Saturday 4 September 2010

Should we be scared of aliens?

When discussing alien life forms science fiction writers either tend to delineate from existing circumstances and project into the future, or invent something completely new.

As to the first, since out of necessity only some aspects belonging to their starting point are used, the future represents an exaggeration of what is already. Hence it can't be a complete picture.

The other option is to leave the familiar altogether and construct a scenario without any reference to the known. What we get in this case is an idealised version of the writer's vision - not necessarily something positive in human terms, and it is a complete construct. So neither of them is helpful if we want to seriously consider the nature of intelligent aliens.

Yet there is a third option.

Since we are talking about alien life, we are considering complex, dynamic systems. CDSs follow certain rules and regardless of the content, in a functional sense they all are similar. On Earth human societies are and have been as varied as they come. Whether it was the ancient Phoenicians, the Mayas, the Russian Empire or the British, or whether some mountain community in Tyrol, certain features are shared by all of them. Even among relatively lower life forms we find traces of them.

Generally speaking, and focusing on intelligent life, they are -

1. Procreation: the most important of them all, it defines the life form's survival and its identity. The first forces any potential competition into the background, a degree of priority that subsumes anything else under its authority.

The second determines the value its owners place on any of its manifestations, and being the core value elevating it to what some of our languages label 'sacred'.

Not only is identity held important, it is the least likely to be subject to rational considerations;

2. Cooperation: any life form that creates a civilisation must have the capacity to form and favour the herd at whatever level of sophistication. Cooperation needs to be understood as a dynamic applied to the whole (ie, the tribe, society, culture, etc) such that it can be enforced if need be.

Adjacent to its usually positive connotation therefore sits its other side, the will and readiness to move against any usurper. Hence the greater the degree of cooperation overall, the more stringent the measures designed to protect it;

3. Aggression: considered in relation to the whole it serves to protect against anyone and anything perceived to be a threat.

The dynamics of identity and cooperation are combined to ensure a positive outcome for their host. Identity serves as the cause, cooperation as the reason, and together they supply the quality and quantity of defense nurtured by aggression.

The question then, "Should we be scared of aliens" can be answered by assuming there is a civilisation sufficiently evolved to make contact (note: they contact us). This means science and technology exist as a powerful product of the three basics described above, and the intellectual wherewithal to sustain them all.

Sustainability implies understanding, and understanding contains the potential for empathy. Rapacious, colonialising behaviour for its own sake is inherently unsustainable because in a growing system sooner or later the resources needed to control the conquered surpass the benefits.

Yet evolutionary growth also implies the willingness to assert oneself if no other option is left. Both, empathy and assertiveness, go hand in hand but a successful civilisation will still favour assertiveness over empathy in the end.

Should there be an alien race that has achieved the capability to make contact, we can expect them to be curious, firm, but fair overall. Since CDSs incorporate mutually opposing qualities which become apparent should the perceived need arise, we can also expect them to be intrusive, lenient, and capricious.

How that translates into the world view of an alien would be the most urgent task on our side.

Considering the above it would help being most careful when touching on anything having to do with the context of their procreation, respecting their team spirit when dealing with any representative, and honouring their aims. As to the last, we probably won't have much choice anyway.

Since we can expect them to be intelligent, one way to understand the values and priorities of their minds is to observe their kind of humour. To do that we need to have the opportunity, and this in itself is part of the challenge.

It should be an interesting exercise!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An interesting post.
To answer the question, one should define it carefully - what does "Should we be scared of aliens?" imply and only then attempt to answer the question based in view of that perspective.
A basic fear of the unknown, the fear of change, the loss of dominance as a species, the fear of annihilation of the self or the species, etc.
Each different angle of the question would result in a slight variation of the answer.
Still, for the purpose of simplicity let us observe our own species and the treatment of other perceived sentient life forms on the planet - life forms that would consider our species as an alien appearance in their environment.
Although the points raised above are valid, countless ones are missing though (understandably, as I assume in order to compress the post into a readable length).
Amongst all those, two additional qualities should be mentioned, as they are displayed numerous times in the forming and continued forming of our civilisation.
Indifference based on ethical non-association and dominance based on the inability to recognize or ethically sympathise with another sentient life form (so far applicable only to life forms on our own planet).
In general, those two qualities result in the complete domination of the affected life form, removing the opportunity to be correctly perceived as a sentient life form (which would otherwise result in ethical treatment and the chance of co-existence).
We may assume an intelligent alien species has acquired a more complete ethical understanding of other life forms; the basis of this assumption however, remains hypothetical and does not reflect the development of our own species.
The answer to the question "Should we be afraid of aliens?" is a definite yes-no.