Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dungeons, Dragons and the Real World

If you're around the paranormal field(s) long enough, eventually you see patterns. Patterns in people, in cases and their investigations, and patterns in who is attracted as a supporter of whatever 'evidence' is presented. In tandem with the main focus of this post is an effect that I've been interested in for a long time now: that some investigators and witnesses are playing a real life role-playing game of some kind. You can even see this kind of role-playing between two or more investigators. 

Like many of the traits we discuss here, this type of role-play seems unique to the paranormal fields and their participants - you simply don't find this in other areas of investigation or inquiry.

I've called it the 'adult version of Dungeons & Dragons' in years past, because I watched several occasions of paranormal train wrecks where clearly sensible and otherwise sane people accepted extremely flimsy case data or research which allowed them to proceed further into what could only be called fantasy. 

But were they conscious of the action? Hard to say. However when real world consequences intrude into their case - this seems to be the way they 'snap out' of the game. Swept up in belief and willing to accept things that otherwise they would not? Perhaps. 

George Hansen would later point out to me that the paranormal, and 'Dungeons & Dragons' (D&D) both give access to otherworldly creatures and mythological themes. That immediately made me focus on the 'dungeon master' - the one in the driver's seat and often the most charismatic storyteller or personality in the group. Charisma is another common trait and seems entwined (in my mind) with the role-play aspect seen with many paranormal 'investigators'. You'll be able to identify some minor charismatic UFO or paranormal personalities right away: they're the more 'colorful" folks who are prone to 'posing' in selfie or group photos. They often present themselves as intellectuals or have a tendency to quote lofty prose. But, you'll find these personalities have very little to offer of substance, and tend to parrot or regurgitate other's work more than originate their own.

Actual UFO case researchers that have been involved in high profile events and maintain the public's attention over an extended time are also charismatic personalities. You'll often see reviews of a paranormal researcher's lecture saying "He/she is a very charismatic speaker..." Charisma is very interesting from the standpoint of our discussions here on the blog. It's definition reads:

noun: charisma; plural noun: charismata
  1. 1.
    compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.

    "she enchanted guests with her charisma"

    synonyms:charmpresencepersonality, force of personality, strength of character;
  2. 2.
    a divinely conferred power or talent.

Max Weber, an enormously influential individual in the realms of sociology, wrote in his 1913 book 'Economy and Society' saying that charisma: "applied to a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary.”

In the UFO subject, speakers are often referred to or billed as "authorities" or an "authority on UFOs". There are 3 types of authority in society 1) Legal/Rational authority, 2) Traditional authority (which through rationalization eventually becomes legal authority) and 3) Charismatic authority. 

The charismatic authority is known to be transient, and erupts at periods of change or desperation for change. (Sound familiar readers??) As long as charismatic leaders deliver to the satisfaction of the target base they maintain their stature. The minute they don't the position of authority is taken away from them. Charismatic authority seems quite fragile in this way.

We know that in UFOlogy, those who produce content and deliver it with charisma are the most successful and patronized. They are featured on podcasts, television, radio and print media. But what happens when they cease giving the audience what it wants? They fall out of favor (along with their theories or ideologies), and are often completely forgotten. However, new material isn't always needed and if charismatic enough, one can ride the same story or thread for many years (Stanton Friedman is a good example).

The UFO figureheads are well aware of this and the dynamic exists all over the field, but for our example, let's look at the 'abduction' research area.

The David Jacobs research subject known as "Emma Woods" remarked that Jacobs became upset that he'd spent so much time with her, because she was a part of his next book - when they suddenly fell out over the rather disturbing tactic of hypnotically suggesting the idea to her that she had multiple personality disorder (now known as Dissociative Indentity Disorder). The reason for this tactic? Allegedly to shield himself from her hybrid aggressors who he believed had threatened and were after him - because of some anonymous instant messages on the internet. Jacobs was shaken out of the role-play position when Emma said she was going to publicly speak about their falling out. At that point he was seriously concerned about his credibility and how he'd be viewed for his actions in the case - because he would no longer be dungeon master of the game and conduct the narrative. If you choose to you can read all about the Woods case here.

Carol Rainey, former wife of noted researcher Budd Hopkins has stated that Hopkins was 'always looking for the next big story', and would ignore certain telling facts about any given case to make the story line work. But when claims of attempted murder and abduction (by humans) entered into the  'Linda Cortile' case - Hopkins and others in support of the case refused to report the event to law enforcement authorities. If the supposed landmark case was true and to be believed as Hopkins contended, then the logical step upon hearing about the abduction and attempted murder of the woman you're researching should be to contact law enforcement. Clearly, Hopkins didn't really put stock into the event as real - but rather as something else, unworthy of reporting to the Police.

In both instances, the role-play was broken when the real world consequences intruded into play. 

