Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A.D. After Disclosure - a review

During his lecture on "post-humanism" at the 2006 New Frontiers Symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the late Mac Tonnies asked a critical question as he pondered whether we would make it to a post-human future (or any future, for that matter): "does humanity deserve to survive?"

The only thing more provocative than his question, which drew some raised eyebrows from the crowd, was his answer, which he gave after a short, thoughtful pause:

"I don't know."

When I look around the world today, much less at the whole of human history, I'm forced to agree with Mac in terms of his question, if not necessarily his answer (more on that below).

The truth is that we've done some amazing things in our relatively short time on this planet as a sentient species. We've built great cities, split the atom, crossed the oceans and then the skies, and eventually made our way to space.

But to what end, and at what cost?

I'm in Los Angeles right now, definitely one of those great cities that we've built, but the problem is that it's really only great for a privileged few. Poverty and homelessness is visible everywhere (except, perhaps, in the poshest neighbourhoods like Beverley Hills, where the police work very hard to make sure that the dark side of our society is kept at a safe distance, as if they were the zombies in  George Romero's Land of the Dead). And then there's the question of how we "acquired" the land to build this great city, and all the others like it - by committing genocide against the indigenous population. I'm sure there's a lovely memorial about that somewhere around here...

Midnight Oil summed it up nicely back in the 1980s with a number of songs, none of which was more direct than "Beds are Burning", but almost no-one listened to what they were saying, even as they heard the song. I remember it well, watching people on dance floors grooving and grinding and trying to get laid as the song played, and thinking to myself: "this is wrong - you need to listen." They didn't listen then. They aren't listening now.

Speaking of Los Angeles, and lovely memorials, the neighbourhood that I stay in when I'm here is predominantly Jewish.  The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is a couple of blocks away, and there's a nice statue on the corner of Fairfax and Beverley in memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Second World War.

However, the fact that we even have things like these reminds us of who we really are as a species, and it's not a pretty picture. For every Wallenberg, how many were there who actively participated in the Holocaust, from the top end, easy-to-identify villains like Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich, all the way through the middle management guys who made it happen like Eichmann, Wirth and Höss, to the bottom-rung minions who did the dirty work, like the recently convicted Ivan Demanjuk? Perhaps worse still, how many simply looked away - and not just in Europe?

If the Holocaust was just an isolated incident in human history, perhaps we could rationalize it in some way, but it's not. The Armenian genocide, Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, the killing fields of Cambodia, the millions killed under Stalin and Mao... it's a long list, and that's just the 20th century. As Dr. Shimon Samuels, director for International Liaison of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said: "Each case is specific as a threshold phenomenon, while each also adds its unique memory as signposts along an incremental continuum of horror."

A very long and ongoing continuum of horror, and violence, and oppression, often perpetrated by people who were once victims themselves. A cycle of violence, and inhumanity.

And then there are the smaller signs that we haven't progressed one iota as a species throughout our history. The Romans had gladiators? Well, so do we.

The difference? Roman gladiators sometimes died in combat, whereas our gladiators, who have a far larger audience within our culture, die years later, but far too soon, beset by myriad medical problems incurred in the name of entertainment.

Bread and circuses, then and now.

Now, it's true that on the other side of the ledger, we've had great composers, and authors, and philosophers, and spiritual leaders, and painters, and humanitarians, and peacemakers, all of whom have worked to enhance the human condition in their own way. But I would argue that these men and women are the exception rather than the rule, and they are not the exemplars celebrated by our society.

We remember MacArthur, Patton and Rommel, and have created a cult of personality around current military leaders like David Petraeus. Ask people who Dag Hammarskjöld was, and they'll probably guess that he invented a brand of ice cream. Mozart and Bach take a back seat to the pop tart du jour. Who wants to read Kierkegaard and Wiggenstein when we can watch Dr. Phil, or Dr. Drew? Romeo and Juliet becomes Gnomeo & Juliet... and so on, and on...

Ask yourself this question - would people be better off reading Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness, or playing MadWorld?

Mac was more understanding than I am.

Where he answered that he didn't know when it comes to whether or not we deserve to survive as a species, I would answer that I do know.

As a species, we don't deserve to survive. We haven't earned that right. Maybe we never will.

None of this should stop us from trying. But it should provide us with some perspective.

Which brings me to my review of A.D. After Disclosure, by Richard Dolan and Bryce Zabel. Even if one accepts their central premise (which I do not), that extraterrestrials are here, and that the government knows about it and has kept that knowledge secret, the book is dead wrong in its conclusions. Dolan and Zabel are hopelessly optimistic to the point of wide-eyed naiveté in their view of what the human response would be. In essence, they contend that things would go on pretty much as before, only better in the long run for us once we were made aware of "the truth".

The problem is that nothing in either our history or our current make-up indicates that this would be the case.  


The book, which is well written and worth reading despite what I've just written, will find favour with the so-called "disclosure" crowd, and will probably make an entertaining movie someday. But it is fiction, because it has to be.

There will be no disclosure, not by the government, and not any aliens that have visited us (unless they are here to do us harm, in which case they wouldn't care, and would have done so by now). Both would understand one simple truth in the scenario set out by Dolan and Zabel - we're just not ready for "disclosure" as a species. As individuals perhaps, and I think that may have been happening for some time, to a select few. But a species that cannot justify its own continued existence has a very long way to go before it's ready for contact.

We can't look to a fantasy world where the space aliens arrive and save us, which is really what the "disclosure" movement is all about. We need to look to the real world, and save ourselves.

Only then will we have earned "it".

Paul Kimball


Frank Stalter said...

Deserve's got nothing to do with it. The kindest most generous civilization in the universe may have been wiped out by an asteroid. We might be the most advanced civilization in the universe. If not, we may be the one with the greatest potential. We don't know.

Paul Kimball said...

Deserve has everything to do with it. You should read more Sartre.