I’ll just go ahead and say it this way: if aliens have any plans to visit Earth they had damn well better keep an eye on our politics. I know that is unfair, as most human political situations are a vast cesspool of ego aggrandizement and power grabs. But despite the disgusting nature of the subject, it would be important for extraterrestrials to consider. Political matters offer an indication of the stability of governments. Governmental leaders would be key decision-makers in the wake of a Direct First Contact event.
Let me wade hip-deep into the political muck by first examining the current presidential race in the United States. If I was an alien (I am not) I would consider the timing of my big hello. Would I want to make First Contact when there is a lame duck U.S. president in office? Should I wait for a new president to take command? The advantage of the lame duck president is that they have very little to lose politically, hopefully enabling them to act thoughtfully and make decisions based on the long-term well-being of the U.S. and the world. A lame duck president also has experience with all sorts of crises and many veteran cabinet and staff members. A new president has the advantage of newness- they have not yet developed the network of enemies that a veteran president has. A new president would also have more time to carry through with an extraterrestrial policy.
The big issue during an election cycle is candidate reaction. Presidential candidates are more likely to present brash ideas during an election, in an effort to appeal to voting blocs. Candidates don’t have the same responsibilities as a sitting president. Alien First Contact would be wrapped up in a huge political debate in regards to our response, no matter when it happens. That debate could be much more aggressive during an election cycle.
The political situations in Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom would also be important to consider. They are the other standing members of the United Nations Security Council. They would likely have a large role in diplomatic relations with an extraterrestrial civilization. Evaluating politics in Russia and China might be tough for aliens. Much of the important decision-making process is conducted out of the public in these two nations. That’s not to say that behind the scenes political decisions don’t happen in the United States, France and the U.K. But the nature of news coverage in those nations, and less government control of the political process, makes it more likely decisions will be made in public.
So, how do aliens go about evaluating the situations in China and Russia? They would have to do what reporters around the world do when examining the countries- get as local as possible with sources and know enough about the nature of each government to understand what is really going on when they make public announcements.
This could all be accomplished on the Internet. But it means that extraterrestrials would need to take the time to study us, before saying hello. I understand the argument could be made that aliens would not understand or care to understand, our human political systems. However, I think that if they have the technological means to travel to our solar system, they would also have the ability to study and learn. The value in evaluating human politics is simple: it can give you an indication of how various governments, and the United Nations, might react in a Direct First Contact situation. This includes military reaction and that’s a big one. You don’t want to scare leaders of an unstable nation.
Another factor to consider is United Nations leadership. The process is underway now to pick a new Secretary General. That position would be critical in any First Contact scenario. The same thoughts apply- do you want to say hello with a lame duck Secretary General or wait for a new Secretary General to take office?
How would aliens take in all this information and could they ever fully understand the human implications? That’s impossible to say. But we humans do a good job of putting it all out there. There are thousands and thousands of political blogs, academic works and other analyses of political situations available on the Internet. An alien wouldn’t need to start from scratch. There are plenty of humans evaluating politics and offering insight. That does raise another concern: lies and exaggerations on the Internet. Humans have enough trouble keeping information on the Internet straight. How would aliens do it, considering the fine points of human behavior might be hard for them to understand? Let’s just hope the aliens take their time and study the cesspool of human politics very carefully before they say hello.