This paper is the response to the work of Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall “Militant Agnosticism and the UFO Taboo”. It includes an overview of the main arguments of the authors’ research in favor of the political origin of UFO ignorance. The study concentrates on the epistemology of the UFO taboo, provided by Wendt and Duvall to analyze their approach to its existence and the reasons for its ignorance. Here, there are the threats to the government, which are a key to the political direction of the UFO taboo, are examined, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the author’s arguments.
Summary of the “Militant Agnosticism and the UFO Taboo”
Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall in their “Militant Agnosticism and the UFO Taboo” consider the issue of the UFO phenomenon in the political context, suggesting that only “truly militant agnosticism will be necessary to overcome” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 281) the problem of UFO ignorance. The authors begin their article by defining the term taboo. They provide its meaning by underlining that scientific disinterest is not the essence of this status itself but it is its existence “outside the boundaries of rational discourse” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 272). In this way, the elite culture perceives the UFO as an unreal imaginary issue with no reason to be researched. Despite many expert witnesses’ reports the cases of UFO observance that scientists are more likely to refer to the physical world than to an extraterrestrial or inexplicable one. Therefore, the authors express an opinion that today elite culture ignores the UFO due to its hypothetical impossibility of existence. At the same time, they suggest the UFO is unidentified, thus the statement that it is extraterrestrial is wrong due to it being unproven.
Pursuing a goal to present the ignorance of UFOs the authors focus on the four main arguments of skeptics trying to show another side of their arguments. Most of them are based on the scientific background but remain controversial. In the first argument, skeptics operate the fact that due to the recent discovery of a great amount of extra-solar planets there are some reasons to suggest that life does not exist anywhere except the Earth. The second one is that UFOs, even if they exist, could not reach the planet as the distance between star systems is generous. Two last arguments involve the impossibility of not noticing the UFO as today the skies are under vast surveillance. Therefore, the assumption is that visitors “would land on the White House lawn” because it is no reason to hide (Kean, 2010, p. 274).
Wendt and Duvall distinguish these arguments without disputing them but making only the possibility of challenging them. The reason for such an approach is that “they all ultimately rely on unproven assumptions rather than established scientific facts” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 275). So, one can assume that UFOs investigate the vehicle at a speed faster than the speed of light or could make holes in time. It is also not a scientific fact that aliens want to be noticed by people. All of such arguments are only assumptions or unfounded scientific phenomena. Thus, these are reasonable doubts, and any hypotheses must not be rejected until the other one is proven.
As has been mentioned above, the thesis of Wendt and Duvall’s paper is the political origin of the UFO taboo. In this context, they note that “the inability to see clearly and talk rationally about UFOs seems to be a symptom of authoritative anxiety, a socially subconscious fear of what the reality of the UFO might mean for modern government” (Kean, 2010, p. 276). Thus the authors determine three parts of threat, which constitute a menace to human-centered science and rule. The first section represents potential physical risks for civilization to colonize or exterminate human beings. The second part is the influence on the sovereign identity of governments. And the last one, especially important, is “the anthropocentric nature of modern sovereignty” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 276). It implies human-centered governance. In this way, Wendt and Duvall consider that even the possibility of a UFO’s existence makes risks for the political and governmental base, questioning the power of human being and thus denying it.
Despite political threats, the confirmation of alien hypotheses is possible; if to be precise, there is the confirmation of maintaining taboo. The way is to find out what or who UFOs are by the techniques of avoiding direct contact with them. In this discourse, the authors show four possible variants, namely: authoritative representations (which again emphasize the unrealistic existence of UFOs), the perception of the research as pseudoscience (like it was in Condon’s report), and UFO secrecy. The examples, provided by Wendt and Duvall highlight the state approach to the UFO taboo. The effect of official secrecy helps to ignore this issue, as well as the introduction of discipline in the forms of ridicule, gossip, etc. Two different ways (techniques) achieve the government’s goal to decrease any attempts to the UFO study on the real scientific level.
As a result of these observations and studies, Wendt and Duvall have found the only suitable way to resist the existing taboo. The authors characterize the UFO taboo as “fundamentally political before it is scientific” and note that “a truly militant agnosticism will be necessary to overcome it” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 281). They suggest only militant agnosticism is the best tool for resistance. Firstly, it should be mentioned, that, in such an approach, the weaknesses of the UFO taboo are seen. The authors note three main of them, namely: UFO itself, the difference in interests and goals between the government and science, and the last one, i.e. liberalism as the discourse with free-thinking abilities. These points, based on the principle of agnosticism, in the best way could be studied. As mentioned in the paper, while society does not know about the essence of UFOs, it could be denied as well as believe in. It is the opportunity not to ignore this matter but study it. The important element of Wendt and Duvall’s approach is the militant direction. They consider only public and strategic actions could be politically effective.
Wendt and Duvall’s paper is an argumentative and thorough work that in a logical format presents the reason and the way to resist the UFO taboo. There are some convincing features concerning the epistemology of UFO ignorance. Firstly, its essence is disclosed greatly. This status, by Wendt and Duvall, is not “disinterest alone” but something “prohibited, not just ignored”, which is “outside the rational discourse” (Wendt & Duvall, 2008, p. 272). Specifically, the definition of the essence of the status of UFO lays the foundation for the determination of the thesis of work and the construction of the article as a whole.
It has been found convincing the choice of skeptical main arguments and their challenges. The agnostic approach of the authors could be noted already in this part of the work, where any of the four arguments cited by skeptics is challenged by the possibility of justifying the facts by scientists. Wendt and Duvall proceed from the opposite: if any of the arguments is admissible or hypothetically correct, but not proven, then the statement of opposite hypotheses is admissible. It is also seen that science demonstrates and proves only its ignorance, and not the research.
As the paper is centered on the political origin of taboo, this side of hypothetical UFO threatening is also the strong point of the study. Any political threat, described by the authors, whether it is the physical, sovereign, or anthropocentric nature of modern sovereignty highlights the ignorance of UFOs as a necessary tool to save the present political form. Thus, the political reason for the UFO taboo comes out on top, leaving behind science and sociology.
The thesis of the authors is reinforced by the determination of tools and techniques, provided by the government for beliefs in the non-existence of UFOs. Although these techniques are closely intertwined with science, for example, determining who or what the UFO is or the identification of any UFO research as pseudoscience; with sociology and psychology in matters of presenting the belief in UFOs as jokes or gossip; they are the political means of control aimed at preventing the disclosure of its taboo.
However, the paper of Wendt and Duvall is undoubtedly argumentative, some oversights nonetheless exist. In the work, they note the secrecy of UFOs determining this fact as a mechanism of maintaining the taboo. Based on the focus of work and the approach of scientists, in general, this fact may be criticized. Although the fact of secrecy may be the demonstration of the research’s visibility, it can also be a means of protecting the investigation and, presumably, safeguarding the public from the possible panic caused by unique discoveries.
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Also, the question of the role of science is not enough reasoned. It has been correctly noted that science often studies for the sake of itself. However, the large number of surveys is not known to the public either because of state secrets or commercial secrecy. DNA research, DNA crossing, space exploration, and attempts to reproduce the Big Bang are underway. Much of the already known science is not revealed to society. Here again, the question of secrecy arises, but the admissibility of conducting the research on UFOs and aliens’ life does not disappear.
Another problem in the work only briefly rises. It is a matter of financing. It is directly related to the political origin of the UFO taboo. Research in the field of alien life, as well as space exploration, requires a huge financial cost. Although there are various grant programs (private), state money is also necessary for high-quality research to be conducted. However, funding requires the results, as well as the clear need and justification of expenses. The question is whether this topic is so relevant for today’s society. The allocation of huge sums for such studies may cast doubt on the credibility of the state. The reason is that, in this case, the state prefers the study of unknown matters, rather than the search for vaccines for incurable diseases or social policy.
In any case, this work contributes to the further investigation of the UFO issue and its ignoring. The political discourse is very interesting and unique; moreover, it is relevant today. This work can be a starting point for different areas of research, both in terms of discourse (political, economic, social, etc.) and directly within the framework of science itself.
The paper of Wendt and Duvall provides the epistemology of UFO taboo putting in its basis the political origin. The main arguments in favor of their theory are hypothetical threats to the political organization of the state and human-centered management. In their approach, the challenge of the UFO taboo is three-component; and each part of it serves as a rationale for ignoring this matter at the state level. Despite the consistency and validity of the work, some omissions are highlighted. Among them, there are: highlighting the state secrecy as a fact of ignoring, although it may serve as a reverse affirmative component in favor of studying UFOs; omitting the importance of the financial aspect of this issue, and the assertion of the lack of research in the field of alien life. However, the latter may be considered as the classified information of private research holdings and corporations.