What Would An Alien Think?

Gregory Sams—1997
It is a privilage for us to have an extract from Gregory Sams' remarkable book, "Uncommon Sense". With his typical tongue-in-cheek style, uncommon originality and razer-sharp mind, the author examines how an alien would view human society.

JUST FOR THE MOMENT, imagine humanity from the viewpoint of some alien consciousness at least as developed as ours, but without the imposed order of state control as a focusing element of its evolution and culture. This intelligence may have music, dance, art, design, cuisine, architecture, communication, science, love, fashion, high technology, clubs, pubs, sports, humour, drama, means of travel, animal friends and all the other changing elements we treasure in our own culture. After all, none of them were conceived, planned or developed by the state, though from time to time the state may seek to influence, support or control different aspects of them for the supposed benefit of us all.

OK, you assume that this alien must have a central commander and head of state even though they are not needed for any of the above cultural achievements, nor even to build spaceships. You assume this because central command is all that we have in our own limited frame of reference. It certainly IS NOT the natural state. You have only to look around you to realise that every other intelligent life form which shares this Earth with us has operated successfully for millennia without any form of central controlling structure for the species. The dinosaur dominated for thirty five times the period that we have been on the planet, as far as we know without the benefit of any parliament, king or other ruling body.

As far as I am aware, even ants have no central code of law defining specific punishments for ants that step out of line. In their specific "one-mind" type of community however, it is likely that any ant choosing not to contribute in the expected manner would soon lose the support of its colony and therefore die. I know of no voting council of trees which determines the specific proportions and varieties of trees in a given forest. It is interesting and significant that in many cases, such as the oak*, the long-term successful species has figured out how to cooperate with as many other species as possible. This ability to cooperate with other forms of life is a far more intelligent long-term survival strategy than is that of domination and control by rulers and ruling bodies.

* The oak tree acts as a mini-biosphere for up to 300 other varieties of life-form.

Why do we assume that some other intelligent species, even more successful" than us, will have the same sort of flawed structures as ourselves, with different names for the leaders and law-making bodies? Why is it so inconceivable to us that any other civilization could be operating, as does every successful structure in the universe — in a state of freedom? These aren't deep questions — they just reveal the deep ruts in which our own imagination is trapped.

We also assume that any intelligent creature capable of space travel will come equipped with ray guns, ionic blasters, phaser bolts and a full arsenal of high-tech weaponry with which to kill and destroy. Why? We humans have experienced a dramatic and possibly unique evolution of ways to kill each other on this planet. A mainstay of our chosen cultural entertainment involves depictions of us killing each other in countless war and confrontational movies. Are we to assume that this is a normal or natural element of any highly developed civilisation?

Our alien may have learned how to travel along the fractal patterns of hyperspace and be able to outmanoeuvre a missile or fighter jet. But it is quite possible that its civilization never figured out how to split the atom. Maybe it never had the fear of a Hitler to inspire its scientists to tap such a destructive force. The consequences of this discovery appear to have been universally negative and now pose an added threat to our own survival. Yet we assume that a higher alien intelligence will have even greater means of destruction at its disposal. This is a basically illogical assumption.

We assume that our highly developed alien will have a very highly developed state and well-regulated society. Yet what does the central controlling state actually give to us, not one specific state here or there, but the beast in general the totality of states running their own big and little countries around the world? They primarily exist to protect us from other versions of themselves. It is difficult to find anything else they do which we treasure, or are satisfied by. They take vast sums of money from us and piss back a little here and there, sprinkling some on the poor and hungry if they are left wing, or subsidizing the unworthy and unnecessary if they are right wing. The vast majority of it though, whichever wing of the bird the centre tilts toward, is wasted and squandered in useless, unproductive and often downright damaging activities.

Probably 80% of what the state does is unnecessary or unproductive, things we are quite capable of sorting out in society without resort to one ruling body, supported by police, the military, nuclear arsenals, parliaments, dictators, presidents and vast armies of bureaucrats; like which side of the road we drive on, what size packet our pasta is sold in, how we generate electricity, what constitutes an acceptable dwelling or house, how two people make a commitment to each other, what types of medicine we use, or how long can we work in a week. Don't imagine that we would live in some disordered mess without a central command issuing all these rules. Wherever they don't exist in our society we seem to have developed real order. We will read more about the reliable aspects of our culture that developed from its own chaotic interactions rather than by government directive.

The other 20% of the state's frame of activities consists of valuable and necessary functions that society needs. Unfortunately, the state does a lousy job in these areas and it is getting worse rather than better. These functions include arenas that vary from state to state, but usually include some mix of essential areas such as education, roads, health care, power, protection from crime, safety regulation, charity, transportation or the press. The state does not govern these areas, it seeks to control them to the best of its abilities.

So what happened to our alien? Well, I hope that he or she will spend enough time to feel a sense of awe for the beauty of this planet and for many of the wonderful technological and cultural achievements arising from our own unique evolution through the chaos of society. But, if our alien is intelligent, it would not take it very long to recognise that Planet Earth is a dangerous place for its own massively armed human inhabitants, let alone a relatively peaceful creature visiting from another world.

We can understand why our visitor might have reticence about "coming out" in our civilization, and frequently may need to "hyperspace" it back to a civilization whose inhabitants had long ago found peace and stability without the need to continually control and kill each other in its pursuit. They will also, perhaps, have found ways to do this without raping and damaging the ecosystem that supports them.

And I think it unlikely that our alien would willingly choose to share the secrets of space travel with us.


Disclaimer: Readers are advised not to accept lifts in any unidentified spaceships. The author has no idea who or what is ""out there, " and this early chapter just uses "our alien" as a vehicle for taking a different perspective of our own system — and to discourage the assumption that the way WE run society is a natural thing.