"Sometimes I think that the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." — Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes
Sometimes, it feels like the only difference between humanity and the chimps is that we're only slightly less hairy.
A subtrope of Humans Are Flawed, Humans Are Morons shows that, when compared to other civilizations in works of Speculative Fiction (or even lesser animals, on occasion), humans are nowhere near as technologically advanced, incapable of understanding such civilizations as being any different than the most generic Sci-Fi stories, very gullible, insanely superstitious, constantly having more astounding lapses in judgment than a more sensible being could possibly tolerate, far more primitive than realized (possibly even more savage-like than realized), and completely oblivious to all of this.
Humans are not special. They're just an oddly evolved apenote Many apologies to any apes out there who now feel insulted. out in the boondocks of the galaxy where, thankfully, intelligent life is so far away from us that we can live in our own squalor on this filthy planet without a care (or clue) in the world and not pose a threat to anyone out there who may actually be decent and civilized (but God help them if they ever do actually come here).
This is often the source of Fantastic Racism exemplified in alien civilizations towards humans; whenever you see words like "monkeys," "primates," "chimps," and "apes" used as Fantastic Slurs, you're generally dealing with an alien species that believes humans are pretty far down on the totem pole. This may also lead to a sufficiently advanced species to note that there is No Intelligent Life Here. Highly evolved humans refer to "homo sap" in the same manner.
Outside of the Speculative Fiction genre, Humans Are Morons may be invoked in works with more political contexts, especially with those that argue Hobbes Was Right or that Democracy Is Bad, again emphasizing that there is still a very savage, primal side of human nature that clouds our better judgment and hampers our social progression towards a more idealisticUtopia.
This can overlap with Humans Are the Real Monsters in the event that any brutish or violent human actions are more closely perceived as being thoughtless, rather than malicious, but usually these two tropes are separate. When trying to figure out whether an act of violence counts as humans being bastards or morons, there's always one easy distinction to tell the two apart:
A favorite for Alan Moore when he writes anything about aliens interacting with humans, occasionally referring to humans derogatorily as "chimps" and "apes."
In Skizz a peaceful alien is stranded on Earth a la E.T., which, to his own species, is classified as a "hellworld" planet for many reasons, among them being that human civilization is far too primitive and undeveloped for people to handle alien contact. The first encounter the alien has with humans is discovering drunk skinheads pummeling each other with their fists; the revelation that he's stranded on a planet where the locals are that primitive is more than enough to make him cry.
The Big Bad in the story, a government agent known only as "Van Owen," could be interpreted to an extent as an example of the overlap between this and Humans Are the Real Monsters. No matter what anyone says or asks him, he's convinced in his own mind that the peaceful alien is a secret spy looking to destroy the planet.
"DR And Quinch Have Fun on Earth" features the title characters manipulating humanity throughout history in an elaborate scheme that relies on humans developing a space travel program. When humans finally reach the characters' corner of the galaxy and encounter "their first real, actual people," they're given a civic reception at "The League of Disadvantaged Planets' Charity Hall" as everyone sees humans as stupid, mindless life-forms.
Several of Moore's Future Shocks from 2000 AD are about humanity's stupidity allowing aliens who are actually malicious to take advantage of them. Notable examples include, the Grawks who conquer Earth not through war but by giving gold to any human on the planet in exchange for world landmarks or even entire countries while the humans who take the gold are unaware that they are making a legitimate sale in accordance with Intergalactic Law (this also deflates the price of gold on Earth so much that humans can't buy Earth back) and the humanitarians who don't seem to bother the military too much about taking security precautions when making first contact.
In Judge Dredd this is one of a few arguments made to show that Democracy Is Bad (especially as an In-Universe argument). With the Judges in control of everything, the rest of the population has seemingly accepted the parentalist state of things and now cannot be trusted to competently vote on individuals to run the government on their behalf. There was also the time when an orangutan named Dave was able to do a better job at predicting the winners of sporting matches than human sports analysts. His fans later rally to get him elected as Mayor of Mega-City One, believing that he can do a better job than an actual person. Dave the Orangutan won the election and was later assassinated.
