What Independence Day Taught Me About Our Priorities

In the 1996 science fiction-thriller Independence Day, a surprise attack by nefarious alien invaders destroys some of the most prominent cities around the world. Within a matter of days, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Paris, and 33 other cities around the globe were reduced to rubble. The destruction was greater than anything that humanity could recreate and it forced mankind to consider our own annihilation as a possibility. In response to the alien arrival, the American president reaches out to the leaders of all the major governments around the world, imploring them to join forces with the United States in a last-ditch effort to save humanity. Knowing that even our best military technology and our most powerful nuclear weapons stood no chance against the vastly superior technical wizardry of the aliens, the American, Russian, French, British, Chinese, Saudi, and every capable military around the world launched a strike against the aliens. It was sure to be futile, yet humanity remained hopeful. This was the beauty of this blockbuster film, which grossed over $800 million USD worldwide; Humans from all walks of life gathered together to fight for our survival against an enemy unlike any that we had seen before. Rather than be killed or enslaved, we fought for our independence as a planet. Hollywood star power and special effects aside, clearly the plot and themes of the movie attracted and intrigued viewers all across the globe. The idea that trivial differences and threats could be placed in their proper place on the priority totem pole so that greater threats could be addressed for the betterment of all people. From a qualitative and subjective standpoint, the freedoms, history, culture, and way of life of humanity were on the line. From a quantitative and empirical standpoint, more humans died in those 36 cities and would die in the coming days than any war, bombing, siege, crime, etc. that would realistically be carried out by other  humans. So the world chose to fight the greater enemy.

  • Diseases kill over 2,200,000 million humans in the United States each year.
  • Diseases kill over 6,500,000 million humans around the world each year.
  • Hunger kills over 21,000 people each day around the world.
  • Since September 11th, 2001, around 25 Americans have died from attacks on American soil. During the same time period, over 7,000,000 Americans have died from various types of cancers.
  • Since the Newtown school shooting, over 12,000 people have been killed by guns in the United States. During that same time period, between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans have died from preventable medical errors in hospitals.
  • There are over 14,000 total murders per year in the United States. There are over 40,000 total deaths by drug overdose per year.
  • While over 118,000,000 Americans admit to using some illegal drug at one point or another and an estimated 23,500,000 Americans are in need of treatment for addiction and abuse, only one in ten receive help, yet over half of the inmates in federal prisons are incarcerated for drug-related offenses (many still dealing with addictions, themselves.)
  • Even warfare misses the top ten causes of death for humans around the world. The only non-disease cause in the top ten is “road injury.”

In Independence Day, the United States president made an inspirational speech to his men as they prepared to attack the aliens. He spoke about “fighting for freedom from tyranny.” While the tyranny that he spoke of was “tyranny of annihilation,” America has a long history of repulsion from tyranny. In fact, after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in 2001, the most prevalent them espoused by leaders and public figures was that the terrorists wanted to destroy our way of life and subject us to tyranny. Whether you are a liberty-crazed militiaman in the Appalachians or pro-government liberal in San Francisco, there is no denying that a plethora of measures have been taken since 9/11 that have drastically changed the American way of life, in a general sense. While constant surveillance, watched text messages, and Identification Card checkpoints used to be the subject of comedy or hyperbole, this country has moved closer and closer to those things being a reality. With that being said, why do we so willingly change to avoid the terrorist? Why do we so willingly demand change out of fear of the armed lunatic in the movie theater? Why do we so willingly demand change to stop the criminal from the ghetto? Why do we so readily alter our lives and the lives of others to address these problems, yet we stand idly by as disease, poverty, pollution, and worsening natural disasters maim and kill humans on scales dramatically greater than our current fears?


In one word: Sentience.


