[A-List] Waiting for the Saucers

Tony B. tal1 at cogeco.ca
Wed Mar 18 10:43:13 MDT 2009

...worthy of citing as a relevant reference here is Elaine Showalter's, 
"Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media".... a superb unravelling 
and critique of a number of modern 'mass emotional contagions' including: 
alien abduction, chronic fatique syndrome*, satanic ritual abuse, recovered 
memory syndrome, multiple personality disorder, and Gulf War syndrome.

*CFS is also given the 'treatment' by the medical historian, Edward Shorter, 
in his book on the modern history of psychsomatic illness, "From Paralysis 
to Fatigue".


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bill Totten" <shimogamo at ashisuto.co.jp>
To: "a-list" <a-list at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:33 AM
Subject: [A-List] Waiting for the Saucers

> by John Michael Greer
> The Archdruid Report (March 11 2009)
> Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial 
> society
> Whether or not synchronicity has the importance that Jung and his
> physicist friend Wolfgang Pauli attributed to it, it's something that
> pops into my life often enough to be worth the occasional comment. A
> couple of weeks ago, a fine specimen showed up - well, not quite on my
> doorstep, but in the course of a half mile or so of walking that began
> and ended there.
> My walk that day took me to the post office, to pick up a package, and
> to the local media exchange, to see what was new there. I'm not sure how
> widespread media exchanges are just now, but it's an intriguing business
> model: people drop off the books, CDs, DVDs, and so on they no longer
> want; those that are worth $10 or more on the used book market get sold
> over the internet, and the rest go on shelves, for anyone to take for
> free. This particular media exchange gets a dizzying assortment of
> stuff; for that matter, so does my mailbox.
> This particular day had parallel finds in both of them. The mailbox
> contained the first two copies of my new book on the UFO phenomenon,
> rather unoriginally titled The UFO Phenomenon (2009), an attempt to get
> past sixty years of bickering between the people who think any light in
> the sky nobody can identify must be an alien spacecraft, and the people
> who think that any light in the sky nobody can identify never existed in
> the first place. The media exchange followed that up with a packet of
> yellowing paper putting a full stop at the end of one of the oddest and,
> in its own way, most moving stories I researched in the course of
> writing The UFO Phenomenon.
> The late Dorothy Martin never became a household name, but this is
> mostly because she had her fifteen minutes of fame veiled by a
> pseudonym. She was "Marion Keech", the central figure in the UFO cult
> chronicled in one of the classics of American sociology, When Prophecy
> Fails (1956). Martin, a suburban Chicago housewife turned contactee,
> announced to the world that a vast flood would sweep over North America
> on December 21 1954, and only those who were flown to safety aboard
> flying saucers would survive.
> A team of sociologists from the University of Minnesota had a couple of
> grad students join Martin's circle under false pretenses. The result was
> one of the few hour-by-hour accounts of what happens when a group of
> true believers has to deal with the complete failure of their belief
> system. The climactic scene of the story, the afternoon when a circle of
> middle Americans gathered in a suburban backyard in a Midwestern winter,
> watching the skies and frantically getting rid of every scrap of metal
> on their bodies so the flying saucers could land safely, begs for
> cinematic treatment; it's hard to imagine any series of events more
> perfectly balanced on the thin edge between drama and farce.
> It's hard to get through a degree in any of the social sciences in
> America without being exposed to When Prophecy Fails, but very few
> people know the rest of the story. Friends in the contactee scene got
> Martin out of Chicago just ahead of a psych evaluation that probably
> would have sent her to a mental institution, and she went first to
> Arizona and then to Peru, where a group of contactees were attempting to
> launch the Abbey of the Seven Rays as an international center for the
> emerging New Age movement. When the Abbey folded, the promoters simply
> walked away, leaving Martin penniless and stranded.
> It took her years to get back to the United States. When she finally
> made it home, she settled in the small town of Mount Shasta, California
> as Sister Thedra, the name she believed she had been given by the
> aliens. With a constancy and devotion worthy of some less delusional
> creed, she lived in relative poverty, supported by donations from the
> very modest network of people who subscribed to her newsletter and found
> her messages appealing, and devoted all her time and efforts to the task
> of preaching the extraterrestrial gospel to a mostly uninterested world.
> Until her death in 1992, she remained convinced that the purifying
> catastrophes and mass alien landings she had announced in 1954 were
> still imminent.
> The packet of aging photocopies I found at the media exchange chronicled
> the last chapters of her story: several years' worth of her newsletter
> from the last years of her life, along with a cheaply bound book of
> messages she had transcribed from the aliens and a brief biography of
> Martin written just after her death by one of her few followers. I
> brought it home and read the whole packet several times. It will be
> going back to the media exchange, but several aspects of her story seem
> uncomfortably relevant to the current predicament of the industrial world.
> To begin with, of course, a remarkable number of people even today
> remain committed to the same faith in flying saucers that led Dorothy
> Martin on the long strange trip of her life. I have had several
> conversations with one person who is convinced that since the problems