In another 2000 AD strip, Bec & Kawl, The Greys who abduct Pierre seem to view humans as play-things to be abused and toyed with for their amusement, when not partaking in the traditional Anal Probing and alien-human hybrid experiments, of course. One grey even refers to Pierre as a "monkey-man."The Greys do, however, decide to recruit Pierre (who is a pest control expert) for the job of "taking on the filthiest vermin of all" (a separate malevolent alien race hiding amongst us on Earth, waiting for the opportune moment to strike), which turns out to be A Batman Gambit for The Greys' own gain.
In the Strontium Dog story arc "Bitch," aliens who have taken Ronald Reagan hostage find The Gipper to be so astonishingly stupid that they can't fathom how this man could possibly be "the leader of the human race" without assuming that the rest of us aren't that bright, either.
Throughout Silver Surfer's solo series, Surfer, confined to Earth by Galactus in punishment for rebelling against his master, constantly bemoans the madness of men. No matter what he does to try and fit in, he encounters human prejudice and fear. His evaluations vary from Humans Are the Real Monsters to Humans Are Morons though.
In Aeon Entelechy Evangelion, this is how almost everybody non-human views humanity in general and the NEG in particular. This view is especially held by the Migou.
Films — Animated
In Don Bluth's Titan A.E., after losing their homeworld, humans are viewed as sort of sentient, endangered vermin unleashed on the galaxy.
The main antagonist in Finding Nemo is a slightly hyperactive little girl who simply doesn't realize that if she shakes the bag too hard she'll kill the little fish inside.
Mars Attacks!! features many situations where people want to believe that the Martians are peace-loving and our friends, despite them repeatedly vaporizing everyone.
In Men In Black humans are the least technically advanced space faring race in the galaxy. Most of the better technology the MIBs have is acquired from elsewhere, and the greater human population cannot be allowed to know the truth. Also, aliens that come here seem to have a rather high mortality rate. An early scene in the film has Agent K noting that humans aren't supposed to have an alien brain scanner because "Human thought is so primitive it's looked upon as an infectious disease in some of the better galaxies. That kind of makes you proud, doesn't it?"
The Bug even dishes out the Fantastic Slurs, calling Agent K a "monkey-boy" and claiming that compared to us, he's "on the top of the evolutionary ladder!"
Agent K: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.
Of course, K earlier noted that The Bug had a massive inferiority complex, likely related to the fact that his closest racial analogue on Earth was at the very bottom of the food chain.
In Star Trek: First Contact, humans of the 21st Century live in a post-apocalyptic society with just barely enough infrastructure to continue research on warp drive, while the other races have already begun exploring the galaxy and view humanity as being "too primitive." However, this is ultimately subverted by the rest of Star Trek canon as we somehow nonetheless become one of the dominant space faring races.
Primarily because First Contact finally inspired humans to work together. The more amazing part is how the Phoenix (first ship with warp drive) was built mainly from scrap and based on a decommissioned ICBM. The fact that human had managed to build a warp drive, however primitive, exceeded the Vulcans' expectations and led them to make contact with Earth.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home includes a lot of this, too; Kirk notes to his crew before exploring 20th Century San Fransisco that "this is an extremely primitive and paranoid culture" and believes that no one pays attention to you in the contemporary age "unless you swear every other word." Bones is shocked to find a woman in a hospital on dialysis, asking if this is the Dark Ages.
"Because all you of Earth are idiots!" Although considering that their way to warn us about potentially dangerous scientific experiments we shouldn't attempt is a (very localized) Zombie Apocalypse, there's a strong case for this being the pot calling the kettle black.
Both the 1951 and 2008 versions of The Day The Earth Stood Still feature Klaatu chastising humanity for being irresponsible with all that they have; The Remake provides a Humans Are Special moral to ultimately subvert this, however.
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in Space
Because there's bugger'all down here on Earth.
