This Guest Post is by Standardista Incognito.
Spoiler alert: reading this may spoil the fun watching the movie Arrival for the first time!
In the recent movie Arrival aliens land on Mother Earth. Well, technically, they don’t actually land but their ‘ships’ just hover in the air like giant upright cumin seeds. As usual, us humans want to know whether they’re here to eat us, use as incubators for their offspring, or simply kills us for fun – yes, we’re a trusting bunch; I wonder where we get this from – and the simplest way to find out is to ask (strike me down with a feather!). This is why the heroine gets recruited; a young single female professor of linguistics (jawohl, mein Herr!) heading a crack team of specialists to learn how to communicate with the aliens before we shoot them back into space (this was before Trump became POTUS; he’d use Twitter to communicate with aliens). The hard-science physicist in the movie is male, of course, and looks like your average Hollywood actor adding a little bit of romance so not much stereotyping (another ‘quirk’ of our language) there either.
The aliens, who happen to be a cross between giant octopus and jellyfish (but they’re given nicknames so all is good – for now), have a weird alienesque way of communicating but us humans are so darn clever that we figure it out! As it turns out, the aliens are here to give us a ‘tool’ or ‘weapon’ and here the proverbial Babylonian confusion of tongues surrounding words, language, interpretation, and meaning starts to backfire; all trigger-happy world leaders (that’s all the ones with nukes BTW) are ready to bunker down and nuke them aliens.
Fortunately, our heroine is a quick learner and has become rather fluent in the alien language and can now interpret the past as well as the future as a result – the language is strangely holistic and conceptual compared to ours, which is linear and starts at the top left, going to the right, with punctuation, etc., to convey rather basic meaning. This happens to be the tool/weapon that the aliens were giving humankind (don’t ask; apparently, the aliens will need our help in 3,000 years’ time). One of the messages is that mankind has to work together or face uncertainty, which is like facing doom, of course.
So, in effect, the aliens gave us nothing in a literal sense but taught us something (a language, which is a bit of an anti-climax for those who might be expecting something more tangible or ‘grandiose’) that we humans were capable of all along. The key is in language, perception (of space & time), communication, and true collaboration. In short: unity, which naturally encapsulates the concept of belonging. There are several interpretations doing the rounds about knowing the future, e.g. it is meant to be and we go along for the ride and experience & enjoy (or suffer) the consequences or it is open-ended and subject to change because of free will (yes, that old chestnut again).
For quite some time now neoliberalism and free market speak have pervaded our lives and invaded our language, perception, and communication as well as stifled true collaboration and killed off community spirit. In short: disunity and separation. There have been calls for change; calls that are getting stronger (and more desperate). Several people have suggested the need for a new narrative, a new language, to replace the free market speak and help us see our world (space & time) and our place in the world (meaning of life) in a new light. People are story-tellers and we need a new story in order to discard the old one or build on it rather – a new chapter – because almost nothing is as compelling as a story that is embedded and enforced in (daily) experience even when it does not stack up against reality because stories reflect our beliefs of how things are and/or ought to be …
Recently, the Green Movement (no, this is not a Borg Hive full of slimy green aliens) arrived here on Mother Earth. Well, technically, they have been here for some time but were largely ignored because they were judged pretty harmless tree huggers and earth rooters although they also talk about alienesque things such as climate change, environment & eco-system, sustainability, holistic, social justice & equality, tolerance, diversity, democracy, community, post-capitalism, etc. But they appeared non-threatening to us non-trusting humans and we gave them nicknames so all was good – till now.
The message of the Greens is the same though: we have to work together for all mankind and this planet or else … You don’t have to be an alien versed in future-knowing holistic language to know what is going to happen in the future, according to the Greens. In fact, you don’t even need to be a linguistics professor with a crack team. The message is simple: learn this new language (not a second one at Primary School) and change your ways, or not, as you wish, in the full knowledge of the consequences.
There is one slight problem though. Although it is a story this is not a movie!! The Greens are working on a new comprehensive & integrated language to replace unfettered capitalism and to achieve this task they need our collective help now, not in 3,000 years’ time. Meanwhile, some fearful people are chomping at the bit to (politically) destroy & annihilate the Greens (the messengers) because capitalism and greed is good, you know. The Greens are calling for unity to save this planet from the insidious destructive power unleashed by us humans that has been desecrating the environment & invaluable eco-systems – please note: not just (!) limited to the causes of climate change – and literally & figuratively been destroying lives as well as causing accelerated extinction of whole species. All we need to do is to develop and speak a new darn language! Our first words will be like a baby’s first utterances, we won’t all learn at the same rate – we have to respect this; we need to guide and help each other – and we won’t all become fluent. How hard can it be …
Post-script: The director of Arrival is Denis Villeneuve who also directed Blade Runner 2049.
The Greens are not the only ones trying to develop a new narrative that is appropriate for the crises we are facing.