We’ve made some amazing space discoveries this year: water on the moon, potential life signs on Venus, many possible habitable worlds in other systems.
I dare to daydream sometimes. One daydream hope for humanity is that we not only discover intelligent alien life, but that the peer pressure of other sentient beings in the universe causes us to clean up our act. My hope is that rather than engaging them as colonizers or colonized we’d be freakin’ embarrassed, like when you find out that company could be coming over and your house is a mess. They need not even be super-enlightened beings to exert such peer pressure; just slightly more thoughful than we are.
The aliens would be like, “wait, you’ve got so many resources — why do you let so many people go without food, homes, or basic medical care?” And our leaders would be like… “well, uh…” And they would be like, “And why do you let industries pour their crap into your water? Why do you foul your atmosphere? Why do you shit where you eat?” And our leaders would stare at their shoes.
I have to admit it’s a faint hope for change, seeing how we treat other life in the more-than-human world we already inhabit, and how horribly we treat other human beings even when other people are looking (like separating asylum-seeking parents from children—who does that?). But man, I love the idea that we could be shamed by alien life into becoming the kind of species Gene Roddenberry thought we could be. I love the idea that large numbers of people could have their consciousness raised, that we could experience a global awakening and start asking ourselves why we hesitate to make life better for everybody *right now* when it is totally within our ability.
Maybe we’d look at ourselves the way we look at cholera-stricken people in past centuries who burned witches, pooped near their drinking water, and refused to wash their hands, and we’d be ashamed because it’s fine when you don’t know any better, but when you do it’s just stupidity, right? We could see that we’re still operating in this laughably narrow-minded anti-scientific way, sabotaging our own communities and our planet.
Look, even in my most hopeful daydreams, I imagine that we’d have our ignorant ruling class and their pundits preaching about preserving “our sacred way of life,” which is essentially manufacturing poverty and oppression for any being lower on the hierarchy, digging up oil and belching climate-changing gasses into the sky; but I do have this belief, perhaps naive after four years of this awful administration, that there are some self-interested human leaders who can be shamed or socially pressured into appropriate behavior. Some leaders still have a conscience, right? Somewhere, even scoundrels want to be *perceived* as virtuous?
And since they seem to have become immune to garden-variety human shaming, I’m hoping maybe *extraterrestrial* shaming would make them at least pretend to give a rip about other people. A science-fiction version of the End Times, you know: “Jesus is coming — look busy.”
Then again, I’ve lived in Alabama for most of my life, so I know it’s possible that the citizens of Earth might decide to be *proud* of living in the Alabama of the Galaxy, proud of living in our own filth and boasting about the way we create suffering for ourselves. “We dare defend our right to ruin our planet.”
I’m hoping that when we do discover alien life, we start to realize that the life we have here is just as awe-inspiring and precious, and there is so much waiting to be discovered right under our noses. I hope we learn to appreciate this planet the way we might an alien one. I hope we learn to see that our manufactured suffering is so completely unnecessary.