In Battlefield Earth, it's the belief of Terl and the Psychlos is that the so-called "man-animals" are too stupid to tie their own bootlaces. This arguably becomes unintentional Hypocritical Humor given that Terl and his fellow Psychlos spend a great deal of time holding the Idiot Ball themselves.
John: I think we can assume that these entities are more advanced than us. Why don't they just come right out and tell us what's on their minds?
Leek: You're more advanced than a cockroach, have you ever tried explaining yourself to one of them?
Planet of the Apes, naturally, is the rare example of this in Speculative Fiction where humanity is less civilized than the apes, as opposed to usually being the slightly more civilized ones.
Demolition Man provides the unique depiction of a Future where humanity has eradicated all the things that make humans bastards in the Present Day but has become more paranoid, inexperienced, and clueless as a trade-off.
prot from K-PAX certainly has a few choice words for humans.
prot: You humans, most of you, subscribe to this policy of an eye for an eye, a life for a life, which is known throughout the universe for its... stupidity.
prot: Sometimes it's hard to imagine how you've made it this far.
Subtly subverted in Steven Spielberg's remake of The War of the Worlds. The aliens who explore the basement our human characters are hiding in show a lot of fascination in a bicycle tire, hinting that for all the greater technological advancements they have over humans, they never invented a tool as simple and practical as the wheel.
Similar scenes also happen in another Spielberg film, ET. ET is often fascinated with mundane objects and panics when they fall over or move unexpectedly. In some scenes, he acts not unlike a wild animal.
They also act like little children who constantly have to be told not to lick everything in sight because they may get sick. Especially on an alien planet.
Jackass, a series of movies (and a TV series at first) that uses this trope and Rule of Funny, did well enough at the box office to have sequels. America's Dumbest/Funniest Home Videos is similar.
Starship Troopers is less "Humans are Morons" and more "Humans Are Absolutely Too Dumb to Live". The overwhelming majority of human characters underestimate the Bugs as mindless animals despite obvious evidence to the contrary. For example, early on in the film, the city of Buenos Aires is annihilated by an asteroid knocked from the Asteroid Belt into Earth, by bug plasma from Klendathu, thousands of light years away. Something like this far beyond anything humanity can do without trillions of dollars worth of supercomputer, and the Bugs are doing these calculations in their heads. The humans insist that the Bugs just managed a lucky hit ("Bug plasma is random and light"), and retaliate with an invasion of Klendathu that ends in abysmal failure with thousands of humans dead and wounded, all due to massive tactical blunders on the human's part. Even after all this, the majority of humans are adamant that the Bugs are just unthinking beasts that can be easily crushed by human superiority. To quote one expert, "I find the idea of an intelligent bug offensive!" With the humans constantly underestimating the Bugs, paying dearly for it, and never once learning their lesson, one has to wonder if the Bugs find the idea of intelligent monkeys offensive as well...
In Interstellar Pig, when Barney finds out that he has been made a character in the game, he finds that his species has a ludicrously high IRSC rating; the Interstellar Relative Sapience Code gives lower numbers to species with higher intelligence. Subverted in the end, when Barney pieces together the clues and realizes that the interstellar Pig is actually a recording device, and the game is a gambit to trick the participants into passing it (violently) from alien race to alien race so it can record more information on them. He then reassesses the rules in the game and comes to the conclusion that the higher numbers DO mean higher intelligence, because all of the other alien races playing have been too violent, narrow minded and stupid to figure out the Pig's scam.
The first book in the series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is centered around this trope, in the beginning chapter saying the following: 'In the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy sits a insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life-forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.' Arthur Dent, the only human left alive (except for Trillian) is constantly being referred to as an ape or otherwise put down as a moron (mainly by Zaphod, though he isn't exactly bright himself.) And in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, it's revealed humans are actually descended from the survivors of a shipload of clueless Human Aliens who were written off as "useless" by their home planet and tricked into leaving.
