Australian UFO Researcher
Morley Legg

Exploring the discord behind accepting or rejecting the reality of UFOs, and the hazards of talking about it in public.

Morley Legg

THE WAY IT IS.   Nature is full of examples of how memory-habits impair adaptation to changes in environment or circumstances.  Take the potted plant that becomes root-bound.  If freed from the pot and planted in the earth, the roots continue the clogged growth-pattern as if they are still trapped in the pot.  We are apt to forget that the analogy applies to us, that once we fit the mould of the society we are born into, we are culture bound.  We would feel anxious and lost if it suddenly changed around us.

At the Brisbane 'Australian International UFO Symposium' in 1996, Professor John Mack of Harvard Medical School said that "society organises itself through a certain elite group, to determine for the rest of that society what is real, what is to be believed." (p.128)  Thus a world-view is established that organises a sense of self.  When the common world-view is challenged it can create terror.  This, of course, applies to all races and cultures, even to our own 'science-based society' which has chased all superstitions away

and has gained such mastery in understanding and controlling nature.  Subsequently, our society prefers to deny and debunk reports of unknown craft that frequently invade our airspace and disobey our scientific laws.  The bulk of the world's population follow this view because it assumes our political leaders and scientists must know best and also because the media doesn't take the matter seriously.

This complacent attitude to this persistent mystery is supported by the general agreement that ninety-five per cent of UFO reports can be explained away as fraud, uncertainties, unreliable witnesses, faulty radar, hallucinations etc.  Many assume this is evidence enough to justify dismissing the subject entirely.  Yet over fifty years the remaining five per cent amounts to over half a million well documented cases that still remain a puzzle to science.  This assortment of evidence, outlined in a growing body of serious literature, suggests that UFOs, along with an alien presence, are a reality.  This is a challenge indeed to our world-view.  Humanity, understandably rightly or wrongly, is not facing the implications or the challenge squarely.

TESTING THE TERRITORY.   Consequently, broaching the subject of UFOs in social gatherings to test opinions has its difficulties.  Reactions can range from interest to awkwardness, from laughter to derision and even anger.  I felt it would be invaluable to get comments from people whom I suspected had not read or thought much on the subject.  In mid-1997, with the excuse that I was writing an article on controversial issues, I armed myself with eight written questions and chose about twenty people to ask what they thought of the UFO mystery.  Generally I avoided agreeing or disagreeing with them.  Only afterwards if they opened the discussion did I add a viewpoint.  The exercise was not without its hazards.  Some people were unsettled by the topic.  Others were hesitant because they were unsure of my motives, and wondered if they should tell me what they thought I wanted to hear.  The questions were designed mainly to get them talking and committed to the subject.

Your Response to a Controversial Issue – UFOs.

1.Do you think there is any validity to the claims of a UFO/alien presence on earth?

2.What is your explanation for people claiming that they have been abducted by aliens?

3.Should research on this matter be encouraged or not?

4.What have you read on the subject?

5.What procedure should be followed to gain a clearer understanding of this worldwide phenomenon?

6.Is there anything we can learn from, as well as heal, the deep rift between sceptics and believers/researchers?

7.Should science/society remain with its well established theories/views, or be continually updating to keep abreast of new phenomena/new theories?

8.Are these questions worthless, irrelevant, threatening, unsettling or challenging?

What I found was that the majority of people were simply not interested because they were quite ignorant of the respectable literature that contained both facts and intelligent theories in efforts to explain the UFO phenomenon.  They were also ignorant of the politics of denial.  They had every right, of course, to remain disinterested and culturally moulded into preoccupations with fashion, sports and scandals, though, to add a social comment, a thinker like Noam Chomsky would say their 'consent' to this had been manufactured.

Some, who were quite ignorant of the current material for and against UFOs, voiced a firm belief that ETs were visiting us.  Others were also quite ignorant of the debate as to whether UFOs were here, but had firm convictions that anyone believing in UFOs or aliens was deluded, and refused suggestions that it could be otherwise.  Invariably I would run into someone who felt threatened by the questions and I would get a lecture, while others would put up a front of interest that quickly broke down into resistance.

