Monday, May 2, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Politics and Space Aliens

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.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Humor and Honesty

Many humans would be anxious about First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, if it ever happens some day. A quick review of First Contact fiction plots in popular media shows the anxiety quite clearly. Books and movies have dwelled on the negative for decades. And there is a possibility that First Contact could be a real problem for humans. However, it seems more likely that First Contact would be a mixed bag of positive and negative impacts. It also seems likely that many of the outcomes will depend on how humans respond to First Contact. Negative outcomes may be due to negative human reaction and have nothing to do with aliens. Managing those reactions will be important in the wake of First Contact.

I think it would be important to maintain the “humanity” in any First Contact event.  That can be accomplished with honest communication, transparency in action and the use of humor.

Why humor? It’s a human way of relieving tension and acknowledging fears, and could help to calm people. Serious matters would need to be handled seriously, but there should be plenty of room in the process for humor. Such techniques would, of course, depend on the nature of First Contact. If aliens are reigning down missiles on Washington and Moscow, humor wouldn’t be such a good idea. But in a more positive scenario, humor could serve to act as a reassuring anchor for people watching First Contact coverage. Humor would remind them that this is a human event and not the end of the world. Aside from relieving tension, humor can help in communication. It is a way to address concerns and counteract negative stereotypes with less confrontation than a more direct approach.

Governments don’t do a very good job utilizing humor. Some politicians have learned the value of the technique. And that’s an important point. Institutions can’t show a sense of humor about a situation, but people can. Humor, honesty and transparency will need to start with the major human players in a First Contact situation. Hopefully, with good examples from those individuals and good results, it could be a foundation for the process going forward.

The most important part of communication would be honesty. Humans have been trained by Hollywood writers to expect conspiracy in an alien First Contact scenario. The best way to be honest is to be transparent. The entire human population has a right to know exactly what is occurring at each step in the process After First Contact. Meetings should be made public, whenever possible. At the very least, closed door meetings should be summarized for the public afterwards. This would not be easy to achieve without a struggle. Governments often act behind closed doors when it comes to security decisions. There would be many security considerations in a Direct First Contact situation. Governmental leaders would need to weigh their options carefully. The benefit of having a closed door meeting, and not reporting on the outcome of that meeting, could be minimal compared to the value of keeping the public informed and calm.

Perhaps the biggest fear in the back of the collective human mind in a First Contact event would be the alien perspective. Will it overwhelm our human world? Will we somehow lose our humanity in the process of having a relationship with extraterrestrials? Humor and honesty could help to keep the process of Contact human in nature, and thus understandable, and hopefully acceptable, to the world public.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fears

Fear would be a understandable, and perhaps common, human reaction in any extraterrestrial First Contact scenario. It would be a big concern in a Direct First Contact situation. Here is a breakdown of possible human fears:

Fear of Attack- Hollywood has primed us for this fear with a million movies about marauding aliens attacking Earth. The threat of attack is a legitimate fear, but only in the context of the actual situation.

Fear of Interference- Concerns about aliens interfering in human activities, either behind the scenes or openly, are also legitimate, and need to be addressed.

Fear of Conspiracy- This worry would probably focus on some group of human beings having a secret deal with aliens that would give those humans an advantage. This could be a particular country or some subset of human society.

Fear of Change- We’re already overwhelmed by changes in our society and our technology. Information overload would be an issue.

Fear of Being Left Out- This could be a fear held by a particular group of humans or group of countries. The fear would stem from being left out of decision-making and not receiving the benefits of First Contact. This will be especially true for developing nations.

Fear of Loss of Control- This will be a concern for many humans, but especially for those who are in control of some human institution.

Fear of Religious Change- This stems from the possibility that information provided by extraterrestrials will somehow undermine particular religions, thus throwing faith into disarray.

Fear for the Future- What will humans become After First Contact? Will we become more like aliens? Will the trajectory for human development be changed? And for better or for worse?

Calming fears will be important in a First Contact situation. International and government leaders will need to speak often to address concerns and set up commissions or panels to respond to legitimate fears. Scientists and other experts will need to put developments into context for the rest of humanity and explore legitimate concerns. The news media will have to be careful about responding to rumor and misinformation. Context will also be critical for the media to truly serve the public. Humanity will learn about First Contact developments primarily from the media, so there is a tremendous responsibility there for journalists, and perhaps most importantly, those who lead newsrooms and media companies.