A chapter of Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot titled "Is There Intelligent Life On Earth?" covers a fictional alien visitor observing human activity from space that cause it to speculate if there really is such a thing as human intelligence.
Terry Bisson's short story "They're Made Out of Meat" is about Starfish Aliens who discover humans and find it impossible to comprehend how a species made entirely out of organic matter could possibly be sentient, among other characteristic traits. They rationalize striking us from any of their records and avoiding contact by noting how humans only inhabit one planet and lack the physical and, more importantly, technological capabilities to travel long distances through space, making the chances of future contact very slim. This shows that aliens are as narrow minded and judgmental as humans are as was the author's intention.
The original adaptation of The War of the Worlds makes the subversion noted in Spielberg's film (mentioned above) a lot more apparent, with the main character explicitly pointing out the aliens' lack of wheels, speculating that they may have never invented them on their own.
Labria: What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Wuher: Trilingual. Labria: Someone who speaks two languages? Wuher: Bilingual. Labria: Someone who speaks one language? Wuher: Monolingual? Labria: Human.
This is demonstrably incorrect in the Star Wars universe, however. Han Solo is shown to understand at least three alien languages (Wookiee, Rodian and Huttese) despite being (apparently) physically incapable of speaking it himself. Luke understands the electronic language spoken by R2D2 and just like his Uncle Owen, he could understand the Jawas. Given that the former is a career criminal and the latter was raised on a backwater farm far from what passes for civilization on a backwater planet— neither being lifestyles conducive to much education— it can be inferred that polyglotism is fairly common among humans in the Star Wars universe. The EU novels largely bear this out. The characters above are simply anti-human bigots.
The Columi (a species with giant heads containing huge brains, but tiny bodies), upon discovering worlds populated by humans, quickly returned home in disappointment at having found "subsentient barbarians" instead of the intelligent life they were looking for. Subverted in that pretty much all of the other aliens (including fellow hyperdrive 'inventors' the Duros) they came across elicited the same opinion.
In the book The VMR Threory, this is the view held by many races that first contact humans, given that the human individuals who are in charge of first contact situations are complete idiots to the point that other species think that humanity is Too Dumb to Live. This has sparked two theories of how it's possible for humanity to have been able to reach space and survive as a species. The first is that there's smart humans and dumb humans, and if they mess with the dumb humans, the smart humans will come and kick their asses. The second is that there is a specific race out there guiding humans that is infinitely more dangerous than all of humanity. The most popular theory of who this master race is happens to be The Vampire Master Race.
In Earth (The Book), anything that doesn't make us look crazy or evil makes us look like complete idiots. For instance, "not masturbating on a mass-transit system" is the example used to explain the "harsh, at times maddeningly frustrating trade-offs" that served as the basis for a social contract.
Another example comes at the end of the FAQ Section on Chapter 2: Life, revolving around the author refusing to explain to aliens what creationism is, despite "billions of people" believing in it as the origin of life up until the end.
Q. Come on.
A. Look, if you're so damn curious, check into a hotel room, open the bedside table and start reading.
Q. Hold on a moment. [Pause]
A. We know.
Q. Six days? Six days?!?
A. [Covers eyes, shakes head]
The My Teacher Is an Alien series plays with this a bit. The aliens are studying humans partially to figure out why it is we have the most powerful brains in the galaxy, but only use ten percent of it.
Wizard's First Rule as explained in the eponymous first book in the Sword of Truth series: "People are stupid. They will believe something because they want it to be true; or because they're afraid it might be true."
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has humanity constantly proving that we're idiots. First, there's Sunnydale. There's a reason the trope Weirdness Censor used to be called Sunnydale Syndrome. Secondly, Season 8 shows the rest of humanity isn't much better. Basically all of humanity (although Stephen Colbert has been shown to be one of the few smart ones) has become vampire fanboys/fangirls after Harmony gets a TV show, with people willingly getting sucked on Riley-style. They also think the Slayer Organization is evil, though there are a few in the bunch that give them reason enough to think that.
