The Ethics of Alien Visitation
Do We ‘Own’ The Earth?
We must first establish the concept of ownership; that is, does humanity “own” Earth and its skies. There are two sides to this argument.
The first being: Since humanity is the only species on the planet with clear and knowable agency, and humans tie this agency to the concepts of freedom, individuality, and even existence itself; it stands to reason that humans do “own” planet Earth. Our entire concept of self, and every daily decision you and I make is basically founded upon this principle. As a member of humanity, you have rights. You can own property. You are free to do as you wish in so far as it does not violate the rights of others. You can read this article. The act of driving a car, or owning anything made of plastic, would be in violation of ethics if humans did not “own” the planet. Ownership deems it morally acceptable to damage the natural environment for the sake of humanity’s interests; burning fossil fuels or converting oil into plastics to save human lives are simple examples.
To put it simply, humanity’s current ideological zeitgeist, that which gives meaning to your life right now today, is based upon human agency and humanity’s ownership of the Earth.
The second argument being: Humanity does not have ownership over the Earth. This typically stems from a naturalistic philosophy. This posits that humans share the earth with nature; they do not own the Earth, but are able to use its resources to survive in so far as the earth is not damaged by that resource collection. Typically, this philosophy has a theological aspect, in that Earth is treated as a living organism of which humans are a part. We also see this in alien invasion movies, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which humans are simply the caretakers of the planet, but have failed in their job. While this is a much more sustainable and holistic philosophy, it does not jive with modern social and cultural experience. Should humanity adopt this philosophy completely, concepts of property would essentially dissolve, since no one can ‘own’ the resources of the planet. More importantly, it would call into question political boundaries, the current capitalist economic system, and humanity’s sovereign control over the planet. While this sounds pretty good, we would see the end of our cultural and social understanding and rules. Technology would stagnate and return to a more ancient style. Medical technology would suffer, massive die-offs would occur, and parts of the planet would become untenable as human life was never meant to survive there in the first place. Unfortunately, no one can truly predict what life would look like if humanity ended its assumed ownership of Earth. All we know is that it would be different. Regardless of the good or ill this more natural reality would create, humans as a group do not behave in obedience to the Earth.
We do not know any other reality, nor would humanity willingly choose to give up the securities of modern society for an unknown and potentially chaotic future. So, for the sake of this philosophical exercise, we must argue from our current social and cultural state; that is, humanity does “own” the earth. Many may take issue here. The most common retort being, “...but how do we know humanity owns the earth? Maybe we truly do not, but we only think we do because we are ignorant of a greater truth…” To this, I can only say, Perhaps. There is significant philosophical work being done in indigenous belief systems which support the above counterpoint. The purpose of this discourse is to establish ethics and morality for the broad ideological norms of humans in totality. Most humans act in ways that dictate ownership over Earth; in fact, by simply checking your Instagram, you have economically and socially signed the ownership deed to the planet. Believing that humans don’t own the earth, while participating in the consumption of its resources, in other words, acting like you own the earth, is morally hypocritical. As the old saying goes, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
The next step, for the sake of this philosophical exploration, is to define what is meant by UFOs. Let us assume that true UFOs are physical in nature and controlled by an intelligent Other which is not native to our current understanding of space, time or reality. This point will raise significant contention. The most common of which will go somewhat like this; “what if humanity simply does not grasp that these Others ARE native to Earth, but simply from an alternate reality which is unperceivable?” This may also include the Others as “original owners of Earth”, time travel, or other similar hypotheses. While these may be true, they are currently unknowable, and therefore require pure speculation. (I appreciate the irony of defining UFOs as intelligently controlled objects in regards to my previous point regarding speculation.) Greater still, there is no place from which to base these speculations from. It is then illogical and unreasonable to suggest this as knowable or measurable. The above contention is tantamount to claiming that your couch keeps vampires away.
We must also be clear that unknown but natural phenomena, such as strange light anomalies (ie: Brown Mountain Lights), do not ‘count’ here, as they are not fitting with the definition of a UFO above.
The foundation from which we work is simple. First, humans have ownership rights over the planet. Second, UFOs, which are defined as physical unknown objects operated, controlled, or somehow manifested by intelligent Others, do move about our planet to some degree, and this intelligent Other is visiting from elsewhere in space, time, and/or reality; however, they hold no claim of ownership over Earth (at least no claim that humans can reasonably understand or know; again, speculative).
Before we examine the UFO phenomenon as either moral or immoral, we must understand morality itself. We need to unpack the moral philosophy you and I generally agree too. This is in no way a rule, nor is it guaranteed, but the general understanding of morals that most humans and democratic governments ascribe to is based upon Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative. I must stress that Kant’s moral code may not work in all situations, and it does have philosophical loopholes, but it does form the foundation upon which the vast majority of us live our moral lives. To keep this simple, and to not get too heavy into the actual philosophy, I will simplify the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative. Kant states that an act is moral if it upholds all of these formulations, and immoral if it breaks them.
#1) Universality - Can the action be made into a universal principle or law that we all can follow and ascribe to? In simple terms, act only in ways that allow for that action to become universal. For example, killing other people is immoral because if it became universal, everyone would kill everyone else, thereby ending humanity. Telling a lie is immoral because if it became universal, everyone would tell lies, which would lead to social chaos.
