Skepticism as Mystique: A Fortean Essay in Rationalist Panics and Skeptical Dementia

Published in UFO Magazine, Vol. 21 No. 10.  December 2006

The Cultural Battlefield

There are two kinds of skepticism: local and cultural.  The first is wholly healthy. It shields us from the statements of politicians as it protects us from the claims of second-hand car salesmen and the bovine simplicities of television.  Chronic cultural skepticism, on the other hand, is a dangerous intellectual allergy, and it is this kind of skepticism that we meet in the claims that UFO sightings are psychosocial fantasies and that all experience of the paranormal is an illusion.

On this level, skeptics question our mystical and religious beliefs, our intuitions, our dreams, and our visions. They question every single human insight that is not founded on those historically arriviste monads called “facts” and would like to leave alternative cultures with outright denial as their own only political weapon.

But the cultural screens of both skepticism and belief are both constructions.  Like the idea of the paradigm or meme, such theatres crystallise around some central powerful influence.  This influence forms a lens through which everything is focused and interpreted. In the year 1400, science based on factual objectivity and experiment had not yet been invented.  In Europe, at least, Jesus ruled anything and everything, and the Bible was the measure of experience. This contrasts with our own time in which science is by and large the means by which we interpret the world. Both Science and Christianity are evolved control mythologies which use developed skepticism to ward off rival cultures.

In this sense, organised cultural skepticism is a very powerful political tool.  In its most potent form it can cause doubt and uncertainty and therefore destroy inspiration and enterprise, not to say original genius.  Even in times of greatest peril, when on two occasions in the twentieth century the British nation came within days of being destroyed, skeptical reactionary influences nearly lost us the tank, the radar and the Spitfire.

Many men and women of undoubted genius are at first regarded traditionally with an almost religious fear, if only because they threaten to break all the rules.  Of the many folk who were ritually crucified in the name of skepticism, the name Alan Turing stands out. Turing, whose first code-cracking digital computer was absolutely vital to victory in World War Two, was given aversion-therapy in 1947 because he was a homosexual.  Instead of a knighthood, a blank cheque, and the resources of a great university, he was drugged and given electric shocks when shown pictures of male genitalia. The result was that one of our greatest scientific geniuses killed himself by biting into an apple laced with cyanide.  Turning was given this concentration camp treatment not by Nazis, but by the British medical establishment, supported by certain departments of His Majesty’s government of the time.

D H Lawrence, perhaps Britain’s greatest novelist, was crucified in a similar way because he was, on the contrary, heterosexual.  Even those geniuses with sexuality somewhere between that of Lawrence or Turing didn’t get away. Our greatest soldier-intellectual, Lawrence of Arabia, had immense difficulty after World War 1 in getting into the Royal Air Force as a mere recruit.

From the Fortean point of view, there is something most odd about the very nature of the high level of skeptical fear aroused by such geniuses.  This fear of such brilliant characters can result in a kind of skeptical panic. Even though the very life of the nation is in danger, it appears that radical innovators must be put down, nevertheless.

General Percy Hobart, the genius who formed the British pre-war tank force was, on the eve of World War Two, dismissed as commander of Seventh Armoured Division (the “Desert Rats”) in Egypt for his outrageous technological enthusiasms.  Back home he joined up as a corporal in the Home Guard. Other tank men, such as Charles Broad and Frederick Pile, suffered the same fate. Nicolai Tesla was another victim of a previous era.

The horse-mounted British generals of World War One certainly fought the tank pioneers with almost as much energy as they fought the German armed forces.  Such characters and such innovations appear to excite some hidden switch in nature, individuals don’t act against them so much as provide a current for a thou-shalt-not command deep within nature and human forces both.

Thus, although the innovative people I have mentioned do indeed use facts, they do things with facts that apparently should not be done.  It is this, and not their mere use of facts alone, that appears to organize forces against them. Charles Fort called such powers era forces.  These era forces are destructive, negative, skeptical emanations that can destroy lives, discoveries, and reputations.

Such forces can destroy intellectual life, restrict knowledge, and cause national decline.  Skeptical forces, in that they restrict imagination, can also cause that economic and political inertia called decadence.  Chronic skepticism is therefore essentially the mystique of reaction: it produces nothing but hesitancy and timidity in the broad fields of manufacturing, technology, and national enterprise.

It fills us with fear about our own capabilities,; it destroys our faith that we can transcend ourselves and the condition of our lives.  We can only change if our imagination is in a healthy state ready to take the enormous risks that national and individual progress demand.  With skepticism triumphant, we squat on the ground as existential prisoners—blindfolded, tied, and shivering with mental fear.

