Perhaps the most interesting
and telling fact about UFO sightings is that they have overwhelmingly
occurred in the United States.
This might mean that either
extraterrestrials are specifically observing the United States or
that the United States is peculiarly rich in those cultural
characteristics that stimulate eyewitness reports concerning alleged
I believe there is much
more evidence for the latter supposition.
In a scientific age where
the world’s traditional religions are under constant intellectual and
moral attack, it would not be surprising that people would, not
despite this but because of this, continue their search for spiritual
meaning and situatedness.
As Sigmund Freud once
famously proclaimed, many people, perhaps a majority, are possessed
of an “oceanic feeling” which naturally leads them to religious
speculation and to seek cultural forms of mystical participation.
Since Freud’s time, the
“oceanic feeling” has not disappeared apparently, even if the
traditional ways in which they have been expressed have significantly
The peculiar strength of
religious feeling in the United States has often been noted starting
with the likes of Tocqueville through Karl Jaspers and continually
debated by modern day sociologists. Many theories have been offered
to try to explain this cultural phenomenon. The plural nature of the
American religious market, the need for a cultural marker to signal
cooperation and safety in a vast unsure continent,the perceived need
for a kind of social conformism. Indeed, self-identifying atheists
are still at a marked social and political disadvantage within the
United States, although there are recent signs that this is rapidly
So while the United States
arguably still continues to be bathed in subjective lathes of
“oceanic feeling” the traditional ground and structures that
once channeled that feeling have either weakened or, even,
Enter the Alien.
A belief in highly
intelligent (read technically advanced) aliens is, in many ways, a
perfect expression of a new American religion.
Firstly, in a society that,
itself, is highly technical, scientific, expansionary (and at least
mildly threatening), and puts a high cultural value on power, speed,
and practical intelligence, Aliens seem to fit the bill of a
refracted American presence somewhere beyond our vision, experience,
and capabilities. Indeed, it is my view, that “ET” is a
semi-unconscious projection of ourselves: space faring, colonialist,
technical without a specific goal or creed other than ceaseless
As Emile Durkheim noted
more than a century ago, a people’s religion is a parallax mirror of
itself: its self-perception, ideals, fears, wants, and spiritual
The Alien here is a thinly
disguised American technocrat or member of a privileged elite.
Powerful, inscrutable, amoral, secretive, vaguely menacing and, above
all, omnipresent if not always immediately visible.
The fear and wonder of the
Alien is the fear and wonder of a modern technical civilization that
has seemed to escape any kind of moral control.
Indeed, the religion of the
Alien is more like the religion of Alien ation in
the Hegelian sense.
giving away of ourselves to something outside of us and thus beyond
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