Everything concerning First Contact would need to be out in the open. Transparency would be essential to prevent misunderstandings and diminish fear of conspiracy. There should be open meetings for all developments in the First Contact process. Those meetings should be streamed on the web for everyone to view. Leaders will need to respond to rumors and misinformation immediately.

Every human would need to be included in the process, in some way. That means all nations need representation in decision-making. Leaders would need to listen to public opinion, and even fringe groups, to hear concerns and respond to legitimate concerns. A bunker mentality could be disastrous for leaders.

The rational middle of human society will need to be fully engaged and prepared to speak out, if necessary. Fringe groups will be quite loud. They cannot be allowed to dominate the discussion.

It may take a while for some of these fears to develop. Leaders shouldn’t assume that a calm public in the first few days and weeks After First Contact means that the calm will continue indefinitely. There will be a period where humans and human leaders are stunned and simply processing information. This will not last. Humans will need to respond quickly to put into place a framework for responding to fear.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Danger and Importance of Fringe Groups

Observation shows that human social behavior often follows predictable patterns at the macro level. That’s why I think you can discuss possible human social reaction to alien First Contact. At the macro level we will probably react much as we do to other challenges and debates.

Fringe groups are major players in human social debates. A fringe group could be described as a smaller, organized contingent of people with beliefs that fall closer to the absolute pole than they do the middle ground. If we look at human social reaction to a big issue, such as abortion, you see two opposite poles and a continuum of opinion in between. The one pole believes that there should be absolutely no abortions under any circumstances. The other pole considers abortion to be the right of a woman to control her own body, allowable under whatever circumstances the woman decides. Most of us would probably fall in between these two extremes. Surveys show that to be the case. Clearly, it’s a complicated issue that involves much more than simply these two poles. But viewing the debate in this way allows us to see forces at work.

It seems to me that the middle ground of any human debate is often the quietest position. There seem to be less advocacy organizations representing the middle ground. Institutions and larger, more broad-based, organizations often occupy the middle.

Fringe groups, operating near the poles of the debate, are usually much smaller in actual numbers of followers. Either because of this, or due to the inherent passions of those in these positions, fringe groups tend to be quite vocal. It’s important to note that in any large debate there are likely to be many fringe groups operating at each pole. They sometimes work together, and at other times they disagree and fight with each other. This can be due to philosophical differences or simply the human problems of ego and control. A fringe group at either pole seeks to influence the debate and convince people in the middle. They do this via protests and other events designed to garner media coverage. However, some members will view these methods as unproductive and engage in civil unrest. Even smaller groups may choose violence.

This type of human reaction can be seen again and again, throughout human history. In the 1960’s war protestors held marches and rallies. Some groups thought that rallies were not enough and provoked riots. Still others resorted to bombings.

This may all sound negative at first blush. But we need to understand the importance of fringe groups. They often represent a way of thinking that is at odds with the current actions of society. An example is the abolitionist movement well before the Civil War in America. Many regarded abolitionists as radicals in the early days. As the debate became more widespread, the larger group of abolitionists spoke publicly and changed minds, leading to greater support. A smaller group helped to build the Underground Railroad. Even smaller groups participated in violent revolt. Would America have rejected slavery if not for the abolitionist fringe groups? It’s much easier to stay in stasis than to participate in change. Fringe groups provoke debate and often action. They may help us to see things in terms we could not before. It’s occurring today with the animal rights movement. The push to protect animals in the food chain is operating at a pole. Some groups believe in public education. Other groups take more radical action.

It’s important to note that fringe groups can also make existing situations much worse. That seems to be occurring in the Islamic and Christian communities. The groups at the poles of radical Islam and radical Christianity are engaging in all-out war. Extremist Islamic groups are attacking the larger human society and that provokes radical Christians to promote separatism. Those of us in the middle have to endure the violence and also struggle to keep Muslims and Christians together in a common society. Groups are struggling for power and control in the world of Muslim and Christian extremists. Even more dangerous- there is an apocalyptic/religious reward element involved on both sides. That means the parties often do not act rationally.

So, let’s bring this back to extraterrestrial First Contact.

