Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Of Space Aliens and Trust

The most recent Point of Inquiry podcast features James McGaha, a retired US Air Force pilot and astronomer who delivers, upon seemingly sound observation, experience, and reasoning, the buzz-killing message that the earth has not been visited by space aliens, either of the anal-probing or the non-anal-probing kind.

The discussion with D.J. Grothe concludes on an awkward note, when Grothe asks McGaha why skeptics, scientists, podcast listeners, irascible bloggers, or anyone else should bother worrying about irrational beliefs in space aliens. In reply, McGaha rightly notes that belief in UFOs often accompanies a background story involving nefarious government conspiracies and media cover-ups, and the persistence of these feed what he labels, without further qualification, a "distrust of institutions."

Distrust of institutions is a bad thing? I'm surprised Grothe let that pass. Doesn't it very much depend on the context, which includes the nature and interests of the parties to the proposed trust relationship, the relevant history or 'track record,' what's at stake in granting or withholding trust, and so on? Isn't trust a privilege that has to be earned and re-earned over time, whether for people or institutions?

I trust Grothe and McGaha would agree with me on that important qualification even though neither bothered to make it -- don't I trust that?

(photo source)

No comments: