The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Manifesto of Extraterrestentialism

urbietorbiThe time has come for a new Copernican Revolution. Such a revolution would be, not merely a realization and understanding of our place in the order of things, but a true coming-to-grips which painfully and profoundly reorders our thinking. The realization must be this: Humans are not the apex of sentience or consciousness or intelligence or evolution. We are not forerunners in our universe, but latecomers. I’m hardly the first to say this, but it bugs me that even people who agree with this view “intellectually” still don’t bother to seriously grapple with its existential implications.

As I’ve written here, many sensible, scientifically minded people are persuaded of the validity of thousands of well-documented UFO encounters throughout the latter part of the 20th century (and even before). But it is not necessary to accept this evidence to still accept the likelihood that we have been visited by advanced ETs. Statistics alone—i.e., the Drake equation and its variants—dictates that this state of affairs is highly likely, even if “they” have never shown themselves or sent us radio signals. ET neighbors (or their machines) will have had ample time—millions or billions of years—to master interstellar flight that approaches or exceeds the speed of light; there has been ample time for they or their probes to propogate across the galaxy; incredibly advanced technology ensures that such beings or their machines will have the ability to manufacture new probes from local materials and that such probes would be inconspicuous if they wish to be. If we have near or more distant neighbors that are thousands or millions of years in advance of us, it only makes sense that our existence and our progress as a species would be monitored.

Besides the statistics of the matter, I do accept the UFO “best evidence.” Of course, the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis is not the only legitimate explanation for UFOs. Other speculations include that “UFO pilots” come from other dimensions, from our own future, or that they are more-advanced hominids, “cryptoterrestrials” as Mac Tonnies called them, that live secretly on earth. (It’s not an absurd proposition: If isolated pockets of “slightly less advanced” hominids like Sasquatch exist—and it is surely at least possible—why not “more advanced” ones that have already mastered space travel and choose to remain hidden?) These are all possibilities, but it is hard not to find the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis most parsimonious, and the one that best fits with our current understanding of physics and astronomy. And in any case, other explanations would not alter my fundamental point here: We are not assuredly and perpetually, and perhaps not even now, masters of our fate. Homo sapiens is not the only game in town, and we’re way behind the curve in terms of the level of our civilization and our technology.

In speculating about “their” motives, whoever they are, I think the most parsimonious line of thinking is, again, simply to extrapolate from the present—in this case, what we know about our own scientific and security motives. Long-term monitoring of human affairs—what could be called “deep anthropology”—would most plausibly be motivated by the likelihood that humans will one day be astropolitically relevant or even a potential threat. If they are ETs, that time is surely long in the future—hundreds or thousands of years from now—yet deep anthropology would be a totally sensible insurance policy. In a millennium or so, our spacefaring descendents’ every move will be totally predictable due to the vast amounts of data on our species already accumulated and stored and analyzed. (Analyzed for patterns of which, in our commitment to a belief in free autonomous will—human unpredictability—most nonscientists would prefer to deny the existence.) Many of the best-attested UFO reports, having occurred near political centers and military bases, near space flights and missile launches, and in the context of air warfare and maneuvers, bear out such an interest in our military development and behavior.

I know the view I’m expressing will seem paranoid, although on the paranoia scale I consider myself only about a middling 5 or 6. I think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; I don’t think the Knights Templars have any modern relevance. And as a very minor blogger, I’m not so paranoid as to think I actually have more than about one or two readers. Again, I base my “extraterrestentialist” argument partly on the simple statistics about what most probably is the state of affairs in our galaxy.

The lack of radio evidence, cited by SETI proponents, is no counterargument: Why would advanced civilizations necessarily still communicate in the radio band? Highly directional lasers (or something else we don’t even know about yet) are more likely. Civilizations like ours that do go through a “radio phase” probably do so for just a few hundred years, or less, and the probability of “radio simultaneity” (adjusting for the speed of light, of course) is infinitesimal—precisely the lack of technological parity that dictates at least some of our interstellar neighbors are going to be wildly in advance of us. What the standard Drake equation fails to factor in is the certainty that civilizations will not arise contemporaneously. And obviously the Fermi Paradox—“if there are so many of them out there, why haven’t they gotten in touch”—a priori denies the validity of the substantial UFO evidence that they are already here. They simply have no interest in actually contacting us. Why would they?

