The plot, I know, has been taken; but the thought is new. It grows out of one of those slightly boozy discussions which hallmark a typical Friday in the Anderson baronial hall when the sawdust on the floor is no longer quite fresh and the dogs are scrapping over the bones of our meal. The question – wait for it – are we alone in the universe?
See? That’s the sort of rubbish intellect you get when you visit our village compound: after all, was this not the settlement that saw commercial opportunities in raising rabbits for milk? (That was just before our landmark promotion of horseradish ice cream wafers, by the way. Still ongoing).
The answer is, of course, no.
End of discussion. But it’s not, is it? Like religion, it’s one of those discussions that are endless.
When I was very young the universe ended at the top of St. Leonard’s Road, just after the traffic lights. That was as far as I was allowed to go on my tricycle, and everything thereafter was grey mist. But I knew there were others who lived beyond the lights, and as I grew and my universe expanded with me, at no stage did I doubt the existence of others outside my poor margins of sight or comprehension. Now, presented with billions of stars in an infinite universe, I have absolutely no doubt at all.
So why am I so apprehensive? Why am I so certain that, far from embracing the chance to communicate with others out there, we should be ducking behind the parapet and shushing each other like mad? Don’t send out radio messages across the firmament – just don’t! And put that probe back in your pocket! (Is that a probe in your pocket, or …) Sorry – I digress.
I should have thought my reasons were obvious, but it appears I am in the minority: I lost this last discussion to the peace camp, who tell me we have so much to learn, and there is no reason for alien civilisations to be unfriendly. Really?
Open-ended communication is always wrong – always. What on earth (apologies) makes us think that rule changes on an inter-stellar level?
Chatroom: ‘Hey, baby, I think you’re sexy!’
‘Do you? Come round to my place. My parents are away for the weekend’.
Across universe: ‘Hey, we’re here. Come and visit us. Don’t worry, we’re primitive.’
‘Be right there. It’s okay, we’re a million years ahead of you. Nice place – were you thinking of leaving?’
That the best construction we can put on a possible contact. There are many worse.
My greatest fear is us. You see, my belief is that in the great Starship Troopers universe, we are not the troopers – we’re the bugs.
We’ve all been writing about it for years: Mother Nature pausing for a second to shake us off – like some gigantic dog ridding herself of fleas. And lately she’s provided us with ample evidence to show just how easy that would be. In the grand scheme of planet Earth we’re lightweights, only a quarter-million years in, like a fast-expanding colony of ants before someone comes by with a kettle. We’re an infestation; an evolutionary mistake that’s become a bit of a problem.
I think there’s a more than even chance our alien ‘friends’ are out there, already trembling in their thingumybugalite boots at the possibility we may come to call. And should it ever happen, we’ll find them ready with the kettle.