucers will land en masse in the area of Egypt…”
Faced with so complex a problem as the UFO problem, of course we all want to simplify it. And the ideas Peter juggles so dazzlingly are fruitful ideas, and we neglect those ideas at our peril. But pattern-making is perilous too.
1. JUNG, C. G. Flying Saucers, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1959 (repr. 1977)
2. ADLER, Bill (editor) Letters to the Air Force on UFOs, Dell paperback. 1967.