September 5, 2005

Arguing Alien Intentions

I re-watched "The Day the Earth Stood Still" this afternoon. I still think it's a darn good film, even if it is deeply flawed on several levels.

It got me thinking though. It was (and is) heralded as the first film to positively portray ETIs. Prior to that, aliens were typically portrayed as monsters chasing around scantily clad women. Instead, these visitors were as enlightened as they were helpful.

In fact, the portrayal of ETIs in this film is quasi-messianic and filled with wish-fulfilment overtones (the nuclear age world in the midst of the coldwar -- "ET, God is dead, save us from ourselves!").

This movie reinforces in my mind the idea that we have replaced God with ETIs. Just look at the Raelians, for example, with their promise of extra terrestrial salvation and eternal material life.

Since "The Day the Earth Stood Still," both film, public sentiment and even science have supported the idea that ETIs are enlightened, friendly, and potentially helpful. Carl Sagan argued, for example, that ETIs would *have* to have those characteristics, otherwise they wouldn't have survived the nuclear age.

Ultimately, questions I wonder about include: is all this just naive wishful thinking? Is the assumption that ETIs are benevolent just another variant of religion, messianism and new age thinking? Should we assume that aliens and their artifacts are potentially dangerous?

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