This is part 4 of the series The Aliens of 2009. These articles focus on how 3 films about ETs in 2009, District Nine, The Fourth Kind and Avatar, suggest deeper sociological issues emerging from our subconscious psyche in regards to our potential cosmic cousins.
Point Four: Encountering “The Other”
A greater unknown in the form of what we have yet to become has cast it's shadow
over a the face of human possibilities. -AS
The final comparable point regarding these works is a radical alteration in the view
in our relationship to the “Other”. Evolution starts with the recognition of what
we are not. The awareness that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”[i] begins to polarize us in a direction of growth and regeneration.
The cognition of another that is like us but different is known as “the other”. On a deeper
level it is a re-cognition of ourselves.
Yet “otherness” in the minds of our Western civilization (primarily
white European Christian ), has been a fabrication in order keep the pure
from the impure. This imperialistic attitude sought to demonized those that
were marked first as heretics and then as scapegoats. It ongoing development
results in racism, nationalism, religious fundamentalism creating ghettos and
genocides leading to Inquisitions and Nazis.
Looking at the history of European ideas we see that the German philosopher
Gustav Hegel was among the first to name this ideology as fundamental to
human awareness. He claimed that our individual consciousness is prevented
from finding freedom and independence when it comes up against the barrier
of otherness in the external reality of the natural and social world. However
otherness cannot be destroyed without the destruction of self, so we search for
reconciliation. But this is an ever ongoing incomplete resolution leading to a
relationship of the dominant and the obedient, or the independent
and the dependent.[ii]
In many other cultures however, the stranger is often welcomed as guest,
friend and sometimes prophet of the ways of other worlds. Aliens are now
the quintessential other. They are like us and so horrifyingly different.
But because of their level of sentience, as discussed in part 2, they reflect
what we call consciousness in another form. Separation or unity will
depend on whether we are looking at their material (form) or non-material
essence. The alien “other” is important step in knowing the value of collective
humanity. It gives us a solid framework for welcoming “Contact”.
Either way, as a planetary race, the way things are integrated and accepted
is first through our intellectual mechanism. We need comprehension to give
us an emotional awareness as to the existence of aliens and the way they can
fit in with our world, which is why academic scholarship will builds an openness
to the possible existence of aliens. This kind of foundation will get us through the
main stumbling block of public ridicule. In addition wide spread educational
studies invite a mainstream response, which is a key step in igniting an active
campaign for government disclosure.
However these films represent a subtle turning point in human consciousness
as regards to this new other. Embedded within each story there is a new resolution.
There is a merging with the very thing that has been abhorred. Integration begins
with this kind of identification suggesting that the time is not far off from a mass
psychological acceptance of their existence.
Post-Colonial theorist, Abdul R. Jan Mohamed says that the comprehension of
Otherness is possible only if the self can somehow negate or at least severely
bracket the values, assumptions and ideologies of his culture…This distance
provides the necessary free space from which to interrogate philosophy ‘anew’. . . .” [iii]
This is an important step in that we are now more psychologically and
sociologically ready to embrace the reality of the others existence.
In D9, the ETs are segregated in apartheid type to their own slummed out
neighborhoods, making them the new lower class lackeys of planet Earth.
When the main character accidentally injects himself with alien secretions,
he starts becoming one of those dreadful Prawns; hunted by his once human allies.
In 4K, the sense of otherness is so overwhelming that it invades our minds so we
can no longer exist as functional human beings. And in Avatar the whole idea of
survival and communication on the hostile planet means changing our genetics to
take on the alien form.
How impure, yet psychologically nurturing, are these new myths “to be turned
into the Other”, the way Kafka’s alien-ated character Gregor Samsa woke up as
a cockroach in Metamorphosis.
This merging represents a metamorphoses of cultural values. This fresh orientation
in the mind of the collective demonstrates that we are at a nexus point in regard to
our intellectual make-up. With the reception of our non- human association new
potentials for transformation arise in us. The presence of aliens would most likely
bring out the commonness of our humanity. Meaning that a redefinition in terms
of who we are in relationship to our cosmic environment will pull the planet
together in an evolutionary way.
The French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, argues that “the self cannot have
a concept of itself as self, without the other.“[iv] This is integral to the
comprehending the self. Levinas says: “I am defined as an ‘I’, precisely because
I am exposed to the other. It is my inescapable and incontrovertible answerability
to the other that make me an individual ‘I’”. [v] We cannot exist without seeing
something we are not.