Intermediate States:  Knife-Edge Systems and Half-Forms

The life of the aerodynamicist Leonard Cramp is illustrative of this very Fortean idea of skepticism on the attack.  Like the makers of perpetual-motion machines and fuel-less motors, Cramp produced fairy things: half-forms, almost from another world that hopped, skipped, jumped, and sometimes even flew, often in apparent defiance of the laws of Newton.  Skeptical prophets of mechanical certainty, who happened to be standing near, were frequently astonished when some impossible invention of his swooped and manoeuvred.

But any hero who makes claims for “paranormally related aerospace technological developments” and writes four books about a kind of technological mysticism is bound to run into Anglo-Saxon trouble very quickly.  Cramp, like Barnes Wallis, the designer of the bouncing bomb, suffered vicious put-downs from far lesser men. Both Cramp and Wallis were ignored whilst the modern equivalents to Leonardo’s futuristic drawings poured from their head.  The engineer Eric Laithwaite and Professor John Hasted, both of Imperial College, and also the cold fusion physicists, experienced a similar opposition by skeptics, certainly equivalent to a mediaeval witch hunt. We can add the recent assault on Rupert Sheldrake as another example.

Like the cold fusion devices, some of Cramp’s “damned” devices were what might be termed knife-edge systems.  This means that some worked, some did not, and some worked only partially, earning a visit from our old Fortean friend, the Partial Explanation.  Other “damned” things, such as the machines of John Worrell Keely, earned no explanation at all. To add to his problems Cramp, like George Adamski before him, had a mind that ignored small-time distinctions between small-time facts and equally small-time fictions.  Like Uri Geller and indeed like Lee Harvey Oswalk, Cramp’s “wild talents” enabled him to walk through twentieth century walls on occasion with no problems at all. It almost goes without saying that Cramp, like Adamski, was a UFO contactee.

Such destructive cultural skepticism as almost destroyed both Leonard Cramp and Barnes Wallis smacks strongly of aspects of national self-hatred.  The British in particular at times appear to hate that native genius which produced both Shakespeare and the Industrial Revolution. People such as Cramp, Wallis, and Turing might well have got the British into space ahead of the Americans, and with no help from Nazi scientists.  But such folk were ignored almost completely, as were the brilliant designers of the revolutionary TSR-2 fighter of the 1960s. This was an aircraft that, if it hadn’t purposely been taken out and smashed to pieces, would still be in squadron service—and still be ahead of anything in the skies.  The TSR-2 fighter was destroyed by forces of communism and skepticism both.

Skepticism as Conspiracy

Of late, organized skepticism has been evident in books, magazines, and articles that have launched a co-ordinated attack on all aspects of New Age thinking.  In particular, Ufology has been constantly ridiculed in magazines and books to the extent that one is justified in using the word conspiracy.  The Betty and Barney Hill abduction, Travis Walton’s experience, the Roswell affair, the UFO crash in Britain’s Rendlesham Forest, all these incidents have all been the targets of attempts by skeptics to try and show such incredible events as self-deception, hallucination, and disinformation, often coupled with outright fraud and hoaxing.

There was an attempt a few years ago, organized and published by the British Fortean Times (the British Skeptical Enquirer by any other name) to trash the original Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting. This particular author attempted to transform the crescent-shaped discs that Arnold saw in 1947 by explaining them away as supersonic high-flying pelicans.  Another author (from the same UK axis) attributed the Rendlesham Forest incident to mistaken observation of the beams from a local lighthouse. Whilst these things might indeed be good one-frame jokes and cartoons for the prep-school common rooms, the mental level they represent as plausible analysis is appalling.  If skeptics think they earn credibility by perpetrating such nonsense, they are wrong. Frequently their so-called “explanations” are more fantastic than the things they would explain.

Wonder and Imagination as Psychological Problems

Thus the debate between believer and skeptic has long ceased being a friendly liberal free-for-all.  A violent and sometimes often vicious struggle is now taking place. Often those who say they represent so-called objective factual truth have been guilty of the most extraordinary underhand chicanery in order to try and destroy reputations.

For example, there have been many attempts to destroy the reputations of such leading American academic such as John Mack and David Jacobs who have examined abduction claims and found them to be quite genuine experiences.

The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings books and films have been criticised for turning young folk to occultism, fantastic mythology, and pagan beliefs.

From this desperate rejection of all wonder and magic on any and every level, it is possible to conclude that skeptics, like the Communists and English Puritans before them, can be defined as people who have a terrible psychological problem with wonder.  Anything extraordinary or even curious, anything transcendental, holistic, mystical, or anomalous, all these things tend to irritate skeptics to death. It is as if some deep alarms are set off within them when confronted with the extraordinary. The same reactions can be found at the beginning of the twentieth century when people first saw abstract paintings and encountered anarchic absurdity in surrealist writing and collage.

When such off connectivity appears on the cultural scene, it appears that an automatic call goes out along the tribal lines of skeptical rationalism to level off all that could be labelled as fantastic, radically different, creative, or new.  Indeed, as has been said, many skeptics look upon the UFO phenomenon as a World War One cavalry general looked with horror upon the first tanks.

Counter-Ritualization

Thus we have a battle not between easily separable old industrial fact and fiction, but a battle between different kinds of socially applied transforming mystique.  Often the debate reaches such a level of demoniac intensity that we have the impression, not of a search for some mythical truth, but of a war between various levels of counter-ritualization. This is a war indeed at times that quite transcends anything in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.

Effectively, we have in Ufology-versus-skepticis not the old industrial oppositions as the real versus the unreal, or fact versus fiction, but a war between belief systems.  Horse-mad staff officers in smart clean uniforms and shiny boots often refused to climb into the oily interiors of the first tanks in 1916. Their reluctance was symbolic of opposition not so much to finite mechanization, but to the shape of new emerging paradigms which were to transform that social level to which the officers belonged.

Exactly the same fear is aroused by George Adamski’s claim of having met a man from the planet Venus.  Recognition and acceptance of such things triggers deep alarms in that they threaten social change. Often, mundane violence and ordinary criminality can be quickly rationalised, but the claim to have met a man from Venus, outside the proscenium arch of pantomime, arouses anger, fear, and ridicule.

The strange and most psychologically significant aspect of the skeptical reactions to such claims is that they raise an anger which is out of all proportion to any physical threat.  Pantomime figures, clowns, cartoons, and such twilight “almost” figures as Adamski’s Venusian “Orthon” have a suggestive power often stronger than those things we usually judge as “real.”  As all advertisers and salesmen know, images, symbols and metaphors do strange things to our minds. Muslims, for example, are violently disturbed by mere bland and passive depictions of their deity, never mind direct physical insults against him.

Most skeptics want to stay in our first simple pre-media world, just as World War 1 generals wanted to stay with their horses and their idea of old-fashioned romantic military chivalry in the face of gas and machine guns.  Perhaps skeptics even believe that what we see is what we get. Perhaps they believe what the folk of Norman Rockwell’s America believed: that governments govern, policemen protect, doctors cure, and that we are all the finite sum of our finite parts.

Clapboard Philosophical Fakery

Skeptics are fond of talking all too easily about what they term reality, which is certainly their favourite word.  According to skeptics, this reality is as easy to find as a packet of sweets hidden behind a cushion at a children’s party.  As mechanicals, their technique has not advanced much beyond good old Sherlock Holmes: follow the clues, go to the Public Record Office, and discover the real information.

Such an idea of the objective real is relatively modern.  Just like Plato, Charles Fort certainly showed that, as time goes by, the real, as defined by a particular culture, is seen as a piece of clapboard philosophical fakery used to construct those metaphysical harpies called accuracy, objectivity, and precision. By means of such concepts we are supposed to measure the infinities that constitute a human being.  

Such factual innocence is highly dangerous.  On the way to rational enlightenment, skeptics and rationalists might just get rid of the nutcases and the bits that don’t fit, throw them into trucks and sealed trains and pack them off to the outer regions of a conceptual inferno inhabited by people who say they have met men from Venus.

Next, they might get rid of what they call lies and deceptions, hoaxes and fantasies. Straightening out the twists and turns of the human character, we come upon the shining truth, a clean and pure thing, as terrifying to behold as monolithic Nazi architecture.

Sartre and  Merde

The French writer Jean Paul Sartre tells how as a young man before World War Two, after writing all night, he ventured out in the earlyt morning to a nearby bistro for coffee.  Some dozen men came into the café in an absolutely filthy state and smelling very bad. They sat down and ordered breakfast.

Sartre was told by the patron that these men were sewer cleaners, and they always came in at exactly this time early in the morning after finishing a shift of work.  Sartre asked the patron how he could possibly tolerate such filthy men in his café. The proprietor replied, “Ah, but you see monsieur, they are honest men.”

Sartre added that he had never before seen such a clear connection between Mind and Nature.  Thus, one of the greatest French philosophers of the twentieth century was left with the somewhat pre-molecular thought that the truly honest man was incapable of giving infection, although his hands were soiled with merde.

This edifying example of a direct connection between moral worth and what any skeptic would call external reality is a surprisingly late remnant of what was once a magical connection between cause and effect.  It demonstrates perfectly how, even in the middle of the so-called “scientific” twenty-first century, the stage-constructs of fact and reality can easily collapse.  When they do so they reveal far older systems of knowledge and experience that are still very much in dynamic action; in this case, the principle illustrated shows that there is absolutely no necessarily determined connection at all between dirt and possible infection.

The idea of what constitutes the so-called real must have become central to Sartre’s mind as he gazed at his early breakfast.  He would have known, of course, that the idea of the real is a late and rather callow arrival on the European stage.  Whilst eating his rolls with some hesitancy he might have had the thought that Shakespeare, for example, would have found the scientific idea of the objective real almost meaningless, and he didn’t do too badly without it.  Shakespeare might well have asked: Are we really the sum of our finite parts?  Is what we see what we get?

The British writer Andrew Darlington in his book I was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love-Child gives a good example of a connection between belief, moral worth, and mystical inspiration.

My biological father died on Sunday, November 28th, 1993, after falling downstairs drunk and never regaining consciousness.  My real father was discovered on the bathroom floor of Graceland, August 16th 1977, and was pronounced dead at 3:30 pm never having regained consciousness. [1]

Rationally, the assumption that Andrew’s father was Elvis Presley could be seen as just as ridiculous a claim as having met a man from Venus. But both such claims are valid examples of attempts to construct a magical relationship with consciousness, experience, and external events in place of a merely mechanical physical connection.

In Andrew Darlington’s terms, what we call “fantasies” are not the pathological things of the skeptics.  They are attempts to reconstruct an older and more creative, transcendent relationship between Mind and Nature.  In the relationship, there is no necessary connection between dirt and disease, if only because the molecule and the cell, like the real indeed, are shaky cultural structures by means of which we enable a temporary navigation in time.

As rejected assumptions, both the stories of Sartre and Darlington represent somewhat unstable and mechanical world models compared with the objective-mechanical model.  Of course, it must be admitted that the objective-mechanical has won the present-day historical round. For a short time in history, the objective-mechanical experience has battled successfully to mount the prime time advertisements within consciousness we call the “real.”

This victory is temporary.  To maintain and secure the prime advertising time of full consciousness, an appropriately ritualised vocabulary must be safeguarded.  Thus we have the voodoo-chant words such as solid, cold and realistic, which must be securely attached to the ideas of truth and (yet again!) reality.

In the skeptical vocabulary, there are whole Christmas trees aglow with such metaphors as “waking up” from “dreamland,” and “the thinker must come out of his fantasy.”  These trees must be trimmed and watered by a whole process of cultural intimidation. Clichéd phrases are repeated in the manner of a mystical ritual: imagination must give way to fact, and myth must be separated from lies. The “truth must be faced up to,” as if the truth were some mortal enemy and not a companion, a light against the darkness of a techno-scientific “triumph” that is destroying all sea, air, and land.  That the scientific truth as revealed is also contaminating breast milk, affecting the male sperm count, and lowering the intelligence quotient of the soap-watching young is not mentioned.

Help to destroy the world, humanity, and all else, and you get a Nobel Prize.  But say you met a man from Venus, or claim that Elvis Presley was your real father, and the whole world will try and make sure you are never seen or heard of again.  Within these networks of truth and reality and fact, it’s no wonder we just can’t wait for the benefits of human cloning, genetically engineered food, or whatever monster may emerge from the next scientific “breakthrough.”

Deprogramming the Psyche

This objectivising or “clearing of fantasy and illusion” by the skeptics is the rationalist equivalent to ideas of psychoanalytic deprogramming and the old Communist idea of Brainwashing.  For the skeptics, in these terms the truth is almost nearly always terrible. It is also vicious, destructive, and cruel.

Like the rationalist view of outer space, the truth is dark and empty.  The truth within these systems of coercion is not seen as a friend and guide, nor is it seen as a thing wonderful, lovely, or magical; rather, the truth is conceived as a great mental prison house from which there can be no escape.

Long ago, in the time of Margaret Thatcher, Batchelor of Science, the only Prime Minister who has ever had any kind of knowledge of science or technology, the common phrase used to be “thou shalt not go on strike.”  Now, in a much later development of our consumer society, it is “thou shalt not see intelligently controlled flying discs in the atmosphere of Mother Earth.” It sounds familiar: such a systems-blindfold was not only applied to witches, it was applied with vastly more terrible effect in Mao’s villages and in the prisons and concentration camps of Stalin and Hitler.

