My latest novel, Clowns, is a rather different take on First Contact with an extraterrestrial species. The central conceit is—What would an alien civilization think about our level of intelligence?
We may have landed rovers on Mars, walked on the Moon, and invented astonishingly complex, fast and compact computers, but are those really a measure of intelligence? They’re certainly not a measure of my intelligence. I get the benefit of them but I couldn’t build them.
Ask yourself this—how does a toilet work?
Toilets are simple enough. We use them several times a day. There’s a cistern holding water behind the seat. Buttons release that water and it washes away our bodily waste. Simple, right?
Oh, not so simple now, huh?
Toilets are a remarkable feat of design and engineering—and we take them totally for granted. They’re a great example of how modern society is built on someone else’s intelligence—not yours or mine. We benefit from the intelligence of others, regardless of any intelligence of our own (or any lack thereof).
What would an intelligent extraterrestrial species capable of traversing the stars consider a true sign of our intelligence? What would make them consider you or me intelligent?
It’s an interesting question and one I explore at length in the fictional narrative of Clowns.
As with all of my novels, the book has an afterword exploring the various concepts woven into the story. When it came to Clowns, it was easy to go off on a tangent in the afterword so I pulled a few concepts out and stuck them here for hard-core fans.
Here are the out-takes from the afterword.
Subsidizing The Spectacle
When it comes to economics, most people’s eyes glaze over. Like the example of a toilet, we want to be able to use it, not build it, but our blissful ignorance leaves us vulnerable to being exploited.
Let the free market decide, is the clarion call of economists, but does the market really decide about things like fossil fuels? Or is capitalism a quagmire of conflicting interests?
Fossil fuel prices are kept artificially low by subsidies even though there’s an undeniable, detrimental effect on humanity. The impact of pollution isn’t limited to climate change. Globally, we waste six trillion dollars a year on fossil fuel subsidies—that’s eleven million dollars a minute! 50% of natural gas and 99% of all coal is priced at less than half its true cost. By subsidizing fossil fuels, the government is lying to us about their benefit to the economy. You pay half in the cost of goods and the other half in tax, but either way, you’re still paying the full amount. It might feel good to pay less for things, but it’s an illusion—and The Spectacle loves nothing more than the allure of a good illusion.
Personally, I’d rather remove all subsidies and let the free market decide! Studies have shown that most of these subsidies go to investors as profit so removing them won’t increase the price of gas, oil or coal—it would simply reduce company profits, while CO2 emissions would reduce by about a third as clean, green energy takes off in a truly free market. The global GDP would increase by 3.8% and one million lives would be saved each year due to reduced air pollution alone!
The Spectacle and The Pandemic
I know this will raise the heckles of those that despise government intrusion, but the free market will not regulate itself. It can’t. Imagine a game of football without a referee—that’s the free market. Left to themselves, companies will lie and cheat and cut corners in order to beat each other and make a buck. The fossil fuel industry, in particular, has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted.
Governments have their own problems, like corruption and bureaucratic incompetence, but they are “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Their role is to represent us and our best interests. Speed limits are an example of how sometimes they even need to protect us from ourselves. When it comes to capitalism, governments should provide the bit and bridle in the horse’s mouth.
Cholera is an excellent example of proper government intervention. These days, we’re told, “we need to learn to live with COVID,” but we haven’t learned anything as nothing has changed. Politicians are scared of the impact on the economy. The Spectacle will not tolerate any interruptions. Unbridled capitalism is the guiding principle, not the public good. If our modern approach had been applied to the cholera outbreaks in the 1800s, we wouldn’t have sewage systems in our homes or clean drinking water in our taps. Cholera would be left to “individual responsibility.”
It’s easy to think there are no solutions to something as pervasive and complex as COVID, but that’s not true. There are simple solutions. The adoption of Far UVC lights in places like schools, shopping malls, on trains and planes would drastically cut the transmission rate of all airborne diseases, not just COVID. Far UVC has been shown to be safe and 99.9% effective, but The Spectacle isn’t interested in our health and happiness, only monetary profit. Oh, and just wait. If it is adopted, there will be the usual batshit crazy conspiracy theories undermining the public health effort and resisting change.
For some bizarre reason, we hate change. We’ll do anything to avoid changing our minds on a subject, even if it means inventing fairy tales. A lifelong friend of mine in the US died during the pandemic. His family couldn’t bring themselves to admit they’d made a mistake by not getting vaccinated. Instead, they blamed his “bad lungs.” The only thing more heartbreaking than losing him was seeing how his family dismissed his death. But they’re not alone. Denial is a defense mechanism. During the height of the pandemic, it was common for people to die denying what was happening to them.
We all want the pandemic to be over. We all want to “go back to normal,” but as I write this in April 2022, the pandemic is not yet over. Pretending it’s over is a mistake. Don’t confuse the issues at play here: Omicron isn’t mild—vaccines are effective! Without vaccines, Omicron would be killing millions of people. As it is, there’s no lasting immunity to COVID so Omicron is ripping through the country in wave after wave. The elderly, the young and those with compromised immune systems are still dying from this damn thing. And we have no idea just how bad long COVID will be (where people have lingering symptoms).
“It’s just a cold,” is one of the worst mantras to come out of the pandemic. The reason people think COVID is just a cold is because there are flu-like symptoms. But what most don’t realize is that a cough, fever, chills, etc, are symptoms of your immune system fighting COVID. That’s why they’re so similar. Same immune system. Same symptoms. These are not COVID symptoms. COVID is a multi-organ virus. Actual COVID symptoms are damage to organs like the lungs, heart, brain and liver, etc—not an annoying cough for a few days. And for most of these organs, the damage isn’t obvious.
At this point in the pandemic, the best strategy is to avoid repeat infections.
Do you wear a seatbelt?
Do you stop at red lights?
To protect yourself. Because of the outside, remote chance you might be hurt in an accident. That’s why you should wear a mask during a pandemic. It’s the same logic. There’s no loss of freedom in wearing a mask. Think of how extraordinarily shortsighted it is for people to be celebrating the “freedom” to remove masks on a plane while still wearing seatbelts! Oh, the irony!
If we want to make contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial species, we’re going to have to start displaying some intelligence ourselves.
You can find Clowns on Amazon in ebook, paperback and hardback.