Whilst certainly not one of the best episodes of classic sci-fi series Babylon 5, season 1 episode “Infection” is astonishingly prescient. In the episode, an archaeologist working on far and distant planet ends up merging with some alien technology he finds there. The planet has been dead for a thousand years or more and, during the course of the episode, it becomes apparent why.
It turns out that the Icarans have been invaded so many times from outside that they decided to make a new weapon. Twelve of them, to be precise. These weapons bond with a person to turn them into a hugely efficient killing machine designed to destroy anything that isn’t a pure Icaran. The next time they got invaded, the Icarans activated these killing machines and sat back to see the results.
It was very efficient: the invaders were repelled and destroyed and there was much rejoicing.
But the machines didn’t stop. They were programmed to destroy anything that wasn’t pure Icaran. The ensuing bloodbath was planet-wide as every single living Icaran discovered that they did not match up to the standard of purity laid down by those who had created the machines. Over the years of migration, the species had mixed and had picked up DNA from outsiders; the social standards had drifted; they evolved slowly. The machines didn’t care about that: they had been given a standard of purity by their creators and it soon turned out that nobody, not even the creators, were pure enough to be permitted to live. And thus a thriving civilisation was wiped from the face of the galaxy by its own ideology.
The parallels with our own planet are obvious. From the Holocaust to Rwanda, Daesh, and the rise of far-right groups in Europe and the USA. Farage’s Breaking Point poster and the Republicans’ Build a wall chant are examples of the same thing.
The reality is that humans are a single species, and have been so for at least 60,000 years as the various other human species died out. It’s probably worth noting that they didn’t die out before interbreeding with Homo Sapiens – in Western Europe, we are about 2% Neanderthal – but they did die out. Leaving us. All alone in the night. And we have been arguing about who is the purest ever since, through conflict, war and genocide.
We must be very careful indeed when we are pondering taking steps down the path to isolationism, to cleanse our societies of the other, to retreat to tribalism, protectionism and exclusion. Down that path lies a river of blood and, as Lady Macbeth discovered, it can be very hard to wash your hands clean once they have tasted that river.