If you want to be dismissed as a nutter, in polite British society, you can’t do much better than say: “Hey, I think aliens are visiting the earth.” But I’m going to have a go. Here it is. Deep breath.
I think aliens might just be visiting earth — and I reckon there is an intriguing psychological link with Covid-19.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Before you click off this website, and permanently erase it from your memory, let me explain with some context, and some history.
First, the aliens. Next month, the Pentagon will deliver an eagerly awaited report, detailing all its observations of UFOs over decades. Excitement has been building for a while, but in recent days it has become feverish. Serious people are taking this seriously.
Could they really be right? I think: yes, it is just possible — and this is where you need the history.
In January 2020 I was writing a book in Bangkok, Thailand. The sun was hot, the beers were cold; life was pretty good. Then the first rumours began to swirl: of a fatal respiratory virus, running out of control in China. As I was spending much of my Bangkok time in air-conditioned bars, alongside happy Chinese tourists, I paid some attention.
I paid even more attention when I flew back to London, at the end of January, and developed an odd, persistent “flu”. It was nasty, yet it fluctuated. I then gave it to my wife, who coughed so badly on the Tube she nearly fainted (sorry, London). At this point I genuinely started to wonder, and so I called Public Health England to recount my symptoms, just in case.
To my surprise they went bananas. They ordered me to a hospital for isolation, and said I maybe had coronavirus or “Avian Flu”. I googled Avian Flu and found that it has a mortality rate of 50%. After drinking an entire bottle of wine in 15 minutes I rushed to the hospital, where there was much confusion: this was very early in the pandemic. The promised testing didn’t happen, and in time the “flu” abated.
My illness remains a mystery, but it did have one definite consequence: I immediately became obsessed with the new pestilence. Over the following week I read every scholarly article I could find; I watched the videos of Chinese people being welded into apartments. By mid-February my mental job was done. I knew we were headed for a global plague, because the exponential logic of pandemics is relentless. So I bought my first masks, and stocked up on tuna — and then I tried to warn my friends.
This, it turned out, was a hopeless task. No matter how many graphs, extrapolations, and gory Tweets I showed them, nothing worked. They laughed, they scoffed, they made bets against my maths. Some were kind of resentful.
It was an unexpected response, so I did more research. Pretty swiftly I discovered that I was butting up against a known mental block. It is called Normalcy Bias, and it describes the common human disposition to reject appalling information, and to presume that extraordinarily bizarre or terrible things never happen.
Normalcy Bias explains, it is thought, why the people of Pompeii simply stared at the eruption of Vesuvius, for hours, instead of fleeing. Normalcy Bias could also explain the workers who sat in the Twin Towers and carried on typing, even as the second plane crumpled into the glass.
And this is where the aliens come in. As happened with coronavirus, I have become modestly obsessed by the new alien story. I have watched all the videos: of the black blob hovering near to the USS Omaha, of the “Tic Tac” UFO disobeying the laws of physics. I’ve read the eye-witness reports from pilots, I’ve listened to baffled Pentagon experts. Most of all I’ve gazed on, boggle eyed, as much of the US journalistic and political Establishment, from Fox News to the New York Times, from Senator Mario Rubio to Former President Barack Obama, have all lined up behind the hypothesis that Yes, there might be aliens.
To give you a flavour of these mind-bending analyses, here’s one, from the foreign policy expert Tom Rogan on the conservative Washington Examiner.
First he examines the “less dramatic” explanations for the UAPs (ie: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, a new initialism invented to take away the “stigma” of “seeing UFOs”). He wonders if the UFOs are secret, advanced American tech, and the US is spooking itself or others. Or perhaps this is Chinese technology, and Beijing has developed aircraft that can fly at 15,000mph, without anyone really noticing.
Then Rogan addresses the other hypothesis — which he believes should be put to Congress. “The most compelling UFOs, those UFOs which lack conventional alternative explanation after exhaustive investigation, give credible indication of being highly advanced, intelligently controlled vehicles… beyond the understood technical capacity of any Earth nation.”
He goes on: “This sounds extraordinary, and it is. But even if not offered formally in writing, it is also the truth recognised by those who have worked intimately on this issue. After all, these most compelling UFOs evince means of non-jet propulsion-based hypersonic travel in the air and in space, and of 100 knots-plus speeds underwater. Some UFOs also show apparent anti-gravity capabilities, reflected by their instantaneous acceleration and deceleration…”
If you’re like me, you’ll have read these sentences, written by a mainstream US journalist, with mounting incredulity. Is he really saying alien craft are cruising our skies? Surely not. There are so many unanswered questions. How did the aliens get here? What’s their fascination with nukes? Why are all the photos and videos so grainy? If they can fly faster than light, why can’t they hide properly? I scoff at these ideas, I laugh at them and I kind of resent the stupidity.
And that’s the point, I am actively averse to this news story, in the same peculiar way my friends reacted to my prophesies of plague back in early 2020. To me this UFO flap feels like a religious spasm, a fearsome portent in the sky: not unknown during plagues. But is it? How do I know I am not exhibiting Normalcy Bias? How can I be sure I am not standing in the piazza in Pompeii, munching a panino, even as the volcano blows?
I don’t have an answer, but I remember Early Covid, and how I overcame Normalcy Bias back then. A pivotal moment came as I watched the mighty quarantine efforts in China, sealing off 60m people. It dawned on me that the Chinese authorities would only take these horrific steps, so damaging to their own economy, if they saw something deeply troubling. I began to sense the danger. I went to buy my tuna.
And now I am watching, once again: as half of the American elite, which is closer to this UAP narrative than everyone else, reacts with quite surreal alarm. What are they seeing that I can’t? What explains this crazy over-reaction? And so I go back to the UFO videos, and those gyrating blobs of grainy light, calmly looking back at us across the swaying Pacific waves.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe