I think there’s something to be gained from thinking outside the human box. It’s tough to do- everything we know is from the human perspective. At the very least, though, I think we can try to view our current society from an outsider perspective. It may provide some small insight into how extraterrestrials might view us if we ever make alien contact. By taking a critical view of our own society, essentially an outsider’s view, we might get a better indication of how an extraterrestrial civilization may view us.
I recently watched the movie “12 Years a Slave.” It is an unflinching view of American slavery that is in equal measures powerful and horrifying. The audience during my viewing, many of them African-American, gasped and cried out. A few folks even had to walk out during some of the more brutal scenes. Slavery is reviled in most segments of human society now. It still exists in some nations and underground on the black market. Still, much has changed in the last 150 years.
Every generation has something to regret: WW II atrocities for the Germans and Japanese, segregation, and apartheid, to name just a few. These, as with slavery, were supported widely throughout society at the time and ingrained institutionally. That begs the question: what do we support as a society currently that might be viewed negatively in future generations? Perhaps the inequitable treatment of women; homophobia; the poor treatment of animals; the use of environmentally damaging machines and technology; or our refusal to respond to global warming evidence? Clearly, this list is from my perspective. Your perspective could be very different. An extraterrestrial perspective would likely be very, very different. One would imagine that extraterrestrials would find many things flawed about our society. They may also see strengths that we might not even recognize as such.
Some of these concepts are easier for us to understand now than others. Environmental damage, while a matter of debate, is a concern for many on the planet. The treatment of animals interests me because it takes us out of the anthropocentric human perspective. Aliens could view dolphins and whales as equal with humans. We may be the dominate species, but that doesn’t mean aliens would necessarily side with us. The documentary "Blackfish" is a pointed message. The primary goal of the movie is to show how humans are doing animals a great injustice. It follows the SeaWorld capture and confinement of killer whales. I dare anyone to watch the documentary and not feel a sense of wrong when the whales are initially separated from their pod in the wild. What would aliens think of this? How would they view the slaughter of cows and pigs? Sure, this is just speculation, so you could argue that they might think such activities were great. I think there is value, though, in taking a critical look at who we are and what we do as a society, certainly for our own sake, but also to consider how outsiders might view us. It’s better to have pondered such things than to be blindsided if First Contact with extraterrestrials does occur someday.
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