A Few Thoughts About Aliens From Space, Aliens on Earth, and A Cookbook About Eating People

The late Carl Sagan, with his academic work, his popular books and his TV series, was an influential force in astrophysics promoting the hunt for extraterrestrial life. A friend of mine, also a noted scientist, once chided Sagan about this. “Carl,” he warned in a letter, “don’t you realize that when beings from a superior culture encounter those of an inferior one they often eat them?”

My friend could have been thinking of a 1962 episode of Rod Serling’s TV series The Twilight Zone where aliens land on earth with outward appearances of coming in peace and friendship. They even have a book, written in their own alien language, entitled “To Serve Man.” Humans are thrilled with all of this until they discover that “To Serve Man” actually is a cook book.

I was reminded of these things the other day by two current news items.

Stephen Hawking, like my friend years earlier, is now warning against intensifying the search for life beyond the stars. “If aliens visit us,” he says on a new Discovery Channel documentary, “the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”

The other current news story is Arizona’s enactment of a law that makes everyone who looks Hispanic guilty of something until proven innocent.

For most of my life the word “alien” has described creatures much like the cute little guy in “ET,” or the transfigurative beings that live where Star Trek’s “Enterprise” dares to venture. In other words, “alien” has related to the extraterrestrial. But now, with common current usage, “alien” has come to describe some of those who actually walk among us.

This hasn’t always been our history.

When the largely Anglo and western European culture of the U.S. made room for refugees from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe and Asia the newcomers were not exactly greeted with open arms, contrary to our misremembered romantic visions of those days. The emigrees were called a lot of names and suffered a lot of indignities because of their differentness for a generation or two. But I don’t recall anyone grouping the Irish or the Italians under the name “aliens.”

The Hispanic migration is different for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that there are potentially so many of them, and they are within walking distance. Many worry that the wholesale transfer of Hispanic culture to the U.S. could markedly alter the very character of the nation.

Stephan Hawking is right when he warns that cultural encounters often work out badly for the natives. Look at all of the examples we already have on our own planet. The American Indians lost their land, their lives, their livelihood, their freedom and their culture. So did the peoples who once ruled Central and South America. Contact with the “old world” wiped out the Incas, the Mayas and other strong and rich cultures that had endured for centuries. You can certainly make the same case for the dozens of tribal cultures of Africa and Central Asia.

Even China, the longest continuous civilization on earth, has needed 200 years to get its mojo back after the more advanced West decided to camp on Chinese territory.

But here’s the difference with the Hispanic “threat” now circling U.S. borders. Those from Mexico, and Central and South America are not arriving as conquerors. For the most part these are hungry people. They hunger for a chance to get ahead in life. They hunger for education, for basic freedoms…for the same type of lives most Americans enjoy.

And this migration isn’t just today’s news. For a century or more wealthy U.S. agriculture interests have been trading on Hispanic hunger to exploit those who would work their farms and orchards for pennies a day. Over the years Hispanic immigrants have become what yesterday’s European immigrants once were: our day laborers, our housekeepers, our non-union factory workers—-our servant class.

Just as other immigrant waves before them evolved into dedicated U.S. patriots, immigrant Hispanics are following the same pattern. They, like their predecessors, appreciate what freedom and opportunity are all about—-more so than those who have never known life without them.

It’s never been easy for immigrants, whatever their background, to integrate into the mainstream U.S. workforce and culture. But the U.S. is one of the only countries on earth that has given them the opportunity to try. And this openness unquestionably has made the U.S. a far richer country. Most of the great business, labor, cultural, philanthropic , military and other leaders the U.S. venerates today trace their roots to immigrant boats that arrived here not so long ago.

But the Hispanics don’t come in boats. That’s one strike against them.

Another is that their time in our history also happens to coincide with a time when we’re engaged in a stupid border drug war, a war that can easily be ended with enactment of sane drug control policies. But our politicians are too gutless to do that, just as they are too gutless to enact reasonable immigration policies. So instead of having a rational system to control immigration we have a bizarre situation where every would-be day laborer and housekeeper is suspected of being a narco killer.

For all kinds of reasons, many of those getting elected to influential government positions these days have gone kind of nuts about governing. This infection will undoubtedly run its course over time, but for now “immigrants” have become “aliens.” And aliens, as we all know from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” can be dangerous—causing otherwise reasonable people to arm themselves with guns and baseball bats.

These newcomers from across the border will ultimately prevail, of course, despite current highwire emotions. They will prevail by casting ballots in free elections. That prospect doesn’t alarm me as a threat to the U.S. or its history of taking in all those who believe in hard work and freedom.

Hispanic “aliens” don’t worry me. But I will be concerned if I ever encounter anyone with funny ears carrying a book entitled, “To Serve Man.”

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at joe@einnews.com)


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