This is Trenchant Edges. I’m your host and research guy, Stephen.
Today’s going to focus on the UFO community as a whole, the psychology of people I’ve seen in it, and the question of what drives people to keep trying to find the magic proof that’d validate their time and energy.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I got into UFOs as a kid in the 90s. I don’t remember exactly how, but I had built a model Flying Saucer based on Bob Lazar’s Area 51 stories in 4th grade for some kind of school project.
In my teenage years, I found a bunch of books on black helicopters, alien abductions, and secret cover-ups of technologies not quite beyond imagination.
As a broken social reject, it was a good distraction from my day-to-day frustrations. That led to conspiracy forums; especially after 9/11.
I started “researching” Majestic 12 and MK-Ultra, and Project Bluebook and all this weird shit.
And it was 9/11 that started to make me suspicious of the whole scene.
Or rather, the pre-zeitgeist/loose change 9/11 conspiracy scene in that Real Player dawn of internet video. I wish I remembered the details clearer so I could point to specific conflicts, but what I’m sure of was a lot of what’d become the 9/11 Truth movement descended into internecine accusations of being various government agents.
This guy was working for the French, that guy for the Saudis, this other one was CIA. And so on. What I remember starting off as a fairly collegiate scene of people with doubts trying to understand turned into a bunch of cliques of people throwing shitfits at each other.
Anyway, I quickly moved on to other interests like Tabletop role-playing games such as Shadowrun. Which was a much more fun use of paranoia anyway.
Later, when my interest in parapolitics grew after high school, I started reading what felt like much more grounded and mature books on fringe theories. Stuff like Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance and John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hitman.
With that renewed I dipped my toe back into UFOlogy to see if there was some more quality. And I found a few more interesting theories: Carl Jung, Jacques Vallée, and that Christian guy who decided Alien Abductions were just modern themed demonic possessions (I’ve been unable to hunt the guy who published a book in the 70s or 80s down).
And since I was also reading any declassified spy or counterintelligence handbooks I could find at the time, it became quickly apparent to me that while some UFO researchers were both sincere and trying to document real evidence in hopes of finding some elusive proof, a lot of them were just bullshitters looking for a little fame and maybe even some fortune.
Most were somewhere between those extremes. And, sure, there were plenty of outright cults and even some cryptofascists involved. But that didn’t bother me at the time as much as the snitches.
I can’t find details about the incident with a casual google, but there was a scuffle in the late 80s where several high profile UFO experts admitted to informing on each other to the feds in exchange for access, in one of the most pathetic “pick me” moments of all time.
Sure, buddy, if you earn enough brownie points with the feds I’m sure they’ll tell you all the secrets they’ve been *checks notes* using you to help hide for 40+ years.
This trend of trusting the very government you’re accusing of masterminding a vast disinformation campaign continues into the present with former “inside” agents like Richard Doty still being invited to UFO conferences because he’s now saying that all the old lies he told for the government were wrong and he has a new batch of lies to sell.
Picking through UFO conference speakers makes finding this kind of guy easier than you’d expect.
And once I started looking it became very clear to me that the “UFOlogy” well was so poisoned I’d either need to commit my life to strive to filter it or join the naysayers mocking them.
I’ll let you figure which road I went down.
Chuck and Tammy Zukowski and the UFO Faith
So, this novel The 37th parallel I ranted about yesterday stars a UFO investigator and his long-suffering wife.
Chuck is a very good case study in the kind of loner obsession UFOs can turn into. Now, I’m no stranger to that kind of obsession. And I don’t knock Chuck for wanting to understand something weird and otherworldly.
Obviously, I wouldn’t be writing this newsletter if I didn’t also want the same thing.
Where I criticize Chuck is his methods and how his relationship with is wife is played out in the book. I assumed from his 5 star review on amazon that he’d read it and agreed with the contents.
But when another reviewer pointed out he comes off as a deadbeat husband, Chuck hunted the review down and ranted about how he didn’t have any control over the book and that the author, Ben, got details wrong.
And for what it’s worth, I do believe that Ben wasn’t super interested in getting the details right. At one point he claimed that Chuck and Tammy were reading the press release the military sent out after the Roswell crash, but every source I’ve been able to find online agrees we don’t have the exact press release, just stories in newspapers based on it.
