17. Existence

June 22, 2013

Alien Invasion

   If I were an alien with any choice in the matter, I would not land on planet earth! Not to invade it, not to save it, not even to have a chat with its sapient species. Do you know that the first emission at a wavelength long enough to not to be bounced back to earth by the ionosphere but pass into deep space was the first TV broadcast? It was our ambassadorial message, as it were, to intelligent species throughout the universe and beyond, and it happened to be Hitler ranting.

   To our eyes, it may seem things have greatly improved since that unfortunate slip, but put that down to nearsightedness. The level of today’s ‘communications’ that fertilise the imagination of billions and fill up the aether twenty-four-seven from all across the world must surely be enough to send any higher being, including the Buddah, into hiding. Well… god bless him, he’d give it another try, no matter what. But I share the fairly common (and correct) opinion that the invading-type aliens are images spawned by our own paranoia, reflecting the way we run our own affairs. Real aliens beware, this could be the way we will act upon touchdown on some far distant and innocent world. Think about it, people of earth! When Europeans went to the Americas and elsewhere, did they start off with Greetings, Indigenous Ones, We come in Peace—okay, they more or less did, but did they mean it? And non-Europeans and indigenous peoples are just as prone to invading, it’s not a racial thing, it’s a species thing and not just of one culture, but most.

   It’s important to note, as an alien, I’d be very happy to chat with Sagan (back then) or Dawkins, the Dalai Lama… Even as myself I’d chat with them (if I had something to say). You see, it’s not like our species is bereft—there are many, many highly enlightened humans. The question is are there enough? As with everything it starts at home; my own enlightenment wouldn’t bear too deep an investigation. But I don’t want to talk about that, I want to opine about humankind en masse, an entity which is not so very kind or admirable. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, love my friends and the Sagans and the Fenymans of the world, but, willy-nilly, we are all caught up in the mass-produced maelstrom of hypocrisy and self-interest we variously call politics, business, religion… In all these worlds there are sincere people, but are there enough? That high calibre of sincerity is hard and often unpaid and unrecognised work (not that any of that matters to the high calibre person). How far they can influence the totality of our actions must depend upon the proportion of them in world society surely?

   I got that Hitler bit from Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, I highly recommend it. I’ve said before that I read science fiction: SF: ‘What If’ literature, and now I’m saying it again. I’m just finishing up David Brin’s book Existence and I’ve found out my Hitler bit is inaccurate. So, sorry about that, but it was such a good intro. Existence deals with… hmm, what does it deal with? Certainly alien invasion, but in a much more thoughtful way than I’ve rather glibly done here. Further, the aliens theme is woven into a much more pressing question about humanity’s future with or without them. I don’t mean the next fifty or five hundred years, what are the prospects over the next few thousand years—the same period as our known past? Geologically speaking, a miserably tiny period, yet unimaginably distant for guessing at what our evolution might have produced by then. We are shielded from concerning ourselves over such questions by our cocoon of wilful ignorance (that I’ve spoken about in other contexts). Also, there is absolutely no guarantee that we won’t have devolved or carelessly exterminated ourselves at that point. I hesitate to blow the gaff, but in some respects, that’s the more likely scenario. Or are we, in that far-yet-not-very-far-at-all time, going to be bickering on about the same old Jack and Jill issues that fill our days now, albeit on vast spaceships voyaging to the stars?.. which we will attempt to colonise (otherwise why bother to go there in the first place?), and so, back to the beginning of this discussion.

   Brin is more of an optimist than I am, he not only thinks there is a good side, he feels (despite lurking dangers intrinsic to evolution) that it will prevail while I’m not so sure. In Existence, a greatly evolved internet is our first global mind. He maintains this very communication will enrich and uplift us culturally, and this despite collective reactionary and self-interested voices numbering billions. In this, his optimism may have some firm grounds. Think back to, say, London in 1900: gin palaces, drunks, poverty, ignorance. The idea was entrenched that the common man was contemptible (only one step above women) and would never respond to education and better conditions, even if they were handed to him. Yet look at his counterpart after sixty or eighty years of improvement—and despite world-wars and imperialist-capitalist abuses!

   In addition, he explores some potentials for human mutation, envisaging both physiological and cultural imput, out of our homonoid past, out of autism, by cybernetic and AI engineering, and hinting at alien hybridisation—don’t make comparisons with The X Files, much as I enjoy them, this is far more in-depth than any TV series could hope or dare to be. I used to be interested in film/TV, but decided that, although they are effective in touching emotions, they are not up to the task of exploring and expressing complexities in the way that books do. We need our minds to do that. Existence is a 650 page gymnasium for the mind, I’m reading it again.

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