A Short Story from the April 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
In Italy recently there was much craning of necks and straining of eye-balls when strange objects which many people believed to be flying saucers, were spotted in the sky. Photographs, and even a film, have been produced to substantiate this, and one Italian even appeared on television claiming to have spoken to creatures thirteen inches tall with lights in their foreheads. Since then the hysteria seems to have spread, with a report in the Guardian of UFOs buzzing an American missile base.
It would appear however, that despite all this aerial activity, flying-saucers, like ghosts, never actually make any serious attempt at communication, and one might wonder why these galactic interlopers go to all the bother of traversing space only to complete a couple of laps before zooming off again.
Perhaps the reason for their reticence in making contact is that they have been tuning into earth sci-fi movies in the mistaken belief that these were actual recordings of preceding missions. They would undoubtedly derive little consolation from a movie like The Day the Earth Stood Still in which poor Michael Rennie, while merely trying to warn earth governments of the folly of their ways, only got a bullet for his trouble (despite having a ten-foot tall tin pal who dispensed instant obliteration at the clunk-click of a visor).
Another reason might be the problem of choosing a landing site. Certainly ruled out would be the grounds of the White House, where one recent uninvited guest was assisted from the premises by a dozen club-wielding policemen. Another good place not to come down is Iran where any vehicle tends to end up as an instant bonfire. Nor Cambodia, where both sides in the set-to currently going on there aren’t exactly renowned for their kindness to prisoners. A worse fate for a space visitor would be hard to imagine—except perhaps to land with a green skin in among Rangers fans at a Celtic-Rangers match.
But more probable is the apparent complexity of the society that visitors would experience. Assuming that the spectators came from a planet whose society somehow evolved differently from that of the earth—Tribal Communism, Chattel-Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism. The observation of the day to day running of the buying and selling system might be somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps to discreetly eavesdrop on one of these crafts might help to clear up the mystery.
“Our scanners show people blowing one another up, and shooting and clubbing each other to death”,
“Is this all they do then?”.
“Apparently not, in spite of the mayhem they appear to have developed quite a high level of technology.”
“So then, we can assume that everyone has ample food, clothing, and shelter?”
“Now that’s an interesting point. Although the planet is capable of providing enough food to satisfy the needs of the entire population many times over, many millions are undernourished and even starving to death.”
“Perhaps they have inadequate methods of transportation?”
“Well, here’s a transporter carrying milk and it appears to have arrived at its destination.”
“Are they giving it to the people?”
“No they’re pouring it into a hole in the ground.”
“I see, a storage tank?”
“No an abandoned mine-shaft. Now this looks hopeful, here are a group of people at a production unit stacking up sacks of grain in a huge pile.”
“Ah, then this time they must be storing it?”
“Not exactly, they’re burning it.”
“Is here any logical explanation for this seemingly irrational behaviour?”
“Well I’m not quite sure, but from what I can gather it’s some kind of weird religious sacrifice they dedicate to a deity they call profit. Apparently great numbers of these people go into production units and produce vast quantities of wealth taking only enough to keep themselves alive. On the other hand there is a small number of people who must be high priests judging by the amount of wealth that they own and consume, and by the way that the producers revere them, indulging in a curious ritual of inclining their bodies and pulling at strands of hair on the front of their heads.”
“This is most difficult to understand. On our planet where we have long since mastered the technique of production, we simply distribute according to people’s needs.”
“It would seem that although these people also have the wherewithal to organise themselves in the same way very few have grasped this simple proposition.”
“Do you think we should land and inform them?”
“Are you kidding? Look what happened to Michael Rennie.”