A BIZARRE THOUGHT crept into my head today. The thought was preceded by a notion. With all our great potential, we still need another million years or so before we’re fit to be an intergalactic civilization. Aliens avoid our world (for the most part) because we’re little more than animals. Smart animals but animals nonetheless. We let pettiness and division dictate our interactions. Every few years to a decade, it seems, we’re involved in another war. The threat of nuclear oblivion has become ever more constant as our alleged ‘leaders’ learn how to play nice with one another.
We have the great ability to create fantastic technologies, and then get absorbed playing with them and obsessed with the economic benefits that tech might deliver. Yet seldom do we consider how to utilize our talents beyond the narrow scope of our individual lives. Our base emotions drive everything we do. Politics, families, conversations. Survival. Fear, greed, pride, anger, hate…all of these emotions served us well in the wild by helping us survive (for it would be necessary when dealing with predators and threats). Darwinism at its best. Yet, for an advanced society to evolve to a point that it can survive in space requires a certain level of compassion and cooperation we have yet to attain. To fully claim these attributes would have to take anywhere from half a million years, at the least, to over a million depending on the state of our civilization at the time. (And I’m talking about deep space exploration here, not just inner planetary in a single solar system which in itself will take centuries to get right).
And this notion is what brought me to my bizarre thought: The galaxy, and indeed the universe, must be teeming with life, even intelligent. But for an advanced civilization to reach its peak and become intergalactic must be extraordinarily rare. And my opinion on why this is, is because: they’re all as stupid as us. Not unintelligent stupid unable to comprehend information and develop knowledge and kind of just survive without any thought, but rather the kind of stupid that makes someone think taking a selfie on the side of a skyscraper is a good idea, or that surfing on top of a car going fifty is cool, or that speeding around a car at a red light and into traffic is clever, or the notion that building nuclear arsenals will somehow maintain world peace. Why haven’t we made contact with alien life? Because they’re all dead…or at the least still evolving and developing technologies. This thought is because if we are willing to engage in this foolishness, then it’s a far gone conclusion that this is likely a common element in the evolution of advanced sentient life. And let’s face it it’s quiet out there. It’s quiet not because they don’t exist but because they just didn’t make it. A fate we face just as implicitly now as at any point in our long, sad history.
Whatever civilizations ARE space faring and intergalactic, though, likely won’t want anything to do with us. We’re too primitive and destructive to boot. Sure, they might drop by out of curiosity (or to keep a close eye on our progression because a galactic community won’t want ultra aggressive sentients traipsing about their back yard. Well, at least not without a leash.) Because whoever those people are who’ve mastered gravity and space and the ability to survive in an inhospitable environment indefinitely, have probably seen a civilization or two wipe itself out. Have probably studied the reasons why they failed and what traits to look for in emerging civilizations. Perhaps the lights we see in the sky are those scouts, those scientists, those zoologists curious if we ourselves will make it or fade into the dark like so many others.
A sobering thought really. That maybe we’re so inept that we’re just a stopping point of minor interest with bets being waged of where we’ll be in the next five hundred years.
No, the sad pathetic truth of it is probably that we’re surrounded by sentient, intelligent beings on worlds too far to reach as of yet, and we just lack the means to detect them. And they probably can’t detect us either. It’s like two stranded people on disparate islands in an ocean trying to contact one another with messages in a bottle. Maybe they’ll see those bottles but likely won’t. They’re not sure there’s anyone else out there, but there’s that hope. And for the advanced civilizations who see us both and don’t interact? Perhaps it’s because they’re worried we’ll react to them just in the same way uncontacted island natives react to us: With aggression and fear. Maybe the view by them is one of uncertainty as well. Do they help us? Save us from ourselves knowing the doom we might invite any moment? Or stand back and observe? Be an distanced academic who knows what awaits but doesn’t want to challenge the natural way of life? If you think we don’t face that conundrum, think again. Those same natives I mentioned face rising sea levels and are hostile as all get out. But the question becomes, do we try to preserve them? Or let nature take its course?
It is the very reason why an advanced civilization would pass us over. If we’re not worthy enough to figure out how to survive on one miserable ball of dirt, how would anyone expect us to get on with a galactic community?
Will we make it to evolve half a million years or more? Who the hell knows. Sometimes I worry we won’t make it to the end of the century. But what I do know for certain, if we DO manage to survive the necessary amount of time to evolve, whatever advanced intergalactic race is out there will be glad to see us then. And only then.