Since before I was born, elites have maintained a severe taboo against taking seriously the hypothesis that UFOs are aliens. As I’ve discussed, elite-aspiring UFO researchers have themselves embraced this taboo. They seem to figure that if we look carefully at all the other hypotheses, and see how inadequate they are, then the taboo against UFOs as aliens must collapse.
For elites pundits, this taboo is a problem when UFOs as possibly aliens are the topic of the day. Because elite pundits are also supposed to comment on the topic of the day. Their obvious solution: talk only about the fact that other people seem to be taking UFOs as aliens seriously.
For example, here is Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) in a 1992 word New York Times article:
Even if You Think Discussing Aliens Is Ridiculous, Just Hear Me Out …
I really don’t know what’s behind these videos and reports, and I relish that. … Even if you think all discussion of aliens is ridiculous, it’s fun to let the mind roam over the implications. … Imagine, tomorrow, an alien craft crashed down in Oregon. … we are faced with the knowledge that we’re not alone, that we are perhaps being watched, and we have no way to make contact. How does that change human culture and society? …
One immediate effect, I suspect, would be a collapse in public trust. … Governments would be seen as having withheld a profound truth from the public. … “Instead of a land grab, it would be a narrative grab,” … There would be enormous power — and money — in shaping the story humanity told itself. … “An awful lot of people would basically shrug and it’d be in the news for three days,” …
how evidence of alien life would shake the world’s religions… many people would simply say, “of course.” … nation-states fall to fighting over the debris, … fractious results. … “Russians and Chinese would never believe us and frankly large numbers of Americans would be much more likely to believe that Russia or China was behind it,” … difficulty of uniting humanity …
knowledge that there were other space-faring societies might make us more desperate to join them or communicate with them. … might lead us to take more care with what we already have, and the sentient life we already know. … “inspire us to be the best examples of intelligent life that we could be.”
Note how Klein very clearly signals that he doesn’t believe, and that this is all about how people who believed would react; he never crosses the line to himself consider aliens.
Here is Tyler Cowen (@tylercowen) in a 746 words Bloomberg article:
Now that the Pentagon takes UFOs seriously, it’s perhaps appropriate to consider some more mundane aspects of the phenomenon — namely, what it means for markets. UFO data will probably remain murky and unresolved, but if UFOs of alien origin become somewhat more likely (starting, to be clear, from a low base rate), which prices will change?
My first prediction is that most market prices won’t move very much. In the short run, VIX might rise, … But … would probably [quickly] return to normal levels. … I would bet on defense stocks to rise, … alien drone probes … might be observing with the purpose of rendering judgment. If they are offended by our militaristic tendencies, the quality of our TV shows and our inability to adopt the cosmopolitan values of “Star Trek” over the next 30 years, maybe they will zap us into oblivion. But … after such an act of obliteration, neither gold nor Bitcoin will do you any good.
Note that Cowen touches on a crucial issue, what if they judge us, but with a flippant tone and only for the purpose of predicting assets prices, which are set by other investors. If he were to directly and seriously consider that issue, he’d have violated the key taboo.
Here is Megan McArdle (@asymmetricinfo) in 835 word Washington Post article:
These are all major, important stories, stories that lives and futures depend upon. And yet they’re almost irrelevant compared to the question that isn’t anywhere in my Twitter feed right now: Are we being watched by alien technology? …
Other humans … would not will the death of our entire species. Aliens might. … Whether we’re being visited, and what they might be up to, is the most important question of anyone’s lifetime, because, if so, everything that currently obsesses us, including the pandemic, will retreat to a historical footnote. …
So I’ve been surprised to find that the story of unexplained sightings, which has now been percolating for years, has been mostly a subplot to more ordinary human politics and folly. … it seems to be mostly fodder for jokes. …Why is this particular unknowable getting such short shrift? …
One possibility is that UFOs have a social status problem; historically, they are associated with cranks … Thus, most … reflexively refuse to take the topic seriously. … But the third option is that we understand at some level that aliens would be a Very Big Deal — and that most of the possibilities for alien contact are pretty unpleasant. … the alternative is so horrible that I suspect for many of us, it simply doesn’t bear thinking about.
This is like all those long calls for a “conversation on race” that can’t seem to find the space to actually start conversing on race. (Because there is very little safe that one can actually say.) Here McArdle talks long on on being puzzled that we aren’t talking on the key issue, about which she doesn’t actually say much. In response to my complaint she tweeted “I did my best in 800 words!”
I’m pretty sure that any of these authors could have directly addressed the big “elephant in the room” alien issues here, if they had so desired. I’ve tried to do better.
No one has ever accused me of being a member of any elite, anywhere. I want to be in the elite, any elite anywhere, but I never made it.
But this sentiment by Megan McArdle strikes me as daffy:
"Whether we’re being visited, and what they might be up to, is the most important question of anyone’s lifetime, because, if so, everything that currently obsesses us, including the pandemic, will retreat to a historical footnote. …"--MM
OK, say the Earth is being visited by aliens. Somehow proof is generated to back up that claim. Then what? So what?
Will the US dismiss woke politics? Will Latin American governments become less corrupt? Will Putin become a nice guy? The CCP all lightness and liberty? Labor share of income in the US begins to rise again? Pretty girls notice me?
Intellectually, alien visits are fascinating. I hope they are "real." But after a few weeks of media buzz, then....nothing will change.
Our plebeian, prosaic lives lives go on as before. Governments will waste money on military outlays The Shiites will hate the Sunnis.
And most importantly I will not be in an elite even if aliens land on the White House lawn, or in the pool at the Hugh Hefner mansion. Both places I have never been invited.
I suppose if aliens elect me as their spokesman, my lot in life would become elite. A slender reed, indeed.
Aliens! Listen! I can be your spokesman!
OK. Both of those are still pretty taboo-cagey, the first with the disjunction with mundane hoax/lie, and the second with 1000:1 odds. But I can see why you would still want to mostly respect the taboo even while complaining about how others aren't infringing it as much as you.
Also, the taboo isn't about assessing serious consequences given an unlikely antecedent (see, e.g. asteroid impact planning), but about the seemingly crazy belief that it's likely and the bad traits believers statistically tend to have. Taking consequences seriously is just one of several signals of high credence or belief that there are alien UFOs.