Thursday, October 29, 2015

Childhood's End and the Theater of Apocalypse

SyFy is finally getting around to adapting Arthur C. Clarke's classic, Childhood's End. It's one of those books that feels as if you've seen it adapted, probably because it's been hijacked so completely by other writers.

It's a foundational text not only in Modern science fiction but also in Modern UFOlogy. And I write this from the perspective of the Post-Postmodern age, where "Modern" necessarily implies "archaic."

I wouldn't have signed off on this project if I were the head of SyFy. It's a great fiction but it's of its time in a way many, perhaps most, of Clarke's books are. They speak to a confident, muscular liberalism, a certainty of linear progress, the unalloyed benefits of world government. 

Some would argue that Childhood's End has a downbeat, indeed apocalyptic ending, but it's actually Darwinism writ large, the inevitable macroevolution of the human race unfolding as a cosmic certainty. 

It's a kind of Globalist fairy tale, a myth for the heady days of the early postwar era, when rational discourse in the Hall of Nations would solve all problems. Only religious bumpkins, with their kneejerk paranoid delusions, stood in the path of our new utopia. (Could Clarke had conceived of a day when his country would orchestrate the installation of the world's most aggressive theocracy as chair of the UNs Human Rights Council?)

But Childhood's End is also an artifact of the early days of the UFO era, when apocalyptic fervor was grafted onto the burgeoning phenomenon. Ironically, evidence for UFOs was miniscule compared to what has been amassed today, but that's part of the process; the imagination takes over and fills in the blanks when facts on the ground are missing. It's the power of human expectation to project onto the Great Unknown.

Most of this was was processed through fiction and not taken seriously or literally. But it persisted as a question in the public's mind, reaching its apotheosis with Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of the most explicitly mystical and revelatory works of art of the past century.

But then as now the UFO phenomenon is/was primarily one of constructions of light, lights that predominantly hover instead of fly. Observers as diametrically opposed as Philip Klass and Jacques Vallee made note of this, as do careful study of witness statements. And usually hover in place in such a way that seems to defy the laws of physics, I should add.

Some researchers began to wonder if the resulting contact scenarios weren't in fact hallucinations caused by some kind of stimulation of the temporal lobe by these mysterious lights. It's a fascinating theory that only deepens the weirdness of the phenomena, even if diminishes the messianic fever that once surrounded it.

Yet given the avalanche of garbage that surrounds the topic, it's tempting to dismiss the UFO issue all out of hand. Certainly the endless territorial pissing matches among UFOlogists (and I include debunkers here, who are the biggest UFO obsessives of all) are a major disincentive towards looking into any further the issue. 

Until, of course, it reaches into your own life. 

Despite a lifetime of skywatching, I had only one borderline encounter until this year, when first my son then my wife and daughter and myself encountered these mysterious constructions of light.

My son had the presence of mind to record his, we were driving so we weren't as vigilant. But all I can say is that we saw two classic orange orbs and they seemed to be moving under intelligent control (and seemed to be bothering conventional aircraft, another hallmark of the phenomenon).  

I can tell you that the reason that these thing look so blurry and indistinct on film is because that's how they look in the flesh.**  The word that keeps going through my mind is "unwholesome." 

I don't make any claims as to their nature or origin. All I can say is that people everywhere have seen these things forever. Take it as you will. 

Unfortunately for Childhood's End, there's no real UFO culture to market the film to, at least not like what you saw 20 years ago, when you had a large and active UFO convention circuit.† I think that's because the subculture it exists in has changed, with a lot of conspiracy people falling for the whole Project Blue Beam psyop and many others no longer having the kind of quasi-religious expectation of our Space Brothers that emerged out of the mid-period New Age movement (a relief). 

A lot of this is the function of the post-NAFTA, post-GATT uncertainty economy, one in which the real unemployment rate hovers in the teens (as one honest Presidential candidate has pointed out), not the 5% fiction floated in our increasingly Soviet news media.