THE SAFE RESPONSES.   However, I will begin with one ongoing encounter that has a lighter side.  T and C are a couple who treat my interest with amused contempt, and on the few occasions we talk about it, things seldom get out of hand because we are old friends.  We have traditionally enjoyed disagreements on many subjects because we often inject them with humour.  If they should visit us unannounced when I'm preparing the Society's newsletter, he will sit down to help me fold them, but reassure me in a sing-song tone that I am doing no harm at all – and no good either.  On one occasion I had just returned from the MUFON UFO Symposium in Seattle and eagerly showed him the book of the proceedings.  He ignored it, laughing "Do you really think that if there were UFOs Paul Davies wouldn't know about it?  Haven't you heard about SETI?  Don't you think SETI and NASA are more likely to know the truth about UFOs than amateurs in a UFO group?"

In vain I stressed the distinction between believing in UFOs and researching UFOs.  "If you're bothering to research it", he replied, "you must believe it!"  I was a bit annoyed because he was partly right and he had declined to open the book.  His sharp criticism, however, is often more than welcome as it keeps me alert to common attitudes and responses.

Tensions arose on the days that reports were made about the Heaven's Gate suicides.  They let the awful details sink into me and waited as if I were aligned with the cult.  Luckily I thought to spell out the difference between fanatical belief and healthy curiosity.  On another occasion we met after seeing the Australian Broadcasting Commission Compass television programme in which the abductee Rael was being interviewed before his tent embassy in Queensland.  Rael repeated his claim of being taken to another planet and being chosen by aliens to be a sort of ambassador.  "You didn't spend your life savings going to hear that sort of crap at a symposium did you?  Is that the stuff that interests you?"  The accusations had a touch of menace because the good natured jocularity seemed to be missing.  I felt I had to defend myself.

I admitted that Rael and his gathering seemed embarrassingly cult-like, and that some so-called contactees do act strangely in founding movements and enticing followers.  I stressed that Raelians weren't researchers trying to get to the truth, they were into belief, and this was an odd pattern that had surfaced in many countries and would be placed in a certain category.  I admitted there were hoaxers, people preying on the gullible, people looking for a structure acceptable to them on which to rest their delusions or mental illness.  I didn't think till after they were gone that it was possible that Rael had had a genuine experience, and that his interpretation didn't make sense to us.  That it was possible that the experience was disturbing enough for him to deflect the reality of it into dissociation; that Rael had dressed it up into a memory easier for him to accept – a common way of dealing with trauma.  But I doubt that they would have bought that either.

Despite the hurts and bruises suffered in our occasional bouts to make the other submit to reason, we somehow realised that maintaining the friendship was more important.  For months the subject had been avoided but in August 1997 they returned from England with a ninety minute ITV programme on UFOs which they had copied for me.  More on this later.

Recently, with some hesitation, I offered them the questionnaire.  Each responded with short written answers.  C thought people claiming abduction were "seeking something ... needed attention or affection."  Both had only read media reports on the subject but thought claims should be researched and continually updated.  C: "I think that UFOs are around, but don't think aliens are on this planet."  T didn't think UFOs existed and that people interested were searching for "meanings that man doesn't have the answer to."

TOUGHER CASES.   JB, a hydro-geologist, who was originally contemptuous of ufology, phoned with a respectful response.  "No, I don't think UFOs or aliens are here", he said in answer to the questions.  "Life on earth has arisen by natural processes, and it is almost certain statistically that life had arisen in other places of the universe.  But travel between earth and alien life-forms is extremely unlikely due to the limit of the speed of light.  There may be anecdotal evidence of UFOs and of experiences, but there is a lack of hard evidence.  I've often thought that with all the cameras in the world you'd think there would be a clear shot of a craft, but there hasn't been."

He said many sightings could be attributed to the thousands of satellites orbiting earth and to top secret military craft.  Further research into the matter, if there was evidence, would be curtailed by cost.  He had no explanation for abductions, other than there was no clear evidence.  I said there was indeed evidence, but the sort of hardware evidence that sceptics wanted – like an alien body and parts of a UFO being tested in labs with the media present – just wasn't available.  He said he had only read a few articles and some of the early books, and believed satellites and telescopes covered the whole electromagnetic spectrum, which meant that nothing of significance had showed up there, or the world would have heard about it.

He agreed with keeping an open mind, and reminded me there was a difference between belief and knowledge.  He said that lack of time curtailed his further reading.  As to question seven, he said science does automatically update whenever something new is discovered or proven, and that we should apply Occam's razor: The simplest explanation is usually true when something unusual comes along.  We spent some time talking after my eight questions and he asked about John Mack's position at Harvard, which I had mentioned to him some months earlier.  He listened with some interest.  I said I was sympathetic to genuine scepticism, and told him about the Kelly Cahill and Linda Cortile abduction cases which I felt could not be explained away, that I could not see how they could be faulted, but that I would certainly change my opinion if good contrary evidence came up.  He said he would be interested to see a copy of the article I was writing.

