Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Economics of Alien Conquest

My cousin, Brendon, and his girlfriend, Jenna, were in town this weekend. Both of them read my blog and Jenna told me I'm clearly knowledgeable about what I'm talking about, but still wrong. That response in itself deserves a post, which I may or may not get around to. Still, it would be fun to deviate a bit away from controversial topics and I thought of alien invasion. If aliens invaded, what would be their motivation?

Natural resources is a favorite Hollywood staple. Aliens will destroy our planet to take our stuff, likely minerals (Independence Day comes to mind but the physical land might be valuable, too (in The Day the Earth Stood Still, alien invaders attempted to terraformed our planet).

This is quite possibly the least likely reason aliens would go through the trouble of global conquest. The universe is filled with minerals and other resources that no one's using and are much easier to get to than stuff on an occupied planet. Maybe other extraterrestrials make harvesting Vega asteroids difficult, but even in the boundaries of our solar system there's still quite a lot to draw on.

Unless aliens are after biomass (i.e. living things). Perhaps there's some technology or feeding requirement that requires biomass (or they just want us as slaves), and Earth is the best place to get it. Lots of biomass with little ability to defend it. In that case, the best strategy probably wouldn't be a messy mass attack on the resource you're trying to harvest. Aliens would likely be much more insidious with probably a pathogen--killing everyone or knocking us all out while leaving the bodies around for collection later.

Racism is a likely motivation. This pops up in a lot of Sci-Fi television shows (Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5). A similar train of thought is a concern for humanity and a fear of what will happen if we're allowed to continue to live. Given many humans mistakenly fall into one of these two categories, I'd like it's a reasonable motivation for aliens to kill us.

Technology is a justification that's rarely explored. This is understandable but not for the reasons you probably think. Most assume that if aliens know how to travel faster than light, they are clearly more advanced than us on all other levels. That is far from certain, especially since an alien brain will probably not be wired the same way as a human one. As Richard Dawkins suggests, it is entirely possible there's a group of extraterrestrial life who intuitively understand the theory of relativity but have difficulties grasping principles of air resistance and other "slow" speed phenomena.

But it would be rather clear that the easiest way to get technology is to trade for it, not to take it by force. If such aliens were interested in our technology, they would more likely be peaceful. The one exception to this rule is if they discover it's easier to kill us than to learn a single human language. That would certainly be a sad state of affairs for us.

Then there's the possibility that aliens need to build a intergalactic superhighway along a path that intersects with Earth's orbit. That's a bit unlikely given how big space is ("Really big," according to Douglas Adams) but it could still be true. And if galactic eminent domain is as potent as our terrestrial version, then considered us conquered.


Anonymous said...

I'll say this is one of your more interesting topics. I'd like to bring up some other reasons for an alien invasion. Some reasons I'm surprised you didn't list here. It's also important that an invasion/conquering does not have to happen through military force. A nation's borders only extend as far as they can enforce them. If there are 5 galactic empires in the galaxy but only one can reach Earth, we're effectively conquered. And being conquered doesn't necessarily mean we have an alien tyrrant over the whole planet. We may just wind up paying tribute in a feudialist culture while day-to-day life is unaffected or have an exclusive contract with the one empire that can easily reach us.

Manufactured resources/culture
You mentioned natural resources, but what about finished goods? Perhaps Earth makes something really well, better than other civilizations, and a galactic empire effectively wants a monolopy. It doesn't even have to be a physical product. Maybe the aliens think we make better music or movies because they're focused on other pursuits.

On a related note the book series Black Hole Travel Agency had an alien conspiracy to turn Earth into a tourist trap. Earth culture can become a galactic fad or an infusion of creativity to stagnant empires.

An alien looking at our planet now may think, "If these guys ever get their act together and discover FTL travel, they'll be a force to be reconned with." At which point they'll either wipe us out to prevent competition later or ally with us for mutual benefit. In the Dorsai series, humans are mercenaries fighting wars for aliens who are unable or unwilling to fight.

In the US House of Representatives there's one elected represntative for X population. Now use the same idea on a galactic level. One star empire may "conquer" us simply because having an extra 6 billion sentients will give them needed voting power. That way you have a real incentive to conquer without violence.

Or we may be conquered by one empire to keep us from being conquered by their enemy. Our planet may have stragtic importance. Again, we may just be conquered on paper (sort to speak) and not even aware we're citizens of a galactic nation. Likewise if the aliens lived in gas giants like Jupiter, we may be part of their nation and "conquered" simply by virtue of being in the same solar system.

This is the scary one. What happens if the aliens want to convert us to The One True God (tm). Again, mass destruction isn't an option when prostlizing, at least not at first.

Sure, orbital bombardment and bioweapons are easy and effective but to prove your superiority, but it doesn't do much for personal glory? A single alien warrior wining against a column of M1 tanks, that's something worth praising!

Misguided alturism
Sort of like in the bad remake of Day Earth Stood Still aliens arrive because of our own mismanagement and the belief we'll destroy ourselves. But they help us and not try to wipe us out by taking over.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, it's late let me revise the last two.

Sure, orbital bombardment and bioweapons are easy and effective but how does it prove your superiority? Pushing a button doesn't do much for personal glory? A single alien warrior wining against a column of M1 tanks is a much greater victory!

Misguided altruism
Sort of like in the bad remake of Day Earth Stood Still aliens arrive to save us and our planet from ourselves. But instead of wiping us out, they take over and start putting us back on the "right" path of being better galactic citizens.

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