Xenophobia and Double Standards

Dear brother ******,

I received your letter a few days ago, but I’ve been busy and haven’t had time to reply until now. I was glad to read that your son’s illness is cured, and that your daughter succeeded in her recital at school. I truly believe she has a lot of potential. As for Mom and Dad, I hope they aren’t still too bummed out by my decision to come here to help establish the colony. I know you understand my decision, and though I know his mother still has a hard time accepting it, I hope you will help my son understand it in time, especially if the conditions here don’t allow me to return home. All I can say is that I’m doing this for something I firmly believe in, something greater than me or this family. It’s for the entire race and the whole planet.

Yes, I share your concerns, and I have been following the news of home pretty intently anyway. If there’s one good thing we have here, it’s telecommunications. We have access to news from home within hours, and the bosses make damn sure we get it, so I’m able to keep track of what’s going on. It’s a small perk, compared with the hardships we have to put up with, but it does help a lot. It’s very lonely way out here, and getting this news and messages from home every day really does help to break the loneliness and warm our hearts. And that’s saying something, given the awful temperatures we have to deal with here.

Anyway, I digress. Yeah, I’ve got to tell you, in the light of what is happening I am still pretty happy to have moved to this place, even though it is significantly colder here and life is pretty rough. I agree with you, there is something a bit threatening about those clandestine immigrants arriving among the community. Though, having also caught some broadcasts from the other side of the border, I have to say it’s even more troubling and we may see a lot of chaos in our homeland pretty soon.

For one thing, they don’t seem at all apologetic about what is happening, don’t seem to be taking any measures to prevent it, and indeed are regularly congratulating themselves for it, even though very few of them are in any condition as yet to make the trip… We should consider ourselves lucky for now, because the day they score the means to make the trip in large enough numbers and survive, they will doubtless be all over our poor homeland, taking our precious resources. Yes, it’s still just a remote possibility for now, but they’re making progress quickly.

And another thing, I don’t know if you saw: their movie industry seems to glorify this and encourage it, even going so far as to promote settling in our homeland long-term and exporting even their way of life here. If they are anything like us, that is the kind of thing that is likely to encourage mass migration efforts to settle in our home. But that’s not the worst of it. I mean, have you seen their way of life? They live in a constant cycle of self-destruction, crime, duplicity, anger and suspicion. We definitely don’t want them to export that over here. I know, you’ll tell me that we have that too. Fair enough. But this is different. If they come here, they’re going to bring their own kind of crime and problems. And I’m sure they’re worse than we are.

In fact, think about it: what if they deliberately send their worst folks over? I wouldn’t put it past them. Kind of like what we did with our outposts in the Asteroid Belt, remember? Rounded up our most despicable people and sent them all the way out there to keep them out of our way, free to kill each other if they wanted to. Can you imagine? We’re living our life, and suddenly a bunch of criminal refugees pops up. At least we had the decency to choose somewhere uninhabited to send our people. I know, some of them got sick on arrival, but we don’t know for sure that they didn’t catch bugs before leaving home!

But you know, I’ve heard even worse: there are rumors that some of them want to transform our homeland entirely to suit them and allow them to live more easily. One of their recent movies even features one of them growing some kind of funny-looking food just like they do back there! No consideration for the integrity of our natural environment! And that, I think, is the most threatening part of it all: a self-confessed, self-centered and unapologetic objective of genocide against us and our people. We don’t know what kinds of nasty things they might bring along with them… I’ve been having second thoughts about my decision to come here, but if one day they show up with their stuff and start infecting us with who knows what, I’ll definitely feel like this was the right decision.

And quite frankly, I just don’t trust them. I don’t agree with the movements back home who wish to welcome them and integrate them. I think it’s much more dangerous than they can possibly imagine, and that we would seriously risk annihilation and extinction if we let them come too freely. All that would be left of us is a bunch of remains out in the cold. I know there are those, even here among us, who believe a preemptive strike on their home is what is required in order to protect us. I’m not quite convinced yet. After all, they haven’t done anything serious to us yet.

My philosophy is live and let live, but keep them as much as possible at arm’s length. And little though I trust them, I would feel guilty and awful if we decided to attack them for no reason. I know, it might not be for no reason, given the trends, and unfortunately I’m pretty sure the reasons are just around the corner, given their level of activity at the border. I believe we were right, all those years ago, to adopt that measure of hiding underground in the polar ice caves.

Remember then, when their first vehicle crossed our skies? It had a funky red rectangle with a weird yellow design on it, and beside it, a design looking like “CCCP”, whatever that means… Then they started bombarding us with other machines, and even came themselves with some of them! You remember, those unnatural little beasts with six wheels scurrying along, digging around and being generally very nosy… And most recently, one of those damn things started digging into the soil! Can you believe it? Digging! It’s as if they know where we are and are trying to flush us out! I know, that’s not quite enough evidence of actual genocidal intent. We still need to wait and see what they eventually get up to before we know for sure.

