If only it could all be so easy. If only a benevolent alien species could simultaneously land on all the lawns of all the nations’ White Houses and Parliamentarian Beer gardens and Parade Grounds and Grand Palaces and explain the fruitful secrets to ever-lasting governance, a less than nauseous form of democracy, and straightforward environmental sustainability. Like peasants rejoicing at a Spring Fair, all the world's leaders would applaud their alien friends and make a jolly dance. The peoples of the earth would drop their funny religions and wacky customs and embrace reality: God is universal, we are not alone, there are things out there greater than us, and they're nice people too. They're here to make all the evils of earth dissipate into the ether. So let’s explore infinity.
There would be exchanges of technology so revolutionary that earth would never see children starve or become obese, the fundamentals underpinning our economies would change to something so alien and passive that nations would no longer feel the need to sink then saw their teeth into the others’ throats. Gadgets and industrial scale revolutions would solve all energy needs and earth would never again experience over or under heating due to suspected manipulation of greenhouse gases. Last, but not all, over-population would recede like the wave that it is and all the cute, colourful or fuzzy endangered species in all the precious coral reefs and rainforests could continue procreating in ignorant bliss of how close their line had come to an end. Or, humans could continue to breed like rabbits and colonise other worlds, the settlers of the future living out exotic yet wholesome sci-fi pioneering fantasies.
Earthlings would live happily ever after. This fantastical utopian concept is strangely what most welfare recipients live on: The government saves them, because apparently it and all it stands for owes them, yet this reliance causes resentment. But the aliens would solve that too, maybe transplanting the brains of the non-believers to a salt mine in some far off galaxy. The end goal is all that matters: Earth is saved from itself. Close your eyes and pretend it just might happen, and when you open your eyes you'll be slave in your own land.
It's all bad. If you wake up in the morning and see an invasion force of UFO's waving a pirate flag, and your most admired politician trying to placate imminent apocalypse by waving a crude flag with a dove and fig leaf (peace, man) at the alien bastards, hide under your bed and hope it all goes away. Don’t worry, it’s probably just a dream or a vision.
The ramifications of any contact, be it the receiving of a seemingly harmless yet intriguing signal by SETI from way outer space, or an actual meaningful visitation that is digressed correctly and leads to the unanimous acceptance that extraterrestrials exist not just for the commercial purposes of Hollywood studios, will change humanity forever, and for many that’s bad enough. Close your eyes and not just imagine, or believe, but recognise ‘they’ really exist. Now extrapolate on this. What a headache.
The good news is that many people can relax, “Thank god we're not the only Muppets in this universe! Do you think they fancy a drink too?”
Unfortunately, the step of accepting there are other worlds will lead to all sorts of calamitous activities, many of which are so mind numbingly obvious and boring its best to look at them in a sober yet cynical light:
Does God exist for Aliens? Is he a she or an it? Does he, she or it, love us more than them? Did we offer sacrifices to he, she or it, before they did? He, she, or it, is our God! Let’s fight over it!
Are we at the mercy of these beings? History has shown how intermingling cultures usually leads to one on top, and the rest eating cold slop. Let’s fight to be number one!
Any foreigner is Unwelcome. The repulsion at foreigners is part of our species, and though multiculturalism has shaped our opinions away from rampant hick-style racism, don’t forget that someone killed off the Neanderthals. It was probably our long gone ancestors, out-witting the numb skulls, to rule the wilderness. Upright two legged species have most likely been clubbing each other over the head since day one, so fight the whimsy notion that two-legged, bug-eyed aliens will be providers of love and grace for the needy and be above beady eyed malevolence. Lynch them.
Sadly, it is the isolated savage, fearful as he is ignorant, that can view an alien interaction as only a horrible episode best avoided. Alien contact, and how we interact, shows a mirror before our faces, and the reflection alone, perhaps because we may not speedily or agreeably recognise our own maniac grin, unsettles us into all sorts of calamitous states. Beware the barbarians at the gates.
Tune in to any media supplier of greed and conflict: wars, proxy wars, petty disputes, and ceaseless body counts – if it’s not broadcast analogue it’s certainly receivable digitally – the barbaric ‘newsworthiness’ of primetime and the billions it coaxes, should be a gentle cue to any gentle space borne aliens, that earth is a troublesome blot in the pristine emptiness, but not unconquerable, depths of space. Even our modern history, like the organised slaughters of World War One (where 19th Century military tactics of marching men in a line to the enemy, in this case being the 21st Century machine gun) highlight a gaping lack of intelligence in the mightiest powers that were.
