The Corner

What’s So Great About Earth?

This story about how they’ve found big supplies of water in space got me thinking about an ancient grievance of mine, and I’m sure you can guess what it is. That’s right: Implausible motivations for extraterrestrial invaders.

The notion that they want our women no longer seems all that plausible as biological incompatibility becomes ever more obvious, particularly as our conception of what aliens would look like become ever weirder (why would super-intelligent squids want to get jiggy with our bipedal and mammalian lady folk?).

It seems like in recent years Hollywood has become transfixed with the idea that invaders will appreciate our precious Terran resources more than we do. In the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, they came to protect our biodiversity. In Independence Day, Battlefield Earth, and Battle: LA, the aliens were here for our commodities. In Battle: LA specifically, it was liquid water (though this idea goes back to the days when H. G. Wells imagined thirsty Martians), which is particularly dumb given how plentiful oxygen and hydrogen are, galactically speaking.

But none of these things ever seemed too plausible to me. After all, space has a lot of stuff in it. The idea that ETs need our rich supply of zinc so badly they’ll go to war for it when there are probably mountains of zinc on millions of uninhabited planets doesn’t seem too likely.

Stephen Hawking recently caused a stir by saying we should avoid contact with aliens because they might be hostile. While I find something charming about planetary xenophobia, I’m at a loss as to what the aliens could want. And the best Hawking could come up with was our “resources.”

It always seemed to me that there’s a certain myopic Malthusianism to this assumption. Resources may or may not be scarce on Earth, but once you’ve conquered the physics of interstellar travel, the ability to extract the stuff you want from uninhabited planets has to be almost limitless. Of course, the ideologically didactic point behind a lot of this sci-fi is to teach audiences to conserve more or to popularize the notion that war is materialism by other means.

My sense is that if aliens ever come here seeking to conquer humanity, it will either be for ideological or religious reasons or because “To Serve Man” was prescient. For all we know, humans (or elephants or oak trees) are a delicacy. Earth: come for the views, stay for the homo sapien brains. Or something like that.

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