So on the off chance that I’m blessed by a visitation from Chuck, let me just say I don’t know him. Everything I know about the guy has come from this one novel I regard as basically fiction and the googling for more info I did after it.
Maybe it’s the way the novel condenses time and constantly portrays Chuck as crossing Tammy’s boundaries about his investigation and occasionally doing some really reckless stuff that just seems to come up every scene she’s in rather than every few years.
Point is, Chuck is set up as this true believer heroically searching for the secret truth others aren’t willing to put in the time or the work to get to the answers.
Tammy, by contrast, is the practical skeptic. Open-minded enough to go along with her husband’s sometimes dangerous whims but without infinite patience.
She asked mostly for pretty reasonable rules like “Don’t do anything dangerous” and “Let me know where you are when you’re on an investigation.”
And, uh, Chuck repeatedly breaks those rules over the book’s 25 year span. He’s always got a reason though. And this time its answers are always just one more investigation away.
This is where my criticisms really hone in: Chuck Zukowski is kind of trying to live up to Don Quixote style romantic ideal of the Independent Investigator. The Gentleman Scientist, following their hunches to collect just the right data to prove their naysayers wrong.
Now, this is also the narrative author Ben Mezrich is crafting here. So who knows if Chuck really is like this.
But it points to a real flaw in the thinking of many fringe researchers: That repeating the same kind of data collection that hasn’t explained the weirdest 5-10% of sightings is going to magically work better than it has for the last 80 years.
Wanna know why UFO pictures look like crap? They would even if they were alien craft. Why? Taking pictures at a long distance of moving objects is delicate camera work. It’s harder on video than with photos, because video images are only exposed for a 1/30th of a second at a time, so light has less of a chance to make an impression.
And that’s all only after you’ve gotten a lens with the right focal length for the distance and found a location with low enough light pollution that you can even see a damn thing.
Mix that with how short lived many UFO sightings are and even a professional photographer armed with a couple grand of the best equipment at the ready is going to have trouble capturing good pictures of the lights.
Some random jagoff with an iPhone probably doesn’t even know how to use their camera’s manual settings and even if they do, those settings run slow as fuck compared to a physical camera.
The point is photographs are never going to provide unassailable proof of alien intelligence from lights in the sky. Nor will video. Nor will samples from alleged landing sites. This is just data collection in hopes that you’ll eventually find something useful and despite god knows how many manhours, it’s useless.
Repeating the same processes that produced inconclusive results before is arguably not even scientific, even if it’s otherwise trying to look that way.
You either need physical evidence, which aliens don’t seem super inclined to provide, or you need to understand the mechanism in question. Working backwards from, “Well, it’s kind of magic” is nigh impossible on the alien front but there’s a real opportunity for someone with a sufficient stomach and a little money for cattle t prove we can, in fact, produce the kinds of corpses animal mutilation reports claim are being produced by the thousand over the last few decades.
The 37th Parallel claims there were over 10,000 such reports in the last few decades alone.
UFOlogists get indignant when they’re not given respect, but as a field of study they’ve probably barely developed much more than a slew of cults and the occasional expanded explanation since WW2’s foo fighters.
Which is probably why so many of them beg the government for crumbs.
Anyway, between starting writing this morning and finishing it I finished the book and Tammy’s last words in the book are accepting Chuck’s notion that UFO and mutilation sites are all along the same line of longitude, around Area 51’s 37th parallel.
Those words are, “Where do we go from here?”
It ends a few pages later with a half-encounter with aliens with a bunch of details redacted.
Not gonna lie, I’m pissed at this book. I knew that was how it ended too. I just expected a little more, uh, meat on these bones.
It’s a story about the vain persistence of its protagonist, which the Author finds vaguely heroic. No surprise the real man it’s based on gave the book five stars.
If you want to study UFOs, you need a way to provoke a reaction from them. This one isn’t super viable, but from all the stories of them moving around and sometimes disabling nuclear weapons might be a clue.
If there’s an intelligence on the other side, with motivations we can understand, and there’s no reason to be sure there is, it will express behavior different from natural events.
If it’s not intelligent in any way we can understand or guess at, well, what’s really the difference between it any nature?
I don’t know.
All I know is I’m very much reminded that the UFO world is a poisoned well and you don’t even need government malice to make that happen.