In this sense, the skeptical condition enters perception as a virus that mounts a powerful attack on that infinite capacity for wonder that defines human beings.  When the virus acts, the truth is seen not as a blessing, protector, and savior, but as a tyrannical scourging after which we stand naked and ashamed, stripped of all our “illusions” that Elvis Presley was our true father or that we have met a man from Venus.  Once so isolated, an individual is cut off from all sources of occult and spiritual inspiration. Therefore, skepticism is a powerful attempt to achieve the very deepest political alienation without any reference to wages, social class, or economics.

Imagination: the Fortean World-Picture

The one target of all cultural skepticism is the human imagination.  As the military saying goes, once you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.  This negative bias regarding all transcendent thought is pure root-and-branch communism, whose roots stretch way back before Marx to Martin Luther and the English Puritans.  Such a highly organised attack on fantasy, dream and imagination is an attack on the individual as a sacred institution. We need men and women from Venus, Christ walking the water, UFO contactees, and Elvis as a father just as much as we need the rain forest and the great barn owl, the blue dolphin, and the Galapagos Finch.

Lacking such things, the brain—like the planet—will become a televised car park of infinite episodes.  Skeptics simply do not understand the function of such people as George Adamski, Sartre’s filthy workmen, or Andrew Darlington’s extracurricular father within a healthy psychic ecology.  The skeptical fear is not that wishes are so much untrue, but that such things as intense desires might leave something of themselves behind in their swift passage.  If we replace old industrial true-and-false by a battle of cultural allowances, we have a classical Fortean world-picture.

The Control System

When a thread is put through the eye of all the nasty little truths of the skeptics, it would appear that a great NO has been massively engineered through all the interstices of our mental reference systems.  It has taken generations to do this, and the conspiracy is implicit as well as explicit. The skeptics are the mere semi-automated managers of a process generated by a deep-rooted control system within both language and consciousness and culture of industrialisation and technology. Therefore, Coleridge’s “shaping spirit of the imagination” is still political dynamite.  Skeptics, like communists and scientists, priests and psychoanalysts, hate the great human imagination. It is messy, imprecise, fundamentally unstable, and its amoral transcendental freedoms are politically dangerous.

It is not that skeptics are right or wrong so much that they are not going to allow certain claims to come about.  The role of objectivity, in this sense, is the screening out of the subtexts of all experience. It is perhaps the oldest occult trick in human history.  

Therefore facts as auto-engineering memes are not about honest demystification, they are part of a propaganda mystique of that black art of the North European middle class called rationalism.

But skeptical rationalism is not about truth.  At its best it is a defence against what prowls beyond the outer rim of the cave-mouth fires of consciousness.  This is the single idea that unites all the themes that run through the books of Charles Fort. The quest is to try and rediscover the universe as a live animal.  That this idea has been stolen, falsified, curtailed, and restricted is what generates Fort’s implicitly political anger. This is the force creating the raw emotional energy running about in a Fortean world model, which is a structure in which feelings can disembody themselves, and can affect whatever areas are convenient or accessible as symbolic foci of resentment.  Fort argues in Wild Talents:

I feel the relatability [sic] of two scenes; in Hyde Park, London, an orator shouts: “What we want is no king and no law!  How we’ll get it will be, not with ballots, but with bullets!”

Far away in Gloucestershire, a house that dates back to Elizabethan times burst into flames. [2]

The World as Thought Processes

There is something very odd about the rationalist idea of clean-limbed upward ascent from a pit of fools and madmen who are not scientifically enlightened.  In this sense, the one thing that betrays skeptics is the universally mundane nature of their explanations.

Whether skeptics replace UFOs with the explanation of spots before the eyes, supersonic pelicans, marsh gas, or fleshes from lighthouses, they show that the one thing that such “explanations” do is divert attention by inducing a shift of focus.

Therefore explanations are part of a universal management process.  As banks of viral switches, they are a means of inducing sleep by diverting attention from the original target.  Such sleep is induced through controlling image-making power. Like those other control freaks, the priests, skeptics know that the making of images is the first alchemical stage of creation.  Thus skeptics are not against untruths so much as possibilities. Those oddballs, cranks and eccentrics who just happen to think that the truth is not only wonderful but thankfully scandalous and infinitely comic and mysterious beyond all belief have on many occasions found themselves being put into sealed trains.  They arrive in places to face correction by somewhat skeptical mechanists, who are intent on reducing their beloved reality to the dimensions of a corporate car-park.

Shakespeare and Factual Objectivity.

