1. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Alien Society and Culture

    Discussion in 'Research' started by JadeX, Jul 20, 2015.

    I am currently writing a novel which involves an extraterrestrial race which, for the past half-century, has governed over and lived alongside the humans on Earth. Certain story elements, such as the need to communicate with humans, require them to be humanoid (i.e., bipedal, two legs, torso, two arms, hands with fingers, one head, two forward-facing eyes, etc. - the bare minimum required of evolutionary convergence to produce a species capable of intelligence and invention), albeit with several major differences (such as three-fingered hands with a central palm-mounted thumb, no eyebrow ridge, different circulatory system, etc.). Since this limits how "alien" I can make them in the physical sense, I want to develop and explore the most dynamic aspect of any fictional species - culture. To do this, I figure, why not draw inspiration from the weirdest creatures we've ever known - humans?

    As we all know, humans are very diverse, to say the least. We have different nations, we speak different languages, we eat different foods, we perform different rituals, we hold different values and morals, we even have races that not only look different but have different physiologies as well (sub-races, arguably). In this sense, we're probably about as diverse as any developed species could possibly be.

    On our planet alone, we have cultures that are so vastly different that some of their customs are utterly incomprehensible even to fellow humans. For example, the central Europeans drank milk from goats and cows - an idea that may have seemed disgusting to Asian cultures, who eat raw fish and seaweed. Some African tribes stretch their necks with brass rings, while they question why Americans would get tattoos and piercings. Some societies enjoy a democratic system, where some feel safer in trusting a single person or a family to rule. Some cultures bury their dead in the ground with a modest gravestone, while others build massive temples and mausoleums to honour theirs.

    Which brings us to the purpose of this thread - what are the strangest, weirdest, most "alien-like" cultures or customs have you ever heard of? What are some things that other people do that you just can't understand? The more bizarre, the better!
    ---- OR ----
    What are some ordinary human behaviours or rituals that most people are familiar with, but may seem strange to an outside observer? (e.g., weddings, horse racing, and catch-and-release fishing may all seem odd or pointless) How can an alien race be similarly quirky in their own way?

    [small sidenote: The aliens in my book are non-religious, so religious/tribal practices might not be very useful for inspiration]
     
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  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    why not some simple stuff - nose picking, trimming our hair, screaming into phones, swinging our arms when we walk, going to the bathroom - producing waste, laughing, exercising, clapping, watering the grass, a marathon, opera, a funeral, sex. Lol.

    If I was an alien and saw a crowd clapping I'd freak out.
     
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  3. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Watch this!

     
  4. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Y'know, I'm glad you mentioned that - that's something I'd thought of before too! (but forgot about :b)
    I wonder how my aliens might similarly display appreciation, especially considering that their thumbs are located on a ball joint in the middle of their palm/wrist, which might render clapping a bit difficult (they'd have to be smacking their thumbs together, which could hurt) . . .
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Environmental destruction by industrial cultures is pretty weird. Like literally, we're committing a global suicide by our addiction to nonrenewable materials. Any alien culture would see that as litereally insane. Like, insane insane.
     
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  6. Daemon Wolf
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    Daemon Wolf Active Member

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    For one, we all wear masks. We never really tell people who we are and most of us pretend to be happy when we are not and pretend to be people we are not (in all cultures). Idk if this helps but it's something I find "weird" in our society.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think one of the weirdest things we do is cut ourselves up on purpose.
     
  8. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Or, on the contrary, maybe not? A technologically advanced species capable of interplanetary or interstellar travel would likely move on to mining asteroids and comets, constructing Dyson structures to siphon energy from stars, establish outposts on moons, inhabit space stations and generation ships, and colonise other planets. To them, there may be no such thing as a "nonrenewable resource" - they may see Earth as "just another mine".
     
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  9. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Think about how alien the concepts of "pain" and "pleasure" would be to a being incapable of sensing pain and pleasure. Or how alien the concept of individual rights would be to an insect.

