Probing for Answers to What Ails Us: The
March 8, 2005
Fiction by Bernard Weiner, 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
"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
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
"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
"I can assure you that, in the course of cosmic time, your planet
will bounce back," 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
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, hese 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
"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
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught politics and international
relations at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The
Crisis Papers Archive