Thursday, May 3, 2012
A Little Help From My (Alien) Friends
And, hey presto, you start civilization, out of the kindness of your heart, as a kind of experiment of some description, or because you needed a few skivvies to do the dirty work.
It all sounds a tad mental. But it is an idea that you can find in forums across the web. In fact, there are not one but two thriving religion somewhat related to this idea. One is the star-studded cult of scientology. The other has been around a lot longer, which in a couple of years could lay claim to having one of their own in the White House - Mormonism.
The New Age movement has taken in the idea and nurtured it also. Erich von Daneken's Chariot of the Gods spells out hypothesis and, through some questionable (to say the least) interpretations of archeological finds, "proved" that almost everything from antiquity somehow involved alien intervention.
What would we have done without them?
Despite von Daneken's wild claims, his book was a run away success. But he certainly did not create this zeitgeist, this answer that people had somehow come up with to the question of our origins; our movement away from the animal kingdom; the forging of our own destiny with language, writing, tools, art, culture, society; all those things that we hold dear, proclaiming them above all else to be "human".
Because all animals fuck, eat, piss and shit. Not all of them are obsessed with them to the degree that we are.
The first people to claim to have been visited by aliens in any kind of sustained consistent way (experienced by a number of people rather than an individual nut ball) met Vesuvians that resembled Greek gods in the 40s and 50s. There are aspects to some of the stories that correspond with the idea that mankind's origins somehow involved alien intervention, or even that we are alien. That was before the aliens morphed into the scary little bug eyed drones which probe and mutilate. But an aspect of the alien mythology, that they had a hand in our evolution, has remained remarkably consistent.
Now, the forthcoming prequel to Alien, Prometheus, promises to open up that can of worms all over again. And not in a good way. Think the slave labour version as opposed to the happy star children version. Or, something like that. Obviously, I haven't seen the film yet!
Though I cannot wait to see the film, and another one, 2001: a Space Odyssey, is one of my favourite films, one thing has always bugged me about the idea. To explore it in art as these two films do (or in Prometheus' case, may do) is one thing. To try to prove it in a quasi-scientific fashion like von Daneken is quite another.
What do we know about human origins? Well, we know that anatomically correct humans (including brain functionality) have been around for about a million years or so. They evolved from apes, started using tools, and making art on cave walls. This went on for the majority of the time that there were humans on the planet. Things moved at a snails pace. We were developing, but not at the pace that we expect, especially when thinking of our own age. Then there was the crucial move towards agriculture, toward the use of tools beyond things a person held in their hands: an animal as a tool, beyond it simply being food, the seasons themselves being tools to use to grow your crops. Suddenly, gods popped up everywhere. They explained our relationship with these tools, the tool usage itself, and encompassed the sky and the earth and everything in between because we were beginning to view it all as a tool that someone wields somewhere, be they gods or man.
How do we explain this conceptual leap, this transformation of humanity over a very short time space, evolutionarily speaking? Was it aliens? I have a sneaking suspicion that the groundwork was being laid over the guts of a million years. The archeological record can never be complete. Time does not wash away every single thing, but some things do get lost, sometimes forever. It is very unlikely that there were advanced civilisations. But there may have been emerging ones, upstarts that burnt bright and all too quickly. Or, if you want to think of it in scientific terms, experiments in civilisation. Though they didn't quite hit the mark (they certainly did not know that there was such a clear mark to hit - hindsight's great, and very misleading), they nonetheless planted the seeds of what was to come. Even simple things like the stories we told and passed on laid down the foundation of every city that has ever been built, or every scientific discovery that has ever been made.
So what were we doing in all that time? Conversing with aliens? I'd like to think that we were dreaming, like the name the aborigines gave to this time before time - the Dreamtime.
I also find it greatly insulting to think that we could not have done this on our own. Giving the pyramids and stone henge to the alien takes away from our own unique and collective creative genius.
Well, we didn't do it all on our own, exactly. We had the help of some tools, after all.