Warning, if you don’t watch Stargate, you probably want to stop reading here. In fact, this is for die-hard Stargate fans only. For anyone else, it’s likely to be boring as hell. Further, if you haven’t seen all of Stargate, you really don’t want to read this: it contains plenty of spoilers that aren’t disguised.
I love Stargate. The original movie was stunning in its concept, but SG-1, then Atlantis, and now Universe just continue to expand on that and deliver fantastic stories. Sure, Atlantis lost the plot a bit towards the end, and SG-1’s 9th and 10th seasons where not as good as the first 8, but the fact of the matter is that it’s rare you get such well written science fiction episode after episode after episode.
In the Stargate universe, humanity in the Milky Way (and a neighbouring galaxy) was seeded by a race called the Alterans, otherwise known as the Ancients. This was done millions of years ago after they fled their original galaxy due to persecution from a bunch of religious fanatics.
Being an ancient race, the Alterans were extremely technologically advanced, and they eventually evolved into a state where they could exist as pure energy, leaving the physical realms behind and ascending to a much higher state of being.
Let’s take a quick side-track, and consider the Vorlons from Babylon 5. The Vorlons were another ancient race, in a different fictional universe. They eventually left the galaxy behind, but after an incident involving one of their former agents, that agent, still channeling Vorlon programmed memories stated (when considering revelation of a terrible mistake), that it was:
One mistake. One mistake out of out so many … so many others.
At least the Vorlons acknowledged (albeit in a departed programmed memory) that they’d made many mistakes.
Despite the way that they’re held up in the Stargate universe with extreme reverence by a plethora of races (including their second evolution, the human race), I’d argue that the Alterans in Stargate represent a race that is largely immoral as a result of extreme apathy. Most of Stargate is made up of mistakes they made, yet they refused to take responsibility for their past actions – ever. Any individuals that tried to rectify those past mistakes would be punished, and not just wrapped over the knuckles, but be forced to endure amazing levels of suffering or anguish.
In their ascended form, the Alterans claim that their extreme (practically godlike) powers meant they must exercise complete restraint operating in the “lower” realms (i.e., physical form environments, such as we inhabit).
This, I’d argue, is immoral bullshit. So I’d like to make a case that the Alterans/Ancients of Stargate don’t deserve respect, but condemnation.
So without any more beating around the bush, here’s my case.
Leaving technology behind
As an ancient and technologically advanced race, when the Alterans ascended and became pure energy, they left behind a vast array of highly advanced technology, including but not limited to:
- The Stargate network – a system of devices that allowed for generation of artificial wormholes between any two “gates” within either a galaxy, or as it later turned out, to another galaxy or even another part of the universe, depending on the amount of power supplied.
- Transportation devices – a somewhat limited version of short range teleportation systems.
- Genetic manipulators – devices that can do on-the-fly reprogramming of an individual’s DNA.
- Advanced weaponry – powerful weapons platforms that can destroy ships with only a few shots.
- Advanced shielding – if you’ve watched any science fiction, Alteran shields are about the most powerful of the lot.
- Advanced power supplies – tapping zero point energy, Alteran power supplies provide levels of power completely undreamt of in most other science fiction.
- Replicators – self-replicating artificial lifeforms that frequently have a passion (for want of another word) for growth regardless of how destructive that might be to other races.
- Healing devices – able to reanimate the dead or cure incredible wounds, Alteran healing devices could, via adaptation, extend live for millenia.
- Atlantis – a city-sized ship capable of intergalactic travel, that formed the home base of the Alterans when they moved to another galaxy.
When they ascended, the Alterans left all this technology behind. At times, this might have been well hidden, but at other times this technology was readily available for any race that would come along to find it and use it however they wanted, regardless of whether that was for good or ill.
This lead to the main protagonists in Stargate arising.
