Is Stephen Hawking right? Should we fear extraterrestrials?

Many Britons who emigrate to Canada have been known, understandably, to go mad instantly upon arrival. But, as you would expect from a genius, Prof. Stephen Hawking is well ahead of the pack.

Sings Father Sebastian: "No, no, no, it ain't me, babe"

Unlike Archie Belaney of Hastings (1888–1938), who settled in Ontario and declared himself to be Grey Owl, the aboriginal fabulist, or the London-born actor Sebastian Cabot (1918–1977), who washed up on Vancouver Island and began his eccentric recitations of Bob Dylan’s lyrics set to Weimar Republic cabaret musical accompaniment, Prof. Hawking, who is scheduled to soon set up shop at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont., couldn’t even wait until he landed in Canada to turn crackpot.

Perhaps inspired by the isolationist rhetoric of the U.S. Tea Party movement, Prof. Hawking recently began spouting an intergalactic equivalent of the anti-immigration argument. Said he: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent [extraterrestrial] life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” He advised against leaving the light on for the visitors, since they might take our hospitality as an open invitation to harness and then deplete our sun’s energies, or help themselves to those oceans we’ve not yet befouled with oil spills, or cart off a couple of those succulent 500-pound specimens you see making their way around the big ‘n’ tall department of the Wal-Marts in suburban Nashville.

Hawking’s got a point. He’s got Walt Kelly’s point, actually. It was the cartoonist Kelly, speaking through his Pogo comic strip, who said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” Or, as the Tea Party’s Sarah Palin might follow the thought: “Why go to all the expense and effort of seeking out aliens from far-away galaxies, when they’re likely to be even bigger jerks than the Mexicans and Canadians and Belgians and whatnot we’re trying to keep out? Thanks, Perfesser!”

Big 'uns at Wal-Mart: Toothsome to our alien friends?
Big 'uns at Wal-Mart: A toothsome treat for not-so-friendly Visitors?

Well, Gov. Palin’s no astro-physicist, putting it gently, but Hawking is: until recently, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, no less. As such, he ought to know better than to disparage the character and impugn the motives of entire groups of beings, based on their place of origin. That kind of talk, whether uttered through a speech-synthetizer or not, will land anyone in a world of hurt with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It matters not that the aliens he describes may not be human, and may be, he theorizes, single-cell microbes. They could still have feelings of self-worth to be bruised — and, in Ontario, you simply don’t get away with casting aspersions on ethnic or cultural or extraplanetary groups, without forking over big cash, as a penalty.

It’s too easy to imagine Barbara Hall, the Chief Marsupial at the kangaroo court that is the Ontario Human Rights Commission, demanding that Prof. Hawking explain what he was thinking, when his mechanical voice-box uttered the following remark: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the American Indians.”

With a shake of her judicial jowls, Commissioner Hall would have the professor writing out cheques to the aggrieved microbes, as well as descendents of the noble Columbo, all tribes of the First Nations, and anyone else whose sensitivities may have suffered the great scholar’s abuse. And heaven help Hawking if, through his giant intellect, he thinks he can josh his way out of paying the Human Rights piper, with a quip such as the one he tossed toward the Sun newspaper in London. “Some even suggested I myself am an alien,” he said. “I assure you I’m not.” Now he’s making light of his hurtful comments! Fine him another twenty grand, Madame Commissioner!

The Hellyer with those extraterrestial bastards

It would seem that Hon. Paul Hellyer, the redoubtable 86-year-old one-time “minister of everything” under the government of Pierre Trudeau, is just the fellow to take the aliens’ case to the commission.

Hellyer, a native-born Canadian free-thinker, is up in arms over Prof. Hawking’s cruel shots at the little green men in their flying saucers. “I think he’s indulging in some pretty scary talk there that I would have hoped would not come from someone with such an established stature,” he tells the Canadian Press news agency. “I think it’s really sad that a scientist of his repute would contribute to what I would consider more misinformation about a vast and very important subject.”

Yes, sad. You know, I always wondered who was listening to all those 20th Century song lyrics about the One-Eyed Two-Horned Flying Purple People-Eater, and David Bowie’s trilling about how you gotta make way for the homo superior. Now it can be told. When the kookie Englishman Bowie sang, “Homo sapiens have outgrown their use/All the strangers came today/And it looks as though they’re here to stay,” it turns out not to have been my cohort, the stoned adolescents, who were listening to the words. It was the older generation of scientists and politicians, the Lucasian Professors, and the Ministers of Defense.

The controversy will continue, but the question remains clear: Should we be searching for intelligent life in other solar systems?

My response is that we may as well. Because you sure as hell aren’t going to find any intelligent life in Ontario.

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