First And Last Contact
Yes, there is intelligent life out there, which is why it’s not coming back
Classified transcript of encounter between human representative A078M778L2980 and a lifeform self-identifying as #%^. Only the human side of the interaction is available as #%^ communicates entirely through rapid sequences of shape and color changes.
“Well, hello! This is indeed an honor and, to be honest, one I didn’t expect. I mean, what are the odds of two technological civilizations overlapping in time within a 100 light-year radius? Poor old Fermi didn’t understand the first thing about estimating the odds.
Oh, yes, sorry, I digress.
Well, let me just say how charmed I am to meet you. I’m sure we’ll all be charmed. At least, those of us who aren’t terrified and flee in random directions and those who try to kill you with various weapons and those who want to slice you open to see if they can make bio-weapons out of your body parts.
Ah, oh dear, and of course those who will try to kill you because you invalidate their belief in their magic pixie. Are there many of those? Um, well, yes, actually that is most people.
No, it’s not my fault. People were like that before I was born! Honestly, I wouldn’t do that kind of thing as a joke. It’s how we’ve evolved. Except of course the magic pixie people don’t understand evolution. They think humans were made like some kind of fleshy Lego construction.
Lego? It’s a toy. Children make things with it. When they’re not on social media, at least.
Ah, now that is a good question! Social media. Well, it’s rather like staring at a fire: lots of flickering, no intellectual content whatsoever. Details? All right. Facebook is where ordinary people go to repeat things they’ve been told by people who read words off a teleprompter and then see other ordinary people repeating the same things and thereby get a sense of belonging.
InstaSnap and Whatstweet are for people who find Facebook far too intellectually challenging.
Yes, indeed. The Internet could be used for educational purposes, to spread knowledge and understanding and help people to make better decisions. But we use it for amusing cat videos, ultra-right-wing paranoid conspiracy theories, and, well, more cat videos.
Why? Because those are the things most people are interested in.
Another great question! I’m so glad we’re having this conversation, even if I do find your frequent use of yellow and purple a little difficult sometimes. Yes, we do have organizations dedicated to disseminating information. They specialize in context-free sensationalism so people are always afraid, confused, and frankly incapable of any kind of coherent thought.
Why? Because that’s what most people are interested in.
Oh, I think that’s a little unfair. I mean, we also have an opioid crisis that was entirely created by doctors because they got bored handing out antibiotics so that all the bacteria could evolve resistance. Doctors? Oh, yes, let me explain. Doctors are people who wait until we’re sick and then give us pills. No, mostly this doesn’t work, but it does make the doctors feel important and ordinary people think doctors are nearly as magical as their magic pixie so it all works out just fine.
Why don’t people use the Internet to search out real information, read the actual scientific papers and do their own analyses of the datasets instead of believing misleading headlines? Why don’t people educate themselves more adequately? I hope I don’t hurt your feelings, #%^, but I should think it’s pretty obvious why no one has the time for such frivolity. People are far too busy watching their favorite shows on streaming video. Yes, there are thousands and thousands of such shows. Once you have few must-watch shows of your own and you’re invested in the entirely predictable story-arcs of your favorite characters, you’ll understand why there’s no time for anything else!
Another excellent question. I must say, I am really enjoying this conversation and I can hardly wait until it’s my turn to ask you some equally incisive questions. We govern ourselves in a variety of ways, all called democracy. In some democracies the leader simply kills whoever challenges them, pretends he got the most votes, and locks up thousands of people who perhaps don’t believe the results. Then there are democracies where all the people who know nothing about anything vote for the most entertaining incompetent buffoon who proceeds to smash everything to pieces even more than the previous incompetent buffoon.
Yes, exactly! Now you’re getting the hang of things. Precisely like reality TV. Well done you for managing to sit through one of those things while you were in orbit. No wonder that yellow-and-purple theme is so prominent on your surface.
Ah, now that is a bit of a tricky one. It all depends on where you live. If you’re in a poor country, you eat whatever comes to hand: sometimes dried insects, mostly corn or one of the grass varieties like wheat, barley, or rice. If you live in a wealthy country you can consume all kinds of toxic artificial foods instead.
Excellent deduction! That is indeed why everyone is so enormously fat and so very sick in the wealthy countries! I think you’re beginning to understand us rather well.
My word, you are an inquisitive creature. Yes, aside from hurting each other on an individual basis we do have dispute resolution systems. We have a thing called the Law, which is a set of rules invented to protect rich and powerful people and to enable other people called Lawyers to make huge amounts of money by taking it away from people who have less money in return for advice that doesn’t help them. And we have people called Police, who are there to protect rich and powerful people.
No, this is perfectly fair. We know it’s fair because the rich and powerful people tell us it is. Really, #%^, you surprise me with your apparent obtuseness regarding this matter.
Not that many really. Perhaps two thousand billionaires, in terms of a currency called the United States Dollar, and perhaps a few tens of thousands of multi-millionaires.
Um, well, yes. I can see that to you, knowing nothing of our customs, it could seem strange that every system we have is designed to advance the interests of a minuscule fraction of the human race at the expense of the vast majority. But that’s simply because you don’t understand the human concept of fairness. Furthermore, most people simply believe this is the way their magic pixie wants things to be.
Hmm. This may be a bit tricky. The thing is, there’s more than one magic pixie. In fact there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands. But each person thinks their magic pixie is the only real one. All right, go ahead, laugh if you will, but I’m trying to explain humanity to you. I should hope I won’t be the one laughing when you’re trying to explain something about your species to me!
Ordinary people think their magic pixie made everything, has a wonderful plan, and is all-powerful. It’s rather like when children are very small and they have an imaginary invisible friend.
No, quite the opposite. All the real-world evidence to the contrary just makes people even more convinced their magic pixie is true. No, I can’t explain why. That’s just who we are and we’re proud of it.
Yes, people do get rather irate about each other believing in different magic pixies. Sometimes, yes. But only a few hundred thousand or a million or so deaths at a time. And we haven’t burned witches for ages. At least, not in the rich countries. Now we kill each other over quite different things. That’s a sure sign we’ve made great progress!
Well, #%^, I think it’s my turn to ask you some questions now. First of all, I’d like to know…
… wait a minute, where are you going? I thought we were going to exchange information. I thought we were establishing an inter-species relationship!
Don’t get back into your ship! Don’t shut the door! Don’t leave!
At least take me with you!