Carol also remarked in a recent email to me that "Although Budd and Dave Jacobs held the same views on the UFO/abduction phenomenon, practiced their work in much the same way, shared certain abductees back and forth, and were best friends, Budd always wielded more influence in the field than Dave, in my opinion, because he had the charisma and his friend did not."

Ms. Rainey further added that, "Budd's charisma often came out of being quick-witted and humorous - both of which are attractive traits in a leader."

I would argue that Hopkins and Jacobs were both charismatic figures in abduction research (with Hopkins having more than Jacobs, hence his bigger influence as a leader in the field) and that in their attempt to deliver as charismatic leaders - both succumbed to the D&D factor - co-creating and role-playing to continue to deliver to their community and keep their position of authority.

Hansen states in 'The Trickster and the Paranormal' that "Charisma is also intimately linked with communitas and with mysticism" and that "Pure charisma, like liminality, is directly linked with the supernatural."

"Communitias" for those unfamiliar with the word, means "an unstructured community in which people are equal" and "Communitas is characteristic of people experiencing liminality together." - a more perfect definition the paranormal 'fields' would be tough to find.

I should note that this is not limited to the abduction research area. It exists in many different facets of the UFO and paranormal interests.

Stephen Greer is a very charismatic personality in the field, promising contact and disclosure that changes our lives from spiritual awakening to alternate and unlimited power sources. Remember that "Charismatic leaders promise change in the future for the society and also change people's attitudes and values; in this way, charismatic authority is revolutionary in a way that traditional and legal-rational authority are not." Greer doesn't deliver on disclosure of course, nor on an alien body, nor alien contact, but history shows he'll present another proposed trajectory toward amazing discovery and garner donations from his willing supporters. While Greer has not delivered on his 'promises' as a leader has caused many to abandon him, what's really interesting about charismatic leaders is not just the leaders themselves, but the devotion of their followers who at times fall into disciple-like roles. Ask yourself, could there be D&D type attributes going on here - especially in Greer's 'contact' outings to vector in supposed craft? Easy answer. 

Richard Dolan is a good example of a UFO researcher, historian and conspiracy theorist with plenty of charisma. He's also an author of some great UFO literature, UFOs and the National Security State is required reading for anyone interested in alleged government involvement in the UFO issue. He contends there is a massive government cover-up of the UFO phenomena, and 'delivers' to his audience by way of official documents and well-researched historical UFO accounts, mixed with tales of 'inside contacts' that allegedly feed him tidbits of information. The 'inside contact' names are not revealed publicly, so one must take him at his word not only that the contacts are not misleading him, but that they exist at all. With his charisma and delivery, his followers seem to have no doubts. Dolan does deliver, because he doesn't promise anything. He writes a good book and delivers fine lectures on the subject. If there's someone waiting in the wings to pick up where ever Friedman leaves off, it's Richard Dolan (That's no small task, btw). But his public forays into more political discussions and highly questionable events like the Roswell Slides debacle seem to have cost him some loyal followers in UFO circles. The majority of his audience seem quite devout and with that, Richard can seemingly do no wrong. The role-play attributes may exist here either between Dolan and his alleged 'insiders', Dolan and his audience, or both. 

Steve Bassett is another interesting example. The charismatic leader of Paradigm Research Group (although I don't think any of us have seen any actual 'research' into the phenomenon from PRG) who has for years promised disclosure (even giving dates) and has repeatedly failed to deliver to his followers. Stating as recently as 2016"This [UFO Disclosure] will be a reality this year and across the front pages of newspapers across the world. The most significant news story that has ever been broken” Bassett's following is probably the most steeply declined of all our examples after repeated touts of the dismantling of the truth embargo (as he calls it) has resulted in no materialization of anything even close. The role-play seems to be in full swing here, both in the follower's perception of Bassett and that of his alleged truth embargo.

I should note here that all our examples have claimed to have 'insider' contacts from whom they garner some astounding revelations. Bassett, at the 2008 X-Conference panel discussion when asked 'what evidence there is that the UFO phenomena was extraterrestrial in nature', claimed that one of his 'insiders' had told him that the center of E.T. and government contact (on a regular basis) is happening in West Virginia - and that the E.T. presence is "confirmed" and "absolutely certain". And, he could tell you more...but it wouldn't be "appropriate"

Bassett, who's supposed primary concern is the facilitation of disclosure, isn't disclosing here. I encourage you to watch the hubris of his performance at the provided link - it's a great example of a charismatic leader responding to a direct challenge of his promoted ideology.

None of our examples, who are all public champions of UFO disclosure ever see fit to expose these 'insiders', and pull on these threads that could potentially begin unraveling the cover up they so adamantly believe exists (or at least expose those who are apparently involved). No pressure is ever brought to bear for their cause. Like many others in the field, this 'insider' information only serves to titillate, and bolster the charismatic leader's presentation to his followers. It holds no more meaning than that when you really think about it. Again, when the real world intrudes with it's obvious questions, the role-play falls apart under scrutiny.

