Thursday, August 09, 2007

Alien Invasions and Terran Unity

Barbara's latest post mentioned alien invasions and aliens seeking refuge on Earth. These topics brought to mind the numerous SF scenarios in which contact with extraterrestrials, especially aggressive ones, brings the nations and cultures of our world together as one, overcoming all our age-old hostilities and perhaps leading to a unified Terran government. I've even read a story in which a small conspiracy of scientific geniuses fakes an alien invasion to incite peace and unity among the peoples of Earth. The Star Trek universe assumes a world government and a worldwide multicultural society, as exemplified by the rainbow of ethnic groups on the Enterprise, and we can infer from the ST movies and the TV series ENTERPRISE that humanity's first contact with the Vulcans initiated this process of unification.

Would it happen that way? On a PBS folk music special filmed a few years ago, one group sang a song whose chorus proclaimed, "On September the eleventh, we were all just Americans." I clearly remember that in the first few weeks after the 9-11 attack I felt obligated to be especially nice to everyone I met, because in a sense we were all going through a terrible catastrophe together. And most of the rest of the world rallied in support of us. Of course, as we know, this pervasive feeling of unity didn't last. (Months later, Miss Manners sardonically remarked in one of her columns that it was clear the terrorists hadn't won, because we'd started being rude to each other again.)

Would an alien invasion, or perhaps just the unsettling experience of alien first contact, make us feel that "we are all Earthlings" (in the words of a song on SESAME STREET)? And would such a unifying sentiment have permanent effects on the social and political climate of our planet? I would like to think so, but I fear much of the historical evidence is against it. Isaac Asimov dismissed fears of alien invasion on the grounds that any species advanced enough for interstellar travel would have outgrown aggression and war. How anyone who lived through the twentieth century could believe there's a necessary correlation between advanced technology and peaceful motivations baffles me. It was a nation noted for its scientific and technological achievements that perpetrated World War II and the Holocaust. As any Dungeons and Dragons player learns during the first game session, intelligence and wisdom are two separate qualities.

And yet -- we now have the European Union. We have the U.S. and Russia cooperating on the international space station. Maybe there is some hope for the future we SF fans dream of. If we meet the aliens (when they arrive) as a united Earth, our next step should be to learn to see extraterrestrials as "human," too.


  1. david gray10:50 AM EDT

    Well, cynic that I am, I can't pass up the opportunity (you'll see how appropriately human this is shortly) to play devil's advocate.

    Speaking SF hypothetically (or maybe not), I think much would depend on the tech level and purposes of such an invasion. My feeling is that there would be a sense of us vs. them, but acompanying this would be the ever present opportunistic manipulations of those who strive for power at any cost.

    Tech = Power is a fairly valid statement in most circumstances and I can see where individuals, groups, or indeed entire countries (or continents) could pander to an invading species if only to place themselves at the highest available notch in whatever pecking order came out of it all. Call it natural survival instinct if you will, but humans historically have demonstrated an unwavering willingness to use any advantage available to advance a specific cause. For Group A to contrive to get an alien invader to help them defeat Group B to their mutual benefit seems the most natural ploy immaginable. Rotten and treacherous of course, but natural. For humans.

    If an invasion was intended to sweep away the entire species, less opportunity would exist for such machinations, but I promise you someone would try it. And even if it weren't so, there would be the inevitable feud over who gets to be IN CHARGE of the campaign against the alien horde. I can even see where a clever alien species would merely have to pit us against ourselves to whittle down the population to a more managable (and servile) presence.

    Then again, ::tongue-in-cheek:: things could be worse. They might want to do some commerce. There's no telling how ugly THAT could get. ;-)

  2. [a clever alien species would merely have to pit us against ourselves to whittle down the population to a more managable (and servile) presence.]

    As in the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" (I think that's the name of it).

    Actually, I think commerce would be a more likely motivation for first contact than either conquest or the altruistic motive of inviting us to join the Galactic Federation. Not such a bad thing, really, We could HANDLE interstellar merchants, at least.