Long, long ago, when people dictated what I should read and study in the pursuit of a degree, I came to a day when someone announced I would be taking a class in Group Dynamics. At the time it seemed like a fool’s errand, but today I see that there was relevance to be found in that course. I speak of how paranormal groups, like virtually all others, suffer from rifts and separations, rejoining and forming new alliances.
I was reviewing recently a list of research groups and their leaders that I had compiled a few years back… most were unchanged, but more than a few had gone through massive changes in personnel, and those who had left were now in new groups. I found that interesting for several reasons, returning to the lessons of simple group dynamics. In organizations with rigid structure and large memberships, there seems to be stability, but in smaller groups there is a tendency to fracture, probably because there are just too many “alpha” personalities, each wanting to be on top. Group types are a good example of this; within the umbrella of “unexplained phenomenon” we find that UFO groups tend to be limited in number with large memberships and a rigid operational structure. There are not all that many independent, small groups in that field, where under the heading of “ghost hunters” there are relatively few large groups, with thousands of independents across the country, each doing their own thing. These smaller groups tend to fracture easily, with the result that in some relatively small operational regions, you have three or more groups with an interlocking history.
Why do UFO groups tend to stick together? Probably, again looking at the group dynamics, it is because their area of study is linear; the modern era of UFO studies starts in 1947 and in order to study the phenomenon, you have to study the course of events through today. The groups depend on a historic prospective. The second strength is in their media representation; there is an acknowledged media list that all news gatherers depend upon for information. This is not the case with folks who would study things that go bump in the night. So called Ghost Hunters are fragmented, with hundreds if not thousands of theories, no real clear cut linear tract to point to and no core theory to which most adhere.
Within the plethora of ghost hunters we have psychics, sensitives, hard science believers, any number of religious subdivisions, and thousands of theories, not to mention a growing number of new organizations that throw their hats into the ring each year, each speaking from a theoretical place of greater understanding. Ironically, there is a very concise sub-group that seems to agree on most issues in this field, but they are not heard from for the most part. Older, usually wiser and for the majority, camera shy, they share a commonality and shun the more widely recognized publicity seekers, in search of doing real research. When these likeminded folk meet, they ignore the latest fads, rarely talk about paranormal entertainment shows and are more likely to be found sharing new insights into older concepts than creating new ones. And they are by and large unnoticed by the larger piece of the community who claim to be doing the same work.
To put it simply, our field of interest is divided neatly into three separate and distinct groups; the entertainers who produce TV shows for mass consumption, if not education, the clubs who get together to share stories, visit graveyards, and scare themselves as a diversion and the smallest of all, the real paranormal researcher, who somehow hope to prove some of the great secrets of life. Each has its purpose of course; the entertainers raise awareness among the general population spawning the second while some of the second group morphs into the third as time progresses.
All of this is more or less obvious to even the casual observer, if they take a moment to think about it, but it really does not answer the initial question why do so many paranormal groups suffer from rifts and separations, rejoining and forming new alliances. I think the answer is more than personalities at play. I think it has more to do with that need to morph from the casual ghost hunter into the serious researcher and probably, more important, how to attain that graduation from the amateur to the professional.
The real problem is probably two fold; first the group dynamic is challenged by the purpose of the group, then by its beliefs and finally its very mechanism to do what they do. A new group will draw likeminded people in general, usually by region, but as the group matures, the definitions and belief structures will become more defined and factions will appear. Sometimes those individuals find more like-minded groups to move on to, while others go off to found their own groups, leaving the first.
Simply put, a group that states they believe in the existence of ghosts, will in time be fractured by growing beliefs, i.e. those who are more interested in the psychic/medium approach than those interested in EVP work, or other high-tech approaches to the same subject. Some groups will find the limelight and devote more time to creating spots for the local media than less glamorous research. Some will seek out the chance to visit high visibility “haunted places” rather than stay closer to home and deal with a neighbor with rattling walls. Each seeks out their own, most comfortable environment and in defense of that choice, and they tend to play down what others are doing, which is the downfall of many groups.
But why do they tend to fracture, rather than evolve? Is it impossible for instance to have a group that is dedicated to serious high tech research, to work together with fellow members who are interested in psychic mediumship? Apparently not, and that is probably one of the great mysteries we face. Human interaction seems to lead to conflict in cases like these; it is almost as if there was some cosmic power dedicated to pull at the fabric of all such groups to limit their depth.
In the end it seems inevitable that these changes continue as they always have, for whatever reasons. Some might suggest that these arguments are naive and superficial and point to the baser side of human nature as the natural catalyst for our inner turmoil. My point however is neither to point out the obvious or call for change, but rather to ask for a more civil exchange. To this point, no one of us has found the ultimate answer to the satisfaction of our detractors and it seems logical to suggest that what is needed is a rational agreement to continue to disagree and follow our individual lines of research without wasting time and talent to attack others. If we could manage that, the answers might be closer than we now believe.