I read the questions to RG, who also had a science degree.  His knowledge of ufology came only from newspaper reports and television documentaries.  I said I was puzzled by the lack of proper dialogue between sceptics and those who believed in researching the UFO mystery, and more so by the hostility between the two.  He said the hostility was probably a natural response, it was human nature, particularly with such a subject.  After fifteen minutes on the phone much of what he said was similar to the remarks of JB above.  He had no expectations that anything new lay in the sightings of UFOs.  There may have been a touch of impatience (at my gullibility) in the tone of his final "But there is no evidence."

A medical technician who had read little on the subject, and was clearly disinterested, said the main reason research into UFOs wasn't justified was the economic factor.  Research was being cut back on many medical fronts and it was only right that research into rumours should be scrapped.  It was unjust to spend money on lights in the sky and stories of aliens landing on earth.  He was patient, but did not seem interested or curious.

Another could not see the point of the questionnaire and wasn't sure if there were UFOs, but wanted to say that people on these New Age lecture circuits are really only there because of a sharp business sense.  "They know what people want to hear, and what they want to believe, and they give it to them."  He mentioned industries that had been built up "on snake oil".  I admitted I had seen degrees of that, but that having a stake in a set belief applied to some sceptics too.  The interview ended with my listening to the merits of Carl Sagan and SETI.

PREPARING TO GAMBLE.   To return to John Mack's notion of an elite group setting the standard of what we should believe.  There is a class element in the way people decide to align their views to those of an elite.  People have learned that those socially abreast of the scientific and governmental elite, often seen as the intelligentsia, are somewhat contemptuous of 'belief in UFOs'.  It is not uncommon for people to go along with the viewpoint that provides a sense of safety as well as social standing.  Additionally, some religious people I contacted felt that questions on UFOs implied a threat to their beliefs and were reluctant to answer questions.  "They come from darkness" came one terse reply.  Having heard similar comments before, I could only conclude "All the more reason to learn about them so we can protect ourselves."

There is an area in which the sceptics may be right, although they may not realise it yet.  There is a theory that if there really is an alien presence it is perhaps best to deny it and ignore it.  If we make everyone aware of it, we will create a bridge for it to take us over and drain us.  If we remain sceptical (and ignorant) it will always have difficulty reaching us.  Although, the sceptics would interpret any notion of an 'alien presence' as a superstition, and claim that any large scale belief in it could induce mental illness.  Going by events in the Middle Ages, they could have a point.

In the rift between those who study ufology and those who avoid it, we encounter an age-old human weakness: We take sides, usually before we have all the facts.  Each side, because of genetic and emotional baggage, prefers to believe that their way of seeing an issue is right and that the other must be wrong.  What people choose to believe is often a gamble to gain satisfaction from the power of knowing and of being right all along.  Sceptics have invested in siding with the power elites in mainstream science (and taunt that ufologists have no evidence).  Ufologists have invested in believing that many UFO reports are true, and that this will lead to admissions of an alien presence and a subsequent paradigm shift (and wince that they still can not produce the 'nuts and bolts' demanded).  Therein lies the difference that sets the current battle line.

The trouble is that both groups have a mixture of followers that vary greatly in standards and attitudes, and this has resulted in an ego war between the extremists of each group.  Less mature ufologists stretch stories for their own ends and are inclined to believe or sensationalise anything that draws in more believers.  Less knowledgeable sceptics appear to suffer that fundamentalist obsession of adhering to 'first heard' dogmas (that reject the possibility of UFOs or aliens); they utilise thefundamentalist instinct to anchor themselves to entrenched knowledge as the way to hang on to power.

SKIRMISHES.   Fortunately both groups patrol enemy territory.  In their book Crop Circles – A Mystery Solved (1990), Jenny Randles and Paul Fuller arrived at a firm new conclusion that plasma vortices, natural phenomena, accounted for crop circles, UFOs and reports of aliens.  They charged that "science is scared off by the alien delusion that ufology represents."  Arguments erupted.  Further studies found that plasma vortices did not account for all UFO activity, and that serious anomalies remained.  However, it was a welcome change in that it kept researchers more alert and diligent.  It was encouraging that Paul Davies crossed the battle line in three pages in his book Are We Alone?, but a pity that he tied explanations of UFOs to the dated von Däniken and Adamski and concluded that "No clear distinction can be drawn between UFO reports and descriptions of religious experiences of, say, the Fatima variety." (Davies, 1995, p.87)  John Mack was a sceptic until he met Budd Hopkins and examined some abductees.