#2) Humanity as an End - Simply put, does the action treat another human as an end, rather than a means to an end? In other words, one cannot use a human in any way to benefit themselves, or some other end. Slavery, for example, is immoral because the slave, a human, is being used by the owner for monetary gain. A human is the means, in this case, to a financial end.
#3) Autonomy - Humans must agree to the above two maxims freely. This may seem odd, but most humans naturally do agree with formulation #1 and #2 because they function, as Kant would argue, within the realms of logic and reason. Humans must act as if they were writing the legislation for a new ethical kingdom. However, if a human acts immorally, then that violates #1 and #2, thereby voiding #3. Very simply, humans should follow these morals because not doing so creates chaos.
While many people have never really explored Kant’s Categorical Imperative, it basically makes up the basis for the vast majority of contemporary human rights legislation, as well as the constitutions and democratic principles of many nations. If we really look deeply into contemporary ethics and morals, they hang upon Kantian ethics. First, humans and their well being, when it comes to any action, are first and foremost above all other things. Secondly, humans have inalienable rights, they are universal, and are granted regardless of culture, creed, or background. Lastly, we all ought to act morally, and we generally do, knowing that if we act immorally, we open the door to chaos. To act morally is a sign of healthy reason, logic, and intelligence; immoral action is typically due to fear or ignorance, both of which are contrary to reason.
The Scenarios of Visitation
We must break this intelligent UFO phenomenon into two general scenarios. This will enable us to touch on each with different rationales, reasons, and motivations. While morality does exist within the impact of action, so too must we measure intent. We must measure intent, however, with as little anthropomorphism as possible. This becomes difficult at times. The language you and I communicate in will naturally force the intelligent Other into a “human-esque” state. The names of the scenarios below will prove this to be the case. However, regardless of the very human words, the scenarios will attempt to be as ‘inhuman’ as possible. From a purely philosophical sense, we are ultimately limited to understand the intent of an intelligent Other in human terms.
That being said, intent and actions, no matter how alien, are always perceived and experienced by a human observer. Therefore, we must measure them using human morality, since any other form is unknowable and unperceivable. The application of the Categorical Imperative to an alien phenomenon may seem strange, however, the fundamental logic behind this is two fold. First, the formulations of Kantian ethics posits that the action become a universal maxim. Secondly, it treats human life, and by extension, intelligent alien life, as an end unto itself. We can only speculate as to the ethics of an intelligent Other, and that ethical code may be significantly different than our own. However, the Categorical Imperative posits an objective and subjective formulation, which is founded upon reason. This is in no way perfect, but it is the best we can do since any alien ethical codes or ideals are unknowable. We must choose the lesser of two evils; we must approach the ethical issues from human reason and not from speculation.
It must also be pointed out that the two scenarios are, at face value, benign. There is little reason to discuss any acts or intentions that would lead to violence, as any hostile attack on humanity is, by its nature, immoral. This would also include any system of colonization, invasion, occupation, the popular “hybridization program” conspiracy, resource theft, or establishing contact with the intent to remove humanity from its sovereign control over the planet without permission. Since humanity has ownership claim over the planet, and any conflict which is intended to end that control without humanity as a willing and fully understanding participant would be unethical. We are left with only two scenarios; passive benign observation and general disinterest.
The Observer UFO
This broad category constitutes all UFOs that have an intent to observe Earth or humanity for an unknown but benign purpose. It must be made clear here that an observer on the ground will not be able to appreciate or know the intent of the UFO; we cannot read their minds and understand their end goals. However, it does stand within the framework of reason that an intelligent Other would travel to Earth, and simply watch. Perhaps humanity is interesting, perhaps it is being monitored. Whatever the case, violence is not intended. The intent is purely to observe. So, is this ethical?
First, can we form this action into a universal maxim? From a human standpoint, can we create a universal maxim that allows for humans to watch other humans with or without their knowledge? If the Earth is being watched by an intelligent Other via UFOs, the vast majority of people would accept only half of this universal maxim. People have little issue with being watched, so long as they are clearly aware of the watcher, and the reason for watching is legitimate. Where many would take offense is being watched without consent. Since humanity is unaware of the intent in watching, even if it is benign, it does not pass formulation #1. The creation of a universal maxim that allows for any intelligent being to watch humans without their knowledge is dangerous. It voids privacy, something all humans need from time to time.
Already, the UFO as passive observer has failed the morality test. For the sake of fun, let's apply Formula #2 anyway. Does observing treat humanity as an end unto itself, rather than a means? Alas, no. By hiding true intent and obfuscating the end goal, the knowledge to be gained from the observation is the end, and humanity becomes the means to that end. Greater still, since humanity is unaware of the reasons for being watched, even if those reasons are noble, the intelligent Other is caught in a potential lie of omission.
