Discriminating among Friends: The Social Dynamics of the Friendly Alien
Let me begin by emphasizing a distinction that underlies everything I have to say. The problems posed by the imagined alien are quite different from those posed by the actual alien. The imagined alien is a gratuitous invention, a complication that someone, for reasons that bear investigation, has added to the world. The actual alien is not gratuitous, and it has to be dealt with as it is. Of course, there is necessarily some overlap between the two. Actual aliens stimulate fantasies about aliens.
It does not seem unreasonable to view the imagined hostile alien as a projection onto "the other" of qualities of ourselves that we wish to deny.1 This basic dynamic of the hostile alien is exquisitely rendered in Fredric Brown apos;s Arena when Carson, the human hero, caught in what he claims is telepathic rapport with the hostile alien, describes his sensation as "things that he felt but could not understand and could never express." Having attributed his unacceptable feelings to the alien, Carson can then exclude it from the category of creatures requiring moral consideration and can attack it without reservation or qualm.
I have argued elsewhere that once a writer sets up such a system of exclusion as is required by the hostile alien story, the writer is trapped in it, and even an attempt to correct the exclusionary system fails to do anything but reverse the polarities and leads to anthrophobia in the place of xenophobia. Ursula LeGuin's The Word for World is Forest is a clear instance of this process by which a strong attack on the xenophobic proclivities of humanity finds its satisfaction in scapegoating the prejudiced human.
As we have come to understand the stark exclusions of the