The Go’auld are a parasitic worm/snake like race that burrow their way into a host (typically a human), seize control of that host, and then, due to their healing powers, live for centuries. The Go’auld unfortunately are not a benevolent race. Indeed, their insatiable lust for power and domination, genetic memory and extreme intelligence meant they assumed the role of gods for many primitive societies and drove them in servitude to fulfil their dreams of control.
Until the “original” seeded humanity in the Milky Way, the people from Earth, started to head back out into the galaxy through the advantageous discovery of the Stargate system, the Go’auld effectively ran the entire galaxy (other than a few very isolated pockets), causing the death and/or slavery of untold millions of transplanted humans and other races during their overlord period.
What, more than anything, facilitated the rise to power of the Go’auld, was the technology left behind by the Alterans. They learned how to use the stargate system, the transportation system and a variety of other lesser technologies. Further, they adapted the Alteran healing devices to allow massive life extension over millennia. However, repeated exposure to the adapted healing technology made them increasingly savage and power hungry.
Some might argue “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, and by an extension of this state that the Alterans aren’t responsible for the misuse of their technology.
Let’s give a comparison however that is more correct. Imagine a primitive village is discovered somewhere in an unexplored jungle, and for some strange reason, modern forces with modern day weaponry and a portable tactical nuclear weapon briefly occupy that village. Later, they abruptly leave the village, leaving all their weapons, including that portable tactical nuke.
If the primitive villagers happen to wheel the nuke into a neighbouring village and set it off, I doubt you’d find many people that would argue the original occupying force was guilt-free.
The “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” argument,whether you subscribe to it or not, assumes equal intelligence or moral capabilities between the inventor of the device and the person who uses it. Consider an alternate take on this argument: if a parent leaves a gun laying around on their coffee table, and their child picks it up and shoots a visiting friend, no-one would claim the parent was guilt free. That is, the argument of moral exemption does not apply when there is a significant developmental differences between the person who developed a device and the person who uses it.
As such, the Alterans, for leaving their technology around in such a way that it could be used by less advanced races were immoral, with no more damning evidence being the rise of the Go’auld in the Milky Way galaxy.
In Stargate, Anubis was a Go’auld who managed to trick an ascended Alteran into ascending him. Thus, Anubis turned into an ascended being with untold power.
The other ancients at this point intervened, and pushed Anubis down into a semi-descended state. He didn’t have the power of a fully ascended Alteran, but nor was he limited to a normal physical realm. This allowed Anubis to wreak far more havoc on the galaxy than a normal Go’auld. The ancients advised Anubis that even though he would retain his ascended knowledge, he couldn’t use any knowledge that he didn’t actually go out and acquire as a Go’auld.
As a result of this part-descended state, Anubis came within seconds of destroying all life within the Milky Way galaxy, so that he could remake life within the Galaxy to his own satisfaction. The Alterans would have allowed this to take place, since Anubis followed their rules. (The reason for this will be explained under “Punishments against their own kind”, below.) This would have represented an unprecedented level of genocide, even for Stargate.
Within the Stargate universe, there are two “species” of replicators:
- Human form replicators – machines that to all intents and purposes look like humans, yet are constructed of untold numbers of nanites.
- “Basic” replicators – machines that normally assemble themselves into spider/bug like units. These can, given the right incentive, actually create human form replicators who subsequently lead them.
In both cases, Replicators were developed by the Alterans. Faced with an implacable enemy, the Alterans considered a variety of alternate weaponry. One such type of weapon they considered was nanites, which over time grew in complexity and then developed into the original human form replicators. Later, when the Alterans fled back to the Milky Way, subsequent attempts to create human form replicators resulted in a unit that created the first “basic” replicators. These basic replicators existed for one purpose – to replicate. They consumed whatever resources and technology they came across, and almost destroyed one of the most powerful and benevolent races in the Stargate universe.
Arguably, the replicators are only a specific example of the first point – advanced technology left behind. However, since this technology was self-directing, it added a new dimension to the perils of the Alterans not cleaning up after themselves.
