Friday, July 4, 2008

Who we are and what we become

Your world is carefully defined. You know who you are and your place in the greater cosmos. This has been built by your ancestors for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Each generation adds to the patchwork and with each generation it grows stronger in belief. And then a singular event changes everything in the course of a week.

This is what civilizations across Earth have experienced in the last 300 years. European explorers traveled the globe colliding with society after society in countries on many continents. The results were rarely positive for the native population. First Contact societies here on Earth seem to go through similar patterns of development, and not all of them are good. There is an initial time of trust and discovery. There is a period where the explorers, or the arrivals just after the explorers, begin to exploit the native population and the natural resources. The native society starts to disintegrate and some natives fight back against the oppressors. The Europeans dominate with technology and force. A colonial rule develops. After many years perhaps there is a push for independence. The native culture, which has been all but wiped out, may be preserved in some shallow sense in efforts by the native population. Still, the native society has been completely derailed and turned into a weak version of the European model.

Is this what awaits the people of Earth in a First Contact situation with an extraterrestrial civilization? Certainly many of the same points would apply. The visitors would have better technology and a more advanced society. The native population will be at first enraptured by this technology and see only benefit. It would be hard to argue that this would not be the case in First Contact with the Earth. The next step is the part that can be questioned. Will the extraterrestrial visitors arrive with the intention of exploiting humans and the natural resources of the Earth and our solar system? Or will they understand the dangers of First Contact and take a careful, thoughtful approach to make sure our civilization is not harmed in the process?

Much of the outcome of First Contact will depend on the motives of the visitors. However, we will decide the rest. There is no doubt that First Contact would join us closer together as a planet and a people. Getting there, though, may be rough. The United Nations is viewed as a secondary government of less importance than almost any federal, provincial or local government in the world. Unless you live in a country where the UN has an active ground mission, the only awareness most of us have is what we see on television. We think of the UN as famine relief, refugee centers, peace keeping missions and arguments over world security issues. After First Contact the UN will become the most important governmental body on planet Earth. This will not be something on which we will vote or debate. It will simply happen. There are many critics of the UN and those voices may rise in protest. It will not matter. There will be no choice. We can talk about improving the UN or changing the structure of the UN, but the UN will be the key to our contact with the outside universe. It is the only world governmental body we have. The United Nations will have to respond to the challenge in a way it has not in the past. It has been a body in search of a mission since the inception. After First Contact that mission will be quite clear.

It may be necessary to look at a democratic system of electing UN representatives, rather than the appointment system used currently. Perhaps the entire process needs to be revamped to a world-wide voting system, much like state and federal elections in the United States. Each country could vote for representatives and the entire world could vote on executive leadership. There is no doubt that the United Nations system will need to be rethought. But in the initial days, weeks and months After First Contact people on Earth will have to put their trust in the UN. If countries squabble over power and leadership during First Contact our unified voice will be lost and we will be starting a new relationship on a dangerous footing. What if the motives of the visitors are not pure? What if the decisions made here on Earth threaten to undermine our world economy? Without a strong and confident world government, we will be lost.

Within this greater cause we cannot forget the unique characteristics of the human. We need to work hard to maintain the individuality of cultures and countries here on planet Earth. It is possible to celebrate our differences and still join in a unified effort to speak as one people and one planet. We must become that strong patchwork quilt that reflects the diversity of our world and the unity of our common heritage.

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