- Jack McDevitt
We think of ourselves as an intelligent species. And with good reason. We developed means to reproduce spoken words on paper. We figured out that, despite appearances, we live on a world that circles the sun. We’ve gotten pretty good at treating disease. We’ve learned that the Earth is millions of years old. And we know now that we are a product of evolution.
Super telescopes provide close-up views of other stars, we’ve begun to put together an understanding of quantum mechanics, the British invented comedy, we can transmit messages across oceans, and we’ve walked on the Moon.
We are still alive despite the fact that we live in a potentially lethal reality, filled with earthquakes, hurricanes, cancer, lightning bolts, and floods. In addition, there are millions of asteroids, rogue planets, black holes, and who knows what else, drifting through the skies, any one of which could say bye-bye baby to us on short notice.
With all these hazards confronting us, we seem to miss the most crucial element of all: What is the primary danger to our survival? Curiously, we seem to be our own major threat. We invented the atom bomb, ignore the damage we are doing to the climate, tend to dislike people who do not share our cultural inclinations, or who are of a different skin color. We are constantly at war. In the Middle East, the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians is taking lives as I write this. Our inability to cooperate has left a mounting toll of dead and wounded.
It’s difficult not to conclude that the mark of an intelligent species is that they help one another. If aliens from a million-year-old civilization were actually to show up here and say hello, they are going to be disappointed in us. We’ll discover, almost certainly, that they come from a world with no states, no boundaries, where the inhabitants can live wherever they want, and where higher education and medical care are given rights for everyone.
And if that seems unobtainable, expensive beyond reason, consider what the world economy would look like if it weren’t constantly buying arms. President Eisenhower warned us to watch out for the arms complex. He wasn’t kidding.