The human reaction to intelligent alien First Contact will probably correspond to the degree of tension involved in the situation. If we are communicating with a far-off civilization, and our messages take years or decades to travel, that will be a low level of tension. The second degree of tension would be fast communication with a far-off extraterrestrial civilization. This would assume that the extraterrestrials have communication technology to do such, because we are still stuck at the speed of light for transmission and most stars are many light years away. The third level of tension would be representatives of an extraterrestrial civilization arriving in our solar system. The tension in this scenario comes from the threat of close proximity and the prospect of dramatic change in our perspective, if the aliens are willing to share information.

First Contact would lead to a big debate over what we should do next: welcome aliens with open arms or tell them to go away. These would be the poles. The continuum of reaction would fall between these two extremes. However, it seems inevitable that there would be extremist fringe groups operating at these poles. Fear would likely drive the isolationists. Hope would be important for the open arms contingent. Power will be a big factor in a Direct First Contact scenario. Some groups may also find apocalyptic connections to First Contact. The results could be chaotic and challenging. Some extremist groups could turn to civil unrest and violence, especially on the isolationist side. Fear appeals will be common. Rumors and misinformation will run rampant.

How can we predict such things for First Contact? Just look at the current debates in our world. Fear based appeals; power grabs and apocalyptic thinking are part of many fringe groups embroiled in a wide variety of issues.

Despite the negative aspects of fringe groups, they need to be heard and their ideas considered. As I mentioned before, human society sometimes needs a push that only fringe groups can provide. The AIDS medical research debate in the 1980s and 90s was a heated battle between activists and health institutions. In the end, the work of the fringe groups, often nasty and confrontational, pushed the government to take action. Without the vehemence of AIDS research fringe groups, the tremendous progress that has been made in AIDS treatment might not have happened. It certainly sped up the process.

What do we do then, in the wake of First Contact?

We need to listen to fringe groups and carefully consider their arguments. We need to separate the facts and legitimate concerns from the fear and misinformation. We need to put it all in context and then begin to make decisions. The real problem may be the media. The media loves fringe groups, because they are confrontational and controversial. That makes for dramatic pictures and enticing headlines. There will have to be a massive effort to get voices from the middle of the debate heard. Perhaps it would be time for radical moderation? Moderate thinking could be expressed in the ways normally used by fringe groups- protests and public demonstrations. Moderates, having considered all sides, will need to be heard in order for us to proceed in a positive way after First Contact. Violence and civil unrest need to be rejected and dialogue promoted. It won’t be easy, but in the end decisions will have to made and action taken by humans. We can’t let debate devolve into a long-standing feud and inaction.

Can we respond to alien First Contact without the violence and acrimony that has marked so many human disagreements? Hopefully. But it is clear to me that there can be no bystanders in such a debate. Once all ideas have been considered, the sensible majority, the rational middle, will need to speak up and be heard.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Timeline of How We Will React

Wonder or horror. We never go much further than these dramatic and yet shallow human reactions to direct alien First Contact in our film and fiction. If extraterrestrials say hello to us, before we discover them, there would be a big impact to our human civilization. I like to consider that impact to humanity, past the knee-jerk reactions in the initial moments. This is an examination of extraterrestrial First Contact in a timeline of possible human reaction based on our current human condition.

Step 1: Contact
The initial revelation and reaction. People will be stunned. Leaders will scramble to cope. It will seem at first that the initial wonder will last forever. It won’t.

Groups involved: scientists, media, government, first responders and military.

Public: acting as spectators only, no impact aside from psychological.

Length: This period will be quite short, perhaps a few days.

Step 2: Communication
The very first communication between humans and extraterrestrials would probably focus on the reason for the alien visit and a discussion of a process to move forward.

Groups involved: international agencies, governments, media, and perhaps scientists. With any luck the international agencies will quickly establish advisory boards from important scientific areas, especially the social sciences. The primary issues we will face are social science issues.

Public: the coalescing of individual reactions into movements begins.

Length: A few days or a couple of weeks.

Step 3: Negotiation
The discussions lead to concrete proposals and counter-proposals for action in developing a framework for a relationship. How much information will they provide us? How will they provide it? What do we humans control in the process? Politicians begin to assert themselves. Some people seek to grab power by utilizing fear to mobilize the public.

Groups involved: international agencies, governments, politicians, media, public and hopefully scientists. Civil society organizations will also become involved, advocating for the dispossessed public.

Public: beginning to impact government action and international agencies through opinion polls and formation of movements in reaction to First Contact. There could be the very first sign of civil unrest during this period. Fringe groups will become quite active.

Length: It could last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the amount of debate between nations and inside international agencies. The length is critical, because the longer negotiation takes, the more time it gives for civil unrest and violence to break out. The lack of a concrete plan will lead to instability.

Step 4: The Relationship Begins
The first trading of information in an organized fashion takes place.

Groups involved: Scientists, international agencies, governments, media, fringe groups, religious leaders, civil service agencies and the public.

Public: fully involved, some groups responding with action, civil unrest and violence. Fear based appeals by politicians and other people seeking power. It becomes difficult for scientists and international agencies to do their jobs because of the noise of the conflict.

Length: A few weeks or possibly months.

Step 5: The Relationship Continues or Isolationism Develops
This is the true fork in the road. The debate that has been raging will lead towards a positive framework for a relationship or the debate will cause some nations to separate and isolate. Isolationism could be accompanied by calls for military reaction for defense. The military could become an active part of the debate.

Groups involved: everyone in developed nations and increasingly the public in developing nations. We need to listen to developing nations and the concerns of their citizens.

Length: no longer an issue.

Step 6: A Long-term Relationship or Isolationism Prevails
There may be a split here between nations. Some may choose isolationism and others may choose to continue in an information exchange with extraterrestrials. However, this type of split seems unlikely. Nations outside of the relationship with extraterrestrials would be worried about missing out on technological and economic benefits of contact. It seems more likely that it will be all or nothing for human reaction, with the debate being played out in the United Nations. Nations must be shown the benefits of a unified international response to First Contact. Scientific advisory boards can provide the expertise and information to support this effort.

Step 7: The Long-Term Impact
Disruptions to the economy could be quite hard on the public. Some industries may wither in the new perspective and others may grow stronger. This could leave workers in a difficult situation, especially for those lacking the education to take part in the development of new technology. Nations will need to respond to these challenges early, through massive education programs and workforce training partnerships with industry.

The big question is: when would we actually benefit from extraterrestrial contact? It could take a while. The positives, aside from the wonder of revelation, could take months, years or decades to develop. And in the meantime, the negative impacts could cause us to turn our backs on extraterrestrials. Isolationism could be a big debate, just a few weeks or months into First Contact. Sadly, if it grows unmanageable, fear has the possibility of ruining our relationship with extraterrestrials and never allowing us to experience the benefits of contact.

Our Human Challenge

I know this sounds quite negative. And it will seem inconceivable in those first few heady hours after the announcement of First Contact. But that wonder of enlightenment could quickly lead to human conflict. We need to be prepared for this. We need to develop a First Contact framework to reduce conflict. Initial kneejerk reactions will be impossible to control. But what happens next, with those reactions coalescing into movements and long-term change, can be managed if we are prepared to counteract the negatives immediately with the facts, whatever they may be. As I have said many times- a little paranoia is a good thing. It helps humans to be cautious and consider the risks properly. Rampant paranoia can lead to all sorts of horrible reactions. Preventing this will take fast-acting leadership, courage and true vision. Let’s just hope that our scientific community, politicians and religious leaders are up for the challenge. The future of humanity will depend on it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fault Lines

I believe that problematic reactions in human society will form along familiar fault lines in the wake of First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. However, those fault lines could resonate and grow in new and unexpected directions. In the same way that geologists track changes in the earth’s crust to detect the probability of earthquakes, social scientists, governments and institutions will need to track public perception and opinion. Notice that I mention perception first. We're used to gauging public opinion and perhaps not so used to evaluating perception. The difference, as I see it, is depth of analysis and context. Humans will need active and sustained research to inform world leaders and the public at large. Collectively, we will need to hold up a thoughtful mirror to humanity and carefully evaluate how we are reacting to First Contact. Communication and decision-making should follow from a close examination of that human reaction. The danger After First Contact will come in knee-jerk responses and in a failure to predict where things will go next.

What should we be looking for?






-Signs of extremism leading to violence

This monitoring of public perception can lead to a better response by scientists, the media and governments in informing the public of the facts and clearing up confusion. 

