Book Review from the April 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Reason Why. By John Gribbin.Allen Lane. £20.
In the 1960s, a group of heterodox Trotskyists known as the Posadists shackled the UFO craze, then sweeping the world, to ‘socialism’ (in their case doubtless meaning some form of half-baked developmental dictatorship). Their leader Juan Posadas ‘reasoned’ that since these alien visitors were technologically advanced they must also be communists, and called for their assistance and our emulation. Now it is likely that UFOs were nothing more than secret US aviation experiments (could anything be more otherworldly than stealth aircraft such as the B-2 or the F-117?), but the question remains “where are the aliens”? Gribbin answers with Occamist precision: “They are not here because they do not exist”.
Subtitled “The miracle of life on earth”, this book seeks to argue why life, especially intelligent life with advanced technological capacity, is extremely unlikely to be duplicated in our galaxy, if not, indeed, the universe. While the influence of the moon in making the earth habitable is well known, the author contends that there is a wide range of other factors at work. As an astrophysicist, he most effectively explores the really large ones to do with the peculiar position, composition and geography of our solar system, but seems on unfamiliar ground with evolution (for instance, rating the intelligence of Troodon, the most advanced dinosaur, as on a par with a baboon, whereas most reliable sources rate it as a clever chicken) and ventures not at all into history – how unlikely, looking at the untold eons of hand to mouth survival, is the evolution and survival of technological civilisation? Like Posadas, Gribbin also ventures into science fiction with a purely speculative account of the emergence of complex multi-cellular life in the early Cambrian involving the collision of Venus and a supercomet. Despite its limitations, which include a lack of illustrative diagrams, this is a worthwhile book, with a firm and easily accessible scientific background.
The implications are clear. If we are indeed alone, what a crime it is to put the fate of civilisation in the hands of the capitalist system whose reckless wars and insane waste of resources endanger our very survival as a species. As the twenty-first century progresses and human knowledge and abilities expand, it will become increasingly obvious that only socialism can provide the necessary preconditions for our continued long-term existence.