December 21, 2014

A Slice of PIE: Is There A “Perfect” Alien?
CS Lewis had a fascinating idea of intelligent life in the universe. While he never explicitly delineated it, it was implied in The Space Trilogy where the Human character, Ransom travels to Venus (Perelandra) and gets tangled up in a “Garden of Eden” situation. On Perelandra, Venusians can go anywhere they want to on their world of floating islands – except to the one that does NOT float.

The Venusians fared better with their temptation than Humans did, and where we are  fallen then redeemed by the Christ (and given a choice to accept the story or not), they never fell and continued to live in perfect communion with God. In a final interview with journalist Sherwood Eliot Wirt, Lewis responds to the question, “Do you think there will be widespread travel in space?”

Lewis replied, “I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism.”

In an essay called, “Religion and Rockets” (see THE WORLD’S LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS) it was Lewis who asked the question, “How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?” and “...if we discovered that no form of redemption had reached them, then the human task might be to evangelize them…redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us [to the extraterrestrial beings].” He continues, “Those who are, or can become His sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts.”

So many SF writers create universes in which hidden somewhere or just out of our reach or WE...are the “perfect aliens”, godlike but ABSOLUTELY biological, (just like us, so we can ascend to their level of perfection just as soon as we get our act together [This is sometimes implied by the writers and believers in The Singularity, or the Transcendence of Humanity]).

In David Brin’s UPLIFT universe, the Progenitors established the practice of Uplift in the Five Galaxies back when they were much closer together. Klatuu in the movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still” represents another, wiser race of aliens capable of interstellar travel. Julie Czerneda’s Sinzi from her SPECIES IMPERATIVE series would also be of that same lineage. Julian May’s MILIEU books are another. Octavia Butler’s brilliant XENOGENESIS books are another example still, of this. Gene Rodenberry wanted the Federation to be a benevolent, perfect, winningly positive democracy as well.

Yet few of these deal with the possibility that Humans are not just immature, but actually mired in sin and evil by choice. They especially do not admit to the possibility that we are not perfectible by hard work, genetic engineering, or merging with our electronic devices. The idea of needing help seems to be OK; the idea that we can’t do it ourselves does NOT seem to be OK.

Most SF writers would be appalled at CS Lewis when he said, “I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin...” While many SF writers would agree with the idea that we are nasty and “they” are good, the idea that we can learn to do better seems to be something of a Human pipe dream. Ruthless European expansion into North America; freed American slaves forming Liberia and in turn enslaving indigenous Africans; the brutal Chinese liberation of Tibet; the Muslim conquest of Egypt...this seems to be the norm and not limited at all to the brutality of Europeans.

Conquest, violence, cold-heartedness seems to be a universal Human condition and one peculiarly recalcitrant to virtually any form of “rule” we’ve tried. Why do we hold out such positive hope for our interstellar endeavors when we have yet to settle our Earthly endeavors?  


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