The world news media will be especially important partners in this process. They will have to be cautious and deliberate in their response to new information and in the coverage of events After First Contact.  Media outlets will likely be the first organizations confronted with misinformation and rumors. Weeding out the truth will be incredibly important. It will be the duty of dedicated journalists to work with knowledgeable and trusted scientists. News organizations will need to strengthen filters to sort out bad information and prevent themselves from hurtling head-first into questionable stories. This won't be easy. Competition will be fierce and public desire for new information intense. The most important news organizations in this process may be the ones currently most susceptible to hype and rumor: the 24 hour TV news networks. If they fail us, the entire media structure could collapse into a squalor of stupidity. Here's looking at you CNN, Fox News, Sky, BBC, CNC, RT, DD, France 24, Deutsche Welle and MSNBC. Will you lead or will you fail? If you fail, then the public will need to turn you off and seek sober coverage.

Ultimately, the monitoring of public perception can inform us, so that we can make decisions on how to move forward. Many concerns and worries will be quite legitimate. Humanity won’t come up with the answers for how to move forward immediately After First Contact. It will be a process of discussion, debate and revision. That will involve listening to the world public- each and every nation; people from many religions and cultural backgrounds. This isn’t a process reserved for the most wealthy of nations, particular blocs of nations or the so-called “free world.” This is a process for all of humanity.

Concerns, worries, rumors, misinformation and confusion can turn into fear if not addressed. Fear can lead to civil unrest. Concerns and worries can also be used by individuals and groups in the promotion of agendas that are ultimately more about grabbing power, than the actual concerns or worries.
Humans will be humans.  We will need to listen. We will need to respond.

Have I missed something that we would also need to track After First Contact? Join in the discussion on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Human Expansion

Interaction with members of an alien race could cause us to view human civilization from a different perspective. That could, in turn, cause us to question some of the underpinnings of our human society. Expansion is one of those underpinnings. We have been expanding in population and geography for thousands of years. Expansion isn’t just one aspect of who we are. I would argue that it is one of the defining aspects of human civilization.

It’s more than just population expansion that is built into our collective psyche. The human infrastructure has grown to the point where it can be seen from space. In mainstream human society economic growth isn’t considered just a positive thing, it is considered absolutely necessary for economic health. Zero growth is viewed as a dangerous situation. The push for continuous economic growth is not always sustainable. In past recessions the U.S. Government has urged consumers to spend money. The fact that many Americans were in intractable debt wasn’t considered.
You can go further: Businesses are told they must grow or risk decline and death. Humans often base their personal well-being on how much food and material goods they have. That means an expansion in personal consumption. Consider the worry in Italy as the birth rate has plunged. It’s leading to an economic imbalance - not enough young people to pay the taxes necessary to take care of a larger elderly population. No one is saying that there may need to be changes in the ways pensions are funded. Instead, the focus is on encouraging Italians to have more babies and encouraging immigration.

There are some in human society who question the expansion based civilization. They argue that such expansion is tough to support at current population levels. The increase in the human population on Earth requires more resources to be used and that will eventually lead to the depletion of non-renewable resources. It’s also causing major issues for the environment. The dangerous increase in greenhouse gases is one example. Another is the fact that human expansion is killing off species at a rate not seen since the last great extinction. Meat consumption is rising world-wide. Developing nations are demanding meat as a bigger part of the diet of citizens. But meat production requires massive amounts of water and space. Humans may soon find themselves unable to afford the true cost of meat.
Every nation wants to get bigger, stronger and richer. Developing nations want the same quality of life for their citizens as those in developed nations. That inevitably leads to the consumption of more resources.

Technology can help us obviate some of the need for resources. We can make more efficient cars, appliances and heating and cooling systems. The U.S. oil industry is a textbook example of technology getting more and more out of limited resources. They are squeezing every last drop of oil out of the ground. But the growth in population and demand means that these technological developments may not be able to keep up for long.
Something will have to change. The big question is when. Do we wait until there is a crisis? That seems to be the current human plan. Or do we make proactive changes based on projections for population growth and consumer demand?