How threadbare this view is when compared with Renaissance thinking. Certainly for Shakespeare both mind and nature formed a seamless robe.  As such, he would have had no problems with UFOs or such a concept as the paranormal. He had a number of far classier options. He had the Bible plus his own fragmented national history.  He also had the apparatus of Greek Tragedy, which included such ideas as the transmigration of souls, the musical harmony of the heavens, and all those kinds of mystical ideas about destiny and character, thought and action as implied by Andrew Darlington’s election of a surrogate mythological father.

For many aboriginal natives and for Carlos Castaneda’s sorcerer Don Juan, thinking never ceases to be a form of dreaming.  The idea that we are never fully awake is the basis of many Eastern philosophies, and Hamlet particularly (a definitive Western character if ever there was) could be described by his attempts to “wake” more fully.  Thus for Shakespeare, Mind and Nature were one entity. This is identical to that symbiotic process which Jung called “participation mystique,” a process by means of which all matter becomes peopled again. In becoming so, Matter can be regarded as a form of evolving life, as can the active human imagination.

Therefore in the Shakespearean machinery, the non-human world or pure idea and eternal matter are just as much dramatis personae as the characters themselves.  In this sense, Matter of all forms—and we can extend this to Hardy’s Egdon Heath, E. M. Forster’s Marabar Caves, or Kafka’s Prague—has its own weather, its own mood, ecosystems, ambitions, and desires.

Shakespeare’s idea of individual personality was that it was a system of ideas whose quasi-material structure interfaced with the animal, vegetable and mineral elements of the outer cosmos.  Therefore a human being had a superbody whose makeup was the more airy, or thinned-out, elements of character. The great examples of this are in Hamlet and King Lear.

These plays show a dialogue between these inner and outer states.  In King Lear, just prior to the storm scene, we have the real madness of Lear played against the false madness of Edgar, played against the sanity of Kent, all played against the inanities of the Fool.  Similarly, Goneril and Regan become more animal than human because they invoke metaphors of animalism throughout their language and being. Thus, in Shakespeare’s cosmos there was a powerful traffic between non-human and human elements.  This connection also included the non-animate world. Indeed Keel’s Mothman could have come from either Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  

Impoverished Thinking

Try matching Shakespeare’s vision with the skeptic’s impoverished theorising about factual objectivity!  Our culture simplifies very complex states of affairs until we get the equations to work, and we call this simplification level “reality.”  Science, for example, reduces a Number Fifty Two bus full of drunks, with a junk-head trying to leave by the luggage compartment, into a simple point-mass moving down an inclined plane.  Equations cannot describe the spew nestling on top of a piss-sodden photo of a Tellytubby in The Sun tabloid. Nor can they describe the trouble they had trying to assault the driver, the smell of curry and chips, and the racist screams from football supporters slashing the upstairs seats, all to the wail of pursuing sirens.

But all these images of our modern Inferno are reduced by science to a point in space moving under the action of those historically arriviste harpies of mass, force, and acceleration.  This vanishing of images and information by ignoring them to get a uniform pet theory to work leads, of course, to one big scientific hoax after another.  The joke is that the amount of information about the Number Fifty Two bus event is decreased by science, rather than increased.

If that isn’t political, nothing is.

Entertainment State and Fantasy Management

In the postmodern equations of our Entertainment State, the billiard-ball atoms of fact and fiction will certainly be replaced with planes of war-gaming information.  Our coming Web World will be based on a reinvention of Plato’s concept of the real as a shadow-play of matter and essence, ideology, and quasi-material manifestations.

The books of Charles Fort endorse these concepts.  He shows that the subjective-objective stance gives us so many philosophic difficulties that we have to hoax our way around the problems.  But the hoax reassures us. We know we are being tricked, if only by ourselves. But perhaps we need these oversimplifications in order to get some sleep at night.

The UFO prophet George Adamski told some lies: most reassuring.  Interpret a man in terms of the lowest levels he falls to, and then we can sleep tight.  Accusing someone of being a fantasist is an old tribal way of vanishing, or controlling, the fantasies themselves.  This is fantasy-management, more than truth versus falsehood.

Perhaps we should ask the question of why we even bothered at all to accuse Adamski of being an imposter in 1953 and why we still bother over a half-century later.  Yet early contactees such as Adamski, Howard Menger, and Truman Bethurum still make the skeptics very angry. They still cause losses of temper, supercilious laughter, denials, and accusations of imposture.  Adamski in particular is still seen as a ridiculous figure, a clown, someone to be despised, a permanent embarrassment, a person who show just how silly and devious human beings can be.

Yet there is something very odd about our anger.  Hurts of the deep past, infinitely more profound than those inflicted by the confused and rather harmless Adamski, have vanished with the world of Adamski: we no longer get angry about the Korean War or Pearl Harbour.  Yet Adamski’s wound does not heal in us.

