A classic theme that has become almost a must in science fiction is the struggle between humans and a hypothetical extraterrestrial invasion. This war for survival between humans and aliens has become a mass phenomenon in the collective science-fiction imagination since the last century. It is a scenario that has been portrayed so many times in novels and genre films that it has succeeded in giving rise to real phobias in some people and creating a kind of intergalactic xenophobia. But are we really sure that if an alien race came into contact with us, their first thought would be to exterminate us and conquer our beloved planet?
From the X-files to Independence Day, via the War of the Worlds, science fiction has the word
From government conspiracies with alien alliances to conquer the world and beyond, to sudden large-scale invasions to take possession of our planet’s resources, to plans of conquest over time, in which the real target is us because we become their source of nourishment, in science fiction filmography the theme of alien threat is long and wide. In this genre strand, the point of view of the narrative is simple and immediate, tracing what has been the conquest that mankind of all ages has always made on other human civilizations throughout history: are you militarily and technologically inferior to me? I will conquer you, enslave you and take over the resources of your territory. This point of view is an anthropocentric view of behavior applied, however, to beings that are not human, but extraterrestrial. So are we sure that in a hypothetical encounter their intentions would be hostile? This question also brings us an evaluation of what we classify and understand by superior, is it only technology that makes one civilization superior to another or is there also something more subtle and less immediate?
The Kardašëv scale and its implications
The Kardašëv classification scale is a method that, although it may sound like science fiction, actually exists. It was devised by the Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardašëv. It is a classification of civilizations concerning their technological level, used as a basis for the SETI project (a program dedicated to the search for intelligent life of extraterrestrial origin). The Kardašëv scale consists of three main types of civilization, based on their energy level, according to an exponential progression. In short, the three different types of civilization can be divided into type one, which makes full use of the energy made available to it by its planet. Type two is a civilization that uses all the energy of the star in its solar system. Finally, a type three civilization, which would be able to use the entire energy of its own galaxy. This scale was devised in the mid-1960s, and over time it has been extended to a type ten civilization, a civilization with such a high level of technology that it can create and destroy universes at will, in other words, gods. Following this classification, humanity would still be a type zero civilization, since we are only able to use a small part of the energy that our planet offers us. Many of the civilizations imagined in science fiction can easily be classified under this classification, an example being the Star Wars saga, the world imagined by George Lucas is a type three civilization. Indeed, in science fiction the Kardašëv scale plays a much greater role than simple classification, in fact, it is an active part of the imagination of alien civilizations and their technological traits and context. Although the method devised by Kardašëv is undoubtedly fascinating if one uses it to determine a civilization it has too many shortcomings since it only takes into account a single aspect. Civilization is much more than its technology, whether or not it can create a wormhole (as cool and fascinating as that may be). The scale neglects the whole sphere of morals, rights, and values of civilization during its evolution, even science fiction in many of its works neglects this.
Beyond technology, what do the last two hundred years of human history tell us about an alien civilization?
In this third part of our article, our discussion will focus on just one thing, in what terms can one civilization be considered superior to another? And what would happen in a hypothetical encounter between ours and a superior civilization? The analysis must necessarily start with a question: looking at the last two hundred years, how much difference has advancement in technological terms made to advancement in terms of law and morals in comparison with the individual? If we look at the simple American example, I think the answer is clear. A gap is present between the two different advances. How are we to judge a hypothetical civilization capable of time travel, but based on slavery? Superior or inferior to ours? I think these two questions are the right ones for us to come to a conclusion about. Every civilization has its own development, and even if our point of view is anthropocentric, there are certain points in common between all evolutions, even if they are alien civilizations, and this unity of an evolutionary path is also hypothesized by Bergson. In an absolute sense, I imagine it more likely that an alien civilization superior to us is as technologically advanced as it is morally advanced. Kardašëv speaks to us of technological and energy levels, but not of social levels. One civilization is not superior to another only technologically. Only now are we realizing that we are not strangers to nature, but are part of it, and for this reason, the very living beings that share the planet with us have a right to exist. In the same way, I think it is plausible to assume that an alien civilization would follow the same principle but with a higher order of magnitude. The figure of the hostile alien created by science fiction I think is a false myth. Perhaps we are still considered too primitive for dialogue, and if we consider civilization as an isolated system, it will have intermediate stages before it can interact with other systems, the energy transaction in the technological sphere and globalization in the social sphere could be staged for even greater globalization for humanity. If one day an encounter with a possible alien civilization takes place, I do not imagine a hostile confrontation, but rather a peaceful iteration because from the confrontation with the different comes enrichment, and this is universal.