Imagine aliens come to Earth, and humans and aliens must live in one society together. How would that work? I asked sixth- and seventh-graders from McAuliffe Middle School this question and it was like I asked them about their breakfast. There is no worry. Aliens are probably stupid or less developed than humans, they say nonchalantly. They are probably defenseless like “little shrimp things at the bottom of the sea.” Humans would rule society.
But what if aliens are not dumb? What if they are profound thinkers capable of feeling emotions and understanding morals?
The students briefly mull this over, and in the same moment eyes widen as the implications of the scenario settle in: Could they think like humans? What if they’re smarter than us? What if they have weapons? What if they’re violent? Mayan Caplan sums it up—“The way we’re reacting now would mirror the world—a lot of fear and tension.”
The group decides the first step for humans would be deciding how we feel about aliens. Are they the stereotypical aliens that want to invade our planet? “Maybe we can’t assume the aliens want to hurt us,” Caplan says. To live together, we would probably have to abandon that assumption and make every man, woman and alien equal.
But Ibrahim Mohammed says inequality would be inevitable. “The aliens would think we’re dumb, and we would think they’re dumb.” Plus, how would we even communicate?
Mohammed suggests we could use our understanding of ciphers to break down the alien language and find the most common sound. The other students seem to think this is complicated and agree math or art would be better ways to communicate. They move on.
Bella Gomez Padilla says yes, humans would feel invaded but the aliens would probably feel just as invaded being so far from home. She thinks we need to communicate nicely.
In fact, maybe these aliens did not even intend to visit Earth at all but came looking for help during space exploration. They don’t have food or resources; perhaps there is disease and poverty. Would we help them? “Oh my gosh, that is so tough,” Caplan says.
Some of the students are more inclined than others to provide help. “If they came right now, today, there would just be no room for them in our society because we have way too many problems and if we try to feed them and all of the other hungry people out there, there’s just too many,” says Jazmine Pace.
Pace sticks to a more patriotic view that Earth is our planet and we must protect it. We have more priority than the aliens; not to say she doesn’t feel bad for them.
She suggests aliens should live in a designated part of society, like the Indian reservations. Gomez Padilla piggybacks that idea. “I think we’d keep them a little separate, not like a zoo where you would go and see them, but somewhere you would be able to talk to them like a normal human, like we do. But it would be kind of separate, not like a glass wall either. Somehow a bubble.”
Mohammed agrees if they have disease it must be handled like Ebola. They need to be quarantined and studied to understand the disease.
OK, so these aliens are separate and struggling to survive. Would there be a revolt? A lot of the students predict another Civil War. As the conversation goes on, the fear seems to build and they decide this could all be avoided by sending the aliens home.
“Honestly, we should kill them. You have to eliminate the threat. We would have to get into contact with their alien leader and tell them don’t come here,” Gomez Padilla says.
“If they come here and have disease, give them what they need to leave,” Pace says in agreement. “If they’re coming for fun you’d have to kill them because it wouldn’t be worth it to kill the whole human population of the world just to save some aliens who come here to explore.”
“But what if all the aliens came here? Would it be worth it to kill the whole alien population?” Caplan says. The debate is endless. They go back and forth whether it’s right to send the aliens off or eliminate them. If we give resources to the aliens, are we abandoning our loyalty to humans?
Courtney Ross pipes in to add a comment that nails the issue on the head. “All of this is already happening. Other countries are already asking for our help. That’s what our world problems are about.”
Whether or not the students were aware, the conversation wasn’t really about aliens. The topic just forced them to ask themselves all the same ethical questions that come up in today’s world about diverse cultures co-existing: Are refugees equal in society? Should they go back home? Do countries have an obligation to help their poor citizens or help other countries in need? Much of the discussion seemed to mirror the kinds of questions world leaders are wrestling with today.