Humanity – the scourge of the galaxy

One of the ways we justify going to Mars is that Earth is pretty much on the road to ruin just now, courtesy of human endeavour. We need a new planet.

Mars: 2007 view from the Spirit rover. NASA/JPL, public domain.

The only problem is that human nature doesn’t change, so we’d probably end up wrecking Mars too, likely while fighting viciously over how to be peaceful and eco-friendly. Humans are like that.

Lest I sound cynical, a few years back a ‘peace’ group in my city took every opportunity to object to the way humans fight each other. Fair enough, except that their behaviour included disrupting a memorial parade where they burned the flag, blew trumpets and screamed at 95-year old veterans, telling them that they were murderers. And when the police raided one of their houses they found unlicensed firearms, for which charges were duly laid. Yup, apparently you have to be angry, unkind to innocent strangers, violent, abusive, and own weapons in order to convince the world that kindness, peace and tolerance are better ways. Um… quite…

As far as I can tell, all this stems from a survival technique that worked quite well during hunter-gatherer days. People were hard-wired to feel loyalty to their immediate group (even while back-stabbing each other to scrabble to the top of it), to viciously hate and ideally destroy any other group, and to exploit the environment until it was gone, all without compunction. And why not? There was always another environment, just over the next hill.

Until, of course, one day there wasn’t.

That hard-wired loyalty to ‘us’ and psychotic hatred of ‘them’ is, I suspect, why that ‘peace’ group performed with such vicious and intolerant anger – and were utterly oblivious to the hypocrisy of their conduct. There’s a lot of it about, to varying degrees. Humans don’t handle complex and large modern societies very well – we find groups within them with which to identify.

What’s more, we know what effect humans have on new environments because the historical record contains a fair number of relatively recent examples. Every time humans have emerged into untouched territory, the local biota has taken a hammering. There’s good evidence that human expansion provoked the mass extinctions at the end of the Pliestocene. Sure, there were other factors – but humans were a major one, and they didn’t have to be the sole cause of extinction. It sufficed to disrupt the ecosystem, setting a chain reaction going.

The picture that follows is dispiriting. To colonise Mars we’d have to first terraform the place, which would be a huge enterprise. I expect we’d spend too much time fighting each other over it for such a plan to work. And if it did work, we’d likely wreck it a little way down the track. And then we’d likely do the same to Venus. All the while, we’d be fighting each other as well as exploiting everything we touch. But hey, by then maybe we’d have the tech to reach other star systems.

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the Homunculus Nebula, created when Eta Carinae A partially exploded between 1837 and 1856 (as it’s 7800 ± 300 light years distant, this actually happened about 7800 years prior, give or take up to 300; but the mid-nineteenth century is when astronomers saw it brighten and flare). The two stars, A and B, are in the middle. And Eta Carinae A is phenomenally unstable. The risk of a gamma ray burst forming and erupting from its poles if it explodes is high – but luckily its axis isn’t pointed directly at us. Credit: J. Morse (U.Co), K. Davidson (U.Min), NASA, public domain).

I have this vision of a future galaxy where humanity starts colonising a sphere of star systems around our own, knowing that the centre has been exploited and killed but that there is a limitless galaxy and then universe to expand into. That’s when the R’Laarn K’thith Wxryxry-grog monsters, who began as slime creatures on a gas giant and have since evolved into complex energy-form distortions in the space-time continuum, notice us.

They figure we are a pack of dangerous, in-fighting and psychotic apes who will destroy everything by default. And the R’Laarn K’thith Wxryxry-grog monsters have figured out how to tilt and control stars, so they re-direct the Eta Carinae system so the poles of Eta Carinae A point in the direction of human space and start zapping our planets with gamma ray bursts, one after another. These would take 7800 ± 300 years to reach our part of the galaxy, but hey, the R’Laarn K’thith Wxryxry-grog monsters are patient…

Of course I know this vision (which is only coincidentally a bit like a mashup of several Arthur C. Clarke ideas and another by Asimov) will never come to pass. We’re going to do a number on ourselves, on Earth, long before any of that. Aren’t we.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2018


6 thoughts on “Humanity – the scourge of the galaxy

  1. Sadly, I agree. We humans, on the whole, don’t have the respect for our planet like we should. However, I believe in God and don’t expect that He will let humans ruin much more of what He created so long ago.

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  2. I’m a Pollyanna of sorts yet even I can’t disagree. I know it’s not pc to say this, but I kind of believe an AI Overlord is the only answer. Self-regulation has /never/ worked. 😦

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    1. Absolutely – humans have never been able to actually keep on the good side for very long. My guess is about a generation or so, and the ‘good’ usually emerges after something horrendous. There’s a period of about a generation after the Napoleonic wars where Britain took a moral lead in terms of the day (abolishing slavery, etc), but that faded; and then we had the two World Wars last century which produced a general push in the west for safe family living. That faded… now we’re heading into the next set of crises, and every time, the scale of the ‘horrendous’ event that drives the lesson grows. It’s a worry.


      1. I guess a generation is about as long as our collective ‘memory’ lasts. I sometimes wonder which is the recessive gene – the one for empathy or the one for sociopathy. Seems as if they fluctuate within our populations pretty evenly. Maybe we need wars to cull the violence for a while.
        Sorry, it really depresses me.


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