Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alien Minds.

Bear with me, please. If you're not sciencey or science-fictiony inclined, the first part of this post is not the eventual point, so give it a moment. If you are sciencey or science-fictiony, you may also have to give me a pass and just accept my premise in the introduction...'cause I'm much better grounded in the fiction aspect than the science.

Like I said, bear with me, please.

One theme that shows up rarely, if ever, in science fiction is when humans encounter an alien species so alien, that we have absolutely no starting point for establishing communication. Maybe they have no sense of touch, smell, hearing, sight, taste. Maybe they posess other senses that are completely alien to us.

Taken a step further, what if there are aliens that are so alien, that we don't even recognize each other as living beings. What if we discovered that beach sand is a living, sentient species from another galaxy...that beach sand showed up here millions of years ago traveling on particles of radiation? What if they live out their lives on an extremely slow time scale that makes us appear too fast to percieve. What if we've been co-existing with this alien species for the entire existence of humanity and neither we nor they recognized the other for what they truly are. I'll speculate that one reason this rarely shows up in science fiction is that if you have two alien species encounter each other and blithely go on their ways not recognizing each other, then you have the makings of a very short and boring story. But I digress.

If, indeed, we figured out such a thing, we'd probably be no closer to figuring out how to speak to each other, but I'm pretty sure we'd devote a lot of time and energy to trying to find a way. And that would be in spite of the fact that we've gone milennia without needing or wanting anything from each other...without necessarily having any common goals. We'd do it for the hell of it, for the shear curiosity if that were all we could look forward to.

What got me thinking in this direction is a post that Vince wrote today about the folly of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy. I read that post and my first reaction was, "It's all so obvious, who could argue with that?" Yet, there are a great many people who do have an argument with it. And I just can't understand how those people's minds work. Sure, I'm aware of their arguments and, truth be told, I don't honestly think most of them are motivated by hatred -- they just come from a mindset that's so alien to me that I can't even make the first stab at empathizing with them.

There are a lot of opinions I disagree with, and even though I disagree with them, at least I can understand where they come from. I understand the motivation of most people who oppose abortion. I understand the motivations of people who argue about welfare and bailouts and whether or not we should have soldiers in Iraq. I even think I can understand something about the position of people who deny Evolution and think there should be Christian prayers said in every school in America right after roll-call.

I don't understand the mindset of people who think that a gay man or woman can't serve in our military. Surely, it can't really be the fear of some guy lusting after their baby boy in the showers. Don't Ask, Don't Tell implies a level of self-control that wouldn't exist if that were the problem. And surely they're not afraid of their boy turning gay from having to acknowledge that they exist. I mean, regardless of whether they believe that people are born gay, or make it a choice, they must have some faith in how they raised the kid for the first 17 years of his life.

And I'm really not just talking about homophobia here. I can't muster up any empathy for African villages who torment children with dyslexia or other learning problems because they see the ailment as evidence of witchcraft. I have no empathy for cultures who value male children so much that they'll abort girls just because of they're not boys. There are cultures all over the world who firmly believe things that I categorically reject.

And please don't start in on me about tolerance. It's a word that's used so much it ceases to have any meaning. I'm not tolerant of the KKK or of inner-city gangs or assholes who want to protest at soldiers' funerals because they think God hates America. I'm not tolerant of any of them and I don't really give a shit why or how they got to be the way they are.

The fact is, as far as I'm concerned, these people all have utterly alien minds. I understand the words they're saying but their thought process is unfathomable to me.

And I'll grant that most of the people I'm talking about don't care about converting me to their way of thought; they'd rather I just go away. But some of the people I'm talking about...they do make an effort to convince the rest of us that they're right and we're wrong. Unfortunately, that doesn't make their minds any less alien to mine and vice-versa. Any discussion is more likely to degenerate into nothing but name calling and bemoaning the other side's ignorance.

I sure as hell don't have any answers. But I do have what I think might be a new question. If we'd put masses of time and energy into trying to figure out how to communicate with sand (and we would), why can't we manage that with the alien minds who already live among us?


WendyB_09 said...

They've used similar arguments over the years for keeping gays men from being Boy Scout leaders. Like the boys are going to be turned by gay leaders. They get away with it by convincing courts they're a private organization. And since many of the troop sponsors are conservative churches, do the math duckie.

OK, let me spell it out in plain simple words you can understand. Homosexuality is not contagious. You cannot catch it, a gay person cannot "turn" you, they're not vampires either. Yeesh.

Besides, having worked for and with the BSA in an ealier life, I can honestly say I know gay guys with kids that are more manly than many of the leaders.


Anonymous said...

Stanislaw Lem wrote many stories and novels about alien beings that can't or won't communicate with humans.

Usually, the humans wind up trying to destroy the alien thing out of frustration, ego, or projected sense of threat.

Smart guy that Lem.

Jeri said...

Very nicely drawn analogy. And I totally don't get it, too, and I can't believe our government continues to instutionalize, rationalize and accept this hypocrisay. What the hell does your mating habits have to do with how straight you can shoot and how fiercely you can fight?

vince said...

Here, here. That was an excellent analogy, Nathan, and Todd, I'd forgotten about Stanislaw Lem. Thanks for pointing out his stories and how they resemble what's going on here.

Jeri, the argument has been couched as a problem with morale - that those who are not gay wouldn't feel comfortable with gay comrades, and wouldn't trust them. Then there's the argument for potential sexual harassment

I always found both of these arguments disingenuous. When I severed in the Air Force, there were people I was uncomfortable serving with. Some I just didn't care for without being sure why. Some I knew why - they were whack-a-moles. You know what? This is what happens in life. I got over it as long as they did their jobs.

As for the harassment argument, gee, women in the military get harassed by men, and there's a policy for dealing with it. No different if a man or women is being harassed by a member of their own sex.

As I mentioned over at Hot Chicks, congress needs to grow some balls and get rid of this stupid law.

Steve Buchheit said...

See, this exposes part of the problem why we, the thinking, are doomed. The other side doesn't care. And they're in it for the fight. Most times the intelligent (and moderate) people don't care. We see their point. We may argue and attempt to dissuade them, but in the end, we aren't up in arms to the point we have a dog in the fight. The other side, however, with a firm conviction of being in the right, marches straight on like a tide coming in.

Which is why we need to start the radical, militant moderate movement. Until we do, the fringe wack-a-loons on both sides will control the arguments.

MWT said...

If we'd put masses of time and energy into trying to figure out how to communicate with sand (and we would), why can't we manage that with the alien minds who already live among us?.

Because by and large, people are far more interested in telling the world what they think, and not in finding out what others think. Most people are not good listeners and aren't interested in understanding anything. They just want to talk about themselves.

Random Michelle K said...


It's actually the pedophile issue.

Nevermind the fact that most pedophiles are similar to my brother's pedophile scout master: Catholic and married with children.

Bastard. (No, he didn't abuse anyone in my brother's troop to the best of my knowledge.)