Therefore, we simply can’t hide the barbarians in us, and therefore those ‘superior’ aliens may discriminate against us, for being us! All the more reason to ban that old treaty banning the positioning of weapons in space – we need our weapons in space to keep them aliens bastards and their alien bastardising ways at bay! How dare they expect to change us, alien bastards!
Now take a pause.
Up to this point, the alien bastards haven’t done anything un-towards little helpless earth. Were an alien bastards species to do something mischievous to our little blue droplet in the dark, cold void of space, we’d be helpless. Any civilisation that masters space has the technology to annihilate us, but luckily for us, the ‘bad’ aspect of our solitary stance in the universe, is primarily ourselves. Once we get over our own reputation to ourselves, then we can begin to contemplate alien contact far from being plain wonderful or apocalyptic.
An ugly situation is where you have little control over the environment that is creepily changing around you and the outcome that is creeping from behind on you, and last not but least, the bucket of shit you’ll have to eat for not having committed suicide yet. An Ugly outcome of failed alien contact and diplomacy might not even appear that ugly – we may think earth has some stature in the universe, but then find out that the particular stature is fraudulent, as are the motives of our new inter-galactic friends.
History is littered with ugly little affairs, easily glossed over, yet it seems a constant: Right now, on some part of earth, and in many parts of the universe, some benevolent species is shafting some slower, naive, nicer species. Diplomacy is the art of getting ‘what you want’ without letting the other guy ‘smarten up to how much he’s being screwed’. It’s all a charade. And if a visiting alien civilisation is up to tricks, it’ll most likely be ugly to us. We’ll wake up one day with a giant hangover yet unable to articulate how we got into such a painful state and unsure who exactly was in our bed.
Alien maliciousness is not the only cause of an ugly earth changing episode; alien kindness can just as easily cripple our beliefs and turn us into a bunch of mad monkeys; not that hard since we share 99% of the same genes.
What have we learnt about history? What do we know about our own experiments, whether we knew we were experimenting or not? Bankers and bureaucrats are equally guilty for their numerous experiments yet at the cost to someone else, the customer and tax payer, respectively. The bankers make a bet on how much the rest can borrow and repay and profit even if their clever house of cards falls away. Bureaucrats make wild guesses countering the way things are and create social experiments, determining how generations of tomorrow will have to live with each other upon the basis of radical new concepts that exist for the sole purpose of trying something new to disprove tried and tested notions of the past upheld by an old guard. Yawn. Intelligent and ingenious species make experiments, and regardless of the motives, we live in the outcomes. Everything around you is the outcome from something seeded long ago, or maybe just yesterday. Throw in the joys of chaos and randomness, and the variations of Alien interactions multiplies and each demands a shifting diplomatic response. Mutations occur in all plans. When humans face a cousin species, it won't be just to drink tea and marvel at the weather. We’ll have been left behind and angry about it, keen to make up for lost time, get very teenage and competitive, and want to sleep with them.
There are of course fear, joy and common interests. But there is also the vast unknown between us that could magnify and exacerbate the unexpected consequence of our meetings. Negative outcomes are easy to tally: Earth 0, Aliens 1.
Positive outcomes are easy to speculate. At the top of the pile is a cosy win-win scenario that’s easy to swallow and spread as a meme, e.g. ‘The Aliens are coming with super cool technology to improve our shitful condition! We’re saved from ourselves!’ could one day be a cry to out-do the Christian belief that Jesus died for our sins, therefore everything is going to be OK.
Unexpected outcomes are intangible and extremely harder to accurately express. We can’t forecast exactly what is out there, and the parameters that guide their interaction with us. This makes diplomacy extremely hard. However, for some form of guidance, we can look at our own interesting torrid, and sometimes quirky and unique, weird history.
After all, the most interesting history is that which doesn’t make sense now, but at the time shaped the destinies of empires.
Copyright 2014 Simon Drake
Simon Drake.com contains information about my science fiction and non-fiction, (including where to paperbacks and ebooks), plus some short fiction.