Believe Me - Or Else!

Peter Rogerson
'Northern Echoes', Magonia 68, September 1999.

The recent furore over the 'memoirs' of an Auschwitz 'survivor' who turned out to be a Swiss citizen who had never been a concentration camp inmate, as well as the various scandals surrounding fake guests on a variety of TV chat shows and documentaries, highlights once again the difficulties in assessing the truth or otherwise of any narrative. They reinforce us in our suspicion that a very high proportion of the narratives in UFO, Fortcan and paranormal literature are fictions.

Short of hiring teams of private detectives to investigate the lives of the narrators in intimate detail, there is no way that the objective truth of any of these stories can be assessed. Any physical evidence is at best ambiguous, or at worst totally absurd and counterproductive, and never has independent status apart from the narrative. The only valid approach to such stories is to treat them as folklore and to bracket any question as to their objective truth: one certainly cannot base grand conclusions such as extraterrestrial visitors or life after death on this 'evidence'.

'Investigators', few of whom actually investigate, as opposed to rccord stories, have a number of stock answers, these include "when you actually listen to these people as opposed to reading them in cold print you can assess their truth" or "I have seen the pain in X you couldn't fake this". Rubbish. The various TV hoaxers fooled tough cynical journalists, the Swiss Auschwitz 'survivor' almost re-convinced one investigator who knew the story was false, because his pain seemed so real and difficult to fake.

The pain and terror may indeed be real, and I suspect a good part of the power of narratives such as the abduction and Satanic abuse myths is that they give shape, face and structure, to nameless, faceless pains and terrors, which are perhaps are worst pains and terrors of all. Remember that Budd Hopkins line: we only fantasise about nice things, who would fantasise about being abducted to aliens? Well, who would want to fantasise about being a concentration camp survivor, or a traumatised Vietnam vet, or the reincarnation of the victim of a medieval pogrom or a Cathar burned at the steak, or being a cancer sufferer, or a rape victim, or a murderer. Yet people have indeed fantasised about all of these things, and more.

And of course these narratives grip the hearer, and there is a great pressure to suspend critical judgement, because they speak to a universal human fear, that of being the disbelieved victim of some terrible outrage, and an admirable desire to assist the afflicted (and perhaps to the investigators' own fantasies of being knights on white chargers rescuing the afflicted from distress).

There is beyond this an extraordinary naivete mixed with arrogance in many of the people in this field, the assumption that 'no one can get one over on the great me'. Few would be as open about this as the anthropologist Grover Kranz, who on a TV documentary on Bigfoot, uttered words to the effect that anyone who could fool him had to be a greater genius than Leonardo de Vinci (or Grover Kranz?), but the idea that the Great I-am can always detect 'fakes and nutters' is often present. Of course they can't, people who spend their lives looking out fraud can be taken in.

There is also that strange, specious claim, that X is physically, psychologically, temperamentally, morally ... blah ... blah ... incapable of lying. Of course, with the probable exception of people suffering from certain forms of learning difficulties, or perhaps after suffering types of brain damage, there is simply no human being to whom those words apply, and a good job too. As the carers of those who, as a result of neurological damage are constitutionally incapable of lying, would tell you, life with such a person is all too often a long round of social gaffes and apologies, and ultimately isolating.

One reason that some many people in this field are so naive., is that they live sheltered lives, and do not, unlike the dreaded librarians, work with the general public. For some reason librarianship has become a dirty word in certain circles. Of course we couldn't guess why this might be so. Perhaps for those living in rural fastnesses libraries are indeed repositories of mouldering tomes by dead white males, presided over by stem lady English literature majors of a certain age, with buns. horn rimmed spectacles, and fear-me knitting needles, with perhaps a cat with a touch of Surrey puma blood in its veins, guarding the counter. Such sights were to be seen in England, I am told even in Liverpool in times gone by. A far cry from these Internet days

There may however be another, and somewhat more sinister reason, why libraries as guardians of the collective knowledge pool and cultural heritage are viewed with disfavour, and that is for the reasons explored 30 years ago by John Rimmer in his ground-breaking article 'UFO's aa an Anti-Scientific Symbol'. This is the profound rejection of the contemporary scientific world view, and of modernity in general in the whole fortean, ufological and paranormal field. The last thirty years have only reinforced that perception over and over again.

These people are not the heroic pioneers of a new paradigm, but the last ditch defenders of the day before yesterday's orthodoxies, standing at the barricades against Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, and above all, Darwin, and against modern neuroscience. Against technology too. Who moaned most about the Apollo flights (it can't be done, the radiation will eat them up); who has been trying to evade and avoid Darwin, even if it means licking the anatomy of the worst kind of creationist reactionaries, all these years? Is it not significant that even the most nuts and bolts and apparently scientific ufologist, James MacDonald, was a pioneering environmentalist, whose work (for good or ill) was in the forefront of the reaction against the ideologies of technological progress; a pioneer in the cult of fear which looks only at the risks of modernity and progress (In MacDonald's case the personal was indeed the political, as the interior darkness and despair that was to swallow him up was projected outwards, objectified as environmental threats).

Or perhaps it was the other way round, and MacDonald was an early victim of the collective depressive breakdown of Western Civilisation; the current sense of fear of everything including the warm beautiful sunshine, the sense of imminent doom, the dark shadows behind every corner, the sense of vunerabilty so deep that not even the stoutest walls and doors can protect one, the permeating unease, the guilt, the lack of conviction in western societies own values, the overriding sense of helplessness, are all symptoms of a major depressive illness. Will future generations see the Apollo flights 30 years ago as the high water mark of Western civilisation.

In this context the attack on librarianship becomes sinister, it is partnership with this anti-scientific reaction but goes further in its irrationalism, it rejects the idea of collective human knowledge, as symbolised by libraries, in favour of subjective personal experience, 'this is my truth, and you can't tell me otherwise or this is 'our reality' which you couldn't possibly understand. (This bizarre post-modernism thus reduces what was once assumed to be objective knowledge, to nothing but texts, while elevating what are indeed nothing but texts into revelatory truths) Often the attack on librarianship has been phased in terms of the ur-text, only the ur-text, whether the Bible, The Koran, the Little Red, Green, or Black Book contains the truth, all other texts either agree with it, in which case they are superfluous and should be destroyed, or disagree with it, in which case they should be destroyed, along with their owners and readers. Perhaps now even the ur-text will go. My dreams are the truth, if books agree with they are superfluous, and if they disagree with them, not only are they heretical, blasphemous, but damage mv self-esteem in, and should be banned as harmful!