Of Aliens and Vegans

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Of Aliens and Vegans

Many people who report having experienced abduction by aliens give horrifyingly graphic descriptions of violence and physical violation. The treatment of animals by humans, which I intend to demonstrate parallels and informs the abductees’ reports, is real and perhaps equally horrifying. It includes violence that would also be deemed sexual assault if it were committed by a human against a human. I open with this caveat to prepare my reader for some upsetting content.

The idea of extraterrestrial life is neither novel nor an outrageous idea. Humans have speculated about the potential for intelligent life beyond the bounds of the earth since recorded history began. We first imagined spirits and gods beyond the sky, then people on the moon, civilisations on mars, and now beings from beyond our solar system. It seems that there has ever been a mysterious place just a little farther away than our scientific understanding allows us to see, and it may be home to someone – or something.

The Drake equation provided scientists with optimism that extraterrestrial life exists*. It is intended to estimate the number of communicative civilisations in our galaxy. Obviously, the equation is highly speculative on account of the many unknown variables and is described by SETI as a ‘tool for stimulating intellectual curiosity.’ It hints that, given the sheer size of the universe, our intuition that we may not be alone is probably correct – even if the chances of two advanced species being close enough to notice each other is near zero.

Humans have always wondered about alien life and have been reporting seeing strange things in the sky for centuries, but the modern phenomenon of people reporting alien abductions began in 1964. The first fictional depiction of an alien abduction was in the film Invaders from Mars (1953)*. It obviously caught the public imagination because many more movies followed in the same vein, and in the early sixties a series of episodes of The Outer Limits about alien abductions were being shown**.

Alien Kidnappers

The very first report of an alien abduction came from Betty and Barney Hill, who were familiar with the reported sightings of flying saucers and the abduction movies. In fact, Betty was a ‘UFO enthusiast’. The Hills thought they had experienced an abduction but were unable to recall the details, so they underwent hypnosis in order to access their memories of what happened to them. The following is an extract from the transcript of one of Barney’s hypnosis sessions in which he describes the moment before he was abducted.

…evil face…. He looks like a German Nazi. He has a black scarf around his neck, dangling over his right shoulder … Oh! I feel like a rabbit!” “Why do you feel like a rabbit?” Dr Simon. asks. “I was hunting for rabbits in Virginia. And this cute little bunny went into a bush that was not very big …. And the poor little bunny thought he was safe…. He was just hiding behind a little stalk which meant security to him, when I pounced on him, and captured the poor little bunny who thought he was safe. Funny I thought of that. Right there out in the field. I felt like a rabbit.*

Here, in the first alien ever abduction report, the victim himself parallels the experience of a rabbit being hunted with his experience of being abducted. Years later, this theme is still running through abduction reports, one of the most well known being Whitley Strieber’s, who describes his first abduction:

I had been captured like a wild animal on December 26, rendered helpless and dragged out of my den into the night.*

Under hypnosis Betty Hill recounted undergoing a medical examination by her abductors, which included a needle being inserted into her navel. A similar operation had been performed on one of the female characters in Invaders From Mars. Betty interpreted this procedure as a pregnancy test. Since the Hill’s abduction report millions** of other people have reported alien abductions many of which follow an outline unintentionally scripted by the Hills. This is unsurprising since their reported encounters are published as a book, inspired a documentary movie and are disseminated into pop culture inspiring many more books, movies and television series.

Bryan Appleyard, in his book Aliens: Why They Are Here, provides a synopsis of the typical reported encounter:

The basic elements are now familiar from the Hills and from thousands of other similar cases and there use in books and films. Essentially, these are: the UFO, the missing time, the powerlessness of the humans, the control of the aliens over our machinery, usually, as in the Hills’ case, a car, the medical examination and/or intervention with its focus on the reproductive organs, the inside of the craft, the imposed amnesia later unlocked by hypnotism and the subsequent physical and mental effects on the abductees.*

The reasons why people become convinced that they have been abducted by aliens can broadly be divided into two categories: the physical and the psychological. Sleep paralysis and unexplained medical symptoms (such as strange rashes or marks on the body) are two of the physical experiences that may prompt someone to suspect they have been victim to an alien abduction. In her book Abducted, Clancy summarises some of the psychological stimuli for forming such a belief:

I am arguing that alien-abduction memories are best understood as resulting from a blend of fantasy-proneness, memory distortion, culturally available scripts, sleep hallucinations, and scientific illiteracy, aided and abetted by the suggestions and reinforcements of hypnotherapy.*

Clancy goes on to suggest that a more important question is not why the purported abductees believe they are abducted but why they, in the words of Fox Mulder, ‘want to believe’. Her answer is that people who report being abducted by aliens are engaging in the most human of behaviors; searching for meaning… and often unwittingly manufacturing it.