Thor: The Asgard have tried to stop [the Replicators]. You have demonstrated their weakness may be found through a less... sophisticated approach. We are no longer capable of such thinking.
Dr. Jackson: Wait a minute, you're actually saying that you need someone... dumber than you are?
O'Neill: You may have come to the right place.
The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Virtuoso" introduced us to the Qomar, a Rubber Forehead Alien species highly dedicated to mathematics and sciences and far more advanced than the Federation, which the Qomar looks down upon in contempt. When the Doctor provides medical treatment for one of them, the Qomarian sarcastically asks if the process involves bloodletting. Even in an idealized future where humanity has overcome a good number of its flaws to become one of the most dominant space-fairing races, we're still finding aliens who think we're dumb and primitive.
In "Dark Frontier", we learn that the Borg catalog humans as having "below-average cranial capacity". Ouch.
The darkest episodes of The Outer Limitsrevival are more often the ones where the human protagonist(s) is an astounding Unwitting Pawn who is duped into destroying the Earth or selling out his own species for the benefit of a more cunning alien villain or someone who winds up paying dearly for a severe lapse in judgment. See also Cruel Twist Ending as they are occasionally the result of a character's mistake, stemming from the human weaknesses mentioned on this page.
In Doctor Who, there comes a moment when the Fourth Doctor wonders why he likes humans so much, seeing as we have "such limited brains."
His later incarnations seem to have pretty much the same thought. Indeed, when he's not going on about the marvelousness of humanity (a particular feature of the Tenth Doctor), he's ranting about how stupid/blind/ignorant they are. Sometimes in the same episode.
The Ninth Doctor was particularly fond of calling humans "stupid apes" whenever he was angry at us.
This trait in humans is why the Tenth Doctor in particular finds the human race to be amazing. In the episode Utopia, The Doctor visits a human refugee base in the year 100,000,000,000,000 AD, a time in which the Universe was ending and most races had gone extinct, and states his wonderment at how the human race is one of the few races to survive to the very end of existence.
Doctor: [While walking through the hordes of human families living in the base] "This is fantastic! You humans with your simple, STUPID ways...with all your soap dramas and gossip mags, microwave dinners and ipods... Your pathetic small brains and your simple homes, your greed and your sins, your bad ways and your poor souls, with your ignorant nature and your frankly appalling manners at times...with all that you STILL manage to amaze me. Look at you lot, here at the end of TIME ITSELF and you're living! The human race, the race of passion! Indomitable! That's the word...indomitable!
In Spaced, Tim defends the Sci-Fi genre arguing that "the thoughts and speculations of our contemporary authors and thinkers have probably never been closer to the truth." Cut to a group of aliens outside the comic book shop laughing at how ridiculous everything on display is.
Played for laughs in the early episodes of Farscape. D'Argo and Aeryn continually get frustrated at how slowly John learns new skills and generally view him as completely useless. However, his own ingenuity and pluckiness end up saving the day very frequently.
Nan: I have proof. Scientific. People are far dumber than they realize.
Ever since GWAR was banished from their home planet for stinking up the place, they've been stuck here with what they often call "human filth." In their eyes, humanity is far beneath them, and human life is practically worthless, existing only give them something to enslave and viciously exploit. The song "Slaughterama," for instance, is about a game show that's intentionally designed to "kill everyone that's worth killing."
The stars are laughing at us, as we crawl on and on across this antheap.
Warhammer 40,000's Imperium of Man has hardly advanced their technology in the 10,000 years since anyone has last seen The Emperor Of Mankind. Human culture throughout their vast empire is extremely paranoid and superstitious, and the government is such a vast, inept bureaucracy that a simple filing error can lead to entire populations of people being immediately forgotten about and/or destroyed.
Technically, humans aren't paranoid. "Paranoid" would imply your fears aren't justified. Theycertainlyare.