In Revelations Jacques Vallee still believed there was a legitimate core to the UFO mystery, but speculated that ingenious disinformation and rumours about UFOs were deliberately planted by the US government as a cover for top secret craft and a new type of warfare.  Despite legitimate claims appearing in the growing UFO literature, mainstream science appearedreluctant to acknowledge it, at least openly.

WIDENING THE PARAMETERS.   But perhaps a turning point in another area has been reached.  Take the release of Colonel Phillip Corso's book The Day After Roswell which claimed proof of captured saucer and alien technology.  Corso's position as head of the Pentagon's Foreign Technology desk, and being in Army Intelligence, as well as having been in Eisenhower's National Security Council, makes it look as if he was permitted to make these world shattering disclosures.  What this could mean, however, is that the final brazen test has been made.  Corso's admissions prove that population control has succeeded.  The release of key cases, for instance Budd Hopkins' Witnessed, Larry Warren and Peter Robbins' Left at East Gate, Travis Walton's Fire in the Sky, and finally the revelations in The Day After Roswell mean the truth is finally out.  And so is the other truth: populations have remained indifferent.  They have become isolated from truth and realisation.  They, we to be honest, wait passively for it, or anything, to be spelled out on television between advertisements.

The evidence of such covert control is stark in Dr Sharon Beder's Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism.  It has nothing to do with ufology, but it shows how society has been shaped over the decades by (and for the benefit of) transnationals through their lobbying power with governments and their control of the media.  Whole populations are now addicted to consumerism through entertainment, and advertising dressed as news.  Any issue that might disrupt this strategy, like environmentalism (or the serious study of UFOs) is either 'captured' and reloaded with disinformation, or misrepresented.  This of course smacks of population control.  People have been conditioned to think in ways that suit corporate interests.  Undoubtedly the military/intelligence side of governments is fully versed in these tactics and were no doubt confidently awaiting the non-response to Corso's book.

Proof of an alien presence that is periodically claimed by respected authors is one thing.  The official announcement by a president that "contact has been made" is quite another.  This is where we wonder about the unpredictable behaviour of populations unprepared for such news.  Official admissions could also unleash the sort of revolutionary fervour that means everything changes, that means we lose our bearings and become demoralised by total unknowns, perhaps to a panicky global gold-rush mentality.  Alien knowledge, being synonymous with ultimate power, would draw certain elements to covet it at all costs.  Those who obtain it would do anything to prevent others getting hold of it, and, as they who hold it could influence the world's media (they may already own it), we will never quite know the truth about anything of importance.  There are optimistic views of this of course, one being that we can quickly adjust to the existence of 'gods' as did the ancient Greeks.  Sceptics do represent the majority world-view of how people think in these remaining years of the second millennium, but they haven't bothered to tackle the quality of UFO literature because they assume there isn't any.  They have dismissed well-researched individual cases on the grounds that other similar cases were found to be questionable.  The challenge remains for them to embrace the whole picture of the UFO enigma.  That is the five per cent over fifty years that now amounts to 650,000 unexplained, well-documented cases from around the world (Pope, 1996).  They include many that are multi-witnessed, with physical evidence, and with conscious memories not requiring hypnotic regression.  The videoed stories of expressive, level headed children (Mack's cases in Zimbabwe, 1996), and the UFO connection with decades of unsolved cattle mutilations (Howe, 1989) – all these form a picture so persuasive that entirely to dismiss UFOs and abduction stories as imaginary nonsense is not only dishonest and reprehensible, but bad science.

OUTCOMES.   If you ask either group, ufologists or sceptics, whether they want to get to the truth about UFOs they will answer 'yes!'  But how would we, or they, cope with losing the debate?  Let us suppose that it becomes established that there are no UFOs, and no aliens.  It would be embarrassing for some ufologists or paranormal researchers to find that some crop circles and UFO sightings were due to plasma vortices; that all the other strange and unusual sightings, abductions and cattle mutilations were not the work of extraterrestrials or aliens from parallel universes, but were merely top secret aircraft and high technology holograms of the military experimenting with psychotronic warfare.  All masterminded since the 1940s to keep enemies afraid and the gullible misled – all an experiment designed to control populations.  In this case we would have to endure the humiliation of being proved persistently gullible.  But at least we had been prepared to look, and we could hardly be blamed for being tricked by such brilliant, secret psi technology.

