The True Fear of Alien Invasions

The True Fear of Alien Invasions

I am not a believer in the “collective unconscious”, either in the classic Jungian sense or its New Age appropriation. But I think I’ve figured out why stories about extraterrestrial invasion and abductions all sound the same: it’s a latent fear of what’s been done to other civilizations here on Earth.

The most destructive contact between a more advanced civilization and its unfortunate counterpart has to be Hernán Cortes landing on the shores of what we now call Latin America. Strange vessels appearing on the horizon, stranger visitors descending from them taken for divine beings: a prelude to complete annihilation the likes of which must be unparalleled. Cortes and his conquistadores, along with the number of clerics along for the voyage, were small in number, but managed to overthrow the powerful Aztec Empire. Not that Monctezuma did himself any favors, of course, and the Spanish were abetted by those tribes who hated and chafed at Aztec rule. Yet it still remains astonishing that a small group of strangers from across the ocean could irrevocably change the course of another civilization’s history and end up wiping out so many people.

Our stories of alien abductions and the like are just a stylized version of this very earthbound invasion. It’s not just fear of the unknown: the Spanish were technologically superior to the Aztecs. And they also brought an even more dangerous weapon: disease. This is the one thing that did more damage than anything else from which there was no defense. Flash forward several hundred years among the “ancient alien” crowd and the idea that extraterrestrials “may” have engineered massive plagues in the past for unknown reasons. Just a reflection of what historically happened, although for the conquistadors, the diseases they brought were happenstance. Only much later and in another land would a foreign disease be used as a biological weapon against First Nation peoples as a matter of policy.

They Come for the Gold
This is favored trope of the ancient alien cult, that extraterrestrials come to Earth in order to mine for gold or other resources. This seems like an astonishing waste of time, considering that mining asteroids would be more fruitful, but again, this is not about aliens invading the earth, this about the projection of those ideas from what we know of history. The European powers did not engage in global maritime adventures for the sake of exploration, but for booty, namely gold. The Spaniards were looking for wealth, and there was much to be found in the Americas. Rapaciously, the new conquerers amassed fortunes for themselves and the Spanish Crown: imagine the riches dancing in someone’s head over the report of gold and more importantly, disposable people to fill the coffers. This dovetails nicely with repeated claims that the aliens are going to enslave us because they need a pliable workforce.

While the conquest of the Americas did not happen overnight, it was a slow form of utter destruction that probably could not be rivaled until the First World War in the 20th century. Not just the Aztecs, but entire other civilizations collapsed with the invaders, who were now ruling over millions of people. A population that could be told what to do, powerless as they were. There was resistance, of course, but in the end, the Europeans overran them all and began exporting all those riches back to the mother countries. Why does this sound familiar? Because nowadays, believers in alien contact have just repurposed history into a new narrative, although it’s unclear if they even aware of how much the historical precedent feeds what they say is going on now. In popular culture, alien invasion movies follow a similar script but one that often has a happy ending: a superior force invades, destroys, enslaves and the fate of the world depends on a resistance. Except we know that the invasion and the invaders were here to stay.

Then There’s the Sex Thing
One wonders if all the stories of alien rape, insemination, and hybridization have their provenance in history as well. We know that European stock merged into the genetic pool of the Aztecs and beyond: what to do about the offspring? Can we call them Aztec? These children literally were a new breed of person, further sealing the fate of an &ld;uncorrupted” line of “pure” Aztec or Mexica. There are, of course, descendants of groups like the Maya living to this day, but we often think of these peoples and their cultures as being lost.

That fear might motivate the alien-human hybridization stories: a loss of identity. In the West, we do not understand what it means for civilization to come to such an end. Even the two world wars did not stop the French being French or Italians being Italians. But the conquest of the Americas was indeed a kind of Armageddon. Aztecs, Mexica, even Maya now became Chileans, Argentinians or Peruvians, speaking a common, imposed language none of their ancestors ever knew. Now, these cultures were not completely wiped out, but in one sense, they were totally destroyed. This is something incomprehensible for most people. If you take a movie like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” you start to see more than Cold War fears being acted out: the very things that we identify ourselves have all been subsumed into a collective identity where there is no individualism and no trace whatsoever of our previous lives.

And then, naturally, there are the clerics. The Spaniards didn’t only bring along weapons, no matter how small in number, but also their priests to do battle with foreign gods. The Catholic clergy were horrified at what they believed to be the Devil at work and the Aztecs in blind service to him. So the old gods had to be annihilated in the name of the Christian god, and along with that, the vilification of all indigenous religious culture. We can only lament the loss of all this knowledge, furiously destroyed by priests to obliterate all traces of Satan. And for the people themselves? Not only were they forced to speak a new language, but to abandon their religious beliefs in favor of worshipping a Jewish peasant who had lived on another continent 14 centuries prior. Talk about an apocalypse! You have entire peoples being terrified into submission and threatened with everlasting torment unless they adopt the crucified god of the invaders.

Organized religion is the only aspect of alien invasion stories that is mostly lacking. The ignorant talking heads of the show “Ancient Aliens” like to portray stories about the gods across various cultures as actual extraterrestrials mistaken for divine entities, and people who claim to have been abducted and used for hybridization purposes spout New Age ideas about “preparing mankind for a higher level” or some such tripe, but the aliens in general appear to mostly be areligious. It’s an interesting thing by itself, that so many people who believe that aliens are constantly visiting the Earth don’t seem bothered by the idea that any of them could have their own religion and might impose it on us. The subtext for this is that an advanced civilization would have no need for religion: perhaps collective guilt over the forced conversion of millions of people in the Americas? Or just a reflection of the secularization of Western societies? (An interesting side note on that subject: the final scene of “War of the Worlds” has the film’s heroes holed up in a church as the End seems near, only to have the war machines go quiet. An *scientific* explanation for the end of invasion is offered, but the symbolism is potent).

Stories about alien abductions and invasions are myth-making in action, a recasting of historical events that we’ve all absorbed culturally, whether we realize it or not. The first contact between two different civilizations where one was woefully behind the other in terms of technology resulted in the complete destruction of First Nation societies and mass death. The entire social order was overthrown completely, in a way that is far different from Alexander the Great’s entry into Babylon or the Muslim overthrow of the Persian empire. In the case of the latter, the Persians were far more culturally advanced than their new tribesmen overlords, but in the subsequent melding of two cultures through Islamization, there was nothing like what happened in the Americas after the Spanish Conquest. I will not use the word “genocide” because it’s not only inappropriate, but suggests a concerted policy of extermination which has no basis in historical fact. Nonetheless, the destruction brought by these strange visitors from unknown lands was far more devastating and longer-lasting, something that was going to be repeated as European powers invaded other lands with societies distinctly less advanced than their own. And these facts of imperialism have wound their way into popular culture, disguised as alien invaders destroying and enslaving helpless populations or ransacking precious for their own needs.

The story remains the same; only the actors have changed.