WRITING GUIDELINES FOR FUTURE OCCUPATION OF EARTH BY EXTRATERRESTRIALS
COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 13 Feb 2010
Be Done By As You Did?
Many have speculated on whether extraterrestrials would be characterized by exploitative, malevolent intent or by enlightened, benevolent intent — perhaps beyond current human understanding. Of course any malevolent intent might also be of a kind beyond human understanding, perhaps a form of structural violence, cultural violence, or even spiritual violence — which would currently be virtually undetectable.
There is another possibility however. Extraterrestrials may have reached the conclusion that any civilization should be encountered on its own terms, according to its own rules. Every effort might then be put in place to determine what those rules were — just as colonial powers might have chosen to do in their encounter with other cultures.
The following is therefore an exploration of how extraterrestrials might recognize these rules and incorporate them assiduously into their legal and procedural engagement with humanity. Such an approach might be the basis for all galactic encounters between intelligent life. This might be described in human terms under the Golden Rule: Do as you would be done by. However, Charles Kingsley (The Water Babies, 1863) explored in a fairy tale a more challenging complementary adage: Be done by as you did. This is widely cited as a pattern of behaviour toward others determined by how they themselves behaved towards others — effectively making sure that that their actions came back to cause them instructive suffering, until they gradually learnt the golden rule of civilization: if you don’t like it yourself, then best not do it to someone else (Mary Wakefield, What ‘The Water Babies’ can teach us about personal morality, The Independent, 26 December 2009)..
In that sense humanity has written, and is writing, its own rule book by which future contact with extraterrestrials could be framed (by them). For extraterrestrials, as a matter of principle, use of such a rule book reflects the greatest sensitivity to demonstrated human preferences and practices.
The task for extraterrestrials is to detect articulations of such rules ("Standard Operating Procedures", "Manuals", "Guidelines") even if they are confidential — as with procedures governing the behaviour of major institutions in dealing with challenging "others". Extraterrestrials might even, to some degree, be able to "cut and paste" from such documents — "harmonizing" the result. Humanity might facilitate the task of extraterrestrials by using a Wikipedia-style process to build up profiles of such collective patterns. The profiles of "problems" and "strategies" in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential might be of service to that end. Many of the "rules" required as guidelines by extraterrestrials could be obtained by appropriately "inverting" the prescriptions of the contents of existing international treaty documents — especially given the manner whereby they are honoured in the breach (Jaye Ellis, Honoured in the Breach: the impact on and response of international law to breaches of the rules, 2004).
A key question is however the period of time over which extraterrestrials might consider it appropriate to identify relevant patterns: 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years? But again extraterrestrials might wish to be extremely respectful of the period considered relevant by humans themselves, rather than impose their own. Humans have various understandings of a valid period beyond which it is inappropriate to take account of problematic collective behaviour:
• statute of limitations or period of prescription, namely the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated. This is designed to ensure that the possibility of punishment for an act committed sufficiently long ago cannot give rise to either a person’s incarceration or the criminal justice system’s activation. In short, unless the crime is exceptionally heinous in nature, social justice as enacted through law has compromised that lesser crimes from long ago are best let be rather than distract attention from contemporary serious crimes. Crimes that are considered exceptionally heinous by society have no statute of limitations. From this perspective, the question might be the interpretation by extraterrestrials of "heinous crimes": extermination of species, destruction of landscapes, systematic exploitation, withholding of aid to those in need, systematic breach of commitments, anthropogenic global warming?
• period of reparation: according to the principles of restorative justice, as in the notable example of the Reparations Agreement between Israel and West Germany (1953) for a period of 14 years, by which Germany was to pay Israel for the slave labor and persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and to compensate for Jewish property that was stolen by the Nazis. The possibility of further claims was under discussion in 2009.