I realize that this is a blog about extraterrestrial contact, so let’s view this issue from an extraterrestrial exploration perspective. If crisis does spur the search for technological developments, then crisis could lead to the colonization of space. I know that sounds like a leap in logic. But consider Earth hundreds of years in the future. The need to find more resources and new homes for humans could push technology forward and make such colonization economically and technologically feasible. Aliens might tell us that the expansion of civilizations into space is dependent on the crises caused by home planet population expansion.
So, do we embrace expansion or attempt to live in a population stabilized world?

The big question seems to be how miserable it will get on Earth before technology can save us. And then there is another major issue: who gets saved?  Will it be just the rich or will it be all humans? Are there to be huge numbers of people left out of technological revolutions and thus subject to poverty, famine and disease, while a select few enjoy the technological benefits? One could argue that is currently the case.
Back to the extraterrestrial angle: Would alien contact provide us with new ideas on how to overcome these challenges? Or would reliance on alien technological ideas make us lazy and less able to overcome the challenges on our own? Some of the greatest technological developments in human history have come during crisis. Atomic power is one example. How long would it have taken for humans to harness the power of splitting an atom if there wasn’t the race with Germany to develop atomic technology in World War II? Is the loss of 80 million lives worth buying us 20-30 years in the development of nuclear energy? I think most of us would say no.

We need to be prepared for the idea that interaction with an extraterrestrial civilization won’t just be an interesting lesson in their history and science. It may raise questions about human society that we need to answer on our own. Do we need interaction with space aliens to make us truly face these challenges and come up with solutions? Certainly not. But we humans often enjoy biding our time until we are forced to make difficult decisions. Alien interaction could be used as a catalyst to speed-up that timeline. That might save us a lot of heartache in the future.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Fear After First Contact

I often find myself splitting human response to First Contact into two poles for this blog. In reality, most human responses operate on a spectrum- a nuanced range from one pole to another. Fear is such a thing.

There is, of course, legitimate fear. Such fear has kept animals of all sorts, including humans, alive for millions of years. A little paranoia is not a bad thing. Caution would be important in the wake of First Contact.

Fear also has negative side. It can be irrational and not based on fact. Or more likely, it could be an overly fearful response to something that should provoke caution. This kind of fear can be fueled by misinformation and rumors. Irrational fear can be really dangerous. It can cause people to do all sorts of awful things in reaction.

The spectrum tells us that humans will likely have a wide variety of responses to First Contact, with some responses falling to the poles. Some people won’t be fearful at all. To the contrary, they will welcome any alien interaction with open arms. Those on the opposite side of the spectrum will want to halt all contact and build space-based missile batteries in defense. The more well considered reactions would probably fall to the middle: openness balanced with caution.

It may seem that I am always promoting the moderate response on this blog. It doesn’t have to be a wishy-washy position, if the moderates are taking the best ideas from throughout the response spectrum. Moderation can be people diluting everything to build consensus. I would agree that moderation of that sort is not helpful. It seems to me that what is required is active and bold moderation. This may be an entirely different animal than what we are used to in human decision making.

My big point for this post is that there are people who will attempt to use fear to get what they want in the wake of alien First Contact. These individuals will speak to groups of humans and stoke the fires of fear to provide the leaders of the groups with power After First Contact. They will use rumors and falsehoods to get people agitated and then provide a fear-based solution of their own making. If people look behind the scenes they will see that there is a clear agenda with this type of individual. They hope to gain something from the agenda: power, money or influence. Exposing this agenda in the course of discussion will be critical. People must ask themselves: is this leader working for their own benefit or for the benefit of humanity? It won’t be easy. The debate inspired by First Contact is likely to be a cacophony at first.

Media outlets around the world will have a huge role to play in this situation. They will have to sort through the tumult and find the carefully considered ideas. They will have to expose those who use fear to leverage their own power. The fear mongers could come from politics, religion…almost any of the human institutions. They may be very highly placed individuals in government or business. The media and the public will have an obligation to go beyond the rhetoric and find the true nature of each fear-based argument. Is it designed to increase power for an individual or organization? Is it a well-considered concern that can help all of humanity? I would imagine that, like so many other things in the human realm, those things will often be wrapped up together. A legitimate concern may be turned into a fear-based power grab. The best human lies start with a kernel of truth. Politicians have been playing these games for centuries.