In the Stargate universe, if you wanted to meet an alien, chances are it was going to be an Asgard. This was a highly developed race that came from another galaxy entirely – not descendants or secondary evolutions of the Alterans. They led a largely peaceful existence until they encountered the Replicators. At this point, they embarked on a campaign over centuries to eliminate that scourge from their galaxy, and to prevent them spreading further.
Procreating only via cloning, the Asgard desperately needed to come up with as solution to resolve genetic degradation in their species, yet instead were forced to spend all those centuries fighting a seemingly unstoppable enemy. This was not only done for themselves, but to try to save other intelligent races too.
Eventually, with the help of humans from Earth using discovered Alteran knowledge, the Asgard were able to defeat the Replicators in their own galaxy, and render assistance where possible to the inhabitants of the Milky Way in finally eliminating the known replicators (though the final battle was fought exclusively by humans and, ironically enough, Go’auld and their freed slaves).
The Asgard, on the other hand, having been forced to devote the vast majority of their resources to a war they should not have had to fight for untold centuries, eventually succumbed to their genetic degradation. With a failed experiment leaving them as an entire race terminally ill, they elected to commit mass suicide, with their final act being to give all their knowledge to the humans of Earth, whom they considered to be the most likely successor to them as protectors of other races.
Before the Alterans ascended, they had been allies with three other races – the Nox, the Furlings, and the Asgard. As previous allies to the Asgard, and original developers of the technology that effectively crippled medical and evolutionary development within the Asgard for centuries, it can be argued that the Alterans should have, out of basic morality and decency, intervened to save their previous allies.
Instead, they did nothing. They let the Asgard fight a war for centuries, then let them all die, without once assisting. While the Asgard, through shifting to procreation through cloning, undoubtedly contributed to their own downfall, it can be argued that given their technological prowess without a lengthy unnecessary war they may very well have survived.
As determined in season 9 of Stargate, the Alterans originally came from an entirely different galaxy, rather than having originally evolved on Earth was first thought.
They originally came from the same race as a group called the Ori. However, millions of years ago the two groups of people grew apart in their views. As they had already evolved into a reasonably advanced society, they had started seeding other planets in their home galaxy with human populations.
The Alterans became passionate believers in science. The Ori however, came to consider themselves as gods for having created new life. Eventually, when war between the two groups seemed inevitable, the Alterans chose to flee the galaxy and build a new civilisation in an entirely new galaxy – the Milky Way. (Incidentally, they left behind a device capable of brainwashing anyone to believe the truth – that the Ori were not gods.)
Over the years, the Ori, like the Alterans, eventually learned to ascend, themselves becoming beings of pure energy.
It’s at this point that the Alterans showed their first interest in acting in the lower planes. They actually shielded the Milky Way (and presumably other galaxies with human populations) from the notice of the Ori, so that those races could develop independently. Perhaps, for once, they can be shown to have had an ounce of moral fibre. However, if anything, this somewhat limited their ability to claim the high ground in other instances when they chose to ignore the plight on lower beings caused by their leftover technology.
This shielding of the Milky Way however did nothing to save the human populations of the original home galaxy, who lived generation after generation worshipping the Ori. Through some mystical means the Ori were able to determine that if a follower died, believing in them with their last breath, part of their life energy would be transferred to the Ori, making them more powerful. Over time, this would mean the Ori would eventually become powerful enough to challenge, and destroy the Alterans.
Eventually, an Alteran who had ascended decided that the risk posed by the Ori, both to Alterans and lower plane beings, was too great. He retook human form and developed a weapon that would destroy ascended beings within the scope of a galaxy. If deployed in the Ori galaxy, this would have resulted in the destruction of that group, eradicating that threat permanently.
The Alteran response? They dispatched one of their own to stop their former colleague by whatever means necessary. She destroyed his work and, showing sufficient foresight that he might be right, froze him in stasis.
