I wondered what a benign long-lived alien race observing Earth for millennia would make of what is happening to us on Earth today. Perhaps it might go something like this.
An open letter to all of humanity
In a lot of your fiction and movies you portray alien threats to the future of planet Earth as the catalyst that forces all nations to come together to fight that threat. We’ve been watching you for a very long time. We are not the threat but you are the threat to yourselves. We think of you all as Earthlings. You’re clearly a very clever and inventive species. You’ve spread across the planet, found ways to live in all kinds of different environments, created a huge range of cultures and undergone two major revolutions that have changed the face of the planet.
You moved from wandering bands to settled communities as you discovered agriculture. This laid the foundation for the development of many different civilisations over thousands of years. You wondered about the meaning of life, why are you here, is there something greater than us, and created a whole range of explanations you call religions. And then, as you started to understand more about the nature of the world through your scientific and technical experiments, came an industrial revolution that has reshaped your planet in a couple of hundred years as opposed to the thousands of years it took for agriculture.
And in your little groups and often individually you wanted power over others. Ambitious and ruthless people have led your different civilisations and countries to fight against others to extend their power. You nurture the historical wrongs that have happened on your planet and let them drive your current policies and attitudes to others. And there are so many historical wrongs – all forms of imperialism, slavery, racism and more. And yet many Earthlings recognise these and try to address them. But as yet you’ve failed.
Today, you are in the midst of truly existential threats to the future of human life on this planet of yours. These are linked to the climate change and biodiversity loss caused by the very developments you yourselves have invented and promoted, as well as the inequality that undermines the stability of your societies, yet you continue to fight each other. We see another example of the stupidity of the human race being played out in Ukraine as you let a single individual cause suffering on a huge scale for their own need to assuage their thirst for power and perceived historical wrongs.
The understandable but wrong response to yet another of your crazy wars is for the rest of you to spend more on weapons and militarism, to face up against each other. And you still have so many more potential wars, such as over Taiwan, the continuing consequences of the war in Afghanistan, destruction in Yemen, and fighting for resources in other parts of the world. Because you’re clever you develop the weapons that if widely used endanger your own future life on this planet.
But there is another way. It’s one that requires something in short supply on your planet, and that’s wisdom. The wisdom to recognise that the way you’ve run things up to this point has got to change dramatically if you are all to survive and thrive on your highly unusual and, in this part of the universe, unique place where you have to live. People in all countries recognise that things need to be very different but they are not the ones in power. The only way you can succeed is by learning how to cooperate globally and see yourselves as common Earthling citizens of this amazing place, with a wide range of histories and cultures that have got you to where you are today. But for the future you need to let go of narrow nationalist identities. They are just a small part of the multiple identities any single one of you has. You need to create mechanisms to constrain and prevent gross inequality and the exercise of destructive power by the few, which undermines the well-being of the many.
You do like to tell stories, and you’re often too easily led to believe stories by others that are not true. You have to own, in each of your countries, the bad things you’ve done in your histories but not be defined by them. Not let them dictate the policies you misguidedly believe you have a right to. Your leaders need to recognise that the existential threats you face require you to abandon the old ways you’ve used to manage the world.
Instead of everyone building up military spending to fight against each other, you need to look at ways to improve human security and help you address the key challenges you face. It’s time to progressively switch from using resources to better kill each other, to ones that will nourish and help you survive on this planet in a cooperative and peaceful way. It’s not impossible for you to do this. You’ve shown you’re very inventive. You’re learning more and more about how this complex planet and the life on it operates.
It would be good if you could safely put all your leaders on an island and not let them off until they figured out the ways in which they are going to de-escalate the tensions between them, drop the historical claims to different bits of territory, and work towards a collective human security. This must redirect the intelligence, resources and logistical skills you currently put into military conflicts between yourselves to addressing the need for fundamental change in your economic and social systems, and in the technologies that are required to prevent great suffering through your failure to deal with the existential threats.
Now is the time to understand and address your different fears and how you project from one group to another the evils in your own hearts and minds. Establish dialogue among all your different communities, restructure your failed economics, and constrain the rich and powerful from leading you to destruction. And, if you can’t get the leaders of the countries round the world to do so, then start by drawing people from every country in the world together, to begin the dialogue and working on the path to a new way of running your world before it’s too late.
Photo credit: NASA Goddard – https://images.nasa.gov/details-GSFC_20171208_Archive_e000496