Thursday, January 8, 2015

It's No Dream: Colonialism Can Wreck a Person's Day (not to mention incite cultural genocide)

When I was a kid I used to dream up all sorts of imaginary situations. Nerd that I am, some involved me being alone in the middle of nowhere late at night and happening upon an alien spacecraft. Hollywood defines that as a close encounter of the third kind.

In my youth, I always fashioned the craft’s occupants as benevolent. That is, they were kind and good-natured beings. After all, to be sufficiently advanced so as to travel vast distances to other worlds required not just advanced technology, but also a learned spirit of cooperation rooted in compassion and understanding.

Then I grew up.
That's no Vulcan "peace" sign he's throwing

In college my what-if scenario evolved into a game with friends that inevitably posed the question: “Would you go back with them?”

As one might expect, this sparked all sorts of interesting and often hilarious banter. Answers ranged from, “Heck yeah, count me in” to “Hell no, I won’t go.”

On reflection, it felt like “ET” and “Cocoon,” – films, in which the visitors were warm and fuzzy – fueled the kumbaya responses. Conversely, alien invasion flicks like “Earth Versus the Flying Saucers” and “Independence Day” fired up doom-and-gloom the sentiments.

Reasons for aliens coming to our planet were either good or bad. Good: friendship, exploration, and scientific research (think Jane Goodall, not cosmetics companies). Bad: colonization, appropriation of our natural resources – including human resources, galactic domination, etc. There were other more inventive reasons as well.

Keep away from me, you!
It’s interesting to note that while I consider myself a card-carrying pessimist, when it came to alien close encounters, I land squarely in the, “Take me, take me…” camp. Here’s why: movies like “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” offer a third, somewhat less polarized middle ground. That is, the cosmos contains both good and bad space travelers, with the good guys tending to win out.

Of course, there’s the fourth option, the one in which there is no life anywhere but here on Earth, but that’s too close to reality.

In large part, this game is just that, a game. Still there are philosophical ramifications to it all. And for those wondering what the point of all this seeming nonsense is, there also is an historic perspective. It’s one that continues to make this “game” relevant. And that is the holiday known by some as Columbus Day.

I say some because surprisingly what many U.S. residents have forgotten since grade school (or worse, never were taught), is that Christopher Columbus never set foot on what is now the United States. His landings were far to the south in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. But this too is beside the point. What is perhaps most relevant today is that his arrival set in motion a chain of events that has decimated the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Many have been the time when more advanced (at least from a weapons perspective) group of people have invaded, colonized or otherwise appropriated a previously unknown peoples’ land, resources, culture and, in the very worst cases, the people themselves. Close encounters of the worst kind.

In Columbus’ case, it was done for natural resources like gold and later slaves. It also has been embarked on in the name of religion, nationalism and such self-centered notions like Manifest Destiny.

Label this under entitlement
This all reminds me of a scene in the movie, “Finding Nemo.” A baby clown fish named Nemo is abducted from his family and ocean reef home by a weekend scuba diver. During a brief yet socially relevant exchange back home, the diver explains to his friend, “I found that guy struggling for life out on the reef, and I saved him.”

It’s another close encounter gone bad, except like in my childhood fantasy scenario, no one gets hurt.


Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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