Saturday, June 15, 2013

“Klaatu barada nikto!”

If you want to protect your life—and those of your children and grandchildren—you’d better memorize this phrase. It may save you from a threat apparently being voiced at NASA: an attack from another planet somewhere in the vastness of our universe.1 Why might such an assault be forthcoming? Because we humans have not heeded the warnings of Al Gore! Our carbon-based activities could spread their deadly influence to other planets which, for the sake of their own survival, might lead them to decide to destroy our planet. This would be done, of course, as an act of “preventive war,” a proposition that has caused Boobus Americanus to embrace the Bush-Obama doctrine of declaring war against anyone on the planet. If such a notion provides sufficient cause for Americans to unfurl their flags against the rest of the earth, why wouldn’t it equally justify an attack by the forces of the planet Zanyptikon? We might even find ourselves targeted by an alliance of other planets! At this point, there may be those who will argue that having the earth obliterated as an act of self-defense by other worlds is less objectionable than having it destroyed in order to make way for a planned intergalactic highway.
I know what you’re thinking: Shaffer is just rattling our cage; not only is there no factual basis for supposing such an attack, there is no evidence—not even among the Cassandras at NASA—of any life existing beyond the planet Earth. After the absurdity of this claim became evident to intelligent minds, its apparent author—describing himself as a post-doctoral employee of NASA—admitted that it had been “a horrible mistake” to “have listed my affiliation as ‘NASA headquarters’” This is the sort of mea culpa often heard from members of the political classes whose peccadilloes have been made public. Perhaps this man—having seen how much mileage had been obtained by those who triggered intra-planetary wars with lies, forged documents, and visions of mushroom clouds over American cities—decided to get in on the game. After all, if Al Gore could make so much headway with the chattering classes with his scientifically unfounded allegations of global warming having been caused by SUVs, why not take the charade to the next level?

But in a world in which truth is a negotiable commodity; in which reality and fantasy have become interchangeable qualities, our NASA muse may have a fallback position. To those with a spirited imagination, there is empirical evidence of just such an impending attack; evidence clearly available to anyone whose epistemological skills have been honed by Hollywood films. The 1951 motion picture, The Day the Earth Stood Still, remains one of the better sci-fi efforts. In it, an interplanetary visitor, Klaatu—played by Michael Rennie—is sent to earth to warn humans that the continued proliferation of atomic weaponry will threaten the existence of life on other planets. In response to such a danger, Klaatu intones, the planets he purports to represent will have no choice but to destroy the earth. Klaatu is accompanied on his journey by a robot, Gort—who has the physique and disposition of ten combined NFL linebackers on steroids—along with great powers of destruction. Should Klaatu be captured—which he is—he tells the earthly heroine—played by Patricia Neal—that she can restrain Gort’s violent powers by saying to it: “Klaatu barada nikto.” She does so, Gort returns to the spacecraft—along with Klaatu—and earthlings are left to contemplate Klaatu’s warning.

Is this what passes for scientific inquiry and research at NASA these days, or is someone generating a hoax at NASA’s expense? Considering that so much of what the institutional order regards as “evidence” has the solidity of grape jelly left out in the sun all day, one must confront such reports—whether coming from the state or from its critics—with an abundance of skepticism. The environmental movement is little more than a secular religion made up of members of the faith I described as “Gang-Green.” Complete with its version of “original sin” (i.e., being human), an assortment of saints (e.g., Rachel Carson, Al Gore, et al.), a multitude of sins (virtually anything associated with the processes of living), and an apocalypse, it has all the fervor of a tent-revival show. Whenever I see news coverage of an Al Gore speech, I half-expect to see mothers rushing to the stage screaming “bless my baby!, bless my baby!”

I wrote, as well, of the satirical book, Report From Iron Mountain3 which purported to be the product of a lengthy study, begun under the Kennedy administration, to determine the consequences to political systems should universal peace suddenly break out in the world. The alleged study took place over a period of some three years, with academicians from various fields of study as well as non-academicians. Understanding that war “is the basic social system” for the organization of nations, and that “the end of war means the end of national sovereignty,” the participants explored the question of how “alternate enemies” might be developed to serve the herding function brought about through fear. Possible substitute threats included environmental pollution, attacks from other planets, and ethnic minorities, among others. “Selective population control,” and the “reintroduction of slavery” through “’universal’ military service,” were offered as means to such ends. If an existing “enemy” could not be found, the report stated, “such a threat will have to be invented.” Shortly after Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, his chief of staff—and now Chicago mayor—Rahm Emanuel told a Wall Street Journal conference: “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” These words echo the Iron Mountain mindset; they may even have inspired NASA’s fabulist.