I'm sure there would be all matter of excuses as to why these folks and others who've made disclosure a big part of their public repertoire don't act upon these opportunities. Any excuse would serve not to answer, but to deepen the appearance of mystery and intrigue - thereby enhancing their charismatic status. That just seems to be how it works. And it clearly, works.

The charismatic King, when failing to deliver is reduced to pawn.
I have to stress again that failure to deliver means to be relegated back to that of ordinary person in society - especially in a communitias like UFOlogy or the paranormal. Kings are often reduced to pawns in short order. We're seeing that happen, and it's happened over and over in the paranormal field for decades on end. These are only a few examples and I'm sure you can think of others. By the way, none of my examples were meant as an attack of any kind, but it's impossible to talk about all these liminal and anti-structural areas of the paranormal and not mention examples by name for you to examine yourself. 

Is it possible to discard the charismatic figure because they seemingly want only to feed the masses by any means necessary to retain their role? Can we separate who might be providing good research by becoming aware of charismatic attributes? It seems impossible to steer public opinion away from an engaging speaker or presenter and instead have them listen to one who doesn't have that charisma. Perhaps the answer to these questions is somewhere in the middle. It truly does seem to be a supernatural trait.

The liminal state as we know is one of transition, and the pure charismatic leader is a response to the need for transition and/or change itself - in a community comprised of those experiencing liminal events. The charismatic community leader must produce results or be discarded and forgotten.

Sounds like the paranormal field to me. 🔻

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Paranormal: Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water

By now if you've been reading this blog from the start, you ought to be able to recognize some basic trickster-type elements within paranormal accounts. More than a few people have written in about identifying these divisive, derailing aspects early on in an effort to sidestep them in their own experiences and research. Is it possible? I would say yes. But, it requires you to often step away from whatever you're studying or investigating to regain perspective - and that ain't easy.

Here's a good analogy: You want to see the pretty fish in the water. But the water is rippled, and while you can see the quick silver flashes of movement, 'going in' would offer a far better view. So you stick your head and face into the water.

There the silver flashes of movement become form, color and take on a whole other life. It's so engaging that you're pulled in. Every scale is so perfectly aligned. The eyes look at you curiously, and then quickly descend into the murky water as another comes up to your face to have a look. You are enraptured. Beautiful.

Oh yeah. You're also drowning. But it's easy. You still feel engaged. You've become so obsessed with the fishies, you've forgotten where you are. You've lost all perspective. You have two choices - come up for air, right now, or suffocate. 

Drowning in astonishment
The fish are of course, whatever paranormal phenomena you're trying to examine. They are so ill-perceived through the ripples of ambiguity the enigma is wrapped in, that you wind up going underwater (or becoming semi-obsessed with solving the mystery).  You go all in. There is the spot where this phenomena seems to want you to be. This is the best vantage point for you to be in, by virtue of how it presents.

This can be a dangerous place for investigators. It's not only a place where you become enraptured and more prone to belief rather than facts. It's the old issue of wanting it to be true, or wanting it not to be true. You can also in some cases find yourself in situations you didn't bargain for (i.e. having strange events happening to you rather than you studying someone having them. More on that in future posts)

For many, this is obsession. The obsession is to my eye a part of the nature of the phenomena upon engaging with it, or the study of it. This goes far beyond the desire to solve a mystery. Seasoned investigators will know precisely what I'm talking about (even though few will admit it - the late Dick Hall and I spoke about this at length). The obsessive nature of the study is well known and I've even written about it even in regards to those looking to debunk a case or it's promoting personalities. There's a tendency to prove or disprove far beyond doubt - and often light years past what is required for debunking. 

A good chunk of UFO investigators and 'researchers' (armchair or otherwise) are drowning. A major portion of the ghost research community have succumbed to an acute lack of oxygen (see: facts) and can now tell you not only that the ghost is real, but why the ghost is there, what they want and how they can send them on to the other side. All without determining what the 'ghost' The lack not only of critical thought, but the complete abandon of genuine curiosity and the subscription to absurd beliefs is astounding in ghost circles. If you pay attention to some of the more vocal personalities in that community it's almost comedic. Of course the UFO field and it's personalities aren't really much better.

This begs the question: does the marginal personalities that the field(s) seem to attract allow for dismissal of their investigative results? No. In fact, you sometimes find that the more marginal, haphazard and disorganized a team is, the more likely they are to get phenomena to appear. Because, the phenomena is surrounded by these traits. The self-negation aspect comes into full swing here - you can't take their evidence seriously because of how chaotic their investigation method is, and how they are all predisposed to jump to paranormal conclusions. The evidence no matter how compelling on it's face, remains cloaked in ambiguity.

Can well organized and level headed teams get results as well? Sure. But we know that structure, routine and stability are antithetical to the paranormal. One might expect to see less results in such a team. They may be organized and structured, and still be put into very liminal situations to obtain interesting results. How they proceed from there may dictate their success.

Back away and separate - you'll gain perspective
How to avoid drowning (or losing the critical thinking faculty)? Make a habit of backing away somewhat frequently. And not just backing away, but moving your attention into another interest altogether. This may sound simple, but when you ask investigators to do this, they find it to be amazingly difficult.

I liken this a little bit to what we've spoken about at some length here: ritual. Detaching yourself from this pursuit is needed to 'ground' yourself once again - well outside of the proximity of where you've been in trying to study the phenomenon - ensconced in liminality and anti-structure. Get yourself back into routine. When you come back to the case study you're undertaking in a week or so - I guarantee you'll see things much clearer. But, you have to detach from it completely. Don't dwell or ponder on it - let it go.

For ghost hunting groups? After an investigation, the team should go out and eat together. Don't discuss the night's events. Make that a rule. The act of eating, drinking, even smoking are affirmations of life. You've just spent the entire night supposedly searching for the remnants of the dead. The ritual of feasting grounds you, and draws that line between the perceived dead and the living. Remember, "you shall not pass" - but I'm not talking about the dead following you home. I'm talking about the line of demarcation between the liminal, the anti-structured, and the routine needed to gain perspective and keep critical thought. You'll find the events of the night are easier to let go of after eating, talking and laughing with your friends. Conflicts that may have happened during the investigation should be far easier to blow off. If not, voice them after the food an drink are gone.  But realize, and know, that you putting yourself into the paranormal's surrounding effects by trying to study it - will result in conflict of one kind or another. Recognizing this is often the first step in resolution before it becomes an issue.

It all sounds simple doesn't it? But you'd be surprised the amount of ghost groups that conduct an investigation to disband after, go home and head directly to bed. Think of it like swimming and getting directly into bed without changing. You're laying in it. This gives you time to dwell, ponder, which leads to obsessing...and along the way you lose the critical facilities that you rely upon. Ancient people's held ritual and drew lines between them and odd phenomena for a reason. Even though we may not know what it is, or how it works, it's worth taking their lead - they enacted such things after seeing these kinds of conflicts and turmoil.

To fail to disconnect periodically from these studies is to become less critical of it. I saw some years ago, prolific writer Nick Redfern say something akin to that his writing is a job and he treats it as such. He doesn't live for the subjects he covers, and he more or less admonished those who do the dance 24/7. Perhaps this is why Nick hasn't gone off the rails as so many others in the UFO and paranormal fields do. This is not an endorsement of everything Nick writes, but rather how he conducts his research efforts. He uses structure.
Ritual is still here. It just changes form.

And this is really one of the keys to sidestepping that effect as near as I've been able to figure out. But the important thing to remember is that this isn't a psychological effect on only a subset of people. It happens to everyone from the novice to the PhD, to the skeptic (notice that some of the proposed skeptical explanations to paranormal events are almost more ridiculous and far reaching than the original claim itself is?) and on to the field researchers. You do not see this kind of obsession and loss of critical thought (or on this scale) in any other field of inquiry. I'll go out on a limb and say it again: this seems to be a unique factor/effect in the paranormal fields, and seems to be within the framework in which the paranormal operates. To relegate the effects to mind / psychology is to ignore the overwhelming amount of people affected (and the predictability of it), in addition to the other consistencies we've spoken about on this blog. Psychology is ill-equipped to handle or explain the effect.

In the end, is the detachment 'ritual' going to work 100%? I can't say that. Again, if you're looking for consistencies in the nature of paranormal effects - you're in the wrong place. I will say this: if you're honest with yourself and earnestly try to put detachment and separation lines into practice you'll note the difference in those who don't. I encourage you even to try an experiment with your group: try separation actions with half your team and let the other half do what they want. Have them investigate the same case. Note the reactions and collection of data. Who had more success? How were the results or collected data parsed out and interpreted between the two groups? I think you'll see interesting outcomes.

I should note this is only one aspect to try and sidestep. Conflicts are going to happen, trolls come out of the woodwork in he paranormal, and you'll see that ordinarily sensible people will unable to grasp basic concepts (which I encountered a great example of on a Facebook thread as I wrote this post). It's how you recognize, identify and deal with these things that ultimately keep you on the rails of progress (or the attempt at such) or derail you into chaos and petty conflict that get you nowhere in actually studying the phenomenon. At that point you're just embroiled in verbal blood sport - you're not actively doing anything you set out to do - study the paranormal.

Let me know how these things work for you should you decide to put them into practice. 🔻