Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Boring the Alien

I'm always intrigued by the various modes of thought that could get one persecuted by the powers that be in ages past. One could be burned at the stake for a host of rather interesting notions, frequently affecting the governing religious thinking of one's time and place. Even today, state boards of public education for schools become exercises in curious democracy, as the forces opposed to the theory of evolution rally to ensure that textbooks point out that it's only a theory.

One "they persecute one for believing this" thing in times past was the belief that the earth is not the center of the universe. It's an odd but true fact that people were threatened with execution for having the audacity to suggest that the earth circled the sun, rather than vice versa.

Too often, this kind of weird persecution is just written off as "the effects of intolerant religion" and chalked up to the follies of a prior age. But I wonder even today if we do not see ourselves as more special than we truly have proven to be.

I've been thinking a lot about alien contact, the notion that our descendants may someday encounter intelligent life on other planets. I personally view this as inevitable, so long as we continue our current science-based course and avoid global thermonuclear self-destruction. I do not believe I will see it, or my great grand-nieces will see it. But I do believe that it will happen. I am not sure what people are for, but I am sure they are curious.

But lately, as I wrestle with related but rather different notions in my odd, ruminative, less-a-novella-than-a-long-first-person-journal-entry-set-in-the-24th-Century project, I have an insight. How many science fiction novels have I read in which the aliens consider humans a bit backward and impetuous, but admire our fighting spirit or our curious quirkiness? This notion is as old as the era of science fiction's golden age itself. I must have read a hundred novels with this theme, and variants of it appear in Star Trek, Babylon 5, the movies and other media outlets. Also, I can think of tons of times when humans move to the forefront of space exploration, and become integral parts of galactic interlocked civilizations. Even as we realize we are not alone, and we are not all-powerful, and God's plan involves far more complex things than we imagine, we still wonder if, perhaps we aren't "special".

But I wonder if this isn't yet another Catholic Church v. Galileo bit of arrogance on our part. This leads me into another theory of mine. One does not quite learn all one needs to know in kindergarten, though that is a fun book. A great deal of what one needs to know is learned in one's early teen years, in "junior high" if one wills. I have learned all I need to know about aliens at dances and, later in life, in disco dance halls.

When one was not particularly strong or handsome or witty, then school events did not involve the really cool members of the opposite sex coming up to one and saying "You know, you're a bit backward, but you have a unique distinctiveness and pioneer spirit! When are you going to ask me to dance?". No, it didn't really work like that at all. Instead, one worked for hours to work up the courage to ask someone to dance, and often the result was that someone would say, politely but a bit glazed over "sorry, I'm a bit tired right now". In my twenties, I found that the glazed looks and the once-over rejection came before one even got up the nerve to ask to dance.

I will not belabor my metaphor. I just wonder if we don't imagine that humans are Ethan Frome and Uma Thurman, when we are really a very young Fred and Ethel Mertz. After all, though we did put a man on the moon, we haven't even solved how to take a global-capability agricultural production system and feed our own people. I worry that when we finally meet the aliens, we're going to seem boring as dirt.

There are worse things than being boring as dirt. I'd hate to be the equivalent of a barfly, hanging on the words of everyone we meet, praying for a lasting love connection. I have often found that fundamentally boring people contract happy marriages, do good works at the local schools and libraries, keep churches thriving, grill a good steak, and ensure that the Boston fern is always grown. But I am amused that even as we realize our insignificance in this big old universe, I wonder if we don't still primp ourselves a bit, and say "my goodness, we're cool", and miss the point, just a little.

My own theory is that the search for knowledge is a big part of why we are here. I'd love to see us spend 1/100th of what we spend on space programs and weapons systems on exploring the deepest sea, where I am convinced that incredible wonders await.
I'd like to see us solve hunger, cure schizophrenia, and develop a really profound understanding of peace studies.

But I'm not so sure that even when we get our various intellectual and spritual acts together, whether we're going to be the belle of the ball, or its doorman.

What if one gets to Heaven, and is assigned to servant's quarters?
In fact, isn't this a wonderful part of our religious heritage, that in Judaeo-Christian theology we all occupy in essence servant's quarters? Some philosophers see this as a sad thing, but I believe it shows a humility we might access to our benefit,
if we ever meet an alien.

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