I wonder whether our leaders will eventually wise up and accept that we need to change our approach to this problem. Personally, I think we should send them a clear warning message and make sure they stay away. But yes, it is risky… It seems that they’ve developed extremely dangerous weapons… Remember those first radiation spikes we detected not forty years ago from their side of the border? There have been lots more since then. Now I know there are some natural things that can provoke such spikes, but let’s be real. Nothing for aeons, then a sudden uptick of thousands of them in the space of just a few decades? That’s not natural, it’s them, they’ve figured out some kind of radiation weapon and started using it. And if they have those to use locally against each other, they can definitely send them all the way over here… It’s a massive quandary… I don’t think we have what it takes to counter that kind of weapon if they ever use them on us. I guess maybe for now we should indeed just stay hidden, and try to develop some kind of defense. We should be prepared, when we do contact them, to face whatever they send our way.

Anyway, this whole topic depresses me no end. If I keep brooding over this, I’ll definitely never make it home alive. Let’s change the subject. Life here is hard, but fascinating. We’ve been conducting a bunch of experiments and witnessing some really fascinating stuff! In the past year, we have built a half-decent, steady life, using the methane in the air and the lakes to power our base. Oh, and you should see the views, seriously! The planet is very visible in the sky, extending about twenty degrees including the rings! We don’t always see the rings because we have an edge-on view, but under the right conditions, they appear as a white line crossing the planet itself out!

Except one time, when we had a solar eclipse down here. Now that was pretty funky. Imagine getting first the shadow of the ring. It’s fairly quick, and doesn’t quite completely blot out the sun, but it’s definitely noticeable. And when the planet itself comes in, it’s pretty impressive. All we can see of the planet at that stage are two half circles almost connecting, where the sunlight refracts through the edge of the atmosphere, with two tiny bits at opposite ends blocked by the rings. As beautiful as these eclipses are, however, they do last a full three hours, during which the temperatures drop to night-time levels within minutes. But hell, it’s well worth it to have to bundle up inside the space suit and just stand there watching…

Temperature and loneliness aside, though, this place is really promising! Imagine all the energy we could harvest from here! Plus, it would make a good stopover base for further exploration. We could no doubt install equipment to create fuel and other important supplies for passing ships. We don’t need to worry about asteroid impacts either, because Jupiter and Saturn are so close and diverting all of those straight into themselves anyway.

And you know the most fun part of this place? With only a little improvisation, we can tweak our space suits to allow us to actually FLY! Yes, you read that right, fly just by flapping in the thick air! Can you believe it? What with the almost nonexistent atmosphere back home on Mars, this would be completely impossible, but here, all it takes is the right kind of wing and off we soar into the sky!

Man, the first time I flew here was amazing! Granted, it took some learning, but we managed it. Well, I say ‘we’, I worked on it with one of my colleagues, who had heard that it was possible and decided to jury rig something to allow us to do it. Of course, this involved sticking things to our space suits, and when the commander found out he went ape, confiscated our setup and punished us. With hindsight, I can’t blame him. We were using mission equipment for purposes other than the mission, after all, and if we need that stuff later on in a real emergency it’ll be harder to use. But altogether we did get a couple of hours of fun before he spotted us.

We haven’t yet found any local life forms. The methane lakes are deep and opaque, so we can’t see through them. It’s too bad, it would have been interesting to study them. Though of course, we don’t know yet whether they would be hostile. If they are, the commander made it clear: no mercy. We will have to kill them on sight, no matter what. We can’t risk the survival of the colony over them, especially if we intend to expand the settlement and bring more people over. There wasn’t much opposition, pretty much everyone agreed when he made that pronouncement. Three of the twelve of us said it wasn’t right, and somehow they managed to start and almost single-handedly sustain quite a debate on the issue, which lasted hours. And boy were they stubborn! They even at one point managed to spark a bit of guilt in me on this issue. I mean, deep down I know they’re right, of course. It would be insanely cruel of us to do this. But I do agree with the commander, we can’t risk the safety of this or other future missions.

We’re also still trying to find traces of some catalyst or reactant that would allow us to convert the methane to something breathable… It’s all carbon and hydrogen here. That’s a problem we’re still working on, and which it will be absolutely necessary to solve if we want to marsiform this moon to allow us to live and breathe normally and maybe warm the climate up. The same three who resisted when the commander expounded on his plan of killing any life if it turns out to be hostile complained about the whole idea of marsiforming too, saying that we should instead keep this a natural park or something and respect the local environment. Naive dreamers… Sometimes I wonder why they came on this mission at all. Maybe they just wanted bragging rights, or they wanted to collect specimens to bring back home, or whatever.

