February 15, 2023 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
No, an alien invasion would not ‘bring the world together’
Blame Saint Gene of Roddenberry.
It doesn’t matter, now that they’ve been shot down by the US and Canadian governments, what those “unidentified aerial objects” are. What matters is what we think they are. What matters is what we think they mean for earth-bound human existence should they be what we think they are.
What do we think they are?
Social media jumped over the weekend with talk of “extraterrestrial life forms.” That’s how we do it. Americans love affixing our imaginations to things flying around that we don’t recognize. We love saying things are real when they’re probably not. We love making shit up. America is the land of the free. It’s the home of the brave. Lying to ourselves is the American way.
If they’re aliens, and let’s be honest, why not, the question is whether they’re friend or enemy, which is the dumbest question. How on earth (heh) would we know if either is true, or false, or in-between? That’s another thing Americans do very well. We think we know shit when we know shit.
So from the outset, we witness a couple odious forms of bad faith. 1) We love making shit up when we know shit; and 2) we love pretending to know shit even after we’ve made shit up. This is not an auspicious beginning.
If bad faith is the human being’s flight from unpleasing truths to pleasing falsehoods, as the philosopher Lewis Gordon wrote in Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, I’d say the aliens, or whatever they are, have won.
This is America!
We don’t like thinking that way, so we decided, maybe as a religion, given that America is a religion, to believe the prophesies of Saint Gene of Roddenberry.
In mid-20th century, Saint Gene of Roddenberry reported seeing bright technicolor dreams he ended up calling “Star Trek” in which humanity came very close to wiping itself out until cooler heads prevailed long enough to say that it’s in humanity’s interest not to get very close to wiping itself out.
From that moment arose, in what many Americans now think of as the Reverie of Roddenberry, something called the United Federation of Planets, the grandest utopia ever utopia’d in which ambition, greed, vanity and folly always fail to rip things apart from the inside. Future threats came from the outside, exclusively, from things Saint Gene of Roddenberry like to call the Big Bad Baddies from the Big Bad Planets. With his little eye, he spied humanity acting as it could have all along. Paradise was a fingertip away
Which is why utopias are never utopian. No matter what, humans are always going to embody their humanness in their human bodies, which evolved from earthly conditions. Something’s gotta give. The question is will we admit it.
This is America!
We deny humanness. We believe anything! We admit nothing! Was Saint Gene of Roddenberry asking us to envision a future in which humanity, already united in order to save itself, but united again against the Big Bad Baddies from the Big Bad Planets? Yes, he was. Did we like what we saw?
No one was bothered, least of all Saint Gene of Roddenberry, by the assertion of unity (that it is) combined with the demand for unity (that it must be). No one was bothered by the utopia of utopias seemingly balanced on the edge of a paradox. Something’s gotta give. Will we admit it? Are we American?
Saint Gene of Roddenberry is responsible for the belief, even among otherwise down-to-earth people, that if “unidentified aerial objects” are hostile, that’s good! When humanity takes up battling real external threats, the thinking goes, it puts down battling fake internal ones. “I really hope it’s hostile aliens,” wrote Leonard Pitts, a nationally syndicated columnist.
I can’t think of anything that would bring the world together faster. The war in Ukraine would end tomorrow. No more racism or homophobia. Nor culture wars over green M&Ms. ’Course, we’d have to face zap guns that melt human brains, but still … (italics mine).
Call me crazy but there is, how should I put this, enough questionable human history to believe that a hostile alien invasion, if that’s what it turned out to be, can happened at the same time terrible members of the human race continue being as terrible as they’ve been since the dawn of human history.
Who says an external threat can or would unite us? Has that ever happened? I can think of one time – when the United States rallied the world against fascist Germany and imperialist Japan. (Sept. 11 doesn’t count, because the president rallied the country against a country that didn’t attack us.)
So there it is.
Perhaps the Second World War is the exception, but more likely it proves the rule, which is that human beings won’t unite against external conflicts at the expense internal conflicts. They will find a way to hurt their enemies as well as themselves at the same time, we should have no doubt. To think otherwise is to deny humanity, which isn’t better than welcoming an alien invasion.
Alien invasion won’t change that
Thanks to Saint Gene of Roddenberry, Americans will probably always long to believe that one thing happening means the opposite thing can’t happen, despite human history in which everything everywhere happens all at once.
Hoping that something bad happens, like an alien invasion, so that something good might happen, like the end of racism (!), strikes me as somewhere between a lovely though naive sentiment and cold, calculating bad faith.
Why do we do this?
Why do Americans deny our humanness in order to believe that when something bad is happening, it means that something good is going to happen? Why do we cast these pretty little thoughts when casting them is so often complicit in the burning of human bodies to ash, sometimes literally.
We know shit because we know shit.
All the pretty thoughts
Bad faith is a flight from unpleasing truths to pleasing falsehoods, said Lewis Gordon in 1995, amid the second great awakening of “Star Trek.” We need fewer prophets like Saint Gene of Roddenberry, more philosophers like him.
If we did, we’d understand that mass shootings, like the one in Lansing, Michigan, are as American as apple pie, baseball and fireworks on account of them being white power’s reaction to normal democratic politics.
When the outgroup make inroads, real or imagine, toward reforming the white-power status quo for the benefit of all, not only a few, the ingroup, directly or indirectly, reacts violently. Mass shootings are political violence.
Very few will admit that point, because admitting it would mean giving up on all the pretty thoughts. America can’t be bad, we insist on believing, because America is good. It’s like we’re kids grown just enough to rationalize acting like kids. The shooter was Black, we say. So it can’t be about white power.
I don’t know why I or anyone has to explain who some people do things because those things seem to be OK on account of a lot of people doing them. There’s a lot of political and social upheaval these days. There are a lot of mass shooters. Mass shooters are almost always white men. They react to political gains made by democratic politics, which threatens to unmake their political gains. A Black shooter is not an exception to the rule. He proves it.
Can you blame a girl?
A new study came out finding teen girls have experienced “record levels of violence, sadness and suicide risk.” According to USA Today, “data showed 57 percent of high school girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 – a nearly 60 percent increase and the highest level reported over the past decade. In comparison, 29 percent of boys the same age reported the same feelings.”
Headscratcher, ain’t it?
If a bad thing happens to girls far more than it happens to boys, it could mean American culture works for boys but doesn’t for girls. It could mean American culture blames girls for being girls. It praises boys for being boys. Being a girl is a liability in a man’s world, but more so these days what with the incel ofays complaining ’bout how women won’t cook dinner anymore.
Can you blame a girl?
Something gotta give in the American dream, the grandest utopia that ever utopia’d. The question is whether we admit that something’s gotta give. Well, question answered. This is America! We believe anything! We admit nothing!
Alien invasion won’t change that.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.