Monday, June 18, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: What the Romans Taught Us

One planet, one people- citizens of the universe. I’ve written that phrase many times on this blog. It’s not a very original concept. In fact, “One Planet, One People Please” was a popular Seals and Crofts song. The citizens of the universe line has a surprising origin. It may sound like cliché to us now. It came from the Stoic philosophers in ancient Rome, and in particular the emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Stoics believed that men owed two allegiances. One was decided by birth- that of city and country. The other was a divine allegiance to all life. That greater connection is where Aurelius described himself as a citizen of the universe.
What does this have to do with extraterrestrial contact? The Stoics provide a good read these days as we anticipate the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence. We have been bound to Earth for so long we have failed to properly contemplate our connection with the universe. It’s something the Stoics thought of as a natural perspective and it’s one that requires work. The daily challenges of human existence can divorce us from that perspective, and most importantly from our greater connection to each other. Lest you think this is purely pagan thinking, I might point out that early Christians took a number of ideas from the Stoics. Christianity in its early years had a mystical side and often included writings about a wider connection to the universe.
Where did we lose all of this? In those daily challenges. We have been struggling for so long here on Earth that many of us have failed to contemplate the universe and what it means to be human in that universe. It’s much easier for astrophysicists- they work with the majesty of stars and galaxies each day. Some of us choose to look upward in wonder and contemplate the reality of our situation. Where does humanity fall in the universal realm?
So, forgive the 1980s pop-Roman philosopher mash up. It just makes sense. In contemplating our role in the wider universe we can’t help but consider our connection to each other here on this little planet orbiting the sun. One planet, one people- citizens of the universe. I think Emperor Aurelius would have appreciated the rewrite.
Is there a place for slogans in First Contact? Does it matter what humans think of each other in the wake of First Contact? Let’s hear from you on the Alien First Contact Facebookpage.

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