• seven generations: in the light of the much-cited reference to "the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children even unto the seventh generation" (attributed to the Bible). The importance of this notion of seventh generation was embodied in the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy), requiring that chiefs consider the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation (Lorie M. Graham, Reparations, Self-Determination, and the Seventh Generation, Harvard Human Rights Journal, 21, 2008, pp. 47-104). Partially as a consequence, the notion has more recently been echoed in environmental proposals (cf Our Responsibility to The Seventh Generation: Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Development, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, 1992; Trou R. Johnson, The Indian Child Welfare Act: Unto the Seventh Generation: 1992 Conference Proceedings. American Indian Studies Center, 1993; Ted Perry, Visionary Planning for the Seventh Generation).
• environmental impact, including the period over which an initiative may have a problematic impact on the environment. Assessment involves identifying, identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made. Following such assessment, the precautionary and polluter pays principles may be applied to prevent, limit, or require strict liability or insurance coverage to a project, based on its likely harms. This may involve a life cycle assessment (‘life cycle analysis’, ‘ecobalance’, or ‘cradle-to-grave analysis’) focusing on the the investigation and evaluation of the environmental impacts of a given product or service caused or necessitated by its existence. Such a perspective is particularly relevant in the case of waste products, especially radioactive waste, which may have a half-life of thousands of years.
• feuds and vendettas, namely a long-running argument or fight between parties, which may continue to rule behaviour between human groups, even after centuries
It is of course unclear what span of time extraterrestrials might consider appropriate in formulating prescriptions on taking account of behaviour defined by such rules. For the purpose of this exercise, the assumption is made that the Biblical prescription holds — a prescription shared by the Abrahamic faiths. A familial generation is currently defined as the average time between a mother’s first offspring and her daughter’s first offspring (for example 25.2 years in the USA and 27.4 years in the UK). Assuming 25 years, the Biblical prescription would then give a period of 175 years (7×25). It is within this period that patterns of human behavior will be considered here as an indication of what extraterrestrials would define as the rulebook for human contact.
Humanity may of course challenge this principled approach with claims that:
• humanity has "moved on". This is to forget the significance of the explicit trace associated with the the insight of Omar Khayyam: The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. This trace is of course enshrined in various understandings of karma by Eastern religions
• there is no moral equivalence between behaviours in which humanity has engaged and the patterns of behaviour that extraterrestrials consider that humanity has itself framed as appropriate for extraterrestrial interaction with humans. The point was of course made for the USA by Jeane Kirkpatrick (The Myth of Moral Equivalence, Imprimis, 15, January 1986, 1) — later US Ambassador to the UN. On the other hand the extraterrestrials may follow Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, who in 1996 was asked what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that it was "a very hard choice", but that, all things considered, "we think the price is worth it".
These protestations of course raise the question of an understanding of the ethics of reciprocity — an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (Leviticus 24:19–21, Exodus 21:22–25, Deuteronomy 19:21, Matthew 5:38–39). But again extraterrestrials may consider it appropriate to follow respectfully the behavioural pattern of humans in considering such matters, namely with the greatest degree of procrastination and obfuscation.
It is of course appropriate to recognize that many humans currently undertaking initiatives, which may be perceived by the future as totally inhumane and "contra-terran", could themselves be perceived now to be "extraterrestrials" or "aliens" — given their dissociation from humanity and their adoption of an essentially "unhuman" standpoint. Those labelled "evil", notably in legal proceedings, could possibly be seen in this light.
There is also the sense for those who live off the land, and in intimate symbiosis with it, that "extraterrestrial" may already be held to signify those who are not "of the land", namely those whose identity is not bonded with it (as stressed in many indigenous tribes). In that sense, whether through the continuing explosion of urbanization, the ever increasng inequality, or the possible drama of occupation by extraterrestrials, much of humanity is liable to be transformed into "terrestrial extras". However there is also the sense that, through population overshoot ("extra terrestrials"), the effective requirement for "extra planets" to nourish humanity will transform humanity as a whole into "extra terrestrials".
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Feb 2010.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: WRITING GUIDELINES FOR FUTURE OCCUPATION OF EARTH BY EXTRATERRESTRIALS, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: