My mom is mad at my brothers for trying to help her manage her meds. I’ve gone from twenty-five hours a week to “are you free now?” hours a week to “if you get sick I don’t know what we’ll do” hours a week. I haven’t even tried to buy toilet paper and I bought flour in a back alley deal. I thought I’d spent too much of my twenty-nine years on the internet, and yet I’m now skyping and zooming so much my eyes are stinging in protest. I’ve filtered my online existence so much that the only news I accidentally ingest anymore is what animal Reddit thinks is cutest today.
“What should I write my blog post about?” I ask my husband, my voice muffled by the couch cushion I’m talking to. “I don’t want it to be about coronavirus.”
“The Fermi Paradox,” he says.
“Okay.” I say, before frowning momentarily and backtracking. “What the fuck is that?”
If the probability of extraterrestrial intelligent life is so high, why is the evidence for their existence so feeble? If we are not alone in the universe, why are we so alone in the universe?
The first theory that comes to mind is that we’re not alone, we’re just alone right now. Maybe our ancient ancestors met intelligent beings hundreds of thousands of years ago, but they weren’t intelligent enough themselves to impress the aliens into sticking around. Or maybe our great, great, great grand children will have alien penpals, but we haven’t perfected our Ion engines yet so we’re like the Israelites wandering the desert. Maybe there’s a galactic war going on, the enemy’s gate is down, and we’re just too technologically feeble to get involved and we really should be grateful at this point.
The other solutions to the Fermi Paradox are simultaneously boring and suffocating, so I tend to ignore them. They vaguely summarize to, “There’s nothing to see here,” or “The variables are such that we’ll never know.” So I prefer to imagine this more hopeful scenario of maybe it’s just not us, but it has been, and it will be again.
There’s a video game that I am currently playing through for the fourth time that has that stubborn hopefulness to it. In Horizon: Zero Dawn, humans have finally done what they’ve threatened to do for millenia. They’ve outsmarted themselves and wiped all life from the face of the Earth. But they’ve also managed to do what they have always done with frustrating persistence: survived in spite of themselves. Centuries in the future, when the haphazardly-preserved embryos of our long-dead contemporaries are forming new cultures and ways of being, one young woman, Aloy, has the fate of the world in her hands.
Aloy is the clone of the long-dead scientist who saved the world once before, and Aloy was brought to life by computer code who hoped the scientist could save the world again. It’s the kind of hope that looks and sounds ridiculous, and it’s the kind of hope that I need in the face of the Fermi Paradox, and in the face of the world falling apart around me. It’s naive, escapist, silly hope, and it’s almost everything I have anymore.
Humanity: the once and future success story. Not right now, maybe, but before. And later. And that can be good enough for me.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.