July 19 2012

South Park, 9/11, UFOs, and The Man (Part 4)

By The Philosophy Channel Editorial Staff

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“If the proper application of science demands that at present we be agnostic about whether any UFOs have an extraterrestrial origin, neither believing nor rejecting this, then the taboo on trying to find out what UFOs are is deeply puzzling. After all, if any UFOs were discovered to be from somewhere else in the universe, it would be one of the most important events in human history, making it rational to investigate even a remote possibility.”

Indeed, it was similar reasoning that led to US congressional funding of the SETI (Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program for some years. “Even for those for whom the question of extraterrestrials is not on the table, what about simple scientific curiosity? Why not study UFOs, just like human beings study everything else?”

The reason may be hiding in plain sight: It’s politics. The UFO question “seems to be a symptom of authoritative anxiety, a socially subconscious fear of what the reality of the UFO might mean for modern government.”

The authors see a threefold threat. One, accepting “the possibility that the UFO is truly unidentified, and that therefore an unknown, very powerful ‘other’ might actually exist, represents a potential physical threat.” If an alien civilization should actually exist, with the capacity to visit Earth, then it unquestionably possesses technology that “raises the possibility of colonization or extermination.” And here we return to a situation similar to that encountered in our South Park episode as regards the question of government power. “As such, the UFO calls into question the state’s ability to protect its citizens from such an invasion.”

Secondly, and particularly as political scientists, Wendt and Duvall suspect that governments may harbor a fear “that a confirmation of extraterrestrial presence would create tremendous pressure for [the establishment of] a world government, which today’s territorial states would be loathe to form.” After all, “sovereign identity” is defined by our differences from one another. “Anything that required subsuming this difference into a global sovereignty would threaten the fundamental structure of these states, quite apart from the risk of destruction.” 

And, finally, our authors see the UFO challenge as a threat to what they call the “anthropocentric nature of modern sovereignty.” In other words, on Earth, people rule people. “Political organization everywhere is based on the assumption that only human beings have the ability and authority to govern and determine our collective fate.” Though this seems to be a given and common sense, it’s important to remember that such human-centered notions of governance are “a [relatively] modern assumption,” one less common in much of human history, “when Nature or the gods were considered more powerful than human beings and thought to rule.” 

Since “a possible explanation for the UFO phenomena is extraterrestrial, taking UFOs seriously calls this deeply held assumption into question. It raises the possibility of something analogous to the materialization of God, as in the Christians’ ‘Second Coming.’ To whom would people give their loyalty in such a situation, and could states in their present form survive were such a question politically salient?” Wendt and Duvall see this question as central to the UFO taboo. “The political survival of the modern state depends on that question not being salient. As such, an authoritative taboo on the UFO is functionally necessary for rule to be sustained in its present form.”

With this, it’s time to put the modern state on the psychoanalyst’s couch: “The UFO creates a deep, unconscious insecurity in which certain possibilities are unthinkable because of their inherent danger. The UFO taboo is akin to denial…. the sovereign represses the UFO out of fear of what it might reveal about itself. There is therefore nothing for the sovereign to do but turn away its gaze.”

(Part 4 of 6)

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