This article is concerned with the thematic origin of abductees’ experiences, rather than the psychological or physiological causes. Like art, these experiences are woven from a tapestry of pop culture, politics and general human anxieties.

Clancy succinctly describes this process:

When you’re looking for the cause of an anomalous experience, your search is limited to the set of explanations you’ve actually heard of.*

I would go further, and propose that when manufacturing a narrative to explain one’s experience, one can only draw from the ideas already present in your culture. The reported alien abduction encounters do not seem to be the products of actual alien interactions; rather, they mirror their parent culture’s preoccupations, perhaps reflecting them even more clearly than any art because they are not self-consciously edited.

Maybe more importantly, the ‘abduction narrative’ is collaborative. Every year, many people add their own stories to the record and support or dismiss aspects of their fellow abductee’s accounts. Abductees work together to create a well-honed myth that resonates with not only the thousands who believe in the alien abduction phenomenon but also many millions more who consume the fictional material inspired by it. The themes that are made explicit in this narrative are critically important to the people of our age, and the anxieties surrounding our treatment of animals are unsubtly apparent.

Alien Experiments

Reports of abduction often features medical examination, conducted while the human subject is rendered immobile. Appleyard notes that there is a recurring sexual theme in many abduction accounts, and the medical examination is usually focused on the reproductive organs. One of the most famous alleged abductees is the author Whitley Strieber who recalled his experiences under hypnosis and later recorded them in his autobiographical* novel Communion. One graphic assault:

The next thing I knew l was being shown an enormous and extremely ugly object, gray and scaly, with a sort of network of wires on the end. It was at least a foot long, narrow, and triangular in structure. They inserted this thing into my rectum. It seemed to swarm into me as if it had a life of its own. Apparently its purpose was to take samples, possibly of fecal matter, but at the time I had the impression that I was being raped, and for the first time I felt anger.*

Strieber’s account features an anal probe of the kind that has become ubiquitous and subject to some dark humour*. The adoption of this motif both by pop culture and the abductee community suggests that it has a resonance with the general public and not just Strieber himself.

Fear of violence is deeply embedded into the human psyche. Ideally, it would protect us from dangerous people and situations, but it can also lead us to an excess anxiety, for which we must manufacture scenarios in order to explain. This is the kind of effect that occurs when we imagine that the pedestrian walking behind us on a dark street is holding a knife, or that shape in the corner of a dark bedroom is a hunched intruder. We are always alert for danger, and frequently misidentify non-threatening, harmless things as dangerous due to apophenia**.

It works the other way around too. It’s possible to experience an excess of anxiety and then imagine a threat that would explain our fear. This is why, after watching a horror movie, we are more likely to jump at sudden noises or imagine we see monsters lurking behind doors. Our anxiety is seeking confirmation of its aptness. In The Believing Brain*, Michael Shermer speculates on the evolutionary origins of apophenia (which he calls patternicity). He points out the obvious selection advantages that a person seeing danger where there was none would have over a person not seeing danger when it was present. Similarly, it is easy to imagine how natural selection could be responsible for the human trait of being wary after experiencing a frightening encounter.

Whitley Strieber’s excess anxiety took the shape of an alien abduction and an anal probe. I would argue that Strieber’s expressions of his fear are merely window dressing for a simpler human fear: loss of power and control over his own body. What better example of this loss of control than rape*. The reason other alleged abductees remember being probed in the same manner as Strieber, and before him Barney Hill*, is surely partly because of Strieber’s keen ability as a writer and Christopher Walken’s eerie portrayal in the film version*, but also perhaps it was because they all sensed a common fear: of being dominated.

Alien Farmers

Though anal probing has become a well-known motif in abduction reports, it is actually far less prevalent than more traditional sexual assaults. Many abductee reports detail a forced medical examination that focuses on the reproductive organs. A large percentage of these alleged abductees either claim to know or to suspect that the reason for this medical intervention is to extract semen or ovum for further experimentation and possible breeding.

