It's all in your mind
The National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college - Bob Dylan
Susan Clancy has it all figured out.
The postdoctoral fellow in Harvard's Psychology Department has been getting some press, and even some Larry King face-time, on account of the pending release of her book Abducted: How People Come To Believe They Were Kidnapped By Aliens. As the title suggests, she had it figured out long before she began her study.
Even by the measure of such literature, Clancy's findings are dismayingly shallow. Abductions, she says, are nothing more than episodes of sleep paralysis, that tired old war horse of reflexive debunkers alongside Venus and swamp gas. ("It's a little bit like a hiccup in the brain," explains her advisor Richard McNally. "It's harmless.") But her conclusions are beside the point of her work. Actually, as far as she's concerned, the entire subject of abduction is beside the point.
Where Clancy's interest really lies is false memory. Her earlier work discredited repressed memory in childhood sexual abuse, for which one letter-writer called her a "friend of pedophiles everywhere."
She turned to abduction research in order to field test her theories of false memory because she already presumed abduction memories to be false. Or, as Associated Press rhetorically asks, "Wouldn't it be easier to test her theories if she could be certain that her subjects' memories were not real?"
Here she is at her desk, a copy of Satanic Panic at her right and what looks like a Kissinger-in-the-box at her left:
Whether it's UFOs and entity encounters or ritual abuse and mind control - or, more often than not, both - the trustees of convention prefer to keep things abstract and well-tended with ridicule. Because once the conversation descends from the conceptual to the specific, and once people stop dreading the laughter, one nagging exception is enough to make their worldview buckle. Or, as abduction researcher and academic David Jacobs says, "all debunkers make one or more of the following mistakes: They ignore the data, they distort the data or they don't know the data."
Clancy's prejudgement recalls the curious blindspots in When Prophecy Fails to unexplained acts of even purely human agency.
The book is a study of a UFO contact cult by three sociologists of the University of Minnesota, published in 1956. Dorothy Martin (called "Marion Keech") was a Chicago housewife who in 1953 began practicing spirirtualism, and a year later started receiving messages from what claimed to be extraterrestial beings from the planet "Clarion," whom she called the "Guardians." A group formed about her, the most prominent members of which were former missionaries Dr Charles and Lillian Laughead ("Thomas and Daisy Armstrong"). Martin's circle was given an apocalyptic jolt by the warning she received on August 27, 1954 which told of catastrophic Earth changes to strike that December 21, submerging the east coast of the United States and much of Western Europe. It was at this time the group was infiltrated by the academics, to document the responses of the true believers when the prophecies failed to deliver.
In The Stargate Conspiracy, Picknett and Prince write that the story of the minor cult "may seem an all too familiar tale of people obsessed with a false, quasireligious belief built up around a deluded channeller. That is certainly how the team from Minnesota University treated it. Another aspect of the story suggests something else was going on - that the event were indeed being manipulated by outside forces":
Dorothy Martin sometimes returned to her locked home to find letters from "Clarion" left inside, and she would receive telephone calls direct from the Guardians when the sociologists were present, which at least indicates that they were not figments of her imagination. As a climax, when the group gathered at Dorothy's house on 18 December to await the coming cataclysm three days later, she received a long call from the leader fo the Guardians, a being called Sananda, after which five young men arrived at the house, the leader of whom claimed to be Sananda himself. The group went into another room with Laughead for half an hour, followed by an hour with Dorothy Martin (from which she emerged very emotional and moved). Then the five mystery callers left. Again, all this was witnessed by the researchers.
These were real events, so it is difficult to reconcile them with the Minnesota team's conclusion that it was all a collective delusion, although clearly there was scope for other interpretations, such as mistaken identity, or more probably, a hoax. Yet if the latter, it was very carefully and painstakingly organised: the letters, telephone calls and the visit all served to reinforce the group's belief in the prophecies received by automatic writing. Obviously, another group of people existed beyond the immediate circle of true believers and were orchestrating both the events and the phenomenon of escalating belief. Why?
(There's a very curious postscript here. Following the break-up of the cult the Laugheads travelled to Mexico where, pursuing their spiritualist interests, began working with a young man who claimed to be in contact with extraterrestrials. Here they met Andrija Puharich and Arthur Young, who were on an expedition with Dutch psychic Peter Hurkos to locate ancient artifacts using his paranormal ability. It was three years after Puharich and Young had first made contact with the Nine. Soon after the team returned to the United States Puharich received a letter from Dr Loughead that referred to the Nine, named the correct date for their first contact through Dr DG Vinod and supplied other date seeming to corroborate that the Nine had found another channel and, again, Puharich.)
Debunkers such as Clancy show a fundamentalist's need for absolutes: authentic memories are never repressed, recovered memories are always false, ritual abuse never occurs, and there are no such things as "aliens." That's four things. Since when were fundametalists right about four things?
Another thing that isn't just in your mind: Forty year old Captain Ken Masters, the senior British military police investigator in Iraq has been found dead in Basra, alledgedly a suicide. "He had been responsible for the investigation of all in-theatre serious incidents," said the Ministry of Defense, "plus investigations conducted by the General Police Duties element of the Theatre Investigation Group." In-theatre incidents don't get more serious than this one, in Basra just a few weeks ago. Undoubtedly the stress was just too much to bear....