For thousands of years a great many humans believed that everything revolved, both physically and spiritually, around humans. It was all here for us, created for us, and that we were the highest achievement of existence itself.
As scientific investigation progressed, and the mathematics of an Earth-centric solar system and universe became increasingly unworkable, this idea dwindled. Scientific observation began to increasingly align with an alternate traditional belief—that the Earth and humans were simply part of a much larger system we could only observe and never control, and that the odds were there have always been other intelligent species scattered through space. We are not the only conscious species on even this planet, so it would be illogical to assume we are the only conscious species in the galaxy. Our arrogance in postulating our intergalactic solitude is illogical, and I think Gene Roddenberry would agree.
But as we start to talk more earnestly about the possibilities of space travel one thing should be abundantly clear:
Humans leaving Earth is bad news for anywhere we can travel to, and anyone we encounter.
We only have to look at what an abysmal job humans have done caretaking in any way this planet for it to be clear we are the last species to be roaming the cosmos. The only thing humans are worse at taking care of than ourselves is any other living species we come in contact with. Except dogs and cats. Them we have mutated to the point that a great many breeds are genetic freaks that live in physical agony for our amusement. Dogs and cats are the lucky ones—the rest we slaughter or have made their natural habitats dysfunctional.
How many species are the human-centric advocates willing to sacrifice for our profit and convenience? 10? 100? 1,000,000? Tigers, elephants, bees, butterflies—the human-centrics are willing to brush off all of those and more as long as our lives are even slightly easier. “Oh,” one may say “I don’t want those animals to go extinct!” Yeah, but if it came to all of them or convenience and comfort which would humanity choose? Exactly—because that is what we are; The Scourge of Earth, where even any good we might do is simply a tiny mitigation of the hell we ourselves imposed on our fellow Earthlings.
And I would not want to unleash such a self-centered species on the Universe just because there’s a theory that no one out there, or at least anyone of importance. The Europeans looked at the Americas and thought the same thing. Really. The important thing was expansion and the possibilities of riches—something later historians rechristened “spreading civilization.” And it wasn’t unintended smallpox that killed off tens of millions of Native Americans, that’s a myth created by the conquerors. It was mass murder. Don’t think small pox, think men, women, and children rounded up and literally set on fire. Now multiply that by about 50 million. That’s what what happened here, what humans thought was a fine thing to do to other humans they had only recently encountered.
Extinctionalists. That’s the title I apply to those comfortable with or willing to accept the mass extinctions perpetrated by humans on humans, and anything else. Sometimes it’s for money, sometimes for power, sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s just the collateral incineration of life resulting from our insane need to go places and fuck shit up.
And when it comes to space we will do the same damn thing—only it will be sold to the general public in the name of the survival of Humanity.
At the expense of anyone we run into.
If humans could create a sustainable civilization here on Earth we might be spreading a worthwhile philosophy to anyone we encounter in the galaxy—and even if we encounter no one we would still have a philosophy worth living with on our home planet. But let’s get real—there is no consistent historical precedence of humans doing anything like that. The more technologically advanced any human civilization has been the faster they have degraded their environment, and violently spread that degradation as far as possible, killing anything in their way.
That we have ordained ourselves most important, top of the heap, specially chosen, and perhaps alone is exactly the mindset that has led to so much destruction, imperialist oppression, and misery on this planet, the only home we have. We will only be more special than your average virus when we, as a species, put the survival of other species above profit, power, wealth, or convenience. And I don’t mean a few non-profits valiantly losing the fight to make us actually better while only making us feel better for trying—I mean really—as a species.
Look at all the current hype about space travel. Can we mine on the Moon? Can we mine on Mars? What about asteroids—maybe they have diamonds! It’s all about financial profit, or replacing some of the natural resources we’ve sucked dry from Earth. Humans see space the same way Europeans saw The Americas—El Dorado, with maybe some inconvenient life forms in the way. We are not explorers, we are gangsters.
Until we evolve beyond of rapacious history any space colonization by humanity will be a disaster for everywhere else. If we go into space with our current selfishness we are the threat. We are the Space Monsters. And if, with all our brilliance, technology, innovation, and scientific wizardry, we can’t fix the problems we have on this particular planet it would be absolutely wrong for us to assume we are smart enough or just or wise enough to inflict ourselves on the rest of the universe.
Michael Gene Sullivan
Michael Gene Sullivan is an actor, director, playwright, Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of the never silent, always revolutionary San Francisco Mime Troupe. He describes himself as "Just a guy with a dream ... a dream that involves a whole lotta Capitalists being put in prison."