One can obtain insight from the creative use of parodies. Humor allows us to see beyond the boundaries of our limited understanding, and allows a sense of humility to overcome any tendencies for self-righteousness. This explains why bureaucrats, clinging to the absoluteness of their ordained rules, are such a humorless lot. Their lives would be stripped of all meaning were they to grasp the farcical nature of their work. But what are the consequences for sane living when people take the parody as literal fact? How does one satirize absurdity? Jon Stewart has provided one effective method: give politicians and government officials a platform upon which to play out the burlesque character of their thinking.

It is in times of social turbulence—such as we are now experiencing—that “dark side” forces often get loosed upon the world. The Reformation and the emerging scientific revolution were destabilizing influences to the established order of the Middle Ages, leading to the prosecution of heretics and witches. It has been estimated that, between the years 1500 and 1660, some 50,000 to 80,000 witches were executed in Europe. The witch trials at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 arose during a period in which political turmoil in England threatened the existence of the colony through the revocation of the Charter that had created it. The reign of terror that helped to define eighteenth century France arose during the frenzy of the French Revolution. The nineteenth century Luddite machine-breaking riots were the violent reactions of many artisans to the major economic transformations occurring during the Industrial Revolution, a reflex action that continues to find expression among critics of capitalism. The collective insanity of Nazi Germany arose from the post-World War I excessive burdens imposed upon Germany by the Versailles Treaty. The collapse of the Soviet Union discommoded the established order in America by eliminating the need for an enemy powerful enough to cause Boobus to prostrate himself before the state. The resulting stress upon the system led to a search for “alternate enemies.” Child abductors were offered as a possible threat, with childrens’ pictures appearing on milk cartons until the FBI advised that almost all such abductions arose out of parental custody battles. Satan—having served the institutional order so well during the earlier persecution of witches—was then auditioned for the role, with Tipper Gore seeking his presence in rock music, while others tried exploiting his influence in preschools. But “Old Scratch” didn’t have sufficient staying power, leaving the system in limbo until the ubiquitous and amorphous threat of the “terrorist” was concocted. Al Gore added “global warming” to the mix, giving the state a base from which it could conduct its endless wars against endless enemies.

With Boobus under the spell of “dark side” forces, is it so remarkable that the Iron Mountain mandate to invent threats might have inspired a NASA post-doc to dream up his own contribution to the effort? Perhaps he had seen The Day the Earth Stood Still and thought substituting “global warming” for “atomic warfare” would provide a plausible threat for an alien attack! Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s allusion to such an interplanetary invasion—in order to illustrate Keynesian stimulus policies—must have added encouragement to the fantasy.

As Carl Jung and others have observed, the “dark side” resides within each of us, ready to be mobilized when we are adequately provoked. Periods of great turbulence are often the breeding ground for the proliferation of enemies and other threats upon whom can be directed our latent fears, anger, and uncertainties. Nor can we take comfort in pretending that such eruptions are generated only by the ignorant among us: neither intelligence nor formal education has any inverse correlation with such behavior. Inquisitors and Robespierre alike were intelligent, educated men. The person most associated with the Salem witch trials was Cotton Mather, a Harvard grad whose father was president of that university. Paul Krugman is an alum of both Yale and M.I.T., while the aforesaid NASA visionary reportedly holds a doctorate degree. Nor are the rest of us immune to such fanciful thinking. Our ancestors who cheered the burning of witches, or rubbed elbows with the likes of Madame Defarge, are not as far removed from us as we like to imagine. We laugh at the mass-suicidal runs of the lemmings, even as we march off to self-destructive wars which, to many, provide the highest meaning to their lives.

As our civilization continues its entropic collapse—with our resistance to goofy thinking being tested in the process—it is timely to review some of the better contributions to the study of mass-mindedness. One should start with the works of Carl Jung, and revisit such classic writings as Gustave Le Bon’s The Crowd, Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority, Otto Friedrich’s more recent The End of the World: A History, as well as Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Perhaps some ambitious soul might want to update Charles Mackay’s nineteenth century classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

In the meantime—and to play it safe, lest the Al Gore Brigade is now being mobilized against us somewhere in the constellation Andromeda—we might heed the words of Klaatu. Perhaps some of the expeditionary forces from Zanyptikon are already in our presence. Should you be confronted by a menacing Gort-like humanoid, just say to it “Klaatu barada nikto.” At the very least, it may find your words confusing and disarming; at best, it may cause the creature to get into its vehicle and depart!

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