Editor’s Note: The New American Journal’s information technology department achieved a scientific leap of such magnitude that national security agencies have prohibited us from revealing what it is or how it works. We can say merely that it is capable of peering into the future at great distances. Our occasional contributor David Underhill has used this device to discover and decode an electronic document from very far away. The following is his translation of it into our language.
By David Underhill –
Memo to: Galactic Coordination Council
From: Alien Surveillance and Quarantine Agency
Despite our highly advanced technical systems we cannot closely monitor all stars in the galaxy. We are not yet even certain how many there are – certainly more than 100 billion, most with orbiting planets. So we have used certain sifting methods to detect ones that might become troublesome and to pay special attention to them.
This drew our scrutiny to a modest star with several planets in the outer reaches one of the galaxy’s spiral arms. The third planet from this star suddenly began emitting blips of radiation typical of attempts by primitive creatures to communicate among themselves with radio waves.
Knowing from detection of similar phenomena elsewhere that this is often a prelude to further swift developments, we began intensive surveillance. Soon the blips turned into stories and entertainments, as determined by our cryptologists, who were able to render these creatures’ languages into forms intelligible to us.
The aliens expressed appreciation for these scenes by emitting barking, wheezing sounds and slapping together the flippers on the ends of their upper extremities, behaviors also characteristic of various less evolved species on this planet.
Deciphering these broadcasts gave us the capacity to read their printed documents and later their computerized digital ones. From these we learned they named themselves homo sapiens, meaning intelligent beings – for reasons we could never discern. They also enjoyed calling themselves the only tool making animals on the planet. This was not totally true, but they could indeed make large, complex tools far beyond the capacity of any other species there. Their skill with tools was not matched by superior wisdom in using this equipment. Their social and ethical skills remained quite primordial.
Their governing systems were varied and chaotic. One of the large groups on this planet acquired a military capacity that made most of the others acknowledge its dominance, and it called itself a democracy. But some of the others resisted this and tried to assert their own dominance. The result was permanent global anarchy, a recurring pattern, as we learned from their historical documents.
The large democracy held periodic elections that caused changes in leadership personnel but very little change in the way the system operated either inside its borders or beyond. In the year (circumsolar orbit) 2016 (since they began counting) it conducted an especially rancorous and trivial election. Most of the campaign was about email, a newly invented messaging method – who sent or received various ones they perhaps should not have. Whether any actual damage was done by these disputed transmissions was never clearly settled. Nor whether any crime occurred.
Nevertheless these emails became the passionate pivot of the election. In this they resembled the contentions over the holy grail centuries earlier. Nobody could quite agree on what or where that was either. But they conducted tedious disputes over it, even went to war over it. Some contestants termed it the eternal grail, occasionally abbreviated to egrail. Perhaps an ancient typo turned this into email, and the two mysteries are actually one.
But we can never know, because the election ended in confusion and turbulence. With no decisive winner and no admission of defeat, the two sides carried their bitter battle beyond election day, each claiming victory.
This soon dragged into the open the divisive issues ignored while obsessing over emails. In preceding years the society had developed cracks between various ethnic, economic, gender and geographic sectors. The election campaign had mostly ignored this, and in the post-election tension these cracks began splitting apart.
Reckless industrial and energy practices had been injuring the planet’s environmental equilibrium, and this too was largely ignored. Abrupt climate changes followed, upsetting the social equilibrium.
During the campaign the two leading candidates took turns accusing each other of not having the temperament to be trusted with the button that could launch an obliterating nuclear attack against anybody anywhere on the planet. Nobody asked why such a doomsday button even existed. The previous president had entered office pledging to banish such weapons. For this he received a peace prize, but eight years later he had done nothing to enact the pledge. And the button remained.
We never were able to determine which of these triggers (or potential others) set off the conflagration that followed. So much was so widely destroyed that most of the evidence to detect the chief cause disappeared.
All we can say for certain is that numerous nuclear explosions suddenly occurred, and atmospheric radiation levels spiked across the planet. Fires raged. Greenhouse gas feedback loops continued to increase, driving temperatures up. Polar ice melted and oceans rose.
The aliens simultaneously irradiated, cooked and drowned themselves.
We sent a search mission outfitted with proper protective gear. They found some scattered plant and animal survivors. Also a few homo sapiens subsisting in caves and other crude shelters.
Their prospects are dim – either for survival or civilization. We have very low confidence that they have learned from this experience and will emerge as more civilized creatures. The ones we found spent much of their time and energy constructing elaborate arguments to blame each other for their dismal condition.
We don’t want to give up entirely on these specimens. They do have some promising traits. But they are a threat – not only to themselves but also to their galactic neighbors, who are members of our council – if they escape from this debacle unchanged.
We advise a strict quarantine on their planet for the next thousand years (as they calculate time). Then we should resume surveillance to see if their behavior has improved enough to invite them into membership, assuming they have survived at all.
© 2016, David Underhill. All rights reserved.