Terrestrials and Extra-

March 27, 2007

While I have no intentions of denying entertainment value to books and movies that scare us with various scenarios of alien invasions, let me confess that I think such scenarios are very far-fetched indeed.

Even if other planets are indeed populated by thinking creatures, the inter-stellar distances are so vast as to make traversing them a logistical challenge of almost insurmountable magnitude. Unless there are some totally new, as yet unknown to us means of propulsion and sources of energy, such travel will never be more than a stuff of dreams, and flying saucers more than mere figments of imagination.

Yet somehow, those comforting thoughts are not sufficient to allay the worries about potential success of an alien invasion.

Why so?

Let us consider a simple question: what is an alien? It is obviously a creature born and raised in conditions so different from our own, that its way of reasoning is altogether different from ours – in fact, is opposite to ours. What we value, they despise. What we find abhorrent, they embrace. What makes us recoil, delights them.

But doesn’t that description ring a bell? No need to travel through the light-years of inter-stellar vastness, enduring cold, loneness, darkness, and many yet unknown terrors of deep space to find creatures of this sort. They abound right here on Earth, too.

Of course, they are not genetically different from us; in that sense, they are terrestrial aliens, not extra-. But in all other respects, they fit the definition to the dot. In fact, they are the products of the same process that would have produced a genuine extra-terrestrial alien.

Because for a very long time Earth was not much less vast than is the Universe. Given very slow transportation and small population, the distances were huge indeed, the population was not contiguous but was grouped in the islands of humanity settled here and there, with only a rumor of other such islands, whose customs were strange, whose religions were wrong, whose intentions were hostile. The very conditions of isolation and differing environments that would infuse alien logic and strange way of reasoning into a hypothetical extra-terrestrial, existed for millennia right on this very Earth.

The last few centuries saw distances between alien populations shrink as transportation improved, and as human population exploded to the point where no place on Earth was left unsettled. As a result, all these intra-terrestrial groups, with their mutually alien and deeply engrained notions of what is right and what is wrong, collided.

The question is, whose way of thinking will prevail?

Many wars were fought in the past to settle this question, and today we are in the middle of a yet another war between mutually alien ways of thinking – the war between Western values and those of Islam. Obviously, there are five ultimately possible outcomes of this war: (1) Islamic world will change by adopting Western thinking, (2) The West will succumb and adopt Islamic thinking, (3) Islamic world will be physically destroyed, (4) the West will be annihilated, (5) no one will survive the conflagration.

The outcome (2) may come about either through the gradual population change, like the one we are witnessing in Europe, or through nuclear blackmail if countries like Iran get this weapon and cause fear of the outcome (5), which is even worse. Outcome (3) is doubtful because the West, while having the capacity, has no stomach to inflict it, and outcome (4) may happen if the West adopts the policy of appeasement.

But the really important question is, how to produce the outcome (1)? We are currently doing it militarily, in Afghanistan, Iraq, perhaps moving soon to Iran.

But is the military solution the only one?

Given that what makes us and our enemies mutually alien is not the genetics, but the way of seeing the world, I think there is another way, too. What we refuse to do at the present – analyzing the logic of Islam, confronting Moslem ideas head-on, and exposing deep errors in the worldview of those on the other side of the front line – can be extremely effective. By helping them realize where they made an error when they chose Islam over freedom, we would remove the very source of alien-ness in them. There will simply be no need to kill them, because they would become part of us.

Of course, that would require a huge shift in our own mindset – abandoning our deeply cherished view that the cultures can only be different, but cannot be wrong. It is this bizarre view that really hampers our success in the war on terror. Once it is rectified, the war can be won by infusing human logic and human values into the terrestrial aliens that now oppose us, and, as a result, turning them into humans.

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