Una Mullally: Trump and Brexit make UFOs seem plausible
It makes sense then that aliens are back on the agenda, at a time of great existential turmoil with people searching for answers or logic to the rudderless nature of news cycles
Undated handout image taken from a video released by the Defence Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. It is a 2004 encounter near San Diego between two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets and an unknown object. UFOs have been repeatedly investigated over the decades in the United States, including by the American military. (U.S. Department of Defence via The New York Times)
As Trump continues his reign in the US (only 1,124 days left in his term - Happy Christmas!), and as Brexit continues its head-in-hands trajectory, there’s a ‘what next?’ element to the news cycle as 2017 wraps. The answer to ‘what next?’ was somewhat answered when details of a Pentagon-run programme examining UFOs - or the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program - emerged in a New York Times report, including breathtaking video from a US military aircraft encountering what can only be described as spacecraft hurtling through the sky on its way to destroy/save us all.
Are aliens next? Is that where we’re at after bizarre and odd news events keep occurring? Fair enough. It would make sense in a strange way. What could be more shocking - or what could top the already sensational news cycle - than a bunch of cowboys from outer space making themselves known on earth?
Events that some consider unthinkable, such as Brexit and the election of Trump, brought the simulation hypothesis to the fore again. Such odd “glitches”, where extraordinary things keep happening, feed into the idea that we are living in a simulation created by a previous human race, or an alien one. The recent gravitation towards the simulation hypothesis is about searching for answers in chaos. It’s also a deeply western-centric point of view, as if when weird things happen in the western world, the answer can only be alien technology.
But as we await the next big news event, there is a sort of defeatist atmosphere that nothing can surprise. Conversations about aliens are everywhere. Last weekend it was reported that the Church of Scientology is trying to get into Irish schools by supplying teaching materials on things such as human rights. One of Scientology’s grander tenets is the idea that Xenu, a space dictator, brought billions of his minions to earth 75 million years ago in a spaceship, before depositing them around volcanoes and blowing them up with hydrogen bombs. Take that, moving statues.
The opening scene of the latest Star Wars film The Last Jedi shows a craft similar in shape to something that has been stalking our solar system for a while, a massive asteroid frequently written about as “cigar-shaped”, which some scientists wondered was hiding something more than rock. Oumuamua, as its called, is the first object we’ve tracked entering our solar system from another. I know what you’re thinking: clearly aliens. After some murmurs about the potential for an alien spacecraft to have visited us in time for Christmas, the general conclusion seems to be that it’s just a very interesting piece of space driftwood, with an unusual shape, and an odd red hue.
The realisation that I find myself reading stories about aliens and nodding along as if giant rocky spacecraft whizzing around us or Navy pilots videoing UFOs is somehow “normal”, I suppose goes to show how ridiculous global events have become. Hypotheses or predictions that previously would have seen you laughed out of it don’t feel so strange now that what we once labelled conspiracy is central to British and American politics, from Russian collusion to armies of online propaganda bots.
We are in a moment where satire can fall a bit flat considering the truth is so outrageous, and where political conspiracy theories - however outlandish - compel you to lend an ear. It makes sense then that aliens are back on the agenda, at a time of great existential turmoil with people searching for answers or logic to the rudderless nature of news cycles. There is a sense of cards being tossed into the air, of chaos, that anything can happen.
Conspiracy theories moving away from the fringes and into the mainstream, along with a mistrust of authorities and government, is surely a ripe atmosphere for alien talk. UFO sightings, for example, occur in clusters. In America, UFO sightings have tripled since 2001. Sightings beget more sightings, as does media coverage. So with all this alien talk emerging now, don’t be surprised if 2018 raises the volume of alien chatter, if only for us to remain depressed about who we think of when asked “take me to your leader”.