A massive fleet of country size UFO motherships appears in equidistant geosynchronous formation around the Earth. Every human on Earth is given the ultimatum simultaneously in their native language. Humanity has 24 hours to prove that they are worthy to exist. If we cannot prove it to them the planet will be bombarded till nothing survives. The countdown starts to click down… 23:59:59 …23:59:58 …
What does humanity do?
Panic. Disbelief. Debate. Violence. Possibly acceptance. And then death.
Wild animals don’t beg for mercy when they are cornered. We are wild animals made “human” by pursuing power, wealth and knowledge supervised by a poorly constructed set of adhesives called family, society, religion, ethics and values. Make all of that meaningless by announcing death in 24 hours and we become the wild animals that we are with the single quality we are naturally born with – violence
Considering that the threat is very real and every single human is aware of it, collective paranoia will lead to violent and chaotic behavior as the countdown edges towards the final hour. We would cull ourselves while the rest pray to their Gods waiting for salvation which will never come.
But it does not have to be this way
If the aliens are asking why humanity is worthy of existence, the best answer that can be given is simple:
We exist. We have evolved as a species and a culture and we’ve built far more than we’ve destroyed along the way. Who are you to come into our home and demand justifications?
If the aliens are demanding we meet a specific test to prove our worth, then it depends on the test. Beyond that, the whole stumbling block lies on the fact that we have no idea what an alien species values. We may be incapable of understanding what they value. Absent that… it doesn’t matter what we do to prove our worth. It will either be right or wrong, and we don’t have any idea which way it will break.
Well, first of all, we need to lay down a few (somewhat optimistic) principles.
1. We cannot hope to impress these aliens – We just can’t. If they have the ability to travel to us from across the void of time and space, then they’ve sufficiently advanced to the level wherein we have absolutely no hope of understanding them.
2. These aliens have the past, complete with wars, famines, poverty, and dictators – Judging from our own planet’s timeline leading up to this point, we can judge that these aliens must have had a similar history to our own. War is just natural selection for the sufficiently advanced, and so the sufficiently advanced have had war. (Maybe someday humanity will move past that, but today is not that day.)
3. These aliens have moved past war. (Assuming that war against humanity would be considered pest control, of course.)- With their level of intelligence, there is at least a fair chance that these aliens have managed to put aside their differences and live in peace. I would assume that they did this through the connection of the sciences and the humanities. (Hmm. Ironic that they’re called humanities, given the context.).
One of the main things that have always held humans back is the way in which we separate what we call “left brain” and “right brain” activities. Almost all major additions to the general sum of human knowledge have come together during the times that we have stopped trying to separate the two; e.g. The Renaissance in Italy, The Hellenistic Age in Greece, etc. So let’s assume for the sake of this scenario that the aliens have learned to combine the two fields of knowledge.
Humans, having a rudimentary grasp of the arts and the sciences, do have the potential to rise to the level of the aliens, in time, and any sufficiently advanced species would and should recognize that, and help us to become greater than we are, if not out of love for a new and unique species, then at least for the sake of knowledge in and of itself, be it pertaining to the humanities or to the sciences.
Here’s some stuff that I would use to illustrate what humanity could become:
The movie “Dr. Strangelove” – to show what we managed to avoid.
Catch-22 – to show that we can recognize our own madness even in the midst of it.
A History of Bletchley Park – which to me best symbolizes a turning point in human history. One small group of people both shortened the Second World War and paved the way for the modern era with the invention of universal computing.
Iain M. Banks’s: Matter. It’s a sci-fi novel, but it epitomizes the society that we might one day aspire to be.
The complete works of Pixar. If humanity is worth saving, it’s the hope that we can be better. If anything we have done talks to that, it’s Pixar. You could throw in Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. and How To Train Your Dragon (not Pixar, but their closest challenger) for good measure.
If none of that has cut the ice by hour 22, I’d devote the last 2 hours to a global screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I have always thought that this is the one thing I would show an alien civilization to educate them about humanity. It’s all there. If they don’t get us after watching that, we might as well not bother.
And at least we can go out singing.
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