    TVTropes has a good page on "alien ethics" tropes.
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wonder if they would even have a concept of "appreciation". What is appreciation? Someone did something that caused you to be happy? What does "happy" mean, anyway? You respond to stimulus in a way that causes you to seek more of that stimulus because that kind of behavior generally makes you likelier to survive to reproduce and pass on your genes, so you have evolved to behave that way?
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  11. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Very interested to read responses - this was a question that has been lingering in my mind also.
     
  12. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even the concept of fiction itself is peculiar. We humans have this bizarre habit of telling extravagant lies to each other. And we actually like being lied to. So much that we trade the same thing (money) that we trade in exchange for chemicals that keep us alive (food), in exchange for the opportunity to be lied to. wtf?
     
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  13. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Generally-speaking I see what you're saying, but in my particular case - yes, they are capable of most of the same feelings and emotions that humans feel, although the way they respond to such emotions is a different matter. And, as will be a major element to several areas of my story, the way these aliens respond to different events and "stimuli" is not always on par with what humans believe to be ideal. c;

    The background of my story, which is a sci-fi/alternate history crossover, goes as such: an alien race (called Avarins) intercepts radio signals from Sputnik 1, which draws them to Earth*. Trade relations are established*, although kept secret by the human leaders. 1962, cue Cuban Missile Crisis, alt-history divergence point: World War 3 breaks out, and trade with the Avarins ceases. Avarins demand the human leaders to end the war*. Humans refuse, war continues. Avarins invade Earth and force an end to the war. Planetary occupation begins under the authoritarian rule of the Avarins. Fifty years later (approximately present-day, maybe 2013/2014ish), a sudden and very public assassination attempt against an Avarin politician sets in motion a chain of events culminating in a worldwide revolution - and this modern-day revolution is the primary subject of the book, with the assassination attempt being the beginning of the story.

    (*Asterisks denote parts that actually do have a deeper explanation - I don't really want to spew out all of my ideas here due to fear of theft, but know that there is logical explanation for these events - they don't just go "Oh look, a signal!" and travel all the way to Earth just out of curiosity and put themselves in the crossfire of a war for the hell of it. xD)

    Hahahaha!! So true, I never thought about it that way!
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  14. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm, there's a cool idea. However, I still think that if such a culture existed they would still look at us and think we're either insane or really stupid. Whereas they're smart enough to see us as a resource for their own survival, we're preventing our own survival. The movie Jupiter Ascending, bad as it was overall, toyed with what you're talking about in a super interesting way. Earth was one small part of a vast industry. In fact, the population problem wasn't our fault; we were genetically engineered to overpopulate so that... nevermind, spoilers. Go see it!
     
  15. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Yeah, what I was talking about was from the perspective of an alien species that was no longer limited to its home planet like humans currently are. For us to do what we've been doing to our world while we're still stuck here does indeed seem stupid and counter-intuitive, and I think any intelligent alien race would be able to recognise and appreciate that fact too - "Well, we have several planets and a bunch of moons and asteroids at our disposal, we can do what the hell we want, but you guys? You can't go anywhere yet, why would you do this to yourselves?"
     
  16. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    How long would it take said alien species to determine said addiction existed?

    There are significant developments in renewable resource usage in some countries, and I do not think you can see the addiction from space, so it involves a more present interaction yes?
     
  17. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    They could do some studies by either using the human internet or using their own means to determine that carbon is at 400 ppm, which is higher than it has been in the history of the human species. They could then easily determine what is causing this outrageously high amount of carbon, etc etc...
     
  18. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    They could determine it is higher than it has been in the history of human species by knowing what it was through out the ages yeah?

    The first time they look at us would be the baseline, I would have thought. I guess what I am saying is that the impression of insanity would take some amount of time to develop, it would not be an instantaneous conclusion.
     
  19. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    You do realize that... as humans... we have the means to know things about our planet spanning back millions of years? And that we have only been able to do this for about 50 years? Pollen analysis can give us a reconstruction of the flora and fauna of an entire ecosystem from a time when humans did not exist. Studying carbonized poop tells a great deal about what was around. Studying bones. Measuring the atmospheric makeup from space, doing really complex data crunches to determine the relative age of a planet, what it's made of, what exists on it (water, oxygen etc).