In a strange way this all reminds of the early Christian movement, which we know from texts like Contra Celsum went through a long wilderness period of its own (and also emerged during a time of great social unrest). Strange as it sounds, it makes me wonder what the future holds for the UFO issue, given that we are living through a bad Roman Empire LARP at the moment as well.* 

A scholar studied the period and determined that the Christian movement was not only marginal within the Roman Empire, it was vanishingly small, right up to the end of the Third Century CE. His estimate had the Christian population at less than one half of one percent (0.36%) circa 200 CE. Religious scholar Bart Ehrman estimated that it was no larger than 5% of the Empire at the time of Constantine, a figure other historians have confirmed.

The 0.36% number fascinates me since having been raised in a serious Christian environment, it contradicts everything I was taught about the early Church. We were told Christianity was an oppressed majority kept down by a tiny, decadent elite who knew every word of it was all true but suppressed the Faith so they could carry on with their immoral lifestyles. 

0.36% sounds about right if you were tallying up the amount of people who follow some kind of UFO belief system or another in our own population today.  Better still, it's probably the exact percentage of the population that watches Ancient Aliens religiously, as it were. 

Ancient Aliens, curiously enough, seems to have to moved away from couching all of their arguments in Saturday morning cartoon sci-fi and are moving towards a distinctly more super-natural worldview, more like the superior 70s material that originally inspired it. Curious indeed.

All this came to mind when a UFO debunker recently (and negatively) compared St. Paul to the UFO movement (and attacked both), a comparison that sounds specious to everyone but Valleean-type Magonians. The mysterious light, the disembodied voice, the radical change? UFO reports are filled with those kinds of things.

I still have tremendous respect for Paul as a religious visionary and polemicist, while seeing him as a product of his time. But it has to be acknowledged that Paul, like many of the early Church, believed the Second Coming was imminent, despite what modern apologists may say to the contrary (this fact also tends to contradict theories that Paul was invented centuries later by Roman propagandists). This can't help but remind me of Childhood's End and the messianic UFOlogy it was inspired by. 

I wonder; did the Church have a strong kickoff but lose steam as it became apparent that Christ was not coming back in the believer's lifetime, just as it's become obvious that Disclosure isn't imminent or that the Space Brothers aren't about to land? Like UFOlogy, early Christianity thrived on a culture of Apocalyptic literature- what happened when it all failed to materialize?

Again, the comparisons might seem spurious, if not downright insulting until you study the distinctly Magonian texts of some of the Christian groups whose arguments didn't win out in the big Roman councils. It also fascinates me that every time Gnostic groups like the Yazidi seem poised on annihilation, someone comes at the last minute to pull their feet out of the fire (literally, in this case). 

Now, it's the mighty Russians, mercilessly blowing the Yazidis' persecutors into bloody chunks of gristle. Makes you wonder, indeed.   

I don't know what the future holds for humanity or for the UFO issue. As I've argued repeatedly the best way to look at UFOs are as a surveillance program, in the Fortean tradition. Its mysteries and enigmas all seem to fall into place in that context. Try it at home and see.

But until something somewhere changes dramatically, I don't see the kind of mythology expressed in stories like Childhood's End gaining much traction in the public imagination. The apocalypses we believe in today are the dystopian variety, the miserable hell-on-earths of the zombie shows and the rest of it. 

A critical look at our popular culture tells us that we are a tired, broken, beaten-down people. Even our apocalypses have been downsized.

** It's entirely possible that what we are seeing are some kind of cloaking devices that diffuse light and hide whatever kind of technology is being used, which is why there are tens of thousands of reports of UFOs popping into view and then popping out. Our own scientists are working on these kinds of cloaking devices now. Or it could be that plasmas are being created and then used to transmit information. I'm sure someone is working on that technology down here as well. 

*America's elites are still pretending Globalism is a thing at a time when the rest of the world is rediscovering aggressive nationalism. It's already creating major problems, especially as said elites are busy waging war on their own citizens as well as bombing huge swathes of the world in the name of Universal Togetherness.

† The convention scene does seem to be showing signs of life again, with shows like Contact in the Desert finding some degree of success.