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. 🔻


  1. Another excellent, and timely (for me) article. Thank you Jeff. And I agree this very much sounds exactly like the Paranormal/UFO theatre.

  2. Cool article. And I hate to be negative but I agree with you absolutely on Stephen Greer. There are videos of his contact outings on youtube and they are SO FAKE. It's painfully obvious they're fake and I don't know how he does it while looking those people in the eyes. He is a charlatan. One with no shame in his scams.

  3. I notice a continual backlash against those like yourself who look at paranormal study from a mythic, psychological, or symbolic perspective. This is unfortunate, as an examination of these issues may be something like therapy for the field itself. You are putting UFO study on the couch and asking it questions about it's mother, it's childhood, and its friends. Perhaps after a series of couch sessions, we can see why these groups act as they do, and how what they are studying may be part of the reason they are so screwed up. Stockholm syndrome, to an extent, perhaps?

  4. Nice! A very well done piece that highlights the way that efforts to explore and exploit the phenomenon on one's own self-aggrandizing terms (as many of these "charismatic" figures seem to) tend to collapse in on themselves.

  5. A thought provoking article and indeed on the mark. However, let's not forget that at the base level, each of these folks highlighted in your examples, as well as everyone else in the field of paranormal studies is a human being. Do we find this kind of behavior in other fields of human endeavor? Sports, politics, academia, medicine, science, religion, hollywood? I could go on and on and you could reproduce the same essay but exchange the names. Is it any surprise then, that even though the field of paranormal research is a bit on the fringe, that the same sort of human behavior is present? I think not. Appropriate to call it out, but there is no mystery as to why this behavior or symbiosis is present. Unfortunately, it is a social norm in western civilization.

    1. Of course charisma is found all over points of leadership roles in society. In fact, it's predominant in Weber's work and discussion of the trait.

      However, you don't find people outside of paranormal circles often co-creating their own subject matter from a kind of role playing behavior. This would be considered outrageous (and possibly pathological) in other endeavors, but in the paranormal it's accepted and largely unquestioned.

      Think about a scientist and his fellow researcher both willfully ignoring obvious data results because they are so steeped in their preconceived notions that they refuse to live in the real world, and publishing their paper for peer review. They'd be removed from any position of authority and their reputations ruined.

      This happens a lot in paranormal circles. Over, and over again. This effect is not normal human nature, and psychology is ill-equipped to account for the over-abundance of this kind of repeated and demonstrably counter-productive effect.