[Reader-list] Aliens R Us
aiindex at mnet.fr
Thu Oct 4 14:47:17 IST 2001
Aliens R Us
Aliens / Us
Ý(not to mention U.S.)
(Global Solidarity Dialogue
Back in the days of the 'War Against Communism' in Vietnam, a US cartoon
character called, I think, Pogo, said, 'I have seen the enemy and he is
Why does Pogo have no monument in Washington DC?
Because the enemy always is, or has to be imagined to be, a not-us. And,
for the US, a not-US. In this case 'we' are those who salute the flag,
become Hyphenated-USAmericans, worship the Golden Calf and eat it, minced,
spiced and grilled, under the Golden Arches. 'We' have our names on a
beautiful monument to the thousands of our dead, designed by a
Hyphenated-USAmerican, a monument that fails to record the millions of
their dead, the fact that 'we' were the invaders and 'we' (or some
weak-kneed un-American wimps amongst us) lost the war.
On TV and cinema screens across what passes for the Civilised World (or,
wherever, so long as they worship and eat the same calf as we do) we are
increasingly confronted with the aliens so beloved of the US media industry
ñ and the passive, thrill-seeking, public it both feeds and creates. The US
media is devoted to the genres of threat, disaster, the serial
killer/bomber, violence from 'aliens' (whether within or without).
USAmerican pages on the World Wide Web are devoted to the Black Helicopters
of ñ guess? ñ the New World Order and the United Nations (a zillion entries
on Google. I stopped, exhausted, at 835)! These Non-White Helicopters are,
the sites scream, threatening to turn us into slaves or zombies - as if the
sponsors of this populist and nativist myth do not bear the traits of both.
All this must be due to an underlying and unacknowledged sense of
insecurity or inferiority, if not of collective hubris and nemesis
(Overweening Pride inviting Overwhelming Fall). Somewhere within the
national psyche, and that of Western Civilisation As We Know It, there is a
nerve that twitches, telling us we are living with risk, creating dangers,
and that we are thus tempting an unmentionable fate. Also an unimaginable
fate, actually, because in the movie, there was only one Towering Inferno.
Maybe this is a more general expression of the social relations of
individualization, dog-eat-dog, rat-race competition, and fanatical
Progress Through Technology that accompanies the development of capitalism.
After all, the genre goes back to at least H.G. Wells and The War of the
Worlds. Or to John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. The latter provided
me with some strange sense of familiarity and comfort as I read it in
Prague during the sleepless night following the Invasion of the Soviet
Triffids, August 20, 1968. In the good old, innocent, days of the genre,
the Aliens were, I seem to recall, eventually affected by some banal Earth
disease, to which we had fortunately become immune. Civilisation, As Only
We Know It, continued its usual course, if somewhat chastened.
Occasionally these alien forces get political names: 'The Yellow Peril',
'The Evil Empire', 'The Backward, Envious, Devious and Irrational Islamic
Fundamentalist' (who has the added advantage of looking like a Jew out of
an illustrated version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). But the
enduring figure, outlasting the rise and fall of mere politicians, states
and blocs, is that of the Other-Worldly Alien (Alien I, II and so ad
infinitum). In Ecuador, following one of a series of 'Indian Invasions' in
its capital (briefly their capital), a book about the matter was entitled
The Martian at the Corner. Here a parenthesis is in order: 1) Indians, Dear
Columbus, are a couple of oceans away, going East from Europe; 2) Quito is
in the middle of the Andes, full of Andin at s, some working
at computers, whilst expressing their quite irrational disregard of
back-to-front-baseball-hat-wearing Triffids, by displaying long plaits and
traditional Quechua traje; 3) Manhattan is not only in the USA, but also in
Johannesburg, Bombay and even in that most-isolated and poverty-stricken of
Latin American cities, La Paz (where, provocatively, it can be seen,
literally downtown, from the slums a half kilometer above).
Therefore (or however), I have to declare, in solidarity with Pogo, that I
have seen the Alien - and he is quite indubitably us.
The Alien is equipped with the most advanced technology. He is warlike and
imperial. He has a devious intelligence. He has no familiar human emotions.
He wishes to either destroy us or to bring us the benefits of his superior
civilization: failure to recognize and accept this is punishable by the
most-advanced electronic or chemical means of incineration or vaporisation.
He considers others as means to his own ends. He is, in appearance, both
recognizably human and frighteningly foreign. He can suck out of us or
otherwise transfer to himself our bodies, hearts and minds (alien Hearts
'n' Minds are things which We, in the West of our imagination, only wish to
There is, fortunately, nowadays, a Saviour at hand. He is not noticeably
either meek or mild and bears an enormous phallic weapon of punishment
rather than a cross of reconciliation. He is, as you may have guessed, the
Identikit WASP, but either one who has had all his brains transferred to
his bipodial-vacular-truceps, with the latter pumped up to ¸bermensch
proportions, or a clone, or a cyborg, who nonetheless has the same warm
feeling for us weakly earthlings (earthly weaklings) as a series of
square-jawed Presidents (Nixon, the second-hand car salesman who proves the
rule, must, surely, have been of Levantine descent?).
