Recently I read War of the Worlds, and while I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the plot, its meaning was enormous. In the novel, Martians come to our planet to wreak havoc. They have no regard for us; as one character puts it, humans are to them what ants are to us… insignificant annoyances. In the end, humanity is saved when the Martians are all killed by the flu because their bodies are unaccustomed to Earth’s diseases. Sure, this is pretty standard science fiction plot — particularly now, over a century after it was written — but this wasn’t a story about Martians, it was about us.

Throughout human history, similar events to the Martian invasion have happened. When the Europeans first arrived in North America, Native Americans were inconveniences in the process of expansion and were killed with the same mass carelessness as the humans in the novel. Similar things happened to the indigenous peoples in China, Africa, Australia. Historically, this is common in exploration, but there is little to explore today and this same pattern exists: the powerful abuse the weak. We see this same common theme in all forms of discrimination — racism, sexism, speciesism, classism — and it’s unfortunate that while we can identify it, the systemic abuse of the weak by the powerful retains a darkly dominant role in our humanity.

Discrimination requires one to believe in their own superiority to another. However, since this is subjective, it is not possible to become superior without first believing someone else is inferior. This is the key to all forms of discrimination, even those that exist subconsciously. The Martians knew they were superior to humans, so destroying us was justified. The Europeans knew they were superior to Native Americans, so killing them and claiming their land was justified. The majority of the world knows they are superior to animals, and so confining and consuming them is justified. It is possible to justify one’s actions only when they believe they are morally right, even if it is their own belief that provides them the authority. Discrimination does not reveal any actual inferiority of those discriminated against.

If ever humanity prevails into a time of peace and understanding, it will come from accepting ourselves as equal to all others. There is no superiority, not by gender or race, not by community or religion, not even by species. All discrimination comes from the same roots, and as long as one form exists, they all do.