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The Incident: Probing for Answers to What Ails Us (Fiction)

By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers


The last thing I remember before The Incident was driving by a huge hayfield
on a rural Georgia road. Suddenly, there were bright lights above me. I felt a
huge suction or magnetic force pulling me up. Then everything went blank.

When I woke up, I was lying on a kind of padded table, inside an airship of
some sort. It hummed like it had an engine, and it seemed to be moving above
the earth, with no shimmy at all.

People were standing around me. Well, "people" is probably not the right
word; they were "beings" of some sort, trying to look like ordinary Americans, but
they didn't quite get it right, as if the clothes and masks came from some
cheapo discount shop.

I heard this voice in my head.  "We need to know more about your planet and
your species, before we decide whether it is too dangerous to remain here for
any length of time. We will begin probing you. Please do not get upset. When we
are finished with our examination, we will return you unharmed to your car.
You will tell us only the truth.

"First probe: You are from the nationstate entity called the United States of
America, the most powerful country on your planet in terms of military and
economic power. In the event we ever have the opportunity to meet them, we wish
to know whether your current leaders in the White House are trustworthy.
Remember that you will tell us only the truth."

I tried to formulate a nuanced response, full of context, so that these alien
beings would get some sense of how our complex system of government works.
But my mind seemed totally open -- as if someone had created a hatch directly
into my brain -- and I just spoke as the words came to me, devoid of
deliberation. "No, you should not trust them."

"Are you saying that because you are of a different political persuasion than
your elected leaders?"

"No," I replied. "I suspect all governments, regardless of party. But this
current regime is far worse, and, in their arrogance and hyper-aggressive
approach, more dangerous than most. There is general agreement on their lack of
trustworthiness, even from many who support those leaders for political reasons.
No, Bush and his cohorts are not good people; under tight secrecy, they are
doing untold harm to our country and to the world."

A PLANETARY GARBAGE DUMP

"Why do they do this?", the Voice asked. "We have trouble understanding why,
for example, so many of your species, and especially your leaders in America,
seem to care so little for the planet on which you live, treating it like your
own private garbage dump."

"Some of that behavior comes from ignorance," I said, "not fully appreciating
the long-term damage that is being done by our emissions and toxins. But much
derives from greed, pure and simple. Make money now, even if it destroys our
environment, and let others who come later deal with the mess. That's how so
many of our corporate and governmental polluters think, and they work hand in
glove; they build up wealth and power while the ecology and people below them
get sick or die as a result of their reliance on greed rather than on moral
values."

"Your planet is giving off clear signs that it is sick, and heating up to
dangerous levels; we could detect this even from our galaxy far, far away. Why
don't your leaders care? It can't be just the desire for money."

"This may not make sense to you," I replied, "but it IS mostly greed, and a
naive belief on the part of our leaders that the Earth can sustain virtually
anything done to it, and that it will bounce back to health somewhere down the
road -- and if they're wrong and it doesn't, they'll be long gone from the
scene of the crime. Bush once indicated that thinking about the future was
irrelevant -- 'I'll be dead'."

"I can assure you that, in the course of cosmic time, your planet will bounce
back,"<-i> the Voice said in my head, "but there will be no human beings
around to appreciate it. Which leads me to my next probe: Your country is a
democracy, so why haven't the people voted these greedy, corrupt leaders out of
power and placed wiser officials in charge?"

WHY ISN'T DEMOCRACY WORKING?

"In the past," I said, "when things got really bad after years of terrible
rule, the citizens would do precisely that, and there would be a period of more
enlightened leadership and overturning of the worst excesses of the previous
administration.

"But the current rulers in the White House are doing everything to prevent
that pendulum from swinging back. For one thing, their wealthy supporters have
absolute control of the voting process -- they manufacture the voting machines
and control the secret software for counting the ballots, and in most
instances do not permit a verifiable paper trail for recounts. (So we're still not
sure if our side won or lost in the last presidential election.)

"The regime's wealthy supporters also have effective control of the mass
media, which serves as the propaganda arm of the administration, so the public
gets to hear little about the actual situation and how bad and corrupt it really
is; instead, the populace is fed a steady diet of lies and deceptions that
bolster the leaders' distorted view of the world.

"In addition, numbed by fear and having to work so hard just to survive, many
don't rely on their own inner strength and knowledge and turn their minds
over to others to decide for them. The result is a slide into a kind of
home-grown fascism, where it's regarded as OK, for example, for torture to become
official state policy, or for oppositional speech to be regarded as akin to
treason, or for homosexuals to be treated as outcasts and second-class citizens,
deserving of discrimination and humiliation."