A similar example exists in FASA's ship combat sim Renegade, at least for the majority human government. The Terran Overlord Government got to be the big dog in the galactic stage by being brutally stupid and corrupt, being based upon the worst excesses of Rome. In their case, the filing error will not only wipe out a planet and/or its location, but also result in about 140 senatorial murders. Whereas the most gross stupidity in Warhammer 40k is a result of religious fanaticism, in Renegade's universe, it's a result of purely shortsighted greed and avarice. And occasionally throwing bureaucracy into bureaucracy. Forget the name of it but the creation of one TOG fighter led them to many victories, as the constant reshuffling and retitling of it while it was in development resulted in a huge amount of nasty ambushes for spies who reported on freighters and dignitaries having only 'light escorts.' To make matters worse, TOG owns roughly 3 times as many planets as the Tyranids have devoured. It is not unheard of for an entire SYSTEM to escape taxes in the political morass for decades, only to later be invaded by their hosts who want it paid back with interest.
Any game that goes in for the Masquerade ends up with some level of this. It's particularly egregious in settings where human ignorance of the supernatural is reliant entirely on humans' refusal to accept the existence of such things.
The Batarians from the Mass Effect universe tend to think that every other alien race is beneath them, but they especially think humans are among the stupidest and most expendable of the Citadel species. Then again, those guys are just bastards. It is really stinging them that humans are beating them out economically and militarily despite being the new arrivals on the galactic scene. They mainly assume humans are dumb because it's not possible to make facial expressions they would recognize as thoughtful or sophisticated with fewer than four eyes.
R-Type Tactics II: Operation Bitter Chocolate - the glowing little ball Force Device says it all. While facing the menacing threat of the Eldritch Abomination Bydo Empire, the humans begin to fight each other over whether to continue to develop the Force Device or not! Again, this is probably an Excuse Plot created by Irem in order to make players experience two types of R-Fighter battles.
In Drowtales humans are considered to be a type of goblin. Though considered somewhat cunning individually (like Vaelia, the Badass Normal human bodyguard of Ariel) collectively humans are viewed as less intelligent than orcs. In one chapter, a group of drow children with the help of said Badass Normal and a squad of Mauve Shirts, took down an entire human castle, which was being used to sacrifice elves as part of a harebrained bid for immortality.
Even that damn squirrel, Foamy, thinks this about us!
Invader Zim. So much. EVERYONE is an idiot, except for Gaz and sometimes Dib (although he doesn't seem to have much common sense either). The Irken Empire could not care less about the planet and just use it to get rid of Zim. The episode where Tak is introduced sums it up quite nicely; her home base turns out to be much too big because it's actually a giant pump, so she disguises it as a giant hot dog stand. Dib asks why she didn't think anyone would notice, and Tak explains that the good thing about humans is that if there's anything like food or technology covering it up, they don't notice it; they just see there's food in that building, not that it's 50 feet tall.
Zim is once kidnapped by a race of aliens even stupider than the Irkens and humans. The Resisty and Planet Jackers don't seem too bright either. And the Martians literally worked their entire species to death converting planetary bodies into spaceships for no better reason than that it was cool. It seems like the entire universe is like this, not just humans.
In Futurama the 20th Century is known as "The Stupid Age" to historians. However, that doesn't make humans of the 31st Century any less stupid than us.
And again in the episode "The Late Philip J. Fry" where we see Fry, Bender, and the Professor time-travel forward to the year 5,000,000 AD where they learn that human evolution has deviated along two paths, one evolving from intellect and reason and the other evolving from brute strength and very little else. The mentally superior race explain that they can devise a backwards time-travel device for our characters to use within five years. Cut to five years later where we find that the brainless apes have sacked the settlements of the more intelligent, reasonable species. That last part may have been a reference to how the Morlocks appeared to be nothing more than brutal savages but were actually maintaining the machinery that supported their Eloi cattle.
Lisa: Dad, according to Junior Skeptic Magazine, the chances are 175 million to one of another form of life actually coming in contact with ours. Homer: So? Lisa: It's just that the people who claim they've seen aliens are always pathetic low-lifes with boring jobs. Oh, and you, Dad. (laughs nervously)