Radio is relevant, though, in the opposite direction: If UFOs really did begin to visit in droves only in the forties (and thus that it wasn’t merely an artifact of increased air travel or Cold War paranoia), radio explains it: This is about the time it would have taken for our first radio transmissions to have reached the nearest star systems and whatever listening posts may exist in our immediate stellar neighborhood, and then for the first visitors or probes to arrive here to investigate.

I am paranoid enough to accept that “the government” has more knowledge of ET visitation than the general public, and has done its best to cover up what it knows. The intense interest in UFOs by at all levels of the government and military since the 1940s has been extensively documented by Richard Dolan (UFOs and the National Security State). The reasons for such a coverup are perfectly sensible, and they are even a matter of public record. In a report commissioned by NASA in 1961, the Brookings Institution warned that awareness of more advanced civilizations  would possibly undermine social cohesion. The report consequently suggested that government should consider maintaining secrecy about extraterrestrials should their existence become evident. The recommendation was based in part on the advice of no less an authority on intercultural contact than the anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Homo sapiens really is in the position similar to that of the stone-age tribes of Melanesia and Polynesia when the metal birds of the White men first visited them early in this century. Like those tribes, many people nowadays have developed harmful beliefs in the beneficence of extraterrestrial visitors—expecting ETs to bring us boons, as in Close Encounters, or (as in 2001) to be interested in our protection from ourselves or in our elevation to a higher consciousness. In Melanesia, such widespread expectations took the form of cargo cults; in his book Messengers of Deception, the eminent astronomer-cum-UFOlogist Jacques Vallee (the basis for the Lacombe character in Spielberg’s film) writes about such beliefs, and such movements, as they already exist on the fringes of American and European society. He worries that such beliefs could be used by very earthly groups for purposes of manipulation.

As I’ve suggested, it is much more likely that extraterrestrials (or their automated machines, if that’s what most UFOs turn out to be) are as indifferent to our affairs as biologists are to the animals they study, or as CIA analysts are even to the most backward societies they monitor. Even tribal people in Pakistan could pose a threat if they acquired weapons of mass destruction, so our analysts study them with an eye to our nation’s long-term security interests. Advanced civilizations will, similarly and sensibly, always be planning for their long-term safety, preparing for any long-term contingency. Any “latecoming” civilization’s acquisition of spacefaring and destructive technology would be such a contingency.

And lest we think we’re special in posing a future threat, statistics also dictates that we are probably only one of hundreds or thousands of civilizations in our galaxy in the same less-than-enviable situation of being monitored indifferently for “future relevance.”

I think it behooves us to really think about this likelihood, and thus ponder anew our place in the universe. Because of our almost-certain lateness on the galactic scene, humans will likely always find ourselves in a position of deference to far more advanced beings. Should this depress us? Only if we continue our present beliefs about our (high) place in the order of things. Despite the sense of insecurity it may engender, realization and acceptance of this reality should supplant willful ignorance or denial. It will have to happen sooner or later that we accept we are not the center of “God’s creation,” any more than the sun or the earth are such a center. We withstood the latter realization in the Middle Ages, and will likely do so again. We are resilient, after all. I suggest that only the humbling (yet also sublime) realization of our relative insignificance in the order of things will allow our further development and evolution as a species.

ETs aren’t about to contact us, and they have zero interest in lifting us to a higher plane of consciousness so we can be their friends. It’s up to us to lift ourselves. But acknowledgement that ETs really exist, right in our own backyard, can help us do that. Coming to grips with the reality that our species is not only cosmologically insignificant but also “exoanthropologically” backward is itself an incentive to get our collective act together, get serious, and evolve.


I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at]

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