It is an unfortunate but constant aspect of the abduction phenomenon that aliens take eggs and sperm from people on a routine basis. For women it involves the introduction of instruments that take either recently matured eggs or invade the ovary for follicles. There is some evidence to suggest that the aliens can accomplish rapid egg maturation and release through Mindscan for harvesting purposes.

Harvesting can be accomplished at any age. For men, sperm is extracted mechanically by a device placed around the genital area. Sometimes these devices are small and portable, other times they are on carts or attached to the wall.*

A rape that culminates in the attacker taking control of their victims DNA is perhaps the most disempowering experience our brains could conjure.

Victims of alien medical examination are typically immobilised. They are then subject to invasive extraction or implantation of biological material via their sexual organs. The experience is usually recalled as painful and humiliating, but sometimes the aliens are benevolent enough to induce a dream-like state so their human subject is not conscious of mental or physical discomfort. When reading these accounts (and particularly Strieber’s, above) I was struck by the gruesome similarities to the artificial insemination of cattle that is practiced regularly in animal agriculture.

Female cows must be restrained for the impregnation procedure. This is not usually done not by telepathic alien paralysis; farmers typically resort to forcing the cows into a ‘cattle crush’ or ‘squeeze chute’, more colloquially known as a ‘rape rack’. A cattle crush is a large metal cage that fits snugly around the cow’s body rendering her unable to move of her own volition. This protects the farmer from injury and the cow from hurting herself in her struggle to escape. Artificial insemination of cows is performed by the inseminator inserting their hand and arm into the cow’s rectum, they then reach down and feel through her rectal wall the position of her cervix, scooping underneath they grasp the cervix firmly. In an instructional text provided for farmers the inseminator is warned:

…the cow will exert a fair amount of pressure against the arm and hands – she will try to expel them!*

Since rectal walls are not particularly elastic, the farmer is advised to take care not to rupture the wall. If her rectal wall is ruptured the cow will inevitably develop peritonitis, a painful and eventually fatal disease. If rupture of the rectal wall is suspected, the farmer is advised to arrange a prompt slaughter. Grasping the cervix, the inseminator takes a large syringe loaded with bull semen and inserts it with the other hand into her vagina. It seems there is a bit of a knack to knowing where exactly to deposit the load but when the appropriate place is located the syringe is depressed and withdrawn. I go into such explicit and unpleasant detail to demonstrate the similarities of the artificial insemination of cattle with the ordeals that the abductee reports detail.

Imagine, if you can, the vulnerability, fear and agony a human would experience when being subject to the procedure outlined above. For your sake, I hope you are unable to do so, but it seems some people can, with extreme vividness. Connie Renblosser describes her alien abductors as rapists and recounts a terrifyingly typical abduction experience:

I was physically paralyzed, but my mind was alert. I can remember being taken inside the metallic spaceship and carried by four small, hairless beings with large eyes up a dimly lit corridor … The spacemen carried me into a room where they laid me on a metal gurney … After that, the agony began. I can remember that he inserted something into my womb. I could feel it wiggling around inside me, but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t stop it. The pain was so terrible I passed out.*

When the minds of abductees are left to conjure the most horrific scenario possible, they imagine something very similar to what we do to millions of female cows every day. The ultimate human fear is that we might be treated in the way which we treat others. Regardless of how informed the abductees are of these animals’ treatment, it seems that some of the worst and most graphic exploitation we can imagine is actually quite commonplace on Earth.

Human Livestock

The procedures to which humans subject livestock, and those administered to humans in abductee reports, are thought by many to have similar aims. The fear of individual powerlessness is projected onto the entire human race by imagining the earth as either a source of livestock for aliens or an experimental project.

Zecharia Sitchin was one of the first to suggest the hypothesis that humans were specifically bred for alien purposes*. He claims that ancient Sumerian texts recount the story of aliens, which he calls the Anunnaki, coming to earth 400,000 years ago to source earth minerals. To assist them with this project, they genetically engineered homo sapiens as sophisticated beasts of burden*.

