Stephen Hawking has gotten my brain going. In a television series called “Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking,” the Great Hawk-King tackles all manner of issues, including what we might get out of first contact with an alien species. Evidently, nothing good. Yahoo News quotes him as saying, “Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach,” drawing a comparison of Columbus as his stumbling upon the Native Americans. But … but that worked out, right? I mean, we have a Columbus Day….
So that got my braincicles tumbling. What would aliens be like? My friend, Robert, insists they would be ultra-progressive communists, citing the stereotypical skinny, grey-skinned, big eyed anal-probers of pop culture. To paraphrase his argument: they’re androgynous, they all look the same (but that could just be our speciesism); they never seem to have many possessions (aside from the aforementioned anal probes); you can never tell which one’s the leader … why they’re nothing but a bunch of intergalactic pinkoes!
But, having given it the few days thought that I have, I’m afraid I’m gonna side with Hawking. I don’t see much good coming out of it. And I blame evolution.
Think about it: we are the way we are because we evolved this way. In order to survive in a world that wants to kill us, we evolved to be tribal, resource-hungry, and able to savagely defend our DNA. Our big problem now, as pointed out by James Lovelock, is that we face a global disaster that will change the entire climate of our planet, and we’re simply not evolved enough to get our act together. We’ll, more likely than not, be denied the possibility of interplanetary colonization because of lack of resources, which, from where I’m sitting, is a check in the pro column of the universe’s scorecard. But could an alien species that lived on a more resource-rich world have evolved differently?
They would presumably benefit from the same adaptations as us. Could they have gotten past the self-destructive, tribal, greedy, looking-out-for-number-one stage? Cuz we’re no where near cooperative communists. In fact, given all historical evidence, communism goes very much against our natural predilections. Humans are capitalists, and that means exploiting who and what we can for our own short-term gain, fighting, lying, hoodwinking our way to the top, and jury-rigging the market so we stay there, keeping all the other suckers scrounging for every dime we toss ’em.
I can only wag my finger so much. I mean, I’m as privileged as they come. But what about aliens? Sure they would have faced a (quite possibly radically) different environment to which they would have adapted. But would it have been so different that aliens would not have benefited from the same skills and instincts that propelled the Western world into lordship over a dying planet?
I don’t know. I’m not optimistic. Here are the scenarios I see playing out:
- Aliens evolve like us, and escalating war and poverty cause them to destroy themselves. No human contact.
- Aliens evolve like us and manage to get it together quick enough to leave their planet when they run out of resources, scavenging the galaxy for more. While on their way to Earth, inter-tribal tensions cause war to break out on their spaceship, destroying it and them. No human contact.
- Aliens evolve like us and manage to get it together and keep it together long enough to make it to Earth, where they easily ravage the puny meat bags that inhabit it, possibly eating their brains. Human contact … “achieved” seems like the wrong word….
- Aliens do not evolve like us. They achieve an intellect and compassion that has never been dreamed of on Earth. They are able to unite as one species, redistributing their wealth to benefit the masses, able to control their numbers so as to cultivate the best possible standard of living, learning to respect and nurture their environment and understand their place as a small part of a greater planetary whole. Visionaries embark from their homeworld on a quest for adventure and knowledge, hoping not only to expand their understanding of the universe, but also hoping to open their minds and hearts to the many possibilities encompassed by our vast and wondrous cosmos. They find Earth, studying its variegated lifeforms from a safe orbit … whereupon they assess the present situation and decide they want nothing to do with us, stopping off at Io for a quick magma bath (they bathe in magma … did I mention that?) before leaving our solar system forever.
Eh, whatcha gonna do?
I know for me, when it’s all said and done, I’m voting for Kodos….
Picture yoinked from: http://evankeane.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/kang_kodos_hitchhiking.jpg