lessons from the future


Mike Brotherton
, scientist and SF writer, lists this among the reasons he likes science fiction:

Seeing sides of humanity possible in no other way. How would we react to the discovery of aliens? Or aliens much smarter than us? Aliens with different belief systems and good reasons for having them? Or technology that gives us opportunities and challenges we’ve never had before? Or we will have, but not yet?

As an avid science fiction reader for more than 50 years, I continue reading sci fi novels because they push the boundaries and bonds of my attitudes about societies and beings very different from what I’m used to. They challenge me to examine my beliefs about how to deal with uncompromising adversaries.

Contemplate, for example, the following descriptions of alien cultures whose values clash with those of most of the inhabitants of planet Earth:

Considered within their own ethos, the Aalaag are extremely just masters — mistreatment of their human “cattle” by one of their kind is a serious offense. But they demand obedience and a rigid code of conduct that rankles the human spirit. Actually, the Aalaag are a conquered race themselves, fleeing from some unnamed but awesomely powerful enemy that took their home worlds. They are in essence warriors, tall and proud, each with a collection of personal arms and possessing a Spartan outlook on their condition. Every single Aalaag views duty as the highest virtue, and all duty is directed towards one day regaining their lost worlds. The races they themselves conquer are used to exploit resources in support of this ultimate goal.

The Psychlos don’t just conquer planets. They don’t just conquer galaxies. They conquer universes. Only they have the secret to instantaneous teleportation. And one of their biggest operations is the Intergalactic Mining Company, which knocks natives back to the Stone Age and then systematically strips their planet of all available ore, almost down to the very core. Oh, and the Psychlos find cruelty to be “delicious.” The crooked — even by their standards — Security Head of Earth is named Terl and he is scheming to get rich by “training” native humans to do some illegal mining for him.

As humans are a culture of individuals, as ants are a colony culture, the Fithp are a herd culture. [snip} — and being herd creatures, they do not understand the concept of diplomatic compromise… you either dominate or you submit.

….these tongue-in-cheek tales of derring-do and human ingenuity in the face of human diplomatic incompetence have sold quite well for many years. In most of them, there is an insidious plot behind whatever the current weird aliens are doing that is being masterminded by the Groaci. No slouches at the diplomatic bargaining table, the Groaci are nonetheless almost incapable of dealing squarely.

Although the “worms” are the most visible face of the Chtorr, what we have here is nothing less than the attempt of an entire biosphere to conquer Earth.

Sometimes there is no way to compromise with “alien” beings and cultures, and so the decision is to go to war with them. But is that really the only solution?

A friend of mine from college, a retired CIA polygraph examiner who has written several books on the subject, emailed this article from February 3rds New York Post.

After my post yesterday about wanting to bring back the “banned” movie Song of the South, I hesitate to share my views regarding what the Post piece by Ralph Peters suggests about the way we (America) deal with our “alien” enemies.

But Peters, while beginning his piece with a rather shocking assertion (that motivates you to read the whole article), ends with these statements that contain some common sense:

The point isn’t to argue that Afghans are inferior beings. It’s just that they’re irreconcilably different beings – more divergent from our behavioral norms than the weirdest crew member of the starship Enterprise.

As an analytical exercise, try to understand Afghanistan as a hostile planet to which we have been forced, in self-defense, to deploy military colonies. How do the bizarre creatures on that other planet view us? What do they want? What will they accept? Is killing us business, pleasure – or both?

Are there tribes among these aliens with which we can cooperate? Which actions of ours inflame the alien psyche? What will the alien willingly die for? What does the alien find inexplicable about us? Must we preserve a useful climate of fear?

Do we intend to maintain our military colonies out there in deep space? For how long? Can the angry planet ever be sanitized of threats?

Of course, there’s more in play than images of our “starship troopers” combating those alien life-forms that call themselves “Taliban.” This exercise is just meant to break our mental gridlock, to challenge our crippling assumption that we’re all merry brothers and sisters who just have to work through a few small understandings.

This is a “war of the worlds” in the cultural sense, a head-on collision between civilizations from different galaxies.

And the aliens don’t come in peace.

This is what’s bothering me: America (or rather those in power in America) seem to believe that it is this country’s right to go out and convert those “alien” cultures to our version of capitalistic democracy That missionary zeal (as all missionary zeal does) generates dislike and distrust — and even hatred, in the case of the Taliban — among those we consider “others.”

Sci fi novels present a variety of “what if” scenarios in which the protagonists have to learn to survive — despite, within, or alongside of — disturbingly “alien” cultures.

Maybe someone should suggest to Obama that he assign a sci fi reading list to his international and military advisers.