Humanity’s small talent for war

stephenhawkingThe world’s most famous living physicist, Stephen Hawking, sounded a bit of a sci-fi warning recently, suggesting that life beyond our solar system is probably likely, and wouldn’t necessarily be friendly to humans if we were to make contact with it. Since when did Hawking become such a paranoid? you might say. Well. Think about it. Even our own evolutionary history on earth–I’m talking about every living thing, not just homo sapiens–has been more marked by aggression towards other species, not peacefulness. Eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. Brutal, but such is the fascist temperament of Mother Nature.

smalltalentThis reminded me of a very short episode of The Twilight Zone, one bereft of dazzling special effects, but laden with a thought-provoking twist (A Small Talent for War – SPOILER). In it, an alien arrives at the United Nations and announces to the world’s representatives that they had created mankind millions of years ago, and that he was sent to see how the species was coming along. He states disdainfully that humanity has “a small talent for war” and that it would have 24 hours to show more promise, or else it would be destroyed. The UN urgently spends the next day furiously arguing to hammer out a worldwide peace deal, to impress the aliens and allow man to continue to exist. When the alien reappears and looks at the peace deal, he laughs and intimates that he seems to have been misunderstood; the aliens are in the business of creating warriors, and this latest attempt at peace proves that mankind is definitely not up to snuff, and will be promptly vaporized as an experiment gone awry. (Don’t know how much longer it’ll be available, but it’s here at Vimeo)

So this had me thinking: will mankind’s propensity for violence eventually vindicate us? Will our nuclear, biological and other weapons of mass destruction eventually be useful when we’re locked in mortal battle with another life form? Maybe the continued tensions around the world and the military-industrial complex that have grown to coddle them are all part of a master plan that will ensure our eventual survival. Maybe we need togive war a chance.

Or will our violent nature end up encouraging us to do to other extraterrestrial species what Hawking suggests might happen to us? Having outgrown the space on our planet, we’ll be turned outward in search of lebensraum and resources in order to survive, and will end up obliterating the life forms that have sprouted up in the universe’s oases.

Or maybe we’ll need those weapons when manmade robots rebel against us and attempt to destroy us? Hey, if I, Robot, Terminator and Battlestar Galactica have all seized on this theme, maybe there’s a nugget of truth to it. Maybe.

Impossible to know, but it makes you wonder if Mother Nature, in all of her awesome yet cruel power, continues to favor long-term survival over compassion.

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