In a recent blog post titled Flying Saucers and the Descent Into Madness, Anthony Bragalia identified four people loosely associated with "ufology" as being crazy, one of whom is Peter Gersten.
Gersten, perhaps best known as the "UFO Lawyer" for his work with Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) to have various classified government documents released, has in recent years become focused on his belief that we are living in a computer simulation, which is set to either terminate or change in some way in 2012.
Bragalia pegged Gersten as someone who has descended into madness because of Gersten's publicly-stated plan to jump from Bell Rock in Sedona, Arizona, at 11:11 UT on Dec, 21, 2012 (4:11 am in Sedona), which Gersten believes is the time that a cosmic portal will open, and his "program" will change. According to Gersten:
I fully expect that it will either lead to the next level of this cosmic program; freedom from an imprisoning time-loop; a magical Martian-like bubble; or something equally as exotic. In March 2012 I will reach 70 years of age and nine months later we arrive at the cosmic coordinate. I think it will then be time for me to move on - in one form or another. I'd like to see what else our Cosmic Computer has to offer.
Unless you believe that this is going to happen, and I don't, then what Gersten is talking about doing is committing suicide.
I interviewed Gersten at his home in September, 2007, and his views had been clearly formed by that time, so this is not news to anyone who has been paying attention. Here are the excerpts I posted from that interview several years ago:
In his blog post, Bragalia lauds Gersten's work in getting government documents released, and his views that something exotic happened at Roswell in 1947, but looks at his newer ideas and their projected outcome as madness. He pleads with people who to "personally know Peter Gersten to counsel him against his decision. If they do not, it will be too late and we will look back wondering how it had ever happened."
Peter Gersten is free to do as he wants, and if he does indeed follow his convictions and jump off Bell Rock on December 21, 2012, I will applaud him for having the courage of his convictions.
What horrifies Bragalia seems perfectly logical to me, within the context of Gersten's stated beliefs. which I'm not going to judge. When I met him, Gersten struck me as reasoned, articulate and thoughtful. Yes, he believes in things that I don't accept as real, but so do over 2 billion Christians. Indeed, those Christians accept as the Son of God a man who had a profound conversation with a talking snake, and then essentially committed suicide through his actions in following what he believed to be prophecy to his crucifixion. In other words, he took a literal "leap of faith", and a significant portion of humanity has based their entire world view on that leap of faith for two thousand years.
Further, Gersten has made it very clear that this is a personal decision for him, and that he is not encouraging (or discouraging) anyone else from doing something similar. His responsibility is for his actions, and his alone, and he has every right to pursue his own path, even if people might not like where that path is going to lead him.
None of which is to say that Bragalia and others shouldn't try to dissuade Gersten from taking his "leap of faith" in 2012. That is their right. But they should do so with respect for Gersten's point of view, and without questioning his sanity. They should also do so with an understanding that Gersten's beliefs are more nuanced than the simple "he's going to jump off Bell Rock and kill himself because he believes a cosmic portal will save him, which is nuts" narrative that Bragalia presents.
Much of what Gersten has to say is really about free will. Further, even assuming that this is a simple question of suicide, it is important to remember that Western philosophy is more nuanced when it comes to the subject of suicide (or the right to determine where, when and how a person is going to die) than its opponents would have you believe.
When suicide is out of fashion we conclude that none but madmen destroy themselves; and all the efforts of courage appear chimerical to dastardly minds ... Nevertheless, how many instances are there, well attested, of men, in every other respect perfectly discreet, who, without remorse, rage, or despair, have quitted life for no other reason than because it was a burden to them, and have died with more composure than they lived.
There is no tenable reason left, on the score of morality, for condemning suicide. The extraordinary energy and zeal with which the clergy of monotheistic religions attack suicide is not supported either by any passages in the Bible or by any considerations of weight; so that it looks as though they must have some secret reason for their contention. May it not be this - that the voluntary surrender of life is a bad compliment for him who said that all things were very good? If this is so, it offers another instance of the crass optimism of these religions - denouncing suicide to escape being denounced by it... When, in some dreadful and ghastly dream, we reach the moment of greatest horror, it awakes us; thereby banishing all the hideous shapes that were born of the night. And life is a dream; when the moment of greatest horror compels us to break it off, the same thing happens.
As Schopenhauer concludes, "They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice... that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person."
French playwright Antonin Artaud went even further still in On Suicide, and comes closest to Gersten's basic underlying principles:
If I commit suicide, it will not be to destroy myself but to put myself back together again. Suicide will be for me only one means of violently reconquering myself, of brutally invading my being, of anticipating the unpredictable approaches of God. By suicide, I reintroduce my design in nature, I shall for the first time give things the shape of my will.
My own view? A person has complete control over their own being. We have free will, and I believe that Gersten's proposed "leap of faith" is an ultimate expression of his free will, in a world where our ability to exercise that free will is increasingly constrained by people who think they know what is best for others, or who would for their own purposes wish to deny our free will altogether.
Assuming Gersten really does jump from Bell Rock in December, 2012 (and he now seems less settled on that particular course of action than when I interviewed him in 2007), then I applaud his convictions, and his courage, regardless of where his "leap of faith" takes him. I certainly don't consider it "madness", any more than I consider it madness to follow a man who willingly created a situation that he knew would lead to his execution two thousand years ago. It's just another example of the anarchy that is free will, and it's what separates us from the animals.
As Greg Bishop, with whom I am staying here in Los Angeles, just said to me after reading this: "A person's free will should trump other people's beliefs as to how they should act, or what they should do."