    If an alien species traveled from millions of light years, using some insane means to get here, I am pretty confident they would have means to measure all kinds of things on our planet within a few minutes. They could do things that any modern team of archaeologists couldn't fathom.
     
  20. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Now now. I am exploring the process by which your aliens decide you are insane or really stupid. Why you see this as arguing is beyond me. Is it because I didn't lavish praise on you / your idea? I'm not good at that, I'll admit. I'd rather explore concepts and ideas and see where they come from and where they're going.

    I see the aliens looking at this planet and judging its inhabitants as child like, not insane or really stupid. Just immature.

    Or maybe you like the word insane? PhD in psych right?

    Anyway.

    My point is this: I think what we are going through is a normal evolution, and the alien species is going to look at us and say, "huh, that's where we were a millennia ago." It's not all rape and pillage of non-renewable resources, and the species that went into industrial revolution via solar panel development and wind electricity generation would be pretty special indeed. That alien race would seem far more mature to us as humans, I would suggest. And decidedly different.

    It would be interesting to consider how the alien species developed: did they follow a similar developmental path to us and choose the correct path through planetary habitat destruction / preservation, or did they follow a completely different path -- an alien one? And if they were preservers, how would they approach a new civilization? What values would be instilled in their culture?
     
  21. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    In my mind, the advanced alien race is like the difference between the current generation and that generation's parents, in a sense. Dad doesn't understand, and his music is weird and vice versa. The vernacular changes, the normal level of technology, etc.

    I wonder if the aliens could read our Internet. Not because they are not advanced enough, but because we are so primitive. Like apes doing sign language.
     
  22. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Or did they follow our path, and the imminent destruction of their habitat provided the motivation to hurry the heck up with the star travel so they could go ravage other worlds and solar systems? (This is what my mantid-like insect alien species is gonna do).
     
  23. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just have a very pessimistic outlook regarding climate/environment. I've read a lot of books and articles and done a lot of activism around the stuff in the last 2-3 years and am a bit burnt out. Pessimism and lack of hope are easier and lazier, so I've gone that route. Plus it makes me feel smart saying "I know what's gonna happen and it's BAD."

    It is possible that civilization will continue despite the doomsday scenarios, and I really hope so. But I just don't think so based on the evidence. The book Prosperity Without Growth convinced me that the economic growth model was more the driver than fossil fuels themselves; renewables like wind and solar still require rare earth metals and at present we've already peaked on some such as iron ore. Mark Jacobson thinks we can do 100% renewables by 2050 and some think that with a WWII effort the world could transition to beat the point of no return, but I think that Exxon et al are going to win the battle. I'm involved in the divestment movement (met with a city councilmember last week to try to get his endorsement for a resolution calling on the CA pension fund managers to divest) and ride my bike everywhere etc etc. And yet, I still don't think we have hope. A couple graphs in college stained my mind. Then there are the COP talks where nothing ever happens. They say Paris will be "the one" but they say that every year.

    The term insane is more borrowed from Derrick Jensen's Endgame. I don't like Jensen much anymore but he influenced me a lot in my twenties. The idea that a culture of people would a) learn that their way of life is exhausting the resource base they depend on and b) continue extraction at the exact same rate, seems insane. That's not a psychological assessment from a professional point of view, that's just an angry, judgmental way to look at people. I am sometimes angry and judgmental. If you've ever been out there trying to organize and educate and change society through protests, workshops, informational events, phonebanking, setting up websites and mailing lists and managing social media and lobbying elected officials, and you see loss after loss after loss after loss, you feel this way sometimes. I do not think that industrial civilization will "save itself" through techno-fixes. I think that the ravages of climate change will cause an unfathomable amount of suffering mostly to the poorest people of the world and by the time the ocean is so acidified that the fisheries are entirely collapsed, that once sea level rise causes millions of climate refugees and billions of dollars of crop failures and when the richest countries finally admit that their reckless allowance of the private "energy" sector to have done this and to have fed the public climate disinformation as "business as usual," THEN there will be action. I think by then, it will be too late. That again is, in part, based on evidence, and in part, based on my own pessimism.

    Topic. Derailed.
     

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