Friday, January 11, 2008

One question readers of Whitley Strieber's "Communion" are forced to wrestle with: if Strieber is truthful in relating how the book came to be written, could the "visitors" have been using him as a vehicle for disseminating memes of their own?

If we grant that the "visitors" are real and possess at least a superficial understanding of human society, they must have known Strieber was an author and anticipated his writing about them. Could that have been part of their plan all along?

If it's easy to underestimate the success that greeted "Communion" in 1987, it's even more difficult to appreciate its multiplex impact on our culture. The cover painting alone almost single-handedly defined the "alien" to many thousands of readers. Strieber even devotes a section of the book to a hologram-like mental image that allowed him to describe the cover's iconic alien to artist Ted Jacobs, offering the possibility that "they" were complicit in the portrait's creation. (Even if their abductions are clumsy, the visitors seem to be consummate self-promoters.)

When Strieber and author Daniel Pinchbeck sparred on Strieber's Internet radio program, the former vigorously denied the possibility of being manipulated or seduced by a potentially negative alien intelligence. According to Strieber's writings (online and in print), the visitors -- whoever and whatever they are -- possess boundless insight into the very workings of consciousness and aspire to cultivate our species to the point where we can interact as equals. At the same time, their true appearance is compromised by our own perceptual limitations; as a result, we've come to fear them. (The visitor phenomenon, as described by Strieber, seems to epitomize the idea of "reified metaphor" espoused by the late Dr. John Mack.)

Whatever their actual intentions, the publication of "Communion" surely signaled a victory for any curious aliens. Never before had the notion of visiting extraterrestrials been allowed to reach such an expansive (and largely sympathetic) audience. Despite the mockery endured by the author, "Communion" helped mainstream the most unlikely prospect of awakening to the unannounced presence of enigmatic others. Not surprisingly, the "alien abduction" meme, previously confined to a relative handful of enthusiasts and Forteans, quickly cemented itself as a consumer touchstone. Pale-skinned aliens with ink-black eyes became commercial fixtures while leading an unremarked invasion of the collective psyche.

If the visitors' ability to relate to function in our reality depends on our acceptance of them (a concept found, interestingly, in Strieber's own writings), the cascade of "alien" imagery triggered by "Communion" and its successors could scarcely have done a better job. For better or worse, we seem to have been indoctrinated.

If so, what's next?


Elan said...

It has been noted before that in the UFO/abduction experience, the invalidation of the event is an inimical part of its structure, almost as though the entities are saying, “well, you may tell this story if you wish but if you tell it as it seems to have happened to you, you'll be taken for a fool.”
In Strieber, did they find a fool writ large? Or is there a clever little fella’ out there in the Eridanus system who is raking in the residual greenbacks on some cosmic licensing deal?
Mac, in reference to the reality of the entities being cotangent with our belief in them, are you touching on the quantum observer principle?

Anonymous said...

What's next? We will become their sex slaves, spawning a race of large-eyed midgets.

Elan said...

It is all too easy to deride Strieber as a charlatan, a money-grubbing huckster…he presents such a broad target.
Go easy, fellow Forteans; remember that the fool is also the trickster.

dad2059 said...

The short answer to "what are we being indoctrinated for" IMHO is a new religion that enables mankind to be able to embrace "the other".

I used to fantasize about humans being brought into a galactic union of some sorts, but with our baser emotions being particularly nasty, especially when it comes to non-tribal members, a galactic culture would be loath to have us.

The religious overtones are heavy here. If I were a hypothetical "alien", I would after a long anthropological study conclude that in order to "indoctrinate" humans into the larger universe, I'd make a "religion" of "Contact".

Just sayin'.

Greg Bishop said...

I don't know if Strieber refernces this anywhere (actually, I think he does) but apparently there was some sort of study done by the Air Force in the 1950s or '60s that determined that the extra-humans' capacity to affect us was in direct relationship to how much we believed in them. Therefore, a campaign to debunk UFOs was in our best interests.

Of course, this sort of rumor is tailor-made for people like Strieber, but it's intriguing in a pop quantum physics-sort of way (and in a Peter Pan-sort of way.)

Great analysis, Mac!

Derek C. F. Pegritz said...

I read Communion for the first time when I was fourteen years old--in fact, I got that book, along with a number of related alien abduction books, for my birthday that year. And even then I thought: This is better fiction than anything else he's ever written.

And the movie....Truly bitchin'. I mean, any film that Skinny Puppy samples has got to be good--but above and beyond that, I found it to be one of the most eerie and memorable films about human confrontation with the Completely Strange ever. It's positively Lovecraftian in that light--as is, for that matter, Fire in the Sky.

galactus_westerberg said...

On his recent Coast to Coast visit, Streiber seemed to be coming around on Pinchbeck's argument- more of a negative, Keelian view of the phenomena. I was surprised.

Daniel Brenton said...

Mac --

This is an excellent question. I got to know Jim Sparks a few years ago, and I tend to think his experience is another data point that would support the argument that abductees are being used -- coercively, in my opinion -- to disseminate memes into our consciousness.

Greg --

I wrote about just this a few weeks ago. I suspect what you're thinking of is a study Strieber claims was done by Dr. John von Neumann, which Strieber mentioned in this article.

The Odd Little Universe of Daniel Brenton

mr. intense said...

"...apparently there was some sort of study done by the Air Force in the 1950s or '60s that determined that the extra-humans' capacity to affect us was in direct relationship to how much we believed in them"


How well do you recall such a study? I would find it extraordinary that the USAF would conduct such research or produce a study of this kind. Can you try and recall any other details or sources of this information?

I would be quite interested, if true, as this would imply both much deeper interest in and knowledge of "alien" beings than has ever been disclosed before, and would amount to some form of "confirmation" of same, and the interrelationship between belief and effect on human psychology would also suggest some rather extensive research and study of a rather esoteric kind (and that, frankly, I find very hard to believe would be within the purview of the USAF, unless we're talking about the use of disinformation and manipulative behavior modification techniques to affect belief systems for psyop, deception, and security-testing purposes).

Not to mention that any such study would completely contradict the public stance of the USG, and especially the USAF, on the subject, which amounts to there being "no ufos or alien beings."

Please tell us more, as best as you can recall, or provide source data, as this just does not make sense to me.

And since your statement is unclear to me, are you talking about research on human belief systems in general, and how beliefs can affect behavior and actions, or something more specific related to "extra-humans" (and what a strange term that is--what is meant by that?)?

mr. intense said...

Wait--Greg is referencing an 8 year old Strieber post which vaguely (no title, no citation) refers to some supposed Von Neumann study which also doesn't mention any relation to the USAF?

Meh! Never mind...I doubt very much there is _any_ such study by von Neumann.

Juanberon said...

You are incorrect when you portray Whitley's characterization of his experience as some kind of galactic love-fest, ushering us in to some higher conciousness, that is but one component. He has been very upfront about the reality of his contact and the negative and often dark side of the experience. Maybe a little more time should have been spent reading some current material instead of rehashing the "Communion" cover business?