> besetting industrial society are insoluble by rational means, we need to
> transcend reason and await rescue by spiritually enlightened
> extraterrestrials. (It never fails to bewilder me how many people these
> days think that "transcend" and "give up on" mean the same thing.) I
> have spoken with another person who, having seen odd lights in the sky,
> is convinced that they must have been alien spacecraft, and on that
> basis argues that since it's clearly possible for intelligent species to
> reach a higher technological level than humanity, humanity ought to be
> able to get through its present predicament and keep on progressing.
> All this is a bit like insisting that any hoofprint sighted in a forest
> anywhere on Earth proves the reality of unicorns, and arguing from there
> that the best solution to the current health care crisis is to rely on
> the legendary curative power of unicorn horns. Still, Martin's legacy
> has a broader lesson to teach. The contactee faith that shaped her
> career drew its strength from the appalling contradiction between the
> ideology of progress that dominated twentieth century America and a
> growing sense that the trajectory being traced by progress was moving
> toward a future no sane person would welcome. The slogan of the 1933
> Chicago World's Fair - "Science Explores, Technology Executes, Mankind
> Conforms" - had become the ideology of an inhuman future anatomized by
> Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society (1954) and also, in the sly
> language of satiric fantasy, by C S Lewis in his novel That Hideous
> Strength (1945).
> The result invites analysis in terms of Gregory Bateson's theory of the
> double bind. Put a child into a family setting where the realities that
> can be discussed flatly contradict the realities the child experiences,
> Bateson pointed out, and mental illness is a pretty common result. Put
> an entire society into the same sort of conflict between ideology and
> experience, and new belief systems that promise a radical resolution of
> the conflict spring up. The more drastic the disconnection between
> culturally acceptable beliefs and personal experiences becomes, the
> wilder and more apocalyptic the resulting belief systems tend to be.
> There's an entire literature on revitalization movements, which is what
> sociologists call the mass movements that sometimes gather around these
> new belief systems in times of drastic social stress. Some dimensions of
> the UFO movement came close to that category, though it never quite
> managed to become a mass movement on the scale of the Ghost Dance of the
> Native American plains tribes, say, or other classic examples of the
> type. The social pressures that gave rise to the extraterrestrial faith
> found other expressions before that faith could find a large following;
> the widespread but mild belief that there could well be aliens out there
> somewhere, and there might be something to all those reports of flying
> saucers, replaced the total conviction that sent Dorothy Martin in
> pursuit of her destiny.
> Just now, though, the double bind that drove the radical movements of
> the Fifties and Sixties - the gaping disparity between the Utopian
> visions of progress that flooded popular culture and the manipulative
> and inhumane technocracy so many people saw taking shape around them -
> has given way to a different one. Where the stresses of an earlier time
> grew from contradictions to the claim that progress is good, those of
> the present and foreseeable future are building around the claim that
> progress is inevitable. A society founded on the unquestioned belief
> that economic expansion and technological development will continue
> forever may have a very, very hard time dealing with a future in which
> economic contraction and the abandonment of technologies too complex to
> be sustainable will likely be dominant trends. It's not too far of a
> reach, it seems to me, to suggest that massive revitalization movements
> will follow.
> Not all of those will be as obviously delusional as Dorothy Martin's
> belief in the imminent arrival of the Space Brothers, though there will
> doubtless be some, and the approaching "end of the Mayan calendar" in
> 2012 - I put the phrase in quotes, because the Mayan calendar doesn't
> end then, and the recently invented mythology that has gathered around
> the rollover of one of their calendrical cycles has no basis whatsoever
> in ancient Mayan tradition - may well give rise to a whopper. Still,
> it's the apparently saner fantasies that may cause the most damage, if
> only by distracting us from steps that can actually be taken to cushion
> the descent into the deindustrial age and make life better for our
> descendants for generations to come.
> Thus I'd encourage my readers to be at least a little wary of any
> movement in the years to come, however reasonable and hopeful it may
> seem, that claims to have a solution to the rising spiral of crises that
> is building around today's industrial civilization. I have argued here
> and elsewhere that those crises define a predicament rather than a
> problem - a situation that cannot be solved, only lived with - but that
> definition flies in the face of some of the most deeply rooted
> assumptions of our culture. I suspect that unless we cultivate an
> unusual degree of common sense, a great many of us in the years to come
> may end up doing some equivalent of standing in suburban backyards,
> waiting for the saucers to arrive.
> _____
> John Michael Greer has been active in the alternative spirituality
> movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of a dozen books,
> including The Druidry Handbook (2006) and The Long Descent (2008). He
> lives in Ashland, Oregon.
> http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2009/03/waiting-for-saucers.html
> http://www.billtotten.blogspot.com
> http://www.ashisuto.co.jp

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