The other night I finally got around to watching “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” I had intended to watch the original 1951 movie but saw that there was a remake in 2008 that I hadn’t seen, so I watched that. If you are unfamiliar, the original, which I saw as a kid, was a riveting account of an alien emissary arriving in Central Park in New York City via “flying saucer.” He came to bring the message that mankind was heading toward destroying the world, and they, as conservators of habitable planets, were warning us that they could not allow that to happen. Of course, the first thing we did was to shoot him. This brought out a large robot with a laser eye that wiped out all the tanks and cannon that we had assembled there, which indicated that resistance was futile. The emissary was brought back to life by superior technology, and, to make a long story short, left the planet with the earthlings hopefully chastened and ready to turn over a new leaf.
In the new version the human technology was up to date and the conception of alien technology was as well. The overall warning to the planet was broader, as our awareness of our failings is broader now. In 1951, we had come out of World War II only to confront the communist peril that threatened World War III. In fact, we were fighting communists in the Korean War at that time. In the remake, the ecology of the Earth was the main concern. In addition to our violence toward each other, the existence of all life on Earth was threatened by human activity. The warning now was: if humanity can’t change its ways, it will be eliminated in order to save the rest of life on Earth.
The main part of the movie involved a few very sensitive, empathetic, and open-minded humans trying to convince the alien that we could in fact change, that this particular crisis would be enough to bring us around. In the end, of course, the heroine shows enough goodness to get the alien to call off the dogs and save the Earth for another day.
When I saw the heroine, with soft, watery eyes, saying, “We can change! Give us another chance,” I said to myself, “Don’t listen to her. Wipe them out,” not because I wanted humanity to be obliterated, but because I really didn’t think that the alien invasion would be enough to change our minds.
I still have hope that we can pull it off, but I should also say that I believe in miracles. I should also say that if I were a betting person, you would have to give me good odds.
The operant word from the film is “change.” Given the whole range of disagreements in our world, an article I read recently hit the bullseye in saying that we have only two kinds of people in the world: those who are willing to change and those who aren’t. It isn’t a matter of knowledge, logic, or reason. Those may play a part in accepting change, but the change must happen at the emotional and spiritual level. Deteriorating conditions may help many to accept change. The longer we stall, the more difficult it will be, but the important thing is to achieve the transformation.
On the good side, so to speak, I don’t think that the fate of life on Earth is necessarily in our hands. Nature also has defensive mechanisms. All the creatures that are basically responsible for and control life on Earth are too small for us to see. The pandemic we are in is an excellent example. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, plankton, and others are in control of the production of all food and oxygen and manage the health and wellbeing of all life. Maybe we should consider COVID a gentle reminder. It seems we don’t actually need an advanced civilization to force our hand. We already have one.
Working against change is fear and anxiety. The more imminent change is, the more we resent and hate those that appear to be taking the status quo away from us. This isn’t a partisan issue.
I think that the best we can all do, besides being really active politically, is to make change where we can and hope that as these changes manifest good things, others won’t have to take a leap into the unknown.