Robert A. Freitas Jr., “Crimes, Crazies, and Creole Cookery,” Ares, No. 16 (Winter 1983):15.
This paper contains material originally drawn from the book Xenology (1979) by Robert A. Freitas Jr. This paper highlights some possible risks faced by humanity when it encounters an extraterrestrial civilization possessing many orders of magnitude more energy than humanity (which empowers even small fringe elements in the more powerful society).
As flies to wanton boys,
are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
-- Hamlet, Act IV
Consider a family having a picnic in a park. The blanket is spread in a large, open clearing and the food unpacked. Ants begin to appear, innocently searching for nourishment. One of the children tracks them down to their anthill, pours a pint of kerosene down the hole and ignites it. The insects are destroyed. The picnic continues uninterrupted.
Thus may a very small segment of human civilization totally eradicate an entire ant society uncaringly and with ease. The anthill has a power consumption of just under 1 watt, compared to the 1013 watts controlled by human society. This is exactly the same differential that would exist between all of mankind and a 1026-watt solar civilization. What if we are just pesky ants to them?
Assuming we’re fortunate enough to encounter a star culture that reveres all forms of living consciousness (cosmic vegetarians), we still may be in very grave danger. Much as a small child carelessly exterminates an entire insect society, any malevolent subgroup of the principal stellar civilization could represent an equally lethal threat to us.
In the United States today, about 5% of all citizens have criminal records and 0.01% of us are killed each year as victims of homicide. A conservative estimate might give 0.1% as the number of Americans capable of senseless violence or who are direct or indirect participants in organized crime (remember: humans are among the most pacific of all animals). Let us assume that advanced alien societies hold social deviance to a mere 0.0001% of the general population, roughly the number of people struck by lightning each year on Earth. In this case a Galactic Mafia could command as much as one millionth of the total resources of the parent society, or 1020 watts. This is enough power to launch numerous interstellar sorties and to sterilize many Earths annually.
Star cultures may well have a heterogeneous character much like humankind on this planet. Every fanatical religious sect, ideological or socioeconomic subculture, cultist clique and secret-handshake fraternity may be able to manipulate technologies and energies vastly superior to the best mankind can muster. Interstellar People’s Temples (remember Jonestown?) or galactic Manson cultists could threaten our very existence unless their attitudes toward our species are absolutely benign. To return to the analogy of the picnic in the park: Members of a few religious sects such as the Jains of India carefully avoid stepping on ants for fear of extinguishing a life, but many humans gleefully pursue and squash insects just for sport.
Another very real possibility is that aliens may come here “to serve Man”. It is not inconceivable that extraterrestrial gourmets might regard us – properly prepared to eliminate any poisons, microbes, or unpleasant aftertaste – as food. To fantastically advanced intellects, our much-vaunted human consciousness may seem no more an advance in intelligence than emotionality in mammals seems in comparison to the evolution of the entire vertebrate line. To them our technology may appear instinctual much as we regard the hive building of bees and the mound-architecture of termites.
And it’s not uneconomical to ship human cattle across interstellar distances. With freight charges as low as $1,000/kg, chances are good that the Galactic Delicatessen will be well-stocked with rare spices and exotic beverages, meats and other foods from many worlds. After all, we pay $500/kg for Russian caviar, $700/kg for Italian white truffles, $1,700/kg for Mediterranean saffron and $5,000/kg for Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1846. Why shouldn’t wealthy interstellar connoisseurs be willing to fork over $1,000/kg for genuine hairless primate meat, imported fresh from Earth? (The argument that it is far cheaper to transmit a few bits of DNA-data by radio than to transport a few tons of top sirloin by starship is true but irrelevant because it ignores the issue of value: the original is always worth more than the copy.
Each year Americans spend a few percent of the national wealth on luxury foods, alcohol, sex, cosmetics, gambling, and a wide assortment of other hedonistic corruptions. A few percent of the resources of a powerful 1026-watt star culture could buy an awful lot of vice, even by libertine human standards. The temptations and opportunities for cheating, profiteering, piracy and black marketeering become more obvious once we consider the commodities likely to be valuable enough to be traded in interstellar commerce: Precious metals ($15,000/kg for gold), advanced computers ($100,000/kg for the Cray I), rare plants and animals ($106,000/kg for an Odontoglossum crispum orchid), drugs ($350,000/kg for heroin), fine art ($100,000,000/kg for the Mona Lisa), and flawless gemstones ($250,000,000/kg for diamonds). Transportation costs for each of these kinds of items are minimal compared to the value of the cargo, and all may be found on Earth. Will mankind get ripped off, our lush world ruthlessly stripped of its wealth?
The Galactic Mafia may choose to barter human lives, vending a few of us as pets or performers. In the current international “white slave” market, choice selections auction at about $2,000/kg, roughly the price in 1980 dollars of pre-Civil War slaves. At this price, says Ben Bova, “the girls would have to be damned good to be worth the freight charges.” Better catches are prize athletes and actors, who regularly fetch more than $100,000/kg in open bidding on their multi-year contracts. Although there is some room for argument, the expense of interstellar travel will not be the controlling factor. If they want us, they’ll take us.
Finally, what about our scientific value? Developed societies typically spend a few percent of their GNP on research and development. For a stellar society, that’s 1024 watts, enough to send out 100,000 research starships per year full of nosy interstellar zoologists, social scientists, and cultural technicians. We may be treated as on-site laboratory test animals.
Clearly, the threat of interstellar war is he least of our worries. Mankind in its present underindustrialized condition all too easily could fall prey to hordes of interstellar carpetbaggers, Galactic Mafiosi, star cultists, alien gourmets, and BEM-thropologists.
Last updated on 30 December 2008