Monday, January 13, 2014

SETI is a Grotesquerie

SETI - the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

I used to be big into sci-fi. I read lots of fascinating stories involving ingeniously crafted aliens. It was very entertaining and thought-provoking.

Like many humans, I looked on with awe as humans found their way into space, peered ever deeper into space (and the universe as it existed long ago), and searched avidly for life on other planets.

Now I find all of that to be a grotesque mockery, since that search for extra-terrestrial life is possible only through our utter disdain for and vast destruction of life on our very own planet.

The only life we know for sure exists.

How many species of frogs, butterflies, trees, bats, birds and myrid others have gone extinct so that humans could establish and operate the vast network of factories, homes, aircraft, trucks, trains and more, required to send rockets (and humans!) into space?

Clearly, humans don't really give a shit about life, in general.

All we give a shit about is us: sentient, self-aware, tool-making us. Special and unique us.

And what we are looking for "out there" are others like us: tool makers, manufacturers, consumers.

If that wasn't the case, if what we really wanted to do was establish contact with other sentients, regardless of how they lived in the universe, so that we could learn from each other, then, let's see:
  • It would be considered murder to kill a whale.
  • It would be considered slavery to keep a cetacean captive (and performing tricks) at places like SeaWorld and Shedd Aquarium.
  • We'd be working awfully damn hard to learn how to communicate with cetaceans.(even if only as practice for the "real thing")
Why do I say this? Because cetaceans are self-aware.
Cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - have been evolving for millions of years, just like us. They have big, complex brains. They have language. They recognize themselves. They have a sense of humor, for heaven's sake.

Repeat after me: cetaceans are self-aware.

Too bad, then, that they don't make stuff. Because as far as humans are concerned, if you are not ravaging your planet in order to build things to make your lives more convenient and comfortable, then you are a lesser being. And that renders you simultaneously uninteresting (except as a source of entertainment) and available for exploitation.

And so here it is, 2014, and still our governments can't even agree on enforcing a worldwide ban on whaling, thereby ending the rampant slaughter of these extraordinary creatures (who, we should recall, evolved from land-based mammals, reclaiming a life in the ocean. Amazing!).

Don't worry, though: even if all the whales are dead, we will still have recordings of their haunting, beautiful songs.

And we can still take our children to "educational shows" that feature those cute, smiley dolphins leaping on command and wiggling their tail in delight over being fed a fish.

As if dolphins need humans to feed them fish! This sort of travesty is what passes for the most high-minded, progressive education of our youth.Yuck.

The fact that humans can't even accept cetacean self-awareness shows clearly that we do not respect life and we do not respect sentience. The only thing we respect is the ability to manufacture and consume things, regardless of the cost to the rest of our planet and its inhabitants.

C'mon, SeaWorld: let your killer whales go!

Hey, Shedd Aquarium, close down your abomination, the Abbott Oceanarium!

Oh, and NASA (and China National Space Administration and India Space Research Organization and European Space Agency and...)? Please shut down operations. Now.

If we are going to drive to extinction hundreds, probably thousands, of species, and obliterate the lives of trillions of individuals, let's at least commit the resources that result from those deaths to finding a way to reduce the awful impact we have on our world.


João Borges Barreto said...

Hi Steve,

I almost fully agree with you: you are right, humans should have much more respect for all other life on this planet, sentient or not. That is why I don't go to the circus or the seaworld-alike-shows (I have been on a tour on the Azores Islands, to watch some beautiful cetaceans as they should be on the wild).

However, I cannot agree with you on shutting down space programs mainly because of this (inspiring for me) quote from Carl Sagan:

Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring — not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.

João Barreto

Steven Feuerstein said...

Which brings us right back to the central question a human who wants to consider himself or herself a moral creature must address: how many other living creatures are you willing to kill so that in the eventual case you talk about (by which time humans could and most likely will be extinct) humans would survive?

iudith said...

The fact that we automatically think about any other possible civilization
as one specifically directed to harm us does in fact tell the whole story about ourselves ...

We are dangerous for nature as a whole and for humans alike ...
and we cannot even conceive that in the Universe there may exist different mentalities ...

What we are looking for in the surrounding space is, unfortunately, just for the purpose
of developing more sophisticated weapons, for the "last elitistic group" which pretends to survive all the others,
humans and other beings alike ...

Unknown said...

Great article.

Have you watched Blackfish movie ? Such a sad sad film.

Scott Wesley said...

Thought provoking article.

On the Sagan issue, that could probably be broken down to the raw 'survival of the fittest' concept. Humans are not unique in killing other species, causing them to go extinct. I'm not saying it's good to do so, but if we 'win' the struggle to survive a dying planet, and have the ability to rescue others in the process - could that still be considered a good thing?

On another interesting note - there are about half-dozen species that are considered 'self-aware'. Some other primates, pachyderms, and perhaps a bird? I can't recall...