"But what about the opposition party? Can't it organize an effective campaign
to convince the voters that your society will prosper in health and stability
and a good economy only if major changes and reforms are enacted?"

"Many in that party know that something needs to be done more actively to
change the situation," I answered. "But they haven't figured out how to deal with
this new breed of extremist Republicans, who don't play by the traditional
rules of democratic give-and-take, but rather are bullyboys who want it all now,
so get out of our way. In their desire for one-party rule, these extremist
bullies have set out to decimate and ultimately destroy the Democratic
opposition. They lecture others abroad about the glories of our balance-of-power
democracy, but don't much care for it at home."

THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN SLAUGHTER

The Voice continued: "We also do not understand why your human species is
constantly engaged in destroying itself. In the second of your global wars, in
the middle of the last century, you killed off 60 million people in a few years,
including many who were incinerated just because they weren't of the approved
religion. Even more recently, in Africa and Asia, more millions have been
killed by one side or another in genocidal tribal bloodbaths, or religious wars,
or by one nationstate against another. Now your own country has started two
military wars and seems to be moving toward several more. Where does this
bloodlust come from? Is your species doomed to self-destruction?"

Again, I tried to formulate a nuanced answer -- including the mention of
9/11 terrorism and geopolitical strategies -- but what I heard come out of my
mouth was: "Our species does operate from brains that are amazingly complex and
can generate much wisdom. But on a fairly regular basis, we lose all hold on
our rationality and go berserk, slaughtering each other, focusing great hatred
on the most vulnerable among us, becoming brutal tyrants -- and we tend to
justify such cruel and wanton behavior in the name of our various gods and
nations, which we believe to be far superior to the gods and nations of those we are
fighting. Or The Others have something rare we want -- like oil or uranium or
whatever -- and so we take it by force.

"During those dark periods when this kind of hyper-patriotic fervor or
religious zealotry or monetary greed has hold of our minds, our avaricious,
power-hungry rulers stoke the fires of this rampaging bloodbath by playing upon our
fears and baser instincts, and thus keep the wars going. Eventually, the truth
of what we're doing to ourselves, and the human and financial price we pay for
such violence, begins to seep through, and the wars are stopped and new, more
enlightened leaders take charge. But these periods of peace hardly ever last,
and it's back to religious or nationalistic hysteria and more wars."

"Without much of an ethical/spiritual foundation to guide you," said the
Voice, " your scientists have stumbled upon ways of destroying your planet with
your knowledge of thermonuclear and biological/chemical weapons, which could
well affect us if we were to remain. In short, your species seems much too
ignorant and reckless.

TEACHING AND LEARNING

"We have much we could teach you -- about energy resources, conflict
resolution, species survival and so forth -- but it appears likely that your planet
has not yet evolved to a high enough intelligence or moral plane where you could
understand or accept what we have to offer.

"We realize that in the periods when you manage to escape the clutches of
your dark side, you do have much to offer us in terms of creative thinking,
technological curiosity, and this thing we do not possess -- what you refer to as a
'sense of humor' -- and we could learn from you as well.

"But your obsession with greed and seizing power and tendency toward
brutality -- especially those exercised in the name of some god or other -- are truly
off-putting. As a result, even though even at this late stage, it's
theoretically possible that you Earthlings can alter your self-destructive behavior and
save yourselves, we are not encouraged as to the likelihood of your planet's
or your species' viability. The odds are not in your favor.

"And so we're inclined to head home and let you stew in your own foul juices,
returning later when your species is no longer around. But, for the moment,
we will continue to probe others of your kind, on the odd chance that your
planet's inhabitants will swing the pendulum back the other way, evolving toward
wisdom, and thus providing us something we can learn from you."

And with that, the Voice suddenly disappeared from my head, and I found
myself back in my car, driving by the Georgia hayfield. My body was shivering; I
quickly pulled over to calm down and reflect on what I had just experienced --
or could I possibly have simply dreamed it? It certainly felt real enough.

In any case, I quickly pulled out my laptop (though my lap was still shaking
quite a bit), and, while the events and conversations were fresh in my mind,
wrote them down. That is what you are reading now. #

Bernard Weiner, a playwright, poet and Ph.D. in government & international
relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor for the
San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers
(www.crisispapers.org).

First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 3/8/05.
Copyright 2005 by Bernard Weiner.

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