As a result, when humans from Earth eventually stumbled across the original Alteran home galaxy, and allowed the Ori to become aware of the Milky Way, the Ori dispatched highly evolved human agents and eventually extremely powerful starships to try to subjugate the entire galaxy. Indeed, they very nearly did. The Alterans did nothing, since the Ori only dispatched agents and therefore weren’t attempting to intervene at an ascended level.
While the humans were eventually able to destroy the Ori by discovering the formerly developed technology, it took considerable more work to stop the invading armies and achieving peace.
When the previously dispatched Alteran attempted to assist, she was severely punished by her kind. (I’ll get to that more later.)
The Alteran involvement? None. Despite the intention of the Ori (complete mental slavery of all life in the Milky Way, followed by the destruction of the Alterans), they did nothing. Their only involvement, seemingly, was to punish one of their own who tried to help.
Before they learned to ascend, the Alterans left the Milky Way to escape a terrible plague, and began the process of seeding human-type life again in a new galaxy, the nearby dwarf galaxy Pegasus.
For a large number of years, they helped their new descendants build civilisations, watched them grow and fostered development with a new Stargate system for that galaxy.
Eventually however on a late-seeded planet in the new galaxy, a bug/creature was discovered that fed on the “life force” of humans (and presumably other animals too). Through a process of feeding on humans, the bugs were able to evolve into a new species, merging their genetic code and either human or ancient genetic code, and becoming a race known as the Wraith. Highly aggressive and with high levels of technology, they rapidly fought the Alterans across the galaxy, driving them back to their new homeworld. Along the way, they seized the thousands of worlds with human civilisations, bombed the humans back to primitive societies, and fed on them.
Eventually, seeing no end to the war, the Alterans fled back to Earth, leaving their submerged city (Atlantis) empty and sealed off from the Wraith.
Not long after returning to Earth, the Alterans spread out amongst human populations of the galaxy but realised the humans of the Milky Way were too primitive to co-exist with, and for the most part spent their final days trying to ascend. Obviously, many of them did.
Knowing that there was a highly aggressive species in another galaxy feeding from their descendants, they did nothing.
Actually, one ascended Alteran did do something, destroying Wraith who were attacking a planet she had previously lived on. The Ascended Alterans punished her by exiling her to that planet, forever required to protect the people of that planet, but no more – never allowed to accept refugees from other planets or assist other planets. I’ll get to that again in a short while.
Punishments against their own kind
The Alterans have an unsavory history in Stargate of punishing their own kind, often quite severely, and with no regard to the consequences upon others of that punishment.
Let’s look at some examples:
Oma Desala was an ascended Alteran who chose to help corporeal beings ascend. This was frowned upon by the remainder of the Alterans, but they did nothing to intervene until she was tricked by the Go’auld system lord, Anubis, into ascending him. Once Anubis had reached a non-corporeal state, she realised she had been misled and tried to undo the damage.
It was then that the other Alterans intervened. They pushed Anubis down into only a semi-descended state, then let him wreak havoc upon the Milky Way galaxy as a punishment to Oma Desala. They allowed him to kill and enslave millions in order to punish one of their own. Finally, Oma was forced to sacrifice herself in eternal combat against Anubis in order to rid the galaxy of his threat. Had she not done so, the Alterans would have allowed Anubis to destroy all life in the Milky Way galaxy. Genocide beyond compare.
I doubt humanity as it currently stands would even have an apt description of so heinous a crime.
Orlin was an ascended Alteran who, when a world he had previously lived on was under attack from an unknown enemy (presumably the Go’auld), taught the people of the world to make advanced weaponry. They used this to defend themselves, then started to use it to destroy themselves. The Alterans exiled him to that world to watch the destruction then live alone, until an opportunity presented itself, thousands of years later, to leave.