Something within us has been profoundly disturbed by his claims.  They still frighten and amuse. He entered our unconscious, and he went deep.  He, amongst others, is a permanent reminder that the world is not a stable place.

To go deeper than Pearl Harbour in American consciousness is quite an achievement.  Even 10-year-olds can relate to Adamski’s pan-shaped flying saucers, seen on the side of their cornflake packs.  Certainly no other single joke remains from the 1950s. Far more clever men have achieved far less than Adamski’s hoaxes—if indeed they were hoaxes—do not appear to be going stale, as distinct from the hoaxes of science such as psychoanalysis or the New Cosmology, or environmental improvement.

Mental Colonization

As we know, history picks the most unlikely heroes. There has to be a fulcrum for change, and perhaps Adamski’s claims were a focal point.  Compared to Adamski, Truman Bethurum was too simple-minded and Howard Menger too limp. Only Adamski had the proper hunger and was in the right place at the right time.  His mind was a kid of metaphor bomb, trying to reverse the automatic denial-bacillus of mental colonization. In this sense his simple bourgeois worth in terms of solid achievement is irrelevant.  Adamski was able to penetrate high-powered cultural levels on many continents with his new metaphors.

There is now emerging the postmodern view that such interpenetrating metaphors are actually alien life forms in themselves in that they represent invading systems of new kinds of reference.  Within the framework of such arguments, the old-fashioned real versus false arguments become somewhat irrelevant when compared to the idea of systems trying to out-advertise one another.

Most human problems are not actually solved so much as engineered around, reprogrammed, or re-imaged.  We need the aliens, if only to provide the superb Anglo-Saxon comedy of a great number of Miss Marples on bicycles going around the country taking notes on searchlights and ball lightning.  To them we can add the men with pens in their top pockets whose research appears to assume that the entire world is a branch of their local community college. Most of these look on a UFO incident as a local cop looks upon a bicycle accident.

Fool and Shaman

The disappearance of the Fool from Western culture was a great loss.  The function of Shakespeare’s Fool, as he sits at the feet of the mad Lear, is to remind us that the world as thought and idea is never complete, and that the hoax as a system of deception is part of a very early shamanistic technique of reaching and understanding the unconscious.  The joke comes back to us as a reminder that the mind reasons by hoaxing itself. This is a healthy process. It enables us to handle danger, and it is a vital element in the learning process, which is largely a process of self-deception. By convincing ourselves that we can master formidable problems, we do eventually master them.

Thus the concrete solution comes from an utter fantasy, as do most solutions in science and technology, these being the results (more often than not) of what Arthur Koestler called (referring to Kepler) “a fantasy-prone intellect.”  Koestler showed in The Sleepwalkers that so-called falsehoods are an essential part of any reasoning processs.[3] In great genius for example, the degree of self-deception may be most profound.  We live in a culture so commercially brutalized and with such a simple-minded media that such subtleties have been lost to us in any communal sense.

In this sense, facts are the ultimate conspiracy.  Look at a so-called fact and it will split into a thousand cultural advertisements.  These elements in turn will split again into a fractal. In a trice, we are gazing into infinity and falling like Alice through space past shelves on which stand jars of orange marmalade.

The isolated fact is like the idea of a lone assassin.  Few believe it, nobody likes it, and even fewer want it.  The facts about a person only tell us as much about that person as our mass moving down an inclined plane tells us about our troubled Fifty Two bus.  Being part of a highly developed apparatus of mental control, the facts usually represent a deeply negative politicization of all thinking.

Like the much-vaunted digital process, facts are not found in Nature.  Nor do they form manufactured screens as a fraudulent convenience to enable us to reason in yet more fraudulent terms.  This, according to Fort, is how the mind reasons.

There is something of ultra-pathos—of cosmic sadness—in this universal search for a standard, and in the belief that one has been revealed by either inspiration or analysis, rather than by the dogged clinging to a poor sham of a thing long after its insufficiency has been shown.

The loss of the idea of the Fool has caused many people, skeptics amongst them, to propagate a very simple-minded idea of hoaxing and imposture.  A hoax is an enactment of something; as such, it is not false but rather, a kind of rehearsal. For a minute, this new reality, or rather part of a new world, comes about.  True, this is a transient bubble-world, a kind of virtual construct, but nevertheless the hoax is powerful enough to change totally the entire complex of a deep-rooted group identity.

