Castaneda Cast Off

Unusual that Steamshovel would choose writing by Richard DeMille as its send off to Carlos Castaneda, whose death in April was only recently reported in the news. DeMille used Castaneda to fight an imaginary assault on mainstream science that he thought Castaneda's work represented. It is an ungenerous and narrow minded view that Steamshovel certainly does not endorse. In fact, DeMille's conclusion that Castaneda and Timothy Leary competed in a marketplace of uncritical cult worshippers is presented here partly to demonstrate how wrong that view appears as these figures recede into history. Still, DeMille wrote with a sense of humor and a familiarity with Castaneda's oeuvre that betrays his fascination, as often happens among "skeptics". Steamshovel offers this for those reasons and because the essay brought to mind Steamshovel's dear, departed friend, Dr. Tim, and his view that death, like life, is matter of opinion.

Crewes Reviewed

Another member of the psuedo-skeptic press, Frederick Crewes, took shots at new books by David Jacobs, Whitley Strieber and Jodi Dean in the June 25 edition of The New York Review of Books ("The Mindsnatchers"). "Insofar as the UFO obsession constitutes just another form of supernatural belief, it can be regarded as a comforting hobby," he writes with apparently few clues about what it provides a comfort against. Crewes complains that Jodi Dean fails to see the scientific standards of the "majority culture" as "our common rational heritage but merely as technocratic idols to which the powerless are forced to pay homage." Steamshovellers recently attended a support group meeting for survivors of silicon breast implants who might agree with Bari. Not necessarily UFO believers, these victims have come to regard abuse by scientific industry as something less than our rational heritage. One woman, having just returned from a second radical masectomy, felt that her condition was at least exacerbated by the rather otherworldly job environment of sitting with her back to a bay of computer monitors. The LA Times had just printed a story dimissing such claims, insisting that genetics, diet and exercise were the sole determinants of such ill-health. Praise be to ufology if it represents dissent from such "rational" dismissal. Greg Bishop, of Excluded Middle (a zine that has a new issue poised and eagerly awaited) adds some more observations about Crewes' analysis:

Crewes Reviewes: Same Tired Arguments Don't Address Real Issues

Rant/ Reply by Greg Bishop

I am struck by the willingness of Crewes in his reviews of a small segment of the current UFO literature to immediately adopt the arguments of people like Klass and Menzel, but to gloss over the more cogent arguments of the UFO "community" (at least the brighter members of it, who are routinely and conveniently ignored.) We never hear any opinion from Jacques Vallee, Jerome Clark, Keith Thompson, Jenny Randles, Jim Moseley, Michael Grosso, Dennis Stacy, Martin Kottmeyer, Dennis Stillings, etc. in the public discourse on the UFO subject because they're not reducible to sound-bite status, and might confuse a simplified subject with intelligent debate.

I too lament the sloppy thinking and sometimes loud-mouthed writings of Mack, Hopkins, Strieber, and Jacobs, but Crews throws the baby out with the bathwater. I don't think he even read the Streiber book (I haven't either, but I have talked to the doctor with whom Strieber worked) because he seems to ignore the main premise of Confirmation, which I assume is that anomalous objects removed from various people who have had "abduction" experiences (or believe that they have) are not always identifiable as simple fragments of glass, etc. He quotes Strieber's discussion of "bright objects" in his brain as some sort of new-age mumbo-jumbo, without bothering to mention that the term is shorthand for an anomalous object found in a CAT scan that shows up as a "bright" spot in the imaging device.

Crewes also seems to conveniently ignore the not unknown premise that the aliens (or whatever they are) may be manifested thoughtforms, human agents, products of possible neo-MKULTRA exercises, psychotechnoolgy, mind-control drugs and/ or suggestion, time-slippage perception, a revival of fairy and elf lore, or any number of other causes or combination of causes. If it's not stamped with the imprimatur of 20th century aristotelian science, or culturally and media-approved catogories, it seems that the reviewer doesn't consider it worth mention. He also writes about the "unaccountable congruence of detail from one account to another" and puts it down to the influence of Hollywood. What Crewes (and the abduction researchers he is talking about) fail to realize or accept is that accounts and desriptions from abductees vary all over the map. They like to throw out the data that doesn't fit with their agenda, and while this is fine in a controlled lab experiment this attitude does the phenomenon and the confused "experiencers" a disservice. Experience cannot be reduced to a few limited categories in this arena.

He wants to stick to the "if aliens are from another galaxy/ star system it would be nearly impossible for them to visit" idea. He sticks to this because it's the lynchpin of his argument. I would hasten to point out that countless physical processes and concepts were routinely used by humans before anyone knew how or why they worked. As examples; the process for making bronze, the theory of relativity, and the concept of non-locality were all eventually experimentally proven and entered into the scientific lexicon far before anyone knew how or if they "worked." In the case of non-locality the experimental evidence of atomic particles seemingly "communicating" with each other while never having been in physical contact still defies "common sense" and remains a topic of debate.

I too worry about the plight of so-called "abdcutees" at the hands of unscrupulous reseachers and hypnotists with their own agendas, but what I cry out for is someone with a comprehensive view of the entire phenomenon who actively works to pursue the root causes of the syndrome with an eye towards healing and understanding the cause or set of causes without the goal of simply adding another case to an already bulging file full of defiling aliens. This defines an agenda as well, but perhaps it could prove, disprove, or amend the current argument in which we must be in favor of or against the "alien" theory. On a public level, it's really turned into a stupid gamesaying-type discussion, and this is everyone's loss.

Like Posner (whom I haven't read much either) this guy seems like a kiss-ass and he doesn't even know it. We don't need this kind of redemption. It adds nothing to the public discourse and doesn't advance any understanding of the phenomenon, even though he insists that there is nothing there while offfering little in explanation of what he thinks is an actual cause other than vague references to sleep paralysis and hypnotic suggestion. It's the "nothing but" school of psychology, which to my mind is almost as dangerous as what Crewes is railing against. I don't see a phD after his name, so why is he practicing? There's a reason why medicine and psychology are called "soft" sciences and deal with their data by means of vast samples and meta-analysis to arrive at a best guess. This is also why medical insurance is so high (apart from the fact that people are greedy) namely, the spectrum of the natural world and of human experience are difficult to nail down into discrete categories amenable to simple answers.

Sure, everyone knows that personality and political and economic agendas are the secret templates of everyone's viewpoint, and there can never be any real objectivity, even in the cold logic of science, but the inquisition mentailty of academics like Crewes is more frightening than the popularity of the books he so vehemently denounces as the death knells of our rational culture. He doesn't care to mention that even his hero Carl Sagan thought that such subjects as reincarnation and ESP deserved serious research and said as much in his last book.

Crewes is quite right to point out that researcher/ authors are guilty of sloppy reasoning, but he hatchet-pieces them without considering an alternative viewpoint of many of their claims. Perhaps he just doesn't have time, but if that's the case, he shouldn't be writing reviews of things he doesn't care to research to any reasonable depth. He also seems inordinately interested in the subject matter to an obsessive degree, so might there be something else going on here. The subject really doesn't concern the vast majority of people to the point where it's important on a daily basis, so Crewes must have some personal hard-on for the evil mind-controller hypnotists, and little concern for other political and economic agendas and practices that have and are doing actual physical and mental harm to a great number of people around the globe. He's got the "save the heathens" mentality, and it's sort of sad to see this attitude still going strong.

A Steamshovel reader sent the following in response to Greg Bishop's comments: First, about Frederick Crews: I'm in basic agreement with the guy from The Excluded Middle. However, a couple of points about Crews may be worth noting. He's a respected critic/professor (just retired) specializing in American Lit. Moreover, in the fifties/sixties, he was in the vanguard of a Freudian movement in criticism which applied psychoanalytic theory to textual interpretation. Then, he experienced a crisis of belief in which he rejected Freudianism as dangerous bunk. For several years now, he's been an aggressive critic of psychoanalytic thought and its popular offshoots. In particular, he's written critically and thoughtfully about the alleged phenomenon of "recovered memory" in child abuse cases, emphasizing the dubious and probably abusive role played in such cases by "therapists" using hypnotic regression techniques. More often than not, he argues, such practice amounts to a form of brainwashing in which fake memories are created according to a preset agenda, much of which is imposed or encouraged by the "therapist." The whole thing is then justified, in pseudoscientific terms, by recourse to pop Freudian notions about trauma, repression and recoverable memory, etc. Of course the UFO abduction field is full of the same sort of therapeutic practice. It was therefore expectable that, sooner or later, Crews would write about that field as well. And, though Crews is something of a mechanistic reductionist (he once described himself as a "stone-kicking empiricist"), the field could, I think, use some strong corrective medicine. I'm most definately not a mechanistic reductionist (or an apologist for the scientific establishment), but I too think that Ufology today is in an incredibly sorry state.