Something that always annoys me about science fiction is when the food of the distant future isn’t the food of the distant future. It’s always jarring when a world is full of technological and societal advances that completely change the lifestyle of its inhabitants but then they sit down to eat and oh, hey, here’s a chicken sandwich. It doesn’t make sense that in a world with flying car analogues, teleportation, faster than light travel, and the like, there is still someone who’s job it is to raise and butcher chickens.
What does food have to do with the Fermi paradox? The idea behind the paradox, paraphrased from the Wikipedia article, is as follows: The universe is vast and, even in our galaxy, there are billions of stars that are billions of years older than our sun. It’s likely that some of these stars have Earth-like planets and that some of these planets have developed intelligent life. Some of these intelligent civilizations must be at least millions of years older than we are, giving them enough time to became incredibly more advanced and even colonize part of the galaxy. But if this is the case, then where are they? So far, we have zero evidence of the existence of more advanced civilizations but, considering how much of a head start they must have had, it’s reasonable to assume that they would be everywhere or that, at least, there would be some trace of them. That’s the paradox.
There are many ways that have been proposed to solve the paradox. Some question the basic assumptions of the argument (maybe Earth-like planets are extremely rare); others propose that alien civilizations need not behave like we think they would (maybe it’s the fate of intelligent civilizations to always destroy themselves). I think it’s the chicken sandwiches.
Why would a civilization of non-humans want to make contact with us after seeing how we treat the non-humans already on our planet? We gather them up in the millions and keep them confined in factories where they suffer all their lives until the day when we take them out and murder them and eat them. It’s my assumption that an advanced civilization that makes it past the point where they are at risk of destroying themselves is able to do so because their cultural evolution has managed to surpass their technological one. We can see such a race taking place on our own planet right now. Right alongside our technological advances we can see that our society has become ever more tolerant and emotionally intelligent. Intolerance and cruelty do not belong in our future—if only we can survive long enough.
So when we see a fictional world where so many things about society are just so nearly perfect, it doesn’t make sense that someone somewhere murdered a cow, chopped it into pieces and burned these pieces so that someone else could stuff them into their face.
It’s not only how we treat non-humans that would dissuade an intelligent civilization from wanting to have anything to do with us. It’s also our incredible track record at being simply awful to each other and doing generally horrible things. There is no need for me to number all the atrocities that we have committed, but maybe I should point out that many of these horrible things are still happening. There are millions of humans in slavery all around the world right now as you read this. There are more slaves alive today than at any time in history. Millions of these slaves are children. This alone, I think, is enough to keep any decent species away from us, but we can always add things like war, poverty, hunger, and our mind-numbingly stupid and wilful destruction of the very environment that we depend on for our survival; this is something like setting fire to your own lifeboat . If I were an intelligent species, I would want nothing to do with us until we prove mature and intelligent enough to fix the mess that is our planet.