Critical thinking will be essential After First Contact. It isn’t an easy thing to do. We are all lazy at times and would like someone to tell us what we should think. This is fine for some things. None of us have the time to dissect everything around us. But for the big issues, critical thinking is important. It must be utilized by institutional leaders and the media. But more importantly, it must be utilized by the public and the public in every nation on Earth. This may be demanding for countries that don’t allow for freedom of expression. But those governments will have to allow debate internally if they want to truly be part of the global discussion. Sociologists and political scientists will have to design methods of listening to the public in many different nations at once. We may have to refine global opinion polling and take it to a new level.

In the end, we will need to think beyond ourselves. Sure, there is plenty of reasonable fear to be had when considering the impact of Alien First Contact. But if we are thinking about everyone on the planet and considering future generations, our decision-making can move beyond fear and to a place that will help us move forward with equal parts of optimism and caution.

What do you think? Give your opinion in a comment here or visit the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Extrterrestrial Contact: La Resurrezione

The Pope Francis visit to America is big news and there are plenty of Catholic angles I could discuss on this blog. The Catholic Church has had a welcoming response to the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence for some time now. They are one of the few major religions to take the topic up in public. I have written about that on this blog, and so I pursue another topic here; one of a more esoteric nature.

The Paul VI Papal Audience Room at the Vatican features a remarkable sculpture called La Resurrezione. The translation means simply, as you might expect, the resurrection. The artist description of his work is intriguing. Pericle Fazzini says that his piece represents Christ rising out of the ashes and fire of nuclear war. Indeed, it is a dramatic and ominous sculpture, which during a papal audience makes it look like Christ and the fumes of war are threatening to envelop the Pope.
I viewed a picture of it in the New Yorker and the piece has haunted me all morning. I wonder why the Catholic Church would place such a sculpture in an area of religious significance. The danger of nuclear war is a bold subject to adorn a public room in the Vatican. I would imagine the larger message is that humanity can withstand even nuclear war with faith, and rise up out of the ashes, as Christ is doing. It is for sure a warning about the perils of the nuclear arms race, but perhaps also a gesture of assurance: life will go on.

For me the sculpture recognizes the human attribute of resilience. I believe it is a foundation of our species and civilization. We survived the horrors of World War II, including the Holocaust and nuclear war, and within a couple of decades had moved on. Countries devastated by bombing and invasion sprung back to find prosperity. Millions lost their lives and cities were destroyed and yet humans persevered. The plight of Jewish people is perhaps the most dramatic example of that perseverance. A military power sought to wipe Jewish people from the face of the Earth, and yet despite the incredible loss of life, the Jewish people, and the Jewish spirit, live on today.
This is my larger point: humans can survive and grow under incredible hardship. I am not suggesting that First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization would have an impact on the human race such as war does. First Contact could, and hopefully would be, completely peaceful. And yet First Contact, especially high information First Contact, where there is a real conversation with extraterrestrials, would be challenging and challenging in ways that we may not expect or fully understand, at first. First Contact could stress our systems of economics, politics, international relations and religion. Even more challenging would be the impact to human science and the process of knowledge building.

We have always known this vacuum of lonely human existence in the universe. To experience the intellectual atmosphere of another civilization, or perhaps even multiple civilizations, would be something revelatory. There would hopefully be many great joys in the process of finding out about another civilization and another way of thinking. The universe could open up to us in ways we have never even imagined. And yet many people will not be able to accept such a revelation. First Contact would create upheaval in the short and long term. I think we could easily withstand the short term challenges: debate, protests, and even civil unrest. It is the long term challenges, the things we have not ever considered yet, that scare me the most about that scenario.

Of course, for now, we can remain comfortable in our human cocoon. There are no worries at our door step. The rising up of Christ, no matter what your religion, can be an inspiration to humans. No matter what hardship and change that we face, we have the ability to adapt and flourish. There is hope for the future.
I may be making much more out of this eight ton sculpture than the artist ever intended. But this is my message if we ever do experience First Contact someday: Tremendous opportunities usually come with incredible challenges. Take heart and know that we can persevere and come out better for it.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Conflict and Harmony

Change would be inevitable in the wake of any alien First Contact situation. The more interaction with aliens, the more change would be created in human society. The more information we receive about the universe, and the alien perspective on the universe, the more we would have to reconsider in our own science, culture and institutions. I am not suggesting that we would need to conform to an alien way of thinking. I am suggesting that new information, as it is digested and then fit into our own perspective, would lead to change in human society.