Alienation - the deprival or denial of human capacity and potential ñ was
related by the somewhat eurocentric Marx not to the 'nations without
history' at the periphery but to the dynamic and internationally-expanding
capitalism at the centre. (Marx had, perhaps, not heard the widespread
African saying that 'I am who I am because of other people' but would
surely have considered it superior to the liberal capitalist notion that 'I
am who I am despite other people'). Alienation was the condition,
prototypically, of the modern wage-worker rather than the craftsman or
peasant (who were presumed, at that time, to still have some property over
the means of work and livelihood). Psychology and philosophy have
generalized this as the human condition under modernization/
westernization. Alienation was related by Marx to the replacement of all
earlier and other human sentiments and ties by the cash nexus. This is a
vision of the Other in terms only of individualized competition, of profit
and loss. Man's estrangement was, thus, also from his fellow (working) men
- not to speak of women.
September 21 (WTC+10), I heard an alien speak on the BBC World Service. He
had adopted the voice of a commentator from the ultra-right (I hope) US
journal, National Review. He declared that the cause and responsibility for
the September 11 Outrage rested with Islamic Fundamentalism, envious of the
US because it was Rich, Powerful and Good. This, it appears is the Holy
Trinity of the Masters of the Universe (who until recently viewed the rest
of us from the secure and distant heights of the World Trade Centre). This
new Three-in-One is, apparently, GloboMan's alternative to the French
Revolution's Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (we would nowadays say
The logic and morality of this Alien American's message to the increasing
number of the world's Others is somewhat puzzling to myself (in my perverse
Pogo propensity to see things from the standpoint of the Other). Which came
first, the chickens (Riches and Power) or the egg (Goodness)? Or are they
dialectically inter-related, mutually dependent and self-evidently
inalienable >from USAmericanism? In so far as Riches and the Power are
relative, and therefore dependent (increasingly under International
Monetary Fundamentalism) to the poverty and powerlessness of the Other, has
all Goodness been sucked out of the Other, too? Has it been privatised,
copyrighted, registered and deposited in Fort Knox?Ý ©Virtue IncÆ?
I note that the relationship between Liberty, Equality and Solidarity is
one of mutual dependence, in that each is part of the meaning of the
others. Also that this secular trinity is universalistic (except for the
Fraternity bit) and therefore in principle universalisable - at no Other's
expense! I can find no such universalism or mutually-determining relation
between Wealth, Power and Virtue, since the first two must, of their
nature, be unequally spread. And how could Goodness be considered - in
anything other than the self-serving PR morality of the greedy and
hegemonic - to be concentrated amongst the Rich and Powerful? (If you don't
know either, take out a subscription to National Review).
My Masters of the Universe come from Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of >the Vanities.
This is a savage satire on New York, on Wall Street wheeler-dealers, on
WASP privilege and superiority over the streets, the slums, and those who
live in or on them. His anti-hero is alienation on limo wheels ñ alienated
from everyone outside his ethnic-class (also within it), from his work
(which he cannot explain even to himself though it nets him millions) and
particularly from those who live in the Jungle. This is his word for the
underworld of New York ñ 'underworld' not as in crime, but as in a place
inhabited by animals, or untermenschen. (I guess some of them would have
flipped hamburgers or cleaned floors in the WTC, as one of them cleaned
shoes in Sherman's office). The people of this particular abyss are, of
course, quite alien to Sherman McCoy, until he gets lost in the Jungle, is
involved in the death of one of its Black inhabitants, and is hauled in
front of a venal criminal justice system and flayed by a trivializing and
sensationalist media. Tom Wolfe's satire and ridicule runs out of the
required wit and spleen when Sherman is finally reduced to jeans, sneakers
and prison. Not being much aware of the French Revolution, Sherman's sense
of human solidarity is not markedly touched by the leveling down,
particularly since his fellow prisoners appear to share certain vengeful
features with less-secular communities of the humiliated and dispossessed.
At this moment class, race and breeding tell: confronted by the
multi-coloured mob (not, again, of the particularly criminal kind),
Sherman, uncaring of life or death, confronts them with his bare, if
shackled, fists. Out of the jaws of anti-heroism, Wolfe snatchesÖa hero!Öan
Anglo-Saxon one, confronting the Wogs and the Fuzzy-Wuzzies. Here the genre
becomes that of the 19th century British Boy's Own adventure yarn. The
crowd retreats before his righteous anger. Sherman is no longer Rich and
Powerful. But he is still, or now, Good. The Real McCoy. If the thesis is
hubris and the anti-thesis nemesis, there is no sign here of an integrating
and surpassing synthesis. Humanism? Compassion? Forgedaboudit!
So is the alien really out there? Is he only around us, in place, space,
and ether? Or is it we, in here, who are alienated from our Others and our
Selves? Or at least from our possible Other Selves, who could live in a
relationship of increasing dialogue, cooperation and trust with Them?
The Martians are at the corner, armed now with neither arrows nor nuclear
devices, but with the instruments we have fashioned for our daily work,
travel, residence and pleasure, taking advantage of the freedom that
commoditisation and capital accumulation require, using the morality of the
Old Testament. And the Old West: 'Dead or Alive, Dead or Alive' says George
bin Bush, Cowboy President of the Universe. These barbarians are
determined, it seems, to add to their Good some of our Wealth and Power.
Though most of them would be grateful for any significant reduction of
poverty and powerlessness made available to them.
Recognising that Aliens "R" Us, that We Are the Enemy, could, surely, be a
first step toward surpassing our own alienation, and the self-isolating and
- today - self-destructive idea that we only know who we are as the enemy
of our very own self-created alien.
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