Now suppose the opposite happens.  That it becomes established that there are UFOs and there is an alien presence on earth.  It had all been happening just as we suspected.  It would therefore be much harder for the sceptics in mainstream science to admit it.  With so much investment in certainty, in higher education and with the technology of science racing into space (much of it powered by military black budgets), to have to admit that they cannot understand how UFOs and aliens have penetrated humanity repeatedly for over fifty years would be humiliating indeed.  Even worse would be to admit that many New Agers, clairvoyants and ordinary people with no special education had perceived the facts before them.  It would mean that enormous revision would lie before large sections of science, much of which would grind to a halt before it could change direction and start up again.  And think of the effect on the stock market.

In addition, segments of some religions would be uneasy indeed, with weakened beliefs and a loss of purpose and direction.  Would there be a period of primitive grovelling before 'dark forces', or would we be uplifted by a clearer perception of a Supreme Being?  Would a more authentic spiritual growth lead us into an awareness of Christ Consciousness?  As yet it is difficult to imagine what would happen if all the energy ossified in narrow beliefs and dogma were suddenly released.

This takes us back to the analogy of the plant that becomes root-bound and is suddenly released from the pot.  What happens when our assumptions and habits, memories and beliefs become suddenly useless and meaningless?

A BATTLE TELEVISED.   My friends T&C have made it clear they do not want their 'place' in the world disrupted by my nonsensical delvings.  Can we blame them?  I rarely comment on the matter and receive thankfully any news-cutting they offer.  The video they brought back from England was Michael Aspel's Strange But True.  It was a debate to decide whether or not aliens had already visited earth.  Stanton Friedman, Timothy Good and Nick Pope were against sceptics Dr Chris French, David Hughs and Professor Frank Close, and there was a wealth of available witnesses including top scientists, Russian military, NASA astronauts, Bentwaters personnel, for and against the reality of UFOs and aliens.  Timothy Good showed flexibility in saying he agreed with some points of the sceptics but firmly believed abductions did take place.  On the latter point, so did ninety-two per cent of the 100,000 phone-in audience.  The sceptics, however, were noticeably articulate in defence of their entrenched denial.  In the face of well-documented cases they remained 'closed men'.  Their concluding remarks were "show me the evidence" as if they expected alien artefacts had to be brought to them rather than that their curiosity should take them out to follow the many new leads being offered.

The world needs more of such debates, with improved ground rules, so that progress can be made.  Surely more open minded opponents will have an interest in each other's views, and will be more interested in finding out and adjusting to outcomes than holding to favoured or preconceived ideas.  The very fact that the intelligent personnel of these two groups are currently diametrically opposed over evidence, or lack of evidence, means that whichever way the chips fall we are going to learn something.  With the world the way it is, reappraisals are required urgently.

THE FULL PERSPECTIVE.   In Aspel's UFO debate it looked as if the sceptics with a science background were not speaking from science as much as they were from the preferences and prejudices of their ordinary selves, once their education had locked them into a certain world view.  Perhaps, despite all our surface learning and sophistication, we remainas ignorant, wise and culture bound as we have always been.

It can be difficult for some of us to explore across the divide to examine our basic preferences and aversions in a different light.  We should admit that the subject has become so mined with disinformation that it also involves the risk of finding that we (and they) can be wrong here and there, and that some unlearning and relearning might be necessary.  There is something mysteriously perilous about being faced with a reality different from the one we had banked on.  Winning or losing our grasp on what we believe in throws us back to instincts of a battle line running through us all.  We become like the primitive hunter following freshening tracks and arriving for the climax at the end of the hunt.  You know what you want it to be, but the signs show it to be huge and something quite different.  Soon you must face the creature.  And probably fight for your life.

Beder, Sharon.  (1997)  Global Spin. The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism.
Corso, Col. Philip J. (1997)  The Day After Roswell.
Davies, Paul.  (1995)  Are We Alone?  Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life.
Hopkins, Budd.  (1996)  Witnessed.
Howe, Linda Moulton.  (1989)  An Alien Harvest.
Mack, John.  (1996)  Australian International UFO Symposium Proceedings.
Pope, Nick.  (1996)  Open Skies, Closed Minds.
Randles, Jenny & Fuller, Paul.  (1990)  Crop Circles: A Mystery Solved.
Vallee, Jacques.  (1991)  Revelations.
Walton, Travis.  (1996)  Fire in the Sky.
Warren, Larry & Robbins, Peter.  (1997)  Left at East Gate.

Source: Journal of Alternative Realities - Volume 6, Number 1 1998


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