Change can certainly be beyond our control. Were aliens to flood our society with advanced information about physics, the entire scientific paradigm would undergo seismic shifts, if not paradigm explosions. The problem with massive paradigm change is that we would have a hard time controlling the outcome. I think that there are two basic states that regulate change in human society: conflict and harmony. Conflict is usually perceived as a negative state and harmony a positive state. I would argue that both have negative and positive qualities. Understanding them could be important to mapping a path for humanity in the wake of First Contact.

Conflict can create new ideas, help us respond to challenges, fix problems and set new priorities. It seems to me that those are positive qualities. The conflict of Civil Rights protests in the 1960s in America or the Indian statehood conflict under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi are two examples. On the negative side, conflict can tear down structures, cause pain and death, allow selfishness to rule, use up resources and threaten family and social structures. War is an example of negative conflict. There is, of course, a blurring of lines in regards to conflict. Sometimes positive developments come from negative conflict. The development of the computer, thanks in large part to work in decoding during WW Two, is an example.

Harmony, on the positive end of the spectrum, cultivates cooperation, allows humans to work for the greater good, builds lasting structures and provides for the efficient use of resources. Government, when it is working correctly, is an example of positive harmony. It would be easy to assume that harmony is always good. On the negative side, harmony can curb independent thinking, cause people to resist necessary change, create an environment that makes it tough to respond to challenges, allow problems to fester and cause bigger problems through a failure to respond to threats. This is often called Group Think- a state where a group of people, in an effort to be harmonious and not have conflict, ignore important considerations or don’t bring up controversial ideas, to stay in the good graces of the group.

In the wake of First Contact, conflict and harmony will allow us to navigate dangerous waters while still moving forward. We cannot be afraid of conflict after alien First Contact. The debate about how humans should respond to aliens will be important. It will allow us to assess threats and opportunities and stimulate action. Controlling conflict would be important. The debate could easily grow out of control and turn into violence. Leaders would need to provide a platform for discussion and debate and make sure that platform, and all decisions made in response to alien contact, are completely transparent. There should be very few behind doors meetings. We have the technology now to share any meeting with the entire world via the Internet. The debate would need to be structured around the most important needs of the moment. That would have to be established by some sort of international group, such as the United Nations. There would need to be a well-established pathway outlined to make sure humanity keeps moving forward. We would need to utilize conflict to create new ideas and set new priorities. If we were to let conflict control us, it could have devastating consequences.

Harmony will allow humans to work together to achieve goals in response to alien contact. It requires us to look out for the greater good and push away selfish inclinations. Harmony can help to calm fears and create safety for humans.

So, how do you accomplish positive conflict and harmony in the wake of First Contact? Leaders will need to bring many diverse voices into the debate. This will provide us with a wider range of ideas from which to choose the best path. Small groups, coordinated by international leadership, would need to start the process, most likely made up of people who have expertise in the consideration of alien contact issues. This is a very small group indeed. Hopefully, though, other experts, in other fields, will soon catch up to help in areas such as economics, religion, politics and international relations.

These smaller groups should make use of public opinion. It will be imperative that world polling organizations work overtime to gauge public sentiment, across many nations and cultures, on a regular basis. Human sentiment should not be used as an indicator of what to do next, but rather inform experts as to the issues the wider population is considering. At first it may be fear, but the questions raised by quality polling would show experts how best to move forward to respond to those fears. umahu

Human perspective is likely to change quickly in the wake of First Contact. That perspective will need to be considered and an action plan developed to move forward.

You may notice that I have frequently used the phrase “move forward.” It would be easy for human conflict to lead to inaction and a stagnating battle of wills. This cannot be allowed to happen. Leaders will need to be prepared to take bold action if it does occur. This may seem like contradiction to the idea of public participation and debate. One could liken the problem to a traffic jam caused by a car accident. You have to confront and resolve the car accident to get traffic moving again. The long-term goal is for everyone to travel the highway together, but in the short term, there may be a need to resolve problems which are slowing the process.

Progress in humanity is often a stuttering process, with many starts and stops. We usually take the hard road to any goal. There can be many negative things that occur on the path to something better. We can’t expect the decision-making process in the wake of alien First Contact to be any different. We will have to put in the hard work and work together in order to achieve a positive future for humanity After First Contact.