No indeed, life here is definitely not as peachy as was promised in the ads back home… Do you remember those posters? Of course you do. In fact, I’m sure they’re still all around. It’s really cold here. I mean, you can’t possibly imagine how cold it is. They tell us, back home, that it’s so cold that methane is a liquid here, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. We just can’t imagine what that’s like until we get here. In fact, it’s so cold that the carbon dioxide, the stuff our own air on Mars is made of, condenses out of the air here as rain! They train you for this, and teach you to always wear your space suit here, but it’s impossible to convey the exact reality when our minds are still so comfortably used to home.

And of course, I don’t think I need to mention that we don’t have cocktail bars and fancy accommodation here. Don’t get me wrong, our food is half-decent, at least compared to the sludge I got back when I was running rescue missions around Phobos. And the lodgings are sufficient, even though there’s really not much space. The sleeping quarters are tiny, which is made worse by the fact that there are two of us to a room. We have virtually no privacy given how cramped everything is. Our common living area is limited to about twenty square meters, half of them dedicated to the actual work. Yes, we have communication with home and some entertainment, and each of us brought something to keep busy in their luggage.

But we don’t even get to use much of that, given how much work is involved. It’s really intense, frankly. For example, over the past several days, we’ve had to go out of the habitat every day and collect samples for hours on end. Digging in the ice, collecting methane from the nearby lake, tagging, packing and carrying the samples back inside to be analyzed. Last week we were looking at the weather patterns all around here for hours. Just the other day we put out sensors and equipment at night to measure the interactions between the planet’s magnetic field and its effects on the atmosphere of the moon. We protested at having to out in the freezing cold for that, asking why we couldn’t wait half an orbit and do this by day, but the bosses said we had to measure it from the daylight side of the planet, which meant going out at night.

Still, at least we’re making progress with our mission, and that’s going well. Although, that’s WHEN it goes well. The other day a storm hit, right when we were outside drilling ice cores. One of the guys was very nearly blown away. Luckily I had my drill set quite deep in the ice, so I hung on to it and grabbed him to keep him there. We couldn’t do anything other than just stay there. Once the wind had calmed down a bit we improvised a system of leapfrogging back to the habitat, drilling hole after hole and holding on to the drill every time, getting ever closer. We bent both drill bits by doing this. Thankfully there are four drills overall, and we have a couple of spare bits beyond that.

Ah well, what am I complaining about? I knew it wouldn’t quite live up to what was promised. We have all the basic amenities, but only just that, and no more. I’m sure the bosses designed the colony this way so as to convince us we need to marsiform Titan eventually. And this comes up a lot, believe it or not. I know some people back home are not too okay with the idea, but the general consensus seems to be that this is inevitable. I mean, it would be great to have a livable base here, but it will require a lot of work, and all we’re doing here is supposed to help figure out how to do it. We’re all pretty confident we’ll manage it, though, some day or other, even the naive dreamers. One of the main reasons they agree is indeed the benefit of science and our race, of course. They didn’t choose the most patriotic of us for this mission for nothing, after all. But I have to admit, and I believe all my colleagues would heartily agree, it’s also because turning back on such a project, giving up on scoring another livable world for our species, would mean that all our efforts here would have been for nothing, and I firmly believe that none of us could let that fly if it came to happen.

Oh, I almost forgot: on the subject of life, we did have a bit of a shock the other day: one patrol came back to base with the news that they’d found a creature out on the surface. Just the one. It didn’t look like anything our scientists speculate Titanian aliens might look like. As a matter of fact, from the pictures they took it most resembles some of the beasts that landed back home. It doesn’t have a red rectangle or a blue one with white markings and red stripes, like most of the ones back home, but a blue one with yellow markings. Do you think those pesky Earthlings are also out to conquer this place? It would really be a shame, managing to protect ourselves from them for so long back home only to run into them here and have to compete with them for this moon. I wonder how the higher-ups would take the news. I really hope they won’t give up on Titan and choose to send us to Europa or Enceladus, because that too would make our efforts and sacrifices here insultingly meaningless.

In any case, the colony commander gave the order not to interfere with it, and to hide from it at all costs, and immediately sent an urgent message back home to headquarters. He then ordered a more detailed orbital reconnaissance to see if there are any more such creatures on the surface. So far, we haven’t found any, which is a relief. If this one does come from our neighbors, maybe it got lost, or it was just a first one and it will eventually be followed by others… I like to think it’s the first scenario, but given how big space is and how unlikely it is something would get lost and happen to land on a moon, I have no choice but to be realistic and accept the less pleasant scenario. And that’s really a bummer.

Anyway, I hope things are going well for you back home on Mars. Give my regards to the kids, and to Mom and Dad. I hope everyone is doing well.

Sincerely,

Your brother ******


This letter is, as you no doubt understood, a parody aiming to point out and highlight on the one hand the concerns and worries that generate feelings of xenophobia within our own societies here on Earth, but also how prone we are to establishing double standards when they best suit us. The objective here is to give a perspective on our own actions by taking a hypothetical outside example, as we humans aren’t usually good at seeing our own actions with a critical eye.

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