A Strange Intersection


I was on a flight recently and happened to encounter this book and this film back-to-back. The result was really interesting, and I'm going to try to describe it here.

I've been slowly working my way through the audiobook version of Sapiens and happened to be listening to the chapter on European conquest, particularly the entwined nature of science and empire, when I casually started scrolling through the free film offerings on my Virgin America flight. Alien: Covenant was on offer, and though I'd seen it before, I was in the mood to watch it again (because it rules). So I paused Sapiens and entered the world of Alien, and was astounded by how seamlessly the film seemed to picked up where the book left off. 

Bear with me, this is probably really boring for most of you, but this blew my mind so I'm forging ahead. If you haven't seen Alien: Covenant, here's a synopsis. It's a horror film, so it's pretty gruesome, lots of aliens bursting from people's bodies. But the part that really struck me was when Walter, the protective android who accompanies the Covenant's crew to the planet, is speaking to David, the original humanoid android who arrived on the planet 10 years earlier with the Prometheus. They are identical, but programmed just a bit differently--David is "too human," with the ability to create, whereas Walter has been updated to be more service-oriented toward humans. David tells Walter that humans are a dying species and shouldn't be allowed to colonize space--it seems he has taken it into his own hands to see to it they never will. He has created the body-bursting aliens as a means to this end. 

This is where I started thinking about where I left off in Sapiens. Everywhere humans have colonized, they have replaced what was originally there: native plants and animals, and then in the age of conquest, complex indigenous societies with rich histories and cultures. All of it wiped clean in the name of exploration, knowledge, science, industry. Europeans almost exclusively are responsible for this erasure, especially in the South Pacific and the Americas. The loss is too great to fully conceptualize. With this shitty track record, do science-minded humans deserve to colonize space?

The body-bursting aliens I think are analogous to European explorers in the age of conquest: seemingly unstoppable, leveling everything in their path, ruthless. Yes, there was knowledge to be gained and beauty to be observed in exploration, but the destruction that accompanied the discovery was vast and perhaps overshadows what good may have emerged. Some have written that the aliens throughout the film series are a Satanic weapon that was created to destroy humanity because we failed to live up to our creator's expectations. I found myself thinking that these aliens might be doing the universe a favor by preventing us from spreading. A robot created by humans will save creation at large, protecting pristine moons and planets from the infection of our human desires.

I don't believe that humans have a creator, unless you count natural selection. However, most of us seem to care what our purpose is here, and where it is that we came from, but I don't think any of that has a simple answer. Nothing ever expected anything of us, except maybe future generations expected to be born. We aren't special, there's no grand scheme. We can't do everything we want to do; eventually we must hit a wall. I hope we don't trip any more dominoes (kill indigenous life on another planet by accident, for example) before we realize that we shouldn't.

Cool, so that's my thought. Thanks for letting me unravel it.