The Real Alien – by Benjamin R. Clarke

When we enter the world of science-fiction imagination in film, we find images of flying saucers and alien reptilian life forms incubating in mammalian bodies.  Through the power of virtual reality, our imaginations become inhabited by the characters of our new mythology: the mythology of the alien or extraterrestrial.

We ask ourselves: Is there intelligent life outside of our solar system?  If so, what forms does this life assume?  Is it friendly or imperialistic?  Would these beings be technologically advanced?  Would they use a language that we could understand?  Will we too travel in space and colonize other planets?  Is outer space our true heaven, our “Promised Land”, the solution for an economic system that demands infinite growth?

We ask these questions with all the seriousness of our ancestor metaphysicians who occupied themselves with questions of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  For what is not visible is always pregnant with imaginative possibilities.

As a culture we have generally committed ourselves to a materialistic ideology of “science” supposedly based on empirical observations.  Thus we want to speculate about what we imagine could be “real” in a material sense.

The perfect domain for our modern speculation is what is invisible and currently unknowable because of spatial separation. Thus the galaxy far, far away becomes the proper domain for speculative thought, myth and mystery.

In order to sustain our current cultural patterns of biologically unsustainable production and consumption, we require some powerful myths.  One such myth is that many other habitable planets exist and are just out there waiting for human colonists to arrive.

This myth is linked to images of complex life forms that strongly resemble humans living on other planets.  Since the images of film and print suggest that there are many complex species resembling us, it follows that there must be many hospitable planets out there which could adequately serve the needs of our species.

This imagery in turn feeds the myth that we can continue with our current practices of economic and technological over-development at the expense of our own fragile planetary ecosystem.  We imagine that we will soon have the ability to journey to other planets and exploit the “natural resources” there.

Based on this illusion, we feel free to continue ruining the one planet which is our only true connection to life.  In our delusion, we imagine that planets are somehow like disposable diapers: when one gets too dirty to use, we can just throw it away and buy another one.

Star Trek visions of powerful intergalactic federations form a collective fantasy that seems especially attractive to computer engineers, technical experts and apologists for “grow or die” economics.  The vision of a future in far away space serves as the “Promised Land” and fulfillment of human history in their imaginations.

Of course it is gratifying for some to see the technicians in positions of eminence.  These high priests of the machine often find their moral example in an android or Vulcan whose reason functions so mathematically and mechanically that pain, pleasure and emotion no longer “interfere” with digitally determined reason.  These schizophrenic dreamers of course ignore that sensing, moving, biologically connected human bodies are the roots from which abstract fantasies grow.

The visions we create regarding the future become our collective virtual present.  This virtual presence, born of our imaginative powers, then directs our thoughts and actions and leads us towards a particular future.

Therefore, what we imagine of the future is not mere speculation and fantasy.  Rather our myths about the future change our actions in the present, and therefore influence the actual reality of our present and future lives.

Imagining an infinite supply of disposable worlds is a grave danger to our lives in the present and near future.  The science fiction futures we perceive on screen and page alter our expectations and actions.  If we can imagine no other alternatives, our choices may be limited to these escapist fantasies.  Indeed, if we resign ourselves to the inevitability of the ecological destruction of this planet, then escape to new worlds becomes the only icon of hope.

In the imagined intergalactic future of science-fiction, people are imagined to at last be “free” of their biological connections to human community, ecosystem and planet.

In science-fiction, we become accustomed to seeing people live in tubes of metal.  We see new technologies of voice and fingerprint recognition that identify and control human life. Rigid hierarchies characterize the crews and companies of the future.  What is now the norm for much of corporate and military life will at last encompass all of life.

We will live in centrally controlled hierarchies with captains and officers controlling the intimate details of our lives. These leaders will in turn report to higher authorities in an intergalactic federation.  Since we will always be in a state of imperialistic war or on a dangerous mission of exploration, subordination to the mission of economic expansion will always be more important than the quality of human lives.

Because colonization is essential to an ever expanding economy, human lives must be subordinated to the mission of discovering new worlds.  The meaning of individual lives is thus homogenized and defined in relationship to the imperialistic mission of growth.

It is the Starship Enterprise that serves as the not so subtle metaphor for the economic imperialism that is now often practiced on this planet.  The story of Star Trek implicitly suggests that the combination of enterprise and technology will carry us at warp speed to an infinite supply of new worlds.

We, the TV and movie watchers, are unconsciously learning how to conform to the machine, the organization and the mission.  We also are taught to see our hope and future as being bound to a continuation and intensification of thought and behavior patterns that are fundamentally alien to the organic patterns of sustainable life on our planet.

By definition, an “alien” is one who is without (“a”) connection or link (“lien”) to a community.  Those imaginations which deny our social and ecological interdependence are literally “alien” to the interconnected living system that we sense and are.

Imagination devoid of connection to life and sense is actually the real alien.  When living human bodies become infected with this imagination, they begin to behave in many bizarre and destructive ways.  Although these living bodies are in fact inextricably connected to the lives around them, they begin to act as if they were not.

The alien viral pattern allows its host to callously exploit surrounding lives, and this allows certain short-term material benefits to accrue to the host.  This material wealth can in turn be used to power additional expansion of the host’s reproductive capacity which in turn assists the replication of the alien viral thought pattern.

Clearly, there are short-term benefits to the presence of the alien mind. However, within the life-span of the host, disconnection from the human and extended life community can lead to great suffering and the ultimate destruction of the individual host.   On a planetary level, we may say that the alien thought pattern is truly viral in that it could ultimately lead to the destruction of all its human hosts.

The real alien is a pattern of imagination that has become more and more actual in our man-made world.  We see evidence of this pattern in our language, in our films and in the architecture of squares, rectangles and triangles.

When we look at our bodies, we see circles and curves.  When we look at our architecture, we see rectangular boxes that resemble the analytical categories which box in our thoughts.  Since we are born of circles and curves, these shapes are at least somewhat “alien” to us.

In cultures that are closer to life, it is the circle that provides a model for architecture, thought and social institutions.  This model allows people to be life within life, rather than aloof conquerors of life alienated by square and angular thought patterns.

The aliens that now threaten our lives are not far away in outer space.  They reside in our minds and creations.  They are ways of thinking that value disassociated imagination over substantive connection.

We must be wary of ways of thinking that do not emulate and valorize the actual patterns of life itself.   We must reconnect our imaginations and the products of our imaginations to our living world.  This is the path of connection and belonging to the community of life.  This is the true path to a sustainable future for our species on planet Earth.

Beware the pyramid.  Beware the square.  Beware the pattern of the alien.

















Benjamin Clarke© 2008

(This document may be reproduced by individual teachers for  use in their classrooms, all other rights reserved.)






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