JOHN CARLIN. Aliens Out There

Nov 7, 2019

We humans have never been so determined as now to make contact with life somewhere else in the Universe. Most people surveyed support such contact. It may not be such a good idea. 

What should we do if we detect intelligent life out there? Should we make contact with them or look the other way? Would the decision be made by politicians or should we ask for a world referendum: yes or no to dialogue with aliens?

It’s no joke. There are serious people going into a spin over it, and just as well. Unless we can rule out the possibility of any such contact, all our other problems are miniscule and ridiculous.

Mankind has never been more determined than now to go hunting for aliens. There are many on the prowl: NASA, the European Space Agency, super telescopes in the Andes and South Africa, Silicon Valley billionaires with their finances, and several other weirdos. In September scientists from London University concluded that there is water on an “exoplanet,” 110 light years away. It is hard to believe that there is no life, and very varied life, somewhere else in the universe. We would have to be very arrogant as a species – we are, of course – to think that we are alone in the infinite.

Sooner or later, we will run into something. Maybe first with algae, or with something that looks like a shrimp. But it would be irresponsible not to be prepared for the emergence of higher extraplanetary beings and the UN, fortunately, is on the job. I read in the Financial Times a few weeks ago that there is a protocol. Whoever discovers signs of intelligent life in the cosmos must first call the UN and then an organism called the International Astronomical Union.

But then what do we do? There are clever people thinking about it. The University of Oxford has done a survey this year and the results were released in September. Most chose not to play dumb but to make contact. If they call us, we answer.

I’m not so sure about that. If they are able to get here, they are likely to be much smarter than us. If they are unlucky enough to share our human trait of vanity, we cannot rule out the possibility that they have a plan to conquer us, as Hernán Cortés did in Mexico. Or that they might bring their gods to us and liquidate by force or by reason our faith in Islam, or in Jesus Christ, or in democracy, or even in football.

If there were a world referendum, an option favoured by 11 percent of those who responded to the survey, I would campaign not to respond to calls from aliens, so as not to give up our galactic loneliness. Putting ourselves in their skin (maybe green), it is possible that their visit might not do us any good. Especially if it turns out that they are not only more intelligent than us but more sensitive. Like the alien in the movie The Fifth Element of Bruce Willis. The alien’s extraordinary mental speed allows him to digest the history of humanity in the twentieth century in a matter of seconds – Stalin, Hitler, atomic bombs and all that. He wants to die. Or, at least, quickly return to where he came from.

If aliens visited us today in the 21st century, and if they turned out to be good, decent and rational people, perhaps they may not be so horrified. But surely they would be stunned by the degree of stupidity we have reached. You have the list: Trump, Mourinho, Boris Johnson, the mad, crazy world of the Kirchners and their followers, not to mention Brexit, climate suicide, inequality, the barbarities generated by ideologies, religions and flags, and our pride and egos. How embarrassing that would be.

Most likely, they would debate between running away or, mixing disgust and compassion, destroying our planet before we do it ourselves. Although it cannot be ruled out that they possess an altruistic vein, and they choose to remain to civilize us. Or, the same thing, to fulfil the promises that politicians make during elections. Prosperity and health for all, goodbye to conflicts, hello to peace. If one of them were to read Gulliver’s Travels, he might be interested in the solution proposed by its author, the Irish misanthrope, Jonathan Swift: turning those noble and guileless animals, horses, into the chosen species of the Earth and humans into their tame and docile slaves.

Another solution would be for the aliens to brainwash us, erase our passions and prejudices and impose the empire of reason on Earth. If they decide to do the rounds of Planet Earth, curing us of our ills, they would be presented with the option of creating the paradise of prosperity and peace that not only politicians but ideologues, prophets and priests have been peddling to us throughout what we call civilization. It would be the worst thing that could happen to us.

The best argument against establishing a way of communicating with more evolved beings than us is not that they can kill us all but that, if they come with a redemptive colonial plan, we would end up dying of boredom. We would cease to be what we are, conflicted beings, and we would be deprived of the three things that differentiate us from horses, shrimps and other animals: conversation, stupidity and the struggle for a better life or world.

If we did not have Trump, Mourinho, Kirchner and Johnson we would have to invent them. Well, the truth is that they always appear of their own accord. Clowns, more or less cruel, swarm throughout history. Before Trump we had Caligula. Before Vox, the Spanish extreme Right, we had Franco. Before Brexit we had Monty Python.

If the world were not as it is we would not have anything to talk about, what to write about or what to fight for. We columnists would cease to exist. Twitter too. No, please. Let’s destroy the telescopes that scan the skies in search of a superior race. Or else, and if one of these days we detect their presence, let’s stare at the moon and ignore them. Best of all, stay at home and be quiet, and let’s not ruin our story, however absurd it may be.

John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 2 November 2019, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell,

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