Handbook for Our New Alien Overlords: “Home”

Artist’s diagram of the interior plan of the Hindenburg, 1936. Wikimedia Commons



Humans desire a “home,” distinguished from “a house” or other dwelling by emotional attachment.

Like the house, a home might have walls, a toilet, running water, a bed, the means to keep and cook food, some basic privacy, and storage for necessary or symbolic possessions. Ease, restfulness, comfort, and visual attractiveness are preferred. Yet 4.5 billion people on this planet do not have a functioning toilet in their homes, one in three cannot get clean drinking water at all, and 16% have no electricity.

Even without things the rich consider indispensable, a home can provide a sense of safety, respite, refuge, belonging. Familial or other intimate relationships are implied. The concept of home is so important to the human animal it can even exist only in memory or as an idea.

The concept is transferable, too. Travelers will often speak of state parks, rented rooms, or berths on boats or space stations as their “home away from home.” Home, one of our singers sang, is where the heart is. Other sang that home is where you make it, where you lay your head, or where you hang your hat. These are all accommodations to circumstance.

Humans pay for their homes as they do everything else: with time, labor, money, or combinations of the three. (Some read magazines to learn the art of decorating to stretch their budgets, for example. Others patch leaks in the roof with discarded tin from the dump.) Given the emotional distinction of the home, emotional labor must be included in those forms of capital. Sometimes humans let everything else go and build value by talking to the person lying on the couch. Those who do not invest in a home find they cannot withdraw all its potential profit.

Most humans live acceptingly with the home they have, tinged with a desire for something a little better. By acceptingly, I mean they do not, for the most part, kill the hyper-rich and move into their homes. In fact, most humans work their entire lives (mostly for others) in hopes of moving up incrementally, rather than being forced to take up the pitchfork. Except farmers, of course.

To keep themselves from feeling anger, humans create stories about the richs’ lives, which they have never witnessed. Stories include how the rich do not value what they have, so they never truly enjoy their opulent palaces, or how the children of the rich grow up in cold, loveless wealth, devoid of the fertile experience of the unrich. Pity assuages.

But human history, brief as it is in geological time, proves, my benevolent lords, that when the stories fail, dissatisfaction pools like water in the hollows.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.