MK Naomi, Chemtrails, and Unquestioning Faith

The X-Files episode “Kitten” does something that many episodes in the rebooted series have done, namely delved deeper into the backstory of major characters to explore how those experiences shaped them. In this case, the focus is on Walter Skinner. The episode begins with experiences Skinner had in Vietnam, seeing his friend and fellow soldier John “Kitten” James exposed to an experimental chemical, and witnessing how it changed him from being terrified and overwhelmed with fear to a savage killer who cut off and collected the ears of those he killed. I won’t recount the entire episode, but rather want to highlight the way that Skinner speaks about his earlier uncorrupted faith/belief in his government that led him to enlist in the Marines. His experience in Vietnam put a dent in that trust in the government. And, in response to a question about whether his support for Mulder and Scully’s investigation of the X-Files had harmed his career, he talks about how they came along and helped him find the courage to shine a light into the darkest corners of what the government is involved in. He wouldn’t change that even if he could.

The episode revolves around the idea that MK Naomi (a follow-up to top secret experimental projects like MK Ultra) involved secret tests on unwitting subjects in an effort to make the military more effective, but also enact totalitarian control over human populations. Given that we know that conspiracies happen, but also given that we know that not all or even most conspiracy theories are correct, how do we navigate this challenging situation, balancing the need to trust and the need to distrust – trust and distrust the government, our fellow human beings, and ourselves?

The key, I think, is to recognize our penchant for idolatrous faith – faith in that which is less than ultimate. Our tendency is to substitute one idol for another as our focus. We cannot trust the government any longer, so we trust Fox News and Breitbart – or Occupy Democrats and Addicting Info. We cannot trust science and medicine any longer, so we trust websites that encourage us to undergo “cleanses” and avoid “toxins” (if we are liberals) or to embrace young-earth creationism (if we are conservatives). The same approach to conspiracy thinking is at the heart of the flat earth movement, the anti-vaccination movement, and other forms of science denial, as is central to belief that the government is doing things involving alien technology or chemtrails (which feature prominently in the episode, especially its ending). At the heart of it all is the belief that people are capable of uncaring cruelty, extreme ambition for power, and the capacity to effectively cover it up almost perfectly. But even more central, reflected in that “almost,” is the belief that one is oneself of superior morals and insight and can see through the cover up and the attempt at manipulation.

Yet how effectively do these conspiracy theorists do what Skinner advises, and courageously shine a light not only into corners of government, but corners of the media and internet that they think are exposing cover-ups, and the dark corners of their own minds and hearts? When people who have no direct connection with government insist that they know the truth about what it is up to, that is not insight but arrogance, of precisely the sort that allegedly leads the dystopian scenarios that conspiracy theorists talk about.

I am not sure that there is any solution to the harm that conspiracy thinking does, other than to shine a light courageously not only in the direction of others as objects of our distrust, but also within – and to allow others to peer in and tell us honestly what they see there, which we may not see or may be unwilling to acknowledge.

I felt that the episode conveyed this point fairly well, when Davey James (the son of Skinner’s friend) is killed when he gets caught in his own trap. And of course, already in the episode he had become the very kind of killer that the government had supposedly turned his father into. His father had seen other human beings as monsters and become comfortable with killing them; Davey had donned a monster costume and was prepared to kill in a similar way.

The same kinds of things happen to conspiracy theorists, as they create (or at least contribute to the creation of) precisely the horrific world that they think they are opposing, sowing distrust and hatred that makes human beings more and not less prone to manipulation by powers that be, and more rather than less likely to become involved with forces that reflect malevolent and selfish intent.

For if you can trust no one, then (as the opening words of the episode stated) “a war is never over.”

"The point of the demand for unconditional surrender was to pre-empt a second "stab in ..."

Conflict among Fallible Humans
"I have never seen an adequate justification of the so-called "Principle of Sufficient Reason". Why ..."

Conflict among Fallible Humans
"For those who hold to the longstanding philosophical view that God denotes that which exists ..."

Conflict among Fallible Humans
"The obvious response is: "Why is there a Ground?"."

Conflict among Fallible Humans

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    I don’t have anything insightful or pithy to say here. I just wanted to post something because this is my 2018th post – the same as the year we’re currently in! I thought that was neat!

    • Chuck Johnson

      Hmm- Sounds superstitious to me.

      • John MacDonald

        Perhaps the only things to rub off on a secular individual like myself after an encounter with religion and the religious are superstitions and lies. This is my favorite quote from the bible:

        God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets – “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22.”