This idea has been embraced by a whole community of people who believe in ‘ancient astronauts’, and has been brought to the wider public recently by the Discovery Channel’s hugely popular ‘Ancient Aliens’*. One of the more entertaining proponents of theory that humans are unknowingly enslaved to extra terrestrials (or possibly extra-dimensionals) is former professional footballer and television presenter David Icke, who refers to those people who are not aware of their own enslavement as ‘sheeple’ – a term that recalls George Orwell’s animal farm in which the sheep are a metaphor for the easily manipulated masses. Icke opens the first chapter of his book Children of the Matrix: how an interdimensional race has controlled the world for thousands of years – and still does’ with a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

There are none so enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free.

Icke highlights this quote to explain the inability or unwillingness of the ‘sheeple’ (that’s you and I, dear reader) to realise the truth of his message. His dense text contains many genuinely insightful observations on human society interspersed with more incredible claims – much like any pseudoscience, mixing reality with unsubstantiated claims in order to forge believability. His overall thesis is encapsulated in the title, and appeals to the fear expressed by many proponents of the ancient astronaut theory: that humanity is a slave race bred for the purposes of a more powerful culture.

If sheep, cows, pigs or any number of ‘livestock’ animals were capable of producing their own version of ‘Ancient Aliens’ promulgating the idea that they were selectively bred as slave species for the use of an alien culture they would be correct. And their ratings would probably suffer since viewers always seem to favour fantasy over fiction.

Human Guilt

Occasionally there is a report of humanity turning the tables and capturing an alien. Ray Santilli made this claim when he presented his video footage of a supposed alien autopsy*. Santilli’s presentation is typical: human scientists examine and dissect their victim in a manner just as barbaric as the aliens purportedly treat their captives. In the movie E.T. we sympathise with the titular character as he flees from ironically inhuman scientists dressed in white robes and face masks. Instead of retaliating, perhaps it would be better to lay down the imaginary scalpels and call a truce with our subconscious guilt.

I do not think that repressed guilt for the way humans treat animals leads to abduction experiences, but I cannot help but notice the similarities between how aliens are reported to treat their victims and how humanity treats non-human animals. Clearly, these similarities have not escaped the abductees themselves, as has been demonstrated in the analogies drawn in their accounts. Even so, these parallels are almost certainly coincidental. With good reason, humans tend to fear rape, torture and murder. They’re also accomplished at manufacturing confabulations in which they act out their fears and, in an effort to relate their stories to others, are prone to casting around in their experience and culture to find corresponding analogies.

I am always searching for the best in people. Perhaps this is why I can’t help but imagine that one of the ingredients in the cocktail of human anxiety that informs the abduction narrative is the guilt for and horror of animal suffering caused by humanity. Even if repressed distaste for the treatment of animals is not inspiring the gruesome details of abduction reports, the fact that these reports (and the media they inspire) compare the suffering of abductees to farm animals is a kind of accidental advocacy for animals.

When we put ourselves in the place of livestock animals, there is no doubt that what they/we are doing is wrong. In his short essay The vegans have landed, Rhys Southan argues that the analogy of aliens exploiting humans is a poor one because humans have very different cognitive faculties than the animals that we exploit. He suggests that this thought experiment (of imagining ourselves as animals being exploited by aliens) is misleading:

It wants to make us see things from the animals’ point of view, yet fudges it by putting us in the animals’ place while maintaining our human cultural beliefs and cognitive abilities.*

I agree that the analogy is far from perfect, but it’s important simply because it appeals to so many people and is expressed in such an unusual manner.

Believing that we are victims of alien abductions or that inter-dimensional reptilians have enslaved the whole human species is one of the stranger delusions we humans have produced. I believe we have a lot to learn from the phenomenon, especially if we read these accounts and the surrounding media as a cultural text. My hope is that attention to the parallels between the imagined suffering of alleged abductees and the genuine suffering of farm animals will inspire greater empathy for non-human animals. This is surely preferable to accepting this fantasy as reality and allowing us to wallow deeper in our own imagined victimhood. Instead of spending our evenings fashioning protective tinfoil hats, perhaps we should be asking the animals the same question Whitley Strieber reports the aliens asked him:

“What can we do to help you stop screaming?”*

Rebecca Fox is as likely to be found meditating and burning incense as she is in an academic library, and yet is a passionate atheist and a skeptic. Her artistic career is fuelled primarily by ingestion of soy lattes. Her artwork can be found at rebeccaonpaper.com. Her vegan and skeptical activism is fuelled by critical thinking and compassion.

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