Through a variety of plot reasons, Orlin was eventually forgiven and allowed to rejoin the ascended Alterans. However, when the Ori threat came to the Milky Way galaxy, Orlin broke apart to warn the humans of Earth about the terrible nature of their new opponents. To do this, and retain his knowledge, he had to take human form as a child, since in the Stargate universe, a child’s brain is more able to handle the immense levels of knowledge that comes from being an Alteran.
However, his child’s brain couldn’t handle the information forever, and it eventually left him in a significant form of mental retardation: he lost his memories and was left unlikely to ever grow in IQ beyond that of an (approximately) 10 year old boy.
An Alteran who ascended after fleeing the Pegasus Galaxy and the Wraith, she subsequently returned in her ascended state to save the people of the world she had lived on from the Wraith.
Her punishment was effectively eternal slavery/servitude. She was required by the Alterans to permanently live on that world, defending it from the Wraith, but never able to prevent Wraith attacks (and slaughter) on other worlds, nor allowed to accept refuges.
(Otherwise known as Morgan le Fay). Dispatched by the Alterans to prevent one of their own who had retaken human form from abusing his knowledge, she eventually stopped that person, Moros (Merlin), just as he’d developed a weapon that could destroy the Ori forever.
She later came to regret this decision and when the Ori turned their attention to the Milky Way, she attempted (first) of surreptitiously trying to provide information to the humans, and then actually attempting to tell them, directly, something very important. At this point she was pulled away and (presumably) punished.
Later, with the threat mostly gone and only a single Ori left, Ganos Lal was forced to sacrifice herself, either by mutually destructive combat or eternal combat, against the sole Ori. Either way, her punishment for trying to stop a threat to her own species (as well as all other intelligent lifeforms) was effectively death.
The immorality of forcing sins on others
Through their inaction in the stargate universe, the Alterans actually forced a far greater sin on their descendants – humanity. Due to the overwhelming odds against them, humans from Earth didn’t have the luxury of long, protracted or noble wars against their opponents. Instead, they were forced to commit genocide after finding advanced technology on multiple occasions:
- Against the replicators that had been enemies to the Asgard;
- Against the human form replicators found in the Pegasus galaxy;
- Against the Ori.
These sins, in the stargate universe, should not have belonged to the descendants of the Alterans. With their advanced capabilities as ascended beings, the Alterans could have saved their “children” from such acts without having to resort to genocide. Instead, through their inaction, they left a terrible moral stain on the human race.
The immortality of non-intervention
The continuing argument of the Alterans that is presented in the series is that by intervening, they would be acting like gods, which would be immoral.
This argument doesn’t wash – humanity has already learned this lesson: intervening when suffering cannot be internally resolved has in fact become a sign of morality. Whenever there’s an earthquake, or a major tragedy, a multitude of nations will pitch in and offer support to those in strife. Australia for instance, has terrible bushfires every year or two, and when these get to the point that even our significant fire services can’t keep up, volunteers from other countries will fly to Australia to assist. Governments all around the world started giving aid almost immediately in the aftermath of the 2005 Tsunami that struck Asia.
Does it make any difference if one group is significantly more powerful than the other group?
Yes and no. Moving back to the Alterans, there is scope for argument that they are morally excused from helping humanity actually evolve, or preventing individual disasters across all the planets they left behind when they ascended. On this front, it can be argued that standard animal behaviour demonstrates parents leaving their children to their own devices and to fend for themselves.
Ultimately though, we’re not talking about the Alterans failing to intervene any time anyone gets a cold, or goes to war. What we’re talking about is the Alterans failing to intervene on situations that they caused. If a child leaves a toy on the top of the stairs and a parent trips on it, falling downstairs, they don’t ignore the situation, they reprimand the child for being irresponsible.
Unfortunately, as the most powerful lifeforms in the Stargate universe, it appears that the Alterans consider themselves beyond reproach – and beyond guilt. This leads them to the state of apathetically ignoring the calamities caused by their failure to pick up after themselves.
Are they worthy of awe within the Stargate universe? Certainly.
Worthy of respect, though? Not at all.