As We Know it
(The 2020 theme song. Admit it. This song came into your head.)
The aliens have arrived and there are no humans left to talk to. All that is left are a few overgrown ruins. Earth is still habitable, but those creatures called homo sapiens are no longer there.
These aliens had flown by before, back when Earth was nothing but a bunch of rocks. A few million years later, they flew back by and found life. Then a bit later, on another fly-by, they found some intelligent life. Yet, this time, on their drive by, they couldn’t find these creatures that called themselves homo sapiens.
‘What happened?’ They ask themselves.
They may be able to point to things beyond the control of the homo sapiens such as forest fires, hurricanes, viruses, and insects. Yet, they have a few episodes of Friends saved on their Netflix account and a few of their own discovery channel documentaries. That coupled with their own experiences, they knew there was more to blame than natural catastrophes.
Despite however powerful an earthquake or nuclear bomb may be, nothing compares to the power of one’s own mind. That human brain that is so fantastic, so capable, it could create the atom bomb or prevent worldwide disaster was the main suspect for the end of humankind.
The aliens were smart enough to know it was not quite as simple as ‘the human mind eradicated their human hosts’ as some sort of outside parasite. They knew that people known as neuroscientists spoke of a part of the brain called the neocortex. This part of the brain, that was so much larger than other species on the planet, was what made humans stand above the rest.
This enlarged neocortex made for a very clever ape. They went from harnassing fire to making nuclear power plants. They went from throwing stones to creating abstract ideas such as civilization with laws and government. They put together many forms of the written word and then wrote great works of literature such as ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and ‘Sin and Zen’.
Despite that overgrown neocortex that led to the greatest of things humanity had to offer, there was still another part of the brain that wasn’t so impressive, intellectually, yet still maintained a very influential part of the human. It was known to humans casually as ‘the reptilian brain’ - an aggressive, lustful, and impulsive morsel of the impressive thinking machine called the brain.
It was something the god-like humans couldn’t escape. That reptilian brain that could be found in one of the more despised creatures of the humans, the rodent.
This reptilian brain caused a few major problems that seemed to hold humans back from even greater chances of survival and prosperity:
Tribalism - It’s a safe bet that any -ism is divisive and destructive. Yet, this umbrella -ism used to serve a purpose for survival when humans first began their final stage of evolution into homo sapiens. Unfortunately, even beyond surviving nature, they held on to this idea and used it against each other. They would hate anything different from themselves to the degree they would blindly slaughter each other in great numbers. Though they began to slow down as time went on - on a proportional scale - they could never reliably see the humanity in the other members of their own species.
Despite the ability to see into the past and future with greater clarity than any other species on Earth, they were still never truly able to think beyond what they could see in front of them, not more than a few years at best. They would repeat silly things like ‘YOLO’ and ‘FOMO’ while eliminating any decent chance of an individual or collective future. This YOLO mentality isn’t to be confused with living in the moment as many Zen monks had, but it was a lifestyle done in a destructive and selfish and entitled way.
The largest fault of the humans that could have prevented their demise was their inability to reflect on themselves. Given the most powerful and immense achievement of nature, the neocortex, homo sapiens preferred to not use this intellectual ability to analyze their own lives. They invented the scientific method, then mostly ignored it to chase distractions in a lewd and narcotic fashion. Quite simply, they didn’t want to know themselves. And living their unexamined lives, they drove themselves right off the cliff to their own end.
The aliens cycled through their security camera feeds and watched as humans did their best to try to endure themselves. They tried different governments and discovered new sciences. These new ideas seemed to kind of work, at least a little, for a short period of time.
Yet, they were still killing each other, not to the point of total extermination, but their powerful neocortex was still being manipulated and outsmarted by the simpler, yet slier, reptilian brain. Homo sapiens harnessed the power of fire and could split atoms apart. They had a godlike power over the elements and over the planet.
Unfortunately, this godlike power was in the hands of hyenas. With both the power of the neocortex and the reflexes of a lab rat, humans were boiled down to rodents with nuclear weapons.
As time went on, the aliens watched as humans used their neocortex to create more and more controlling governments and laws, more destructive weapons, and more obsessive technologies. Yet, their wisdom crumbled with the growth of these new things. It was a deadly combination that made every mistake the humans made more and more costly.
They became so reliant on these new effects that they lost their own capacity for self-control.
Beyond their lack of interest in philosophy and examining their own lives, they forewent the most powerful force that could have saved them.
If anything could have saved humans from themselves and more particularly their brains - both reptilian and neocortex - it would have been love. Many men did their best to try to explain this from prophets to scientific wunderkinds such as Einstein.
This isn’t to say Love in the sense of solely romantic love. It means love for a stranger. The ability to see a stranger as oneself and give them the same mercy and charity that they themself desperately need.
It also means love for those yet to even exist. The idea of surviving and thriving by taking care of those not yet born of their species seemed somehow lost on humans. Parents would maybe save up for their child’s future education, but they weren’t able to think beyond monetary issues. They destroyed their planet to make enough money to send their children to school, while unable to see the lives that were being destroyed beyond their own homes - geographically present and in the future.
Another form of love that could have saved humanity is the love of truth - or more accurately, philosophy, the love of wisdom. This isn’t to talk about what humans went crazy over called ‘fake news’ in a world of miscommunication and discommunication. It is a type of truth that deals with uncomfortable facts about oneself. To go beyond illusions and lies one tells oneself and others.
The aliens watched with a sad eye as humans ignorantly tried to fight for their ideas in law courts and bloody battlefields and ballot boxes. It was a climactic end, one that could have been avoided if only the humans used their minds to understand themselves rather than trying to outsmart and control others, rather than only thinking of themselves in a reptilian way.
Yet, it just wasn’t meant to be, the aliens saw. So they shrugged their shoulders and rode off to check on the next planet showing forms of life hoping that intelligence and love could one day live comfortably and profitably together.
(And I feel fine…)