        I’ll conclude with a quote from Nietzsche:

        “After coming into contact with a religious man I always feel I must wash my hands. (Friedrich Nietzsche).”

        As Socrates said, I know that I know nothing: I am neither wise with their wisdom, nor foolish with their foolishness.

        • Chuck Johnson

          Scientifically speaking, it looks to me like religions and superstitions were substantially useful in the past, but they’re becoming substantially counterproductive now.

          • John MacDonald

            I think faith experiences are like superstitious experiences because both involve experiencing meaning in such a way that is somehow private (even in group experiences), and so is not experienced by secular people. Of course, some identify as “secular” while still being very superstitious. I am one of those secular people who envy those who experience such rich, meaning-charged faith lives. I sometimes tease religious folks out of fun, but at the core I envy the path they have been given.

          • Chuck Johnson

            “I sometimes tease religious folks out of fun, but at the core I envy the path they have been given.”

            That path is more unpredictable than you think.
            George W. Bush conversed with God on a regular basis.
            George also knew with great confidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He said that he had gotten that information from reliable sources (which he did not identify).

            Sure, this led to exhilaration for George when the mission was accomplished. But history has not treated George, the war, or the rise of ISIS very well.

            If George still feels great about what he accomplished with his magical version of Christianity, then he is delusional.

            This kind of magical thinking was invented by our ancestors long ago. It is suitable for another place, another time.

            The folks that you speak of see through a glass darkly.
            With the maturation of modern societies, they should put away childish things.

          • John MacDonald

            Chuck Johnson said:

            “With the maturation of modern societies, they should put away childish things.”

            – As a Theoretical Agnostic , I have to allow for the possibility that the supernatural exists, even though as a Pragmatic Atheist I live my life “as though” the supernatural doesn’t exist (assuming ‘God(s)’ is understood as being Supernatural, which he/she/they/it needn’t be understood in this way)

            In his 1953 essay, What Is An Agnostic? Bertrand Russell states:

            An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.

            Are Agnostics Atheists?

            No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial.

            Later in the essay, Russell adds:

            I think that if I heard a voice from the sky predicting all that was going to happen to me during the next twenty-four hours, including events that would have seemed highly improbable, and if all these events then produced to happen, I might perhaps be convinced at least of the existence of some superhuman intelligence.

          • Chuck Johnson

            My view is scientific.
            I am a scientist.

            I am satisfied that the gods that people worship are fictional characters, just human inventions.

            There are many things in science which are well established and are rarely if ever doubted.

            I put the Christian God and other religious gods in the category of being fictional characters with little doubt in my mind.

            Scientific thinking recommends that all facts and theories should be regarded as true or false to some degree. That is, not 100% confidence or 0% confidence, but somewhere in between.

            This is to encourage scientists to accept new evidence when it is appropriate.
            Proposing certainty is to be avoided.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltjI3BXKBgY&t=104s

          • John MacDonald

            I understand where you are coming from, but I’ve seen way too much weird stuff in my life to simply uncritically dismiss the possibility that there is an insane, mischievous Child-God behind it all, lol.

          • Chuck Johnson

            The complexity, the weirdness are the natural attributes of one hundred thousand years of accumulated human culture.

            Much of that accumulated culture has been informed by ignorance and randomness.

  • Chuck Johnson

    But even more central, reflected in that “almost,” is the belief that
    one is oneself of superior morals and insight and can see through the
    cover up and the attempt at manipulation.-James

    That’s a very dramatic scenario and one that people respond to.
    I have two friends who think that some of the people we see walking around are actually aliens from outer space.
    They seem to be serious about it.

    Creating dramatic entertainment makes money, but it also guides people’s minds in the wrong direction.

  • Chuck Johnson

    When people who have no direct connection with government insist that they know the truth about what it is up to, that is not insight but arrogance, of precisely the sort that allegedly leads the dystopian scenarios that conspiracy theorists talk about.-James

    Yes, too many people take the easy road to knowledge, insight and wisdom.
    They trust gossip.

  • Chuck Johnson

    The same kinds of things happen to conspiracy theorists, as they create (or at least contribute to the creation of) precisely the horrific world that they think they are opposing, sowing distrust and hatred that makes human beings more and not less prone to manipulation by powers that be, and more rather than less likely to become involved with forces that reflect malevolent and selfish intent.-James

    The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it forces those who fear it to imitate it.-Adolf