“It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”
—Fredric Jameson, or so some people say.
UFO discourse exists upon the fringes of mainstream social reality. It has been othered by the mechanisms of popular culture and relegated to the taboo fringe. This is not the result of some government conspiracy, nor some hidden cabalistic agenda; rather, it is the constructs of modern ideological capitalism that have entrenched ufology into the outer limits of contemporary society and culture. This essay will establish the ideological illusions generated by modern capitalism, and how and why the general sciences work against UFO discourse, in order to outline the ways in which UFO discourse is opposed to the capitalist ideological establishment. I will argue that it is due to this conflict between capitalism and UFO discourse that ufology is forever trapped in a marginalized state.
As I was drafting this essay, I was reminded of John Carpenter’s satirical sci-fi film, They Live (1988), in which drifter John Nada, played by Roddy Piper, stumbles upon sunglasses that allow him to “see” the world for what it truly is. When he first puts them on, the advertisements on billboards change from their usual imagery to words such as “CONSUME” and “CONFORM.” All money, instead of bearing the usual American symbolism, is simply a white piece of paper stamped with the word “OBEY.” Everyday modes of consumption, advertisements, objects, and capitalism itself, shed their normal exterior, and become “clear” for what they are—mechanisms to control humanity.
Nada learns that certain people are not what they seem. The sunglasses give him the power to visually differentiate actual humans from the film’s antagonists, skeletal-faced aliens who are infiltrating Earth. These aliens are in positions of corporate and political leadership; they manipulate world economic markets, the media, and government in an attempt to deplete Earth of its natural resources for their own personal gain. They are the perfect capitalists.
Nada realises that the constructs of our reality, the ideological messages that exist in the media or in everyday economic exchange, are false and have no basis in True reality. Rather, they are illusions, constructed by those in power, to control. In the film, Nada is able openly to resist once he learns the truth.
As an audience, we are not so lucky. That power to understand True reality is inaccessible because all human understanding is shaped by ideological constructs—value and belief systems established in our minds by our social and cultural upbringing. There is only the universe we have constructed ourselves; an objective reality is forever out of reach; all attempted understanding and communication about such a reality would be hindered by our social and cultural illusions, languages, and mechanisms. We are, in essence, entrenched in an ideological illusion. There is no place we can “stand” to view or know, unfiltered, an unadulterated reality; our perception of the objective truth is fundamentally based upon human social and cultural conditions.
In They Live, Nada is forced to experience the crumbling of his ideological world. When the modes and mechanisms of economic production and consumption shed their ideological exteriors, Nada realizes the entire Capitalist system is nothing more than an insidious fantasy to control the human race. To Nada, the differences between a homeless drifter and an elite banker disappear. Poverty and wealth, even producer and consumer, become meaningless once Nada finds the sunglasses in a dumpster—there is only humanity (the oppressed), and the alien invaders (the oppressors).
For those of us who live outside of the film, there are no such sunglasses. However, by attempting to deconstruct our ideologies, we might be able, at least, to get a Nada-esque peek into these mechanisms of social control. To establish why UFO discourse has been pushed to the fringes of the social world, much like the homeless drifter Nada, we need to sort out who or what is controlling the ideological illusion, from where does the power come that constrains ufological debate to the realm of the oppressed, and who or what is the oppressor?
Going Down the Rabbit Hole
Many in the UFO subculture claim that a secret cabal, shadow government, or similar group of individuals is responsible for the purposeful relegation of the UFO to the lunatic fringe. This, unfortunately, is a dogmatic conspiracy theory based upon belief. There is no secret society that has imprisoned UFO discourse; rather, it is our collective social reality, governed by the mechanisms of modern capitalist ideology, that has done so. There is no conspiracy. There does not need to be one. Capitalism is, in simple terms, an ideology designed to control. Ideological capitalism permeates and drives our culture; it is what relegates ufology beyond the fringes of acceptable social discourse.
In order to discuss ufology and its place within our cultural discourse, we must first understand capitalism and its insidious operation within our society. The elite and wealthy 1% control the physical and economic representations of capitalism, such as banks, big oil and pharmaceuticals, weapons manufacturing, and various other multinational corporate entities. The physical economic structures of capitalism are maintained by groups of people who have their own agenda: to line their pockets and maintain the economic status quo. We can see why some in the UFO subculture have concluded that a secret society is running the planet. In very simplistic terms, maybe they are—but it’s not a secret, nor is it hidden, and we, the people, have given our consent for those physical capitalist structures to exist and flourish. More importantly, these physical manifestations of modern capital are simply a piece of the puzzle. Modern capital has moved beyond being controlled by those in elite positions of power. Capitalism, which we generally define as the hegemonic global economic system, has ultimately been established as the only economic system. No country in the world exists free of the capitalist model. It is more than simple economics; it is a system that generates ideology. It has grown beyond money and trade—it has become a way of thinking. Our social consciousness revolves around it. Our daily existence and experience, our shared cultural ideology, our collective reality, is modern capitalism. By hook or by crook, you and I have allowed no knowable reality to exist outside of it.
The economic crash of 2008 serves as an example of how modern capital functions beyond physical economics and maintains ideological illusion. The American government, which is supposedly designed to serve the people and the public good, openly protects the physical and ideological mechanisms of capitalism. When the big banks caused the financial crash of 2008, and the government sponsored a bailout, the government allocated more than 12 trillion public tax dollars1 to pay for the mistakes (or crimes) of privately owned banking institutions. While there was an initial public outcry, nothing was, or has, changed. No serious enforceable regulations to protect the public were put in place to ensure this could not happen again. With the exception of one investment trader, none of the high-level bankers who caused this crash went to prison, somehow circumventing the legal system designed to protect the people. As of 2015, only $4.8 trillion of the bailout package has been given to the banks. It is interesting that the American news media does not discuss the $8 trillion public dollars (at the time of writing) still being paid out to private corporations, when funding for education and other public services are being cut. No conspiracy, no secrets. All of this is public knowledge reported to the people by mainstream media. Modern capitalism is not only an economic system, it is also an information system that generates public perception and awareness. In effect, it is the ideological structure of our contemporary world, inescapable and omnipresent.
If modern capitalism is responsible for the relegation of UFO discourse to the fringe, the first question we need to ask is: why? To get to an answer, we must “look awry” at UFO discourse, and the systems of power that repress it. We must chip away at the “symbolic order” of modern capital. We must understand that capitalist ideology permeates our cultural reality, and that it uses the bastion of objective truth we call Science to force its ideological agenda.
Science, The Rebel Who Sold Out
When asked about the scientific tracking of UFO sightings and reports during an interview on the Open Minds podcast in 2015, UFO researcher and author Chris Rutkowski responded by saying:
[This data] is the foundation upon which all the speculation is based. The whole constituent of ufology is based on these reports from the average person… this is what is really being seen. When you strip away all the other stuff, we know these cases are real. Let’s try to build on this basis… go from the data outwards rather than from the outside into the data.
The general sciences discredit ufology due to its speculative nature, primarily regarding hypotheses suggesting the existence of an intelligent Other visiting Earth. While the scientific community’s objection to ufology may be legitimate, good ufologists, like Rutkowski, do not “cry aliens” when a well-documented/credible UFO sighting occurs. Rather, they cry, “What was that? We probably should look into it …” It is interesting that the same cry was the basis for the birth of the sciences as a social enterprise. The sciences established themselves upon a principle of counter-culture, a revolt against mainstream ideological thinking—people, primarily men, wanted to escape the ancient religious stranglehold on knowledge, and to develop an enlightened observable method by which to understand the world. Today, science is no longer counter cultural, but is now the arbiter of mainstream culture, the self-proclaimed hub by which all knowledge is. Ironically, science has become what it rebelled against.
Science has adopted an ideological illusion that it is the only road to “the Truth.” Academia has entrenched science into the social worldview as the harbinger of destruction for religion and, if one reads Neil deGrasse Tyson, the destroyer of philosophy. Interestingly, we collectively understand, scientists included, that science does not have all the answers right now. We also understand that future developments will undoubtedly change many of the scientific rules, laws and theories we now “know.” However, science, in some strange ironic twist of ideology, is also able to convince people that some ideas are not worth studying. It is a curious phenomenon. Scientists, and people in general, accept the present limitations of the sciences, and its future potential to grow and change, yet, in the same breath, they are able to dismiss other ideas, such as UFOs, as apparent nonsense.
We accept the ideological myths told by the sciences; they “make sense” to us. However, significant scientific “facts” have been proven, and later disproven as human knowledge expands, grows and shifts. As our cultural and social landscape changes, so too does current scientific knowledge. Take Phrenology, for example, a cutting-edge science in the 19th century that attempted to prove the size and shape of one’s skull was a measure of intelligence. Obviously, this is nothing more than a debunked pseudoscience today, as all evidence currently contradicts it—but, in the 19th century, brain scientists taught this theory in universities and colleges. From an economic and political standpoint, it was used to justify racism, slavery and colonization. Science was used to justify an economic agenda: the subjugation of a group based upon “scientific facts.” Today, the sciences continue to support the power of the corporate elite. While it may not be used openly to dehumanize, as it did centuries ago, it does create a simulated sense of truth, the illusion of objective reality which, actually, is ideology.
“UFOS AND MODERN CAPITALISM: DISSENT, DISENFRANCHISEMENT, AND THE FRINGE by MJ Banias” is an extract from his contribution to UFOs: Reframing the Debate edited by Robbie Graham.