Being the Other
Being “the Other”, called Alterity (alter -Latin for “two”) or “Otherness”
was proposed by Lévinas as an idea of exchanging one's own perspective
for that of the ‘other’…[vi] The Other can be seen as aspects of that which
constitutes the self.[vii] Levinas says in one of his original essays on the topic:
“…the revelation of the face makes a demand, this demand is before one can
express, or know one's freedom, to affirm or deny. One instantly recognizes
the transcendence and heteronomy of the Other.[viii]
Lévinas maintains that subjected-ness is formed in and through our to
re-cognition of the other. Here again the question of sentience comes into play
because there must be an equal level of consciousness present in order to be aware
of otherness. Through our very connection we must incorporate the outer reality of
not self into the self. It is because sentience in the aliens is what we can see at the
very core of ourselves. Consciousness as a sort of universal language of being
merges one with the other. As the bad boy of European Symbolist movement,
Arthur Rimbaud said: "Je est un autre" [I is another]. Meaning only the subject
cannot only see what it is. The other is us, in whatever guise we put on it.
In this sense we are the other.
All the films and television programs about aliens are an attempt to grapple
with possibilities greater than our imagination.
Strieber says that they “are just radically different from us. I mean, incredibly
different. Unimaginably different. It's not that they are more intelligent, I don't
think, but that they have had the level of mind that we are just beginning to touch
on for a very long time, as a result of which they see reality quite differently.”[ix]
Films have always created the new myths that modern society chooses to
integrate into the collective unconsciousness. To quote Daniel Pinchbeck:
myth resolves oppositions through symbol and image, without need of rational explanation.
A society that reintegrates mythic thought at a deeper level of awareness will be
able to handle seemingly contradictory perspectives without breaking down.[x]
What these movies tell us are about our own unconscious concepts of aliens are:
1) We can only see them in terms of who we think we are not.
2) What we think they are is an aspect of our own psychological dark side.
3) We really have no idea who or what an alien actually is, because it is all
based on our limited subjectu-logical perspective.
Lisa Onbelet in her analysis Imagining the Other: The Use of Narrative as
an Empowering Practice makes a significant point: “While stories have the
capacity through their use of imagination to move their audience toward seeing
and empathizing with the other, they may not always be successful. Some will
“get it”, some will not.” Some will not want to get it because in seeing the other
they may feel like they are being compelled to give up too much.”
Whatever and whoever the aliens really are - if and when they arrive publicly,
they will have a quality of sentience that will be demanded of us. Because of the
film narratives sighted here and others, we will have already a partial realization
of the Other in terms of human consciousness, making their welcoming, ah well,
-less traumatic, for some….anyway.
The idea of change and embracing something other than what we know of
ourselves might be too big a threat to the local worldview which wants to keep
everything they know in a tight little box. But whether we like it or not - stories
of alien civilizations are already starting to seep into the collective understanding
-- creating a psychological intimacy to the other.
Onbelet goes on to say:
However, though narratives may not change how we see others,
they can at least ensure that the other will not be ignored.
By creating tension between the self and other, stories draw attention
to the other’s existence, demanding a response, good or bad. Stories are
a way of keeping the other in our face and maintaining ‘the sense, the belief,
and awareness that at some fundamental level, everyone and everything is
related to everyone and everything else.’[xi]
In other words we can’t embrace what you don’t acknowledge.
Therefore in light of our frenzied urge to witness these dramas in the
form of popular cinema a relationship to these beings, whoever they may be,
is already happening. Well, at least they are on the map. We are not ignoring them.
We have identified them. And yes they are us…for now.
We must however acknowledge the final sobering reality that Whitley Strieber
makes regarding the first public admission of an alien presence.
“ [It] will change the human species in absolutely fundamental ways,
either driving us collectively mad or transforming us in such a way that
we can, at last, begin to understand who and what we are and how we
relate to other life in the universe. ….We will begin what is the greatest
of all journeys for any species, which is the journey into a real
relationship with the cosmos.”[xii]
[ii] The European Graduate School / / / . http://www.egs.edu/media/library-of-philosophy/georg-wilhelm-friedrich-hegel/biography/
[iii] Lisa Onbelet, Imagining the Other: The Use of Narrative as an Empowering Practice from http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1d.htm from Kearney, Richard, ed. "Emmanuel Levinas. " Dialogues With Contemporary Continental Thinkers: The Phenomenological Heritage. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984. p47-70. JanMohamed, Abdul R. "The Economy of Manichean Allegory: The Function of Racial Difference in Colonialist Literature. " In Race, Writing, and Difference. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ed. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1985. 78-106.
[iv] Lisa Onbelet, Imagining the Other: The Use of Narrative as an Empowering Practice from http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1d.htm
[v] Lisa Onbelet, Imagining the Other: The Use of Narrative as an Empowering Practice from http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1d.htm
[ix] Whtely Strieber Journal My Greatest Fear, Wednesday December 30th, 2009, http://www.unknowncountry.com/journal/?id=398
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2009
[xi] Harris, Maria. Teaching and Religious Imagination: An Essay in the Theology of Teaching, p15, New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1991. Quoted in Lisa Onbelet, Imagining the Other: The Use of Narrative as an Empowering Practice from http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1d.htm