We conclude that the UFO which passively observes Earth and humanity is unable to pass Kant’s Categorical Imperative, and is therefore violating ethical codes. Even if the intelligent Other’s intended goal serves some noble cause, the act of observing humanity without transparency is an ethical dilemma unto itself. Much of the experiencer testimony, people who have allegedly been contacted by an intelligent Other, indicates that these Others only seek peace, and that the observation serves some greater good. This may be so, but because the ultimate goal is not being revealed to the vast majority of the population, and because they do not ask for permission, the act of watching humanity is morally questionable and unethical.
The Disinterested UFO
The second scenario deals with intelligently controlled UFOs that have no interest in humanity or the Earth. Perhaps it needs to stop for repairs, or to run a diagnostic on its systems, or perhaps it is testing its propulsion system in a nitrogen rich atmosphere. In simple terms, the planet and its population are inconsequential and of no concern to the intelligence piloting the craft, nor do they really interfere, except by occasionally being witnessed by humans who just happened to be driving down that lonely stretch of highway at the right (wrong) time.
We enter into a strange ethical grey area here. There is no intent to monitor or observe, nor is there intent to commit any act of violence. As established previously, humans have ownership over the Earth. It stands to reason then that this also includes air space. Each nation’s borders delineate their respective sovereign air spaces, that section of atmosphere is essentially owned.
To truly know if the act is unethical, let us apply the Kantian formulas. In the case of political boundaries, can we generate a universal maxim that allows for an intelligence, human or otherwise, to simply occupy airspace they have no ownership over? Unfortunately, no. It would be unethical for any one nation to enter the airspace of another nation without express permission. More importantly, this may be seen as an act of aggression, especially if no previous contact or warning has been made. If this was to become a universal maxim, any sovereign nation would be able to enter the airspace of any other nation willy-nilly, which may potentially lead to chaos. Human life could be endangered if this became the case. We must therefore rule that an intelligent Other has no right to occupy the airspace of any nation. Does this leave wiggle room for them to occupy zones which have no political allegiance? Say, the South Pole for example? Perhaps. However, the intelligent Other would have to appreciate that humanity, for better or worse, is the current owner of the planet. While you, personally, may not own the land on the neighbourhood boulevard (which would be city property), it would be illegal for someone to place a tent there and take up residence. You do not own the land, however, the land is under a communal ownership because you, and your neighbours, contribute to the taxes which maintain it. The squatter does not contribute, therefore, has no ownership claim to the land. The UFO which parks itself over the Antarctic is essentially squatting. The morals here might be grey, but if humanity owns the planet, then the UFO really has no right to be moving through owned airspace.
The disinterested UFO has already failed the first formula, which means that simply cruising around human property is morally wrong. To seal the deal, Formula #2 creates an ethical issue for the UFO controllers. The use of human airspace without human consent or permission does not place humanity as an end. The UFO’s objective, be it to test its propulsion system or to simply go for a joyride through our Ozone layer, places the said objective as the end; the Earth, humanity’s property, is the means to that end. This is tantamount to someone simply walking in your backyard without your permission. Is it a big deal? Probably not. Is it alright for them to do so? No. We again see that the UFO has failed the second formula, which in turn, establishes that the act of simply occupying human airspace is unethical.
We walk away from this exercise with the full understanding that any UFO controlled by an intelligent Other is in direct violation of ethics when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The only way that this ethical dilemma can be avoided is to ask permission from the human race first. There are inherent problems with this, since no intelligence has ever done so, and more importantly, not all humans would provide consent. The bigger issue here, and the one we have been dancing around the whole time, concerns technological supremacy. If the intelligent Other, and their UFOs, are significantly more advanced, do they really need our permission to do anything? I suppose not, however, the “might makes right” maxim is morally indefensible. If the intelligent Other is more powerful, more advanced, than humanity, then they have a moral duty to ensure the security, safety, and freedom of the weaker group. This means respecting humanity’s territory, or, respecting that humanity has claimed ownership to the territory.
We must also walk away with the full understanding that the Categorical Imperative is a moral compass, but any intelligence, humans included, generally do what they “feel” is right. Many readers of this article will probably “feel” I am incorrect in my defintions, or that my conclusions just don’t “feel” right to their pre-established notions of morality. Where the Categorical Imperative succeeds is that it bases its moral decision making upon logic and reason, not “feelings.”
Finally, we come to the point. Many have questioned me as to why I approach the UFO discourse with philosophy instead of science. Primarily, I have not heard of any other members of the discourse who apply proper philosophy to it, apart from casual interpretations at times. Secondly, Ufology is full of scientists and believers, both of which have established their lines in the sand, and dared the other to cross. The purpose of this exercise is an attempt to prove that philosophical reasoning does serve a purpose in the overall UFO debate. Many Ufologists with scientific backgrounds have made claims that the UFO phenomenon is intelligently controlled. If this is the case, then it is also clear that these intelligently controlled UFOs are not acting morally or ethically. The scientists and believers can take from that what they will. While science may attempt to “objectively” understand the lights in the sky, and the believers will not question the intentions of their alien gods, only philosophy can establish, with sound reasoning, logic, and rigour, that those lights are misbehaving, and not acting in the interest of humanity.
We end with what I hope was interesting. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issues presented above. Please feel free to leave a comment, send me an e-mail, or message me on social media.
- MJ Banias