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ET go home: Why humanity should not find extra-terrestrial life


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Without a doubt, millions would be ecstatic if our years of searching for intelligent life was a success. A discovery of such magnitude would probably be the most significant scientific discovery ever made. As Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University said in his 2008 article for the MIT Technology Review, what could possibly be more fascinating than discovering a form of life that had evolved entirely independently of us here on Earth?


Many of us would find it reassuring and comforting to realise that we are not as alone in the universe as is generally assumed. Contact with aliens could additionally result in vast technological advances for our little planet, fast-tracking our development and evolution by years. Representing a turning point in our history, from the very first announcement, extra-terrestrial contact would change our lives as we know them.


Image Credit: Yan Wang, UFO

So, now it's time to confess something: the discovery of alien life is something I dread. This fear is not just related to the abundance of media featuring hostile alien invasions - we've all seen Independence Day. Rather, my fear of extra-terrestrial contact is focused just as much on friendly alien visitors. In his article, Mr Bostrom focuses mainly on why the science of probability means that no news is good news, but my reasons for fearing the arrival of ET and company are more related to the harm we could do them than to the threat that faces us.


The human race is not as amicable as we would like to believe. We do countless things without regards to the repercussions of our actions, repercussions which are, interestingly, often unfavourable for us. We use our gift of supposed intelligence to threaten the environment that keeps us alive with our careless consumption and reproduction. We needlessly kill other species, be it animal or plant, wiping some out to the point of extinction; we take what is not our own and then go on to exploit it in as many ways as we can. We ensure the degradation of the environment wherever we go on this planet.


However, these are all things that indirectly hurt humanity when we are perfectly good at harming each other already. The worst crime in my eyes is how we treat each other. The concept of a united human race is a myth. We dehumanise our peers based on colour, sexuality and belief. Our biggest religions on Earth are based around the existence of a god - if people will do anything to appease an almighty being in the sky, why is it so hard to respect this god's creations?  


In England and Wales alone, there were 44,480 hate crimes reported by police in 2013/2014. On average, that's 121 hostile, discriminatory criminal acts a day. This is just two countries out of the 196 recognised as independent states, and in comparison to global figures, 121 hate crimes a day in two countries is next to nothing at all. Furthermore, hate crimes are largely underreported, for fear of repercussion. 


You'd have to live under a rock to not have learnt that the police, who are meant to protect and unite us, are often at the centre of such issues in this modern age - the term "police brutality" exists for a very real reason. The things that make us unique are certainly shown by the differing treatment displayed by law enforcement - black Americans are 2.5 times more likely than white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.


Discriminatory violence has happened on a mass scale at several points in our history, and it is not a case of it being long ago in the past. A quick look on Prevent Genocide shows 12 examples of genocide occurring in the 20th century alone. Most of us know about the Holocaust, but are you aware of the violence against Bengalis in Bangladesh that took place in 1971? Did you know that genocide is going on today, with the crisis of the Rohingya in Myanmar?

Gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica

Image Credit: Michael Büker, Gravestones at the Potočari genocide memorial near Srebrenica


Our attacks on each other are not just based on our differing characteristics; we have a tendency of trying to kill each other over very trivial matters too. For how long now have North Korea been threatening to nuke the Western world, all because President Donald Trump tweets like a ten-year-old? We are not very good at getting on with each other. According to Chris Hedges the NY Times, in the past 3,400 years, only 268 years have been completely free of war. If you do a bit of number-crunching, only 8% of recorded history hasn't seen armies pitted against each other. Furthermore, Hedge also writes that 108 million people – at least – have died as a result of conflict in wars during the 20th Century alone. Estimates for the total number of lives lost as a result of war, during the whole of recorded human history, range from 150 million to 1 billion. That is between 2% and 13% of today's global population.  


The horrors humans inflict on one another in war are unfathomable. An example that immediately springs to mind is the wicked experiments of Josef Mengele in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. This twisted physician, for those of who have been spared from the knowledge of the atrocities he committed, was responsible for selecting the prisoners that would be sent straight to their deaths in the gas chambers and those who would instead be worked until they died. He also took the liberty of using the inmates of Auschwitz for human experimentation. Many of these sadistic experiments were performed on children, and they often ended in dissection.


I wonder what’s stopping us from treating aliens as badly as we treat each other? If we mistreat other human beings, how can we be expected not to harm lifeforms that may be very different to ourselves? We've already seen in movies that the first reaction of our leaders to aliens is to experiment on them or blow them up - if the idea is already planted in our culture and our minds, what are the chances of it not becoming a reality? Our very nature as human beings regularly leads us to harm things that we don't fully understand, whether we do it intentionally or not. My belief is that the discovery of otherworldly intelligent life would not be a good thing, simply because we could not possibly treat extra-terrestrial visitors with the required respect. 


If we can't even cooperate with each other here on our own planet, how can we forge relationships with beings that will be, although fascinating, so exotic that our perceptions of life in the universe change forever?

Lead image: credit: NASA, resized

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