You’re in a bar, on Mars; you’re an alien from beyond the stars. You meet a human—the first human you’ve ever met. You know nothing about humans. You chit chat. You speak English for some reason. It’s a coincidence. The human asks you about your civilization.
“We live on clouds and shoot rainbows out of our tummies.”
“Wow, that’s crazy,” the human says.
“I guess so, but it’s all I know. Anyway, what about you? What are humans like?”
“Humans? Oh well, wonderful! Generous and kind, have opposable thumbs, climbed out of the sea and made fire and agriculture and societies and we’re capable of anything. For instance, I’m on Mars! In World War II we banded together and beat the Nazis”
“Who are the Nazis?”
“They were these other humans. Bastards. Racists. Genocide, they tried to do, which is killing a whole group of humans.”
“Fair! It’s true that we aren’t perfect. There are some bad apples but also just some bad characteristics. We can be selfish and close-minded. We can be temperamental, stubborn. We’re very emotional. You know the number four?”
“Four is always four. You never need to worry that one morning you’ll wake up and four will actually be three. Its property is constant. Humans aren’t like the number four. Our properties are always changing. Sometimes we’re in bad moods and we think completely differently than we do when we’re in good moods. We go from optimistic and hopeful to pessimistic and depressed on a dime. We’re contradictions. We have great ambitions matched only by equally significant fears. Sometimes we kill each other, almost always for bad reasons. Beliefs, possessions, resentment, boredom. We’ve made these bombs that can blow up the whole world and a lot of different countries have them. But the nuclear apocalypse has not happened yet. For one thing, there is a bit of an ordered system. There is one country called the United States of America and it’s the lone superpower. It does bad things sometimes but in general it’s a force for stability and progress.”
“It’s a democracy, or republic if you want to be a prick about it, so everyone has a say in the government. The people are the sovereign. For a long time places were led by one person who was in charge. America was different. It didn’t invent that—some people in the Mediterranean did. It’s a sea where the East meets the West. It’s very important area historically. Lots of fighting and killing over it.”
“Ugh because they’re all fucking idiots. Not just people from the Mediterranean. Everybody. Always fighting about nonsense. But anyway, democracy. America popularized it. Like how Apple did with the iPhone.”
You nod, inexplicably getting this reference.
“So the Americans, they all get together and vote and elect some leaders who administer the government and play a large role in influencing the direction of the human race.”
“And these Americans, they always make the right decisions?”
“No, no. God no. No. A lot of bad decisions but on net it’s still positive.”
“But they’re happy at least?”
“No, wow. No. Increasingly actually they’re all unhappy. And unhealthy, both physically and psychologically. Sad, mad, divided, lonely. Unequal as well. The rich and the poor further apart. There is racial divide, religious divide. Conflict. People can’t even agree about the basics. There are different information sources that you can ensconce yourself in. Conservatives—people who don’t want change—live in their own ecosystem and liberals—people who do want change—do as well. Each side just shares stories that confirm their own narratives.”
“Yeah, so humans are social animals. There is this thing called social media and increasingly it’s the main way people get information, and the way it works is that if you’re friends with Bob and Bob shares a story that Bob agrees with, you see it. So if all your friends are like Bob, those are the only stories you see.”
“Why does Bob share the story?”
“Because the story speaks to who Bob is and how he sees himself and sharing it is an act of identity. And so you have this Bob World and people live in it and it’s a feedback loop, but not far away there is Jeff World, and the citizens of Bob World and Jeff World disagree about everything and hate each other and occasionally the worlds collide and everyone gets mad at everyone else. And the people in Jeff World spend all their time complaining about Bob World. And same with Bob World.”
“Good thing they’re literally different worlds.”
“Well, no, I didn’t mean that literally. Literally they are all in the United States. Physically. I mean, the world thing is all just on the internet.”
“What’s the internet?”
“It’s this virtual marketplace/prison/chatroom where everything happens.”
