Who Watches The Watchmen?

 

 In speculation regarding the theory of other life in the galaxy and the possibility of contact with a new civilization, most of us fall into two camps: One is of the belief that a species capable of traveling to us in the first place, and therefore more advanced than we are technologically, must be benevolent, the theory being that benevolence is the by product of time, intelligence and evolution. The other camp believes that any superior force would likely be a conquering force that would subjugate any lesser species it encounters.

Both may be right, and I believe there is no constant in the universe when it comes to the motivations and emotions of others. But any species would likely have evolved from a basic survival instinct imperative, and we are imbued with it as well. Therefore, any species, when fearing harm or death, would likely respond to this imperative and go to great lengths to justify any actions required in the pursuit of its own survival. Certainly we have seen this in our own recorded history.

My image started off as whimsical, and still is somewhat, but as I spent days on it, thoughts of alien civilizations played through my head, and I began to regard this image differently. It seems harmless -  an observer, a cartographer, an archivist quietly observing a representation of a planet, careful not to interact with it, keeping to the darkness. In my mind, this was an observer, a benevolent visitor in a holographic outpost of sorts, watching our planet discreetly and covertly, beaming back all the information he gathers to his people.

But the first task in invasion, the first step towards attack, is observation. Assessment of the target's abilities, weaknesses, capabilities. If this alien is benevolent, as his actions seem to indicate he is, what would this information be used for if the race from which he came decided to use that data for military purposes? In other words, "Who Watches The Watchmen?"

This phrase originates from a first century Latin poet, Juvenal. Though the satire it came from dealt with marital fidelity, the issue of moral fidelity is at play here too. If this alien is the benevolent watcher, who is watching him? Who will ensure he adheres to his own morality, if indeed anyone and everyone is corruptible? This is why I hold no faith, no belief in the religions of our time - because any group, any gathering greater than one, is corruptible, susceptible to politic maneuverings, and no one in that group is beyond corruption.

Originally, this image started off as a satire on the "careful tourist" - the traveler who adheres to the safe, the prescribed paths, and never gets his hands into the heart of the land and culture he is visiting. Once I made him into an alien observer, my mind reached back to an old episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation which has a similar title,  where the Federation, adhering to their own Prime Directive of non-interference of a less advanced culture, discreetly observe a primitive race from a hidden outpost. Through an accident, the outpost is seen by the race they are watching, and the Prime Directive is violated, contaminating the natural evolution of the people and their world. Their very beliefs are changed in a day when they behold the "miracles" of the advanced society that was studying them.

It reminded me of something I read once about the paradox of observing quantum mechanics. Essentially, it is not possible to observe a system without changing that system, and the observer and the act of observation, therefore, must be considered part of the system being observed!

In other words, the ethics of surveillance, as it relates to this fantasy piece, is the issue. Whatever the intentions are of the Watchman here, the information he gathers could one day be used to change the world he is observing, and the concern is one that applies to almost any culture, and leader, any society: Who Watches the Watchmen?


Michael Bilotta

04/28/2014