Sentience is the ability to perceive the outside world and act upon those perceptions. The humans in Independence Day feared the alien invaders because these extraterrestrials intentionally targeted and threatened the human population. We fear terrorists because they can air videos declaring that their goal is to kill as many Americans as possible. We fear crazed shooters because they can target specific humans, even if their killing seems to be indiscriminate. The fact that these sentient beings can speak to us, threaten us directly, choose who they wish to harm, and even carry out their threats frightens us…even if their capabilities may pale in comparison to the non-sentient threats our civilization faces every day. 

Cancer does not declare a Jihad against Americans, even though it kills over half a million of us every year. Diseases such as HIV, Artherosclerosis, and Diabetes do not walk into theaters or schools in order to kill their victims, even though they kill over 1,200,000 of us each year. The combined effects of pollution and climate change cause natural disasters that turn healthy landscapes into wastelands, poison our air and water, and contribute to sickness for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, but pollution and climate change do not issue manifestos claiming their intent. Poverty does not actively seek out its victims and drain them of life. Yet we, humans, astonishingly do not fear what kills us. We fear what WANTS to kill us. We fear what shows malice towards us. Although each of our lives either has or will be affected by one of the aforementioned plagues upon the Earth, we only ravenously call for action to deal with the invaders, terrorists, and shooters. We only seek to hear coverage pertaining to them. It is as if the malice that they hold for us amplifies the impact of their violence when, in reality, it does not at all. We treat a War on Terror and a campaign to end gun violence as if victory is well within our reach. We treat the idea of eradicating the vast array of diseases and environmental issues that torment our species as though they are unwinnable. This is extremely interesting. HIV and Cancer are not sentient. They do not DECIDE to kill, they simply do. Thus, if they are defeated…eradicated…then they are gone. Terrorists and Active Shooters choose to kill. Thus, no matter how many of them you kill, arrest, or even treat, there can and likely WILL always be another.

To take stock of the argument so far, we spend exorbitant amounts of money, time, and resources to confront entities that can arise at will, by choice, with a desire to kill, but an astonishingly unimpressive ability to do so. We spend remarkably less time, money, and fewer resources to address killers with no minds of their own, that do not choose their victims, yet kill with breathtaking efficiency and in devastating numbers. We allow millions to die every year with no outcry for a greater effort in easing this slaughter, yet we cower in fear of men who kill, at most thousands (in the case of the terrorist) and dozens (in the case of the mass shooter) each year. It seems almost irrational that we would fear enemies who choose their targets, even if they indiscriminately kill amongst groups. That we fear our fellow human more than we fear a far greater killer is intriguing. Maybe it is that we cannot see our greatest killers. Yes, but one would think that a species as intellectually evolved as the human would move beyond seeing is believing. I do not have the complete answers. What I do know, however, is that if we are to continue to advance into the great civilization that we can be, we must stop fearing one another so much and begin to address our real threats.

      This is not to say that terrorism and active shooters are problems we need not deal with. It is merely to place them in their proper place in our priorities as a species. Lack of respect for non-sentience is why we abuse our environment with little thought of its effects. It is why countries like China and India insist on harmful development to compete with the US economy without considering impact on environment. It is why we can turn on a television and be only moderately bothered by starving children, yet be terrified into subservience at a terror alert. It is why we, in the United States, punish the drug user rather than fearing the power of these drugs and treating our fellow humans. As it stands, the likelihood that any of you reading this will be killed in a bombing or shooting is astronomically low. However, the likelihood that you or someone close to you will die from one of the greater scourges mentioned throughout this piece is remarkably higher. With that being said, let us consider the millions killed by each year by non-human murderers as war on our species. Let us spare no expense in winning this conflict. Let us truly believe that we can defeat the enemies that possess no determined will to defeat us anyway. Let us treat our most dangerous foes as we would treat an alien invader, a terrorist, or a mass murderer. Let us eradicate them so that we can become the undeniable rulers of our destiny as a species. This does not begin with any law, politician, or government. It begins in the mind of each of us. When we lose the fear of things we will never encounter and acquire the will to fight that which we surely will, we will take one epic step towards progression as a species. THAT is independence from tyranny of annihilation. THAT is what humanity needs.


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