In a couple of decades or so, when aliens are trying to figure out why humanity vanished, there will probably be a school of thought among xenoarcheologists that argues that our species was basically headed in the right direction until climate change forced us to choose on a global level between narrow self-interest and long-term planetary viability. Assuming those aliens read Slate, I invite them to consider the following seven minutes of The Daily Show:
This is a comedy segment—and a funny one!—whose premise is that (a few) sexual predators are facing (some) consequences in the court of public opinion, and in the cases of R. Kelly and Robert Kraft, those consequences may even come with legal penalties. It’s also premised on the following slightly less cheery facts:
• The entertainment industry has been run by sexual predators and their enablers for decades and probably centuries.
• The Catholic Church has been run by sexual predators and their enablers for decades and probably centuries.
• The government of the United States is headed by a sexual predator right now.
• The legal system of the United States allows sexual predators to buy their way out of trouble if they have enough money and know the right people, even if they’re not president.
Taken as a whole, and considered along with the incredibly disappointing montage of Patriots fans excusing Robert Kraft, those facts lead to the following conclusions, neither of which speaks well of humanity:
• Whenever it is discovered that someone with unfathomable money and power enjoys raping children, nearly everyone with large—but not quite as large—amounts of money and power teams up to ensure those child rapists face no consequences for raping children, in exchange for more money and power.
• People with very little money or power are nevertheless willing to overlook pretty much anything in exchange for a few hours of guilt-free football.
Human beings have spent a lot of time amusing ourselves with optical illusions, the places where we can see the blind spots left by the ad-hoc design of senses. We haven’t spent nearly as much time wondering if the ad-hoc design of our moral senses are steering the planet towards doom, which, in our defense, is a much less amusing proposition. But watch Trevor Noah run down a laundry list of relatively consequence-free atrocities, ending with a montage of people who, faced with the choice between acknowledging their responsibilities to other human beings and enjoying a football game a little less, enthusiastically opt for the football game. When it comes to measuring other people’s suffering against even the tiniest, pettiest, shittiest little personal gain, our brains just don’t work right. So if alien academia is anything like the human version (and if it is, I’d advise making some changes!) let me save your archaeology departments a lot of infighting: It was always going to end this way.