Diablo Cody: How would religious people react to life on Mars?

If a bunch of freaky-looking extraterrestrials actually made contact with us, I think that might blow a few minds. Can you imagine the reality show? ‘What happens when this Kansas family befriends a sassy Uranian? Here Comes Beezeltron XV14.’

A few weeks ago, I was wide-eyed and wired at 3am. As the mother of a toddler who shrieks in the night as new molars breach his virgin gum tissue, being awake at this hour is not terribly unusual for me. However, on this night, I was Out (which is terribly unusual for me).

I was sitting on the terrace of a hulking Italianate McMansion with a friend of mine, a Nasaemployed doctor who invented a prosthetic hand that sends actual sensory input to the wearer’s brain. Obviously, I’m much more impressive than he is, since I write movies. I mean, I guess the godlike ability to replicate nerve impulses is OK, but it’s no Jennifer’s Body.

My friend and I were, appropriately, looking at the stars. Not the actual stars, but fake laser galaxies that were projected on to the walls and floor of the terrace via a contraption from the mailorder gadget firm Hammacher Schlemmer.

The universe swirled around us, illuminating the gaudy ironwork and Venetian plaster that made the house look like a theme-park pavilion. The real stars were reduced to background players, winking dimly in the polluted California night. Two storeys below us, a group of revellers soaked in a colour-changing Jacuzzi, passing a wet cigarette back and forth and laughing about something.

My friend suddenly turned to me and said: “Do you know what event would completely change the world?”

I thought hard. “If someone brought us another round of vodka-grapefruits?”

“Well, yeah, that would be great. But really, there would be a huge mass consciousness shift if only we had proof of life outside earth,” my friend said, getting all Nasa on my drunk ass.

“Sure,” I said. “If a bunch of freaky-looking extraterrestrials actually made contact with us, I think that might blow a few minds. Can you imagine the reality show? ‘What happens when this Kansas family befriends a sassy Uranian? Here Comes Beezeltron XV14.’”

“I don’t even mean a full-on alien invasion,” my friend said. “I mean just proof that they exist. Even though most people can intellectualise that there are planets in the sky, the mere idea that something exists beyond us could trigger a spiritual revolution.”

I got what he was saying. In earth’s most popular religious traditions, the concept of God is wholly human-centred.

As a Catholic, I was raised to believe that God created me in His image; if you think about it, this teaching infers that God has nostrils, ear wax, tibiae and fibulae, a butt, and so forth.

That’s pretty arrogant. How would the world’s believers reconcile the idea of God with, say, a sentient vapour from Mars? Or the idea that we’re not the “perfect creation” we believed ourselves to be, that there are 200ft star-gods who stalk Alpha Centauri Bb?

I’m not even comfortable with the existence of Angelina Jolie, let alone a throbbing telepathic brain stem from the outer edge of the solar system. I need to feel that I am a superior being, not a primitive, stinking flesh-poppet from a stupid mudball called earth.

I write movies, after all.

Diablo Cody is a screenwriter, producer and director who wrote “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body”

Diablo Cody. Image: AFP/Getty

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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From Darwin to Damore - the ancient art of using "science" to mask prejudice

Charles Darwin, working at a time when women had little legal rights, declared “woman is a kind of adult child”.

“In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females,” wrote James Damore, in his now infamous anti-diversity Google memo. “As mentioned before, this likely evolved because males are biologically disposable and because women are generally more co-operative and agreeable than men.” Since the memo was published, hordes of women have come forward to say that views like these – where individuals justify bias on the basis of science – are not uncommon in their traditionally male-dominated fields. Damore’s controversial screed set off discussions about the age old debate: do biological differences justify discrimination?  

Modern science developed in a society which assumed that man was superior over women. Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary biology, who died before women got the right to vote, argued that young children of both genders resembled adult women more than they did adult men; as a result, “woman is a kind of adult child”.

Racial inequality wasn’t immune from this kind of theorising either. As fields such as psychology and genetics developed a greater understanding about the fundamental building blocks of humanity, many prominent researchers such as Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, argued that there were biological differences between races which explained the ability of the European race to prosper and gather wealth, while other races fell far behind. The same kind of reasoning fuelled the Nazi eugenics and continues to fuel the alt-right in their many guises today.

Once scorned as blasphemy, today "science" is approached by many non-practitioners with a cult-like reverence. Attributing the differences between races and gender to scientific research carries the allure of empiricism. Opponents of "diversity" would have you believe that scientific research validates racism and sexism, even though one's bleeding heart might wish otherwise. 

The problem is that current scientific research just doesn’t agree. Some branches of science, such as physics, are concerned with irrefutable laws of nature. But the reality, as evidenced by the growing convergence of social sciences like sociology, and life sciences, such as biology, is that science as a whole will, and should change. The research coming out of fields like genetics and psychology paint an increasingly complex picture of humanity. Saying (and proving) that gravity exists isn't factually equivalent to saying, and trying to prove, that women are somehow less capable at their jobs because of presumed inherent traits like submissiveness. 

When it comes to matters of race, the argument against racial realism, as it’s often referred to, is unequivocal. A study in 2002, authored by Neil Risch and others, built on the work of the Human Genome Project to examine the long standing and popular myth of seven distinct races. Researchers found that  “62 per cent of Ethiopians belong to the same cluster as Norwegians, together with 21 per cent of the Afro-Caribbeans, and the ethnic label ‘Asian’ inaccurately describes Chinese and Papuans who were placed almost entirely in separate clusters.” All that means is that white supremacists are wrong, and always have been.

Even the researcher Damore cites in his memo, Bradley Schmitt of Bradley University in Illinois, doesn’t agree with Damore’s conclusions.  Schmitt pointed out, in correspondence with Wired, that biological difference only accounts for about 10 per cent of the variance between men and women in what Damore characterises as female traits, such as neuroticism. In addition, nebulous traits such as being “people-oriented” are difficult to define and have led to wildly contradictory research from people who are experts in the fields. Suggesting that women are bad engineers because they’re neurotic is not only mildly ridiculous, but even unsubstantiated by Damore’s own research.  As many have done before him, Damore couched his own worldview - and what he was trying to convince others of - in the language of rationalism, but ultimately didn't pay attention to the facts.

And, even if you did buy into Damore's memo, a true scientist would retort - so what? It's a fallacy to argue that just because a certain state of affairs prevails, that that is the way that it ought to be. If that was the case, why does humanity march on in the direction of technological and industrial progress?

Humans weren’t meant to travel large distances, or we would possess the ability to do so intrinsically. Boats, cars, airplanes, trains, according to the Damore mindset, would be a perversion of nature. As a species, we consider overcoming biology to be a sign of success. 

Of course, the damage done by these kinds of views is not only that they’re hard to counteract, but that they have real consequences. Throughout history, appeals to the supposed rationalism of scientific research have justified moral atrocities such as ethnic sterilisation, apartheid, the creation of the slave trade, and state-sanctioned genocide.

If those in positions of power genuinely think that black and Hispanic communities are genetically predisposed to crime and murder, they’re very unlikely to invest in education, housing and community centres for those groups. Cycles of poverty then continue, and the myth, dressed up in pseudo-science, is entrenched. 

Damore and those like him will certainly maintain that the evidence for gender differences are on their side. Since he was fired from Google, Damore has become somewhat of an icon to some parts of society, giving interviews to right-wing Youtubers and posing in a dubious shirt parodying the Google logo (it now says Goolag). Never mind that Damore’s beloved science has already proved them wrong.