Babylon 5 In Depth – What Makes Humans So Special
The gates of Babylon 5 opening places humanity firmly in the middle of the space-faring races. No longer completely green around the gills, they’ve helped topple one mad genocidal force, narrowly avoided genocide in mysterious circumstances, and are now seeking to help forge peace among the disparate races and factions of the galaxy.
Naturally as creators, we create based on what we know, so aliens in B5 are broadly based on human cultures or some animal traits given sapience – more on them next week – but there are particular features of humanity that distinguish them from any other species, often commented on by main alien characters in awe, deference, disbelief, or disgust. Today I’ll be looking at what makes humans so special.
The very station is testament to the strength we bring to the other races of the galaxy. We have a strong desire to seek similarities in others, find common ground and similarities with others, despite the fact that those others might be 6’2″ reptiloids, carrion eaters, or worse… green. Our need to understand, include and embrace all cultures is frankly annoying at times, as demonstrated in the episode TKO (season 1, ep 14) where a disgraced boxer tries to compete in an alien martial arts tournament, the Mutai. Despite being comprised of many races, it’s made abundantly clear that we are not wanted in the Mutai:
“Why do this, human? You are not Mutari.”
“What’s your problem, pal?”
“You. All of you. You intrude upon our worlds. Mock our customs. Meddle in matters you do not understand. But humans have no place in the Mutai. It is ours. And we will not let you dishonor it. Not now. Not ever.”
Where every other race is unified by a religion, we have many. Other races barely differ in culture, or perhaps divide along philosophical lines, we remain fractious and argue amongst ourselves. And yet we are empowered by the differences between us, and in bringing Babylon 5 together seek to make ourselves stronger through others.
We’re a determined lot. The Babylon project saw four failures before the fifth station finally managed to get off the proverbial ground, and yet we never wavered in the face of adversity, we just kept building more stations. Where the Centari would have axed a bad investment, and the Minbari would have reflected on their failures before trying something new, we just keep on swinging until we hit.
It’s an attitude that very nearly saw us eradicated as the Minbari forces reached Earth and prepared to wipe us from existence, rather than flee to hidden colonies and live another day, we stand and defend our homeworld to the death, and a good job we did. The same is true of the Shadow Wars that followed, our obstinateness in the face of warring gods brings all other races together to drive them out.
We are a study in extremes, as warlike as we are peaceful, as idiotic as we are wise. Just as readily as we assemble the greatest diplomatic station known to any race, we also assemble a faction rooted solely in xenophobia and hatred of others.
Some spoilers in this section:
In Babylon 5 we carry fragments of Minbari souls as a result of our meddling with the fabric of time. We have been tampered with by the Vorlons to give our species psychic powers. We are manipulated by Shadows, conned by Centauri, all in all we are something of a mixed bag of influences. And sure, we can say that it’s because every alien race is a fragment of ourselves because we created them… but it does rather ground our place in the universe and in turn tethers us to everyone else. It creates a reality in which we are central, and yet part of a much greater whole, and that makes us mighty.
Spoilers over. You can come back now.
It is the sheer breadth of expression that we can fulfil that makes us so different to every other species. We appear to be amongst the youngest of the sentient races, still finding ourselves as much as discovering others, and it’s an element that makes us strong, and tears us apart.
Through Babylon 5’s ongoing story and several of the purely episodic moments we explore the nature of humanity through the eyes of others. Star Trek’s utopian federation rarely shines so strong a spotlight on who and what we are, makes us almost inhuman in our perfection. There aren’t many series that have studied us from an alien perspective, but it’s something that Babylon 5 does exceptionally well, and as I start to analyse the politics of Earth Alliance, the reckless greed in the film Third Space, and B5’s look into religion you may see more of what we need to change if we stand a chance when we make that first contact.