E.T., Go Home

April 28, 2010

Recently, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking–while he wasn’t just sitting there being smarter than I’ll ever be if I ever replicated myself a thousand times and actually got around to learning how to use an RSS feed–lamented that, despite the misguided efforts of many of our countrymen, it may not be the wisest decision to contact alien life forms should they exist. Instead of sharing their vast array of advanced technology, they may just want to blow us up and take our stuff. Way to be a wet blanket, doc.

Alien invasions are something America has prepared itself against for quite some time. Even in the 1950’s and ’60’s, when flying saucers, science fiction writers, and L. Ron Hubbard were making hay–and cash–out of unexplained mysteries, there were significant portions of the population that didn’t think ol’ greenie stalk-eyes was just a parlor trick or cereal premium. There were a lot of strange things going on–historians technically describe these events as “freaky deaky”–during that time. Nuclear power, environmental changes, and, well, you never knew exactly what Ivan was up to over in Red Square–all of these things had huge question marks next to them, and instead of filling them with research or logic, we filled them with Martians.

There are entire organizations out there, from SETI and NASA to the guy who still mails out mimeographs of The UFO Report somewhere out of Montana, that believe in aliens. Our government has made concentrated efforts to contact alien life forms, supposedly to advance the knowledge of the universe but mostly I think to see if aliens might have a better idea of how to get some more oil.

It is sometimes scary how much people want to believe. Small flashes or specks in the sky turn into motherships and hordes of pods waiting to launch a full-scale invasion or at least disrupt the transmission of game seven of the World Series. Grainy photographs of weather balloons and jet planes constitute the basis of an entire malevolent species or, worse, a New Age movement. People even look deep into the past and find evidence of ancient civilizations possessing technology well beyond their means as proof that some day they will return and want the back rent, plus interest.

People want there to be aliens so bad they look for evidence of life on Mars or even the moon. Man, I would hate it if that were the case. I expect aliens to be from galaxies far, far away, with awesome technology and tales of wonderment of a society painted with a different cultural brush. But to find out the aliens are still in the same zip code? That’s like taking your sister to the prom.

I’ve never been particularly sold on the idea of space aliens. Even if they exist–something I rarely concede the mere chance of except for some nights after being in Station Square around 2 am–I don’t think there is any reason why they should be any more advanced than we are. Science fiction has always painted aliens as far superior than ourselves, having somehow transcended hunger, crime, and pollution, and after sitting on their duffs (or the alien equivalent) for a while decided it was time to go out and meet the neighbors. Then kill them.

I say that if Alf comes knocking at our door looking for some right proper X-Files-style justice, back home he’s still got some neighbor with the incessantly barking dog and mouth-breathing kid who tramps through the tulips, and he still checks the shower drain for hair as he looks wistfully in the mirror at the balding remains of his shattered youth. Human nature–or alien nature–doesn’t change even if you live on Parnesius V live for five hundred years and can shoot green lasers from your butt. You still have to pay taxes to someone.

So I’m actually kind of glad that Professor Hawking has brought this up. Most people assume aliens are out for either bloodthirsty conquest or xenophobic genocide just ’cause they ran out of Alien Indians to slaughter and they didn’t want to trudge back home just to work at the dilithium crystal mines. Professor Hawking assumes that they will be here to strip us of all of our resources. It’s economic expansion they are concerned about, not just conquest and the sweet taste of iron-based blood.

You see, I sleep a little better at night knowing this. The random whim of a slimy seven-legged King of Space Beetles just freaks me out. What is the point of taking out the trash when a bunch of man-bugs are going to warp into my den and eat all the Cheetos and shove a phasor in my gut when I come see what all the fuss is about? But knowing they have a plan in place–well, that makes me feel better. Turns out there is logic in the way the alien world thinks. They’re not coming to destroy us on some spontaneous impulse; they just ran out of tin.

Of course, if the aliens ever show up and we don’t want the bother, we can always just send them to Arizona. They’ll take care of it for is.