“So Bob and Jeff elect the leaders of the country…”
“To be honest I shouldn’t have made these two examples men. Most of the population is actually women, who have suffered at the hands of men for as long as there have been humans. It’s terrible really. We’re making progress but it’s still very bad. Let’s change the names. Jeff and…Bonnie. The Jeff people and Bonnie people get together and scream at each other a bunch and every few years vote to elect people.”
“The thing is the populations of these two worlds are very similar in number. Not exactly the same, but close. It’s never totally clear who is going to win.”
“You have no idea! Because also I can’t express enough how much these two worlds fear each other. Both worlds think that the other world is some sort of villainous cartoon character and if the other world wins, well then, kablooey. It’s not even true! Each side does win from time to time and it doesn’t actually cause kablooey but it feels like kablooey.”
“And this is the best country?”
“Well, it’s the most powerful.”
“Difficult situation. How are humans going to fix this?”
“Oh, no one thinks it can be fixed.”
“Wow, that’s crazy.”
“Sure,” the human says, finishing his beer. “But also,” his tone changing, ”go fuck yourself. You think you’re better than us? Because you’re shaped like a teddy bear?”
“You seem very defensive.”
“What are you going to do about it? Shoot a sunbeam out of your ass? I’ll rip off your arms”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Oh you didn’t mean to? He didn’t mean to! I bet you didn’t mean to.” The human is up now, brandishing something in his hand.
“You don’t have these? Final lesson. It’s called a gun, we love them, and it will put a bullet in your brain.”
“I have to go.” You signal for the check.
“Ever played Russian Roulette?” The human is emptying the revolver. He picks up one bullet and puts it back in. He spins the chamber.
“I don’t want any trouble.”
“You got trouble! But good news: five out of six chance you’re going to live. You put the gun to your head and pull the trigger, then I put the gun to my head and pull the trigger”
You hurriedly pay the Martian bartender.
“You don’t want to go first?? Fine,” he downs a whiskey. “I’ll go first. BETTER ODDS!”
The human takes the pistol and points it to his brain. He laughs and pulls the trigger.
His brains fly everywhere.
There is blood all over your face, it drips down your fur.
Everyone in the bar begins screaming. You hear the sound of sirens approaching.
And float away into the sky.
When you get to the cloud planet, and go before the CareBear Council, how do you describe humanity?
“They’re deeply dysfunctional, depressed, violent, unpredictable. Nothing like the number 4.”
The council murmurs in shock.
“But Lieutenant Hugs”—you’re Lieutenant Hugs—”are they dangerous?”
“Very dangerous. They have opposable thumbs and they know how to use them”
The council gasps.
“I mean, it’s crazy,” you shrug. “They’re crazy. It’s all very crazy.”
And with that one of the councilors stands up and looks to the sky and aims his tummy and shoots out, not a rainbow, but fire and the Earth explodes.
All the CareBears cheer and dance.
Now you, Lieutenant Hugs, have helped destroy the whole Earth. You did that. You are very aware of the role you played.
You go home. You should eat but you aren’t hungry. You’re vaguely nauseas in fact. It’s guilt. You pour yourself a glass of water. But what could I have done differently, you ask yourself. Where was the lie? You slowly drink the water and it makes you feel something approaching normal. I told the truth, you think. You look at the glass and notice your bloody paw print. You’d forgotten about the fact that you’re covered in blood. You feel nauseous again, but the thing is everything I told CareBear Fire Belly was accurate. You go into the bathroom and turn on the shower. You step under the falling water. The man even said that humans weren’t going to try to fix it! You feel the warm water run down your scalp. You wonder if maybe you should have spoken to more than one human. Your eyes turn to the ground, solemnly. There’s no point in second guessing yourself, Hugs. The blood runs off your fur. What’s done is done. You watch the red water vanish down the drain. Your fur is white again. The water is clear again.
And you’re you again.