The Hoax as Part of the Fortean Chain of Being

If reality is a favourite word of the skeptics, then the word hoax is certainly their second.  Consider a number of reasonable well-adjusted  people are in a room who are talking quite naturally in a relaxed atmosphere.  One of the group leaves the room, only to rush back in and announce that the entire building is on fire.  Before it is quickly discovered that this person has a juvenile sense of humour, the group will momentarily have changed its fundamental identity.

True, this new act will be only a very temporary one, but it will be sufficient to change social and personal masks forever.  Within the new performance schedule, weak people will become strong and the strong weak. Leaders will emerge, as well as equally unsuspected cowards.

Though these new roles will appear not to last, memories of the changes will be permanent: the collapse of the strong will be remembered, as will the new-found confidence of the weak.  The old positions will then have been undermined and those leaders who try to regain their original position in the hierarchy will have lost face irrevocably.

For a moment then, a fantasy has had just as much effect as actual smoke and flames.  True, perhaps, it did not last very long, but that the effect came about at all shows that here we are not dealing with iron-age truth versus falsehood, but rather frequency and duration of hallucinations.  In all likelihood the more fantasy-prone members of the target group will admit that they smelled smoke, and the even more fantasy prone may well swear that they glimpsed a flame, if only a small one.

James Patrick Chaplin in Rumor, Fear and the Madness of Crowds comments on the notorious broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds:

There were some in New York who “saw” or “heard” the battle of the Martians and Earthmen that was being waged in the neighbouring state.  A man equipped with binoculars could “see” the flames of the holocaust from his vantage point on top of a tall office building. One “heard” the bombs from aircraft fall on New Jersey, and was convinced they were heading for Times Square.  Another “heard” the swish of the Martian machines as they plummeted through the atmosphere to earth. In Brooklyn, a man called the police demanding that he be issued a gas mask; he had “heard” the distant sounds of the battle going on over in Jersey and believed a gas attack imminent.  When informed it was a play, he shouted, “We can hear the firing all the way here, and I want a gas mask. I’m a taxpayer.” [4]

It is difficult here to avoid the idea that both our hoaxed fire and the suggested Martian invasion were not false or true things at all, but things that were almost fully created in the Fortean sense.  Science with its absolute insistence of on-or-off switches, its “concrete” distinctions between real and false, “yes and no,” “alive or dead,” does not recognise as meaningful the idea of the existence of intermediate states between hard and soft separations.

This is part of the psychosocial equation skeptics never talk about: the appearance of small fires, say, along the line of some fire-dreaming.  Systems such as witchcraft and indeed, great world religions, are on occasion rejected and persecuted not because they are theologically incorrect, scientifically invalid, or considered evil or immoral, but because, like fuel-less motors, they might just work for a time.

Thus we have to accept the idea that the fire previously mentioned was almost created.  An increase in the strength of the suggestion, and perhaps even bigger fires may well appear, along with stigmata and paranormal effects in many quite different contexts to the imagined fires.

Fort gives us many examples of mysterious deaths where the scene is as if imagined. By this he means that if the socks are left perfectly intact on a body that has been burnt by spontaneous combustion, this is because when we imagine killing a person by such means, we harbour no resentment against their socks!

Thus we have to replace the working or not-working paradigm with the “not working very well” paradigm.  In other words, Darlington’s umbilical to his Presley super-self is a noisy channel, as is the connection between dirt and infection with regard to Sartre’s sewer-workers.

Darlington’s world is not an objective world.  This means that it represents a system that can be entered.  The only possible way we can learn something is to enter a system as ourselves.  In Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche Dubois is a ruined woman of transcendent beauty. Low-key, practical, mundane, simple-minded characters who are skeptical about anything and everything surround her.  Stanley Kowalski, played by Marlon Brando in the original film, sarcastically asks Blanche what is her use in the world. She cannot cook, sew, or do anything practical. Blanche replies that the only reason for her existence is to provide magic.  She has done this almost as a vocation. Brando’s face is a mask of astonishment: his cynical, skeptical, world-weary materialist mask of a face drops as if Blanche has hit him on the jaw.

Blanche’s last piece of magic has worked.  Stanley Kowalski has learned something. He has learned that magic is a holy thing, and that without it, we are utterly damned.

Footnotes

  1. Darlington, Andrew, I was Elvis Presley’s Bastard Love-Child. Manchester: Critical Vision, 2002.
  2. Fort, Charles, The Complete Works of Charles Fort. (New York: Dover Publications, 1975,  p. 862
  3. Koestler, Arthur, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Hutchinson
  4. Chaplin, James Patrick, Rumor, Fear, and the Madness of Crowds.  New York: Ballantine Books, 1959.

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