Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Dirty Scenarios

Ah, how we love the clean scenarios. They are so much better for film and fiction. It seems that extraterrestrials, as we choose to imagine them, fall into two basic camps. They are the parent figures, without discernable self-interest, who only want to help us along the path to enlightenment and greater scientific knowledge. And there are the aggressive aliens that for whatever reason (often not entirely clear) have decided they are taking over our fair planet by force.

Clean scenarios are great for plots because they keep everything nice, neat and explainable. Science fiction writers have worked to explore other possibilities over the years. Those efforts are usually “what if” type renderings that explore various technological and biological variants of the visitors and how we interact with them.

The TV show “Alien Nation” is a good example of exploration of a dirty scenario. Dirty scenarios go beyond the simple plot to take a look at how things could get complicated. They are based on one basic idea: nothing simple occurs here on Earth. Human interaction is inherently dirty, as politics, social circumstances and human weaknesses collide. Examine the history of any conflict on the planet and you peel back layers of complex motives, actions and reactions. So, if this is our history, why would we believe that interaction with extraterrestrials would be any different?

Why should we care? Dirty scenarios are dangerous. They could potentially be as threatening as an all out alien invasion, and yet might appear benign on the surface. We must explore dirty scenarios to prepare if extraterrestrial contact occurs. We won’t have much time to pull together a response to First Contact and quite frankly I think we are currently completely defenseless.

One dirty scenario involves the number of extraterrestrial civilizations trying to say hello. The usual view is that one race attempts to make contact with humans, or perhaps a federation of extraterrestrial civilizations united in effort and intentions. Who is to say there are not 5 or 10 different alien groups currently examining Earth? This is a popular idea for those who fall into the more, how shall we say, conspiracy based camps. It would certainly help explain the disjointed nature of UFO sightings and alien abduction reports. Maybe one race only wants to observe us and just happens to occasionally get caught doing so? Perhaps another feels that scientific experimentation, including abduction, is a perfectly acceptable form of exploration? Maybe another group opposes the abductions and actively tries to stop such experiments? The conspiracy folks go further, suggesting that certain governments, including the United States are currently working with one set of aliens.

There is one major problem in any argument that suggests that this type of multiple contact scenario is occurring right now: where is the evidence? I treat alien conspiracy just as I do the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot: where is the evidence? Dead creatures should leave big bones behind when they die. Alien interaction would also leave some form of evidence. I could probably believe that some form of contact with an Earth government could be kept quiet for a while, but for many years? Perhaps it could be done with an extremely closed government such as China, but with the United States? It just flies in the face of reason.

But the scenario does raise some interesting points. What if there are several extraterrestrial civilizations interested in making contact and they have not done so yet? They make contact and decide to interact with individual nations. Alien group A works with the United States. Alien group B works with China. Alien group C just happens to enjoy Australians. They could start providing technological assistance. They could influence our culture. And yet it would fracture the extremely delicate shell that is world cooperation. Instead of pulling us together this type of First Contact would pull us apart.

Fracture wouldn’t just be a danger with a multiple contact scenario. Let’s say one extraterrestrial civilization contacts the United States and doesn’t like the reception they receive? So, they go nation shopping to see if the Russians would be more cooperative. Maybe they form an alliance of nations that supports them, in conflict with other nations on Earth?

The dirty scenario doesn’t just apply to human politics; it could be a major problem with extraterrestrial politics. A group of aliens could land and say that they represent an entire civilization, when in reality they are a factional group in conflict with others. They would use First Contact with human to help them achieve political goals back home. This could place us in an extremely dangerous situation.
There could be a dominant civilization that attempts to keep other civilizations controlled when it comes to contacting new intelligent beings. We could have had contact from some of the rogue civilizations and until the “daddy” civilization stepped in to protect us.

Scenarios are great exercise for the imagination, but because there are so many possibilities they may seem like a waste of time. They are important, though, because they can help us define some larger concepts to consider when it comes to First Contact. Using what we have learned in thousands of years of human history we can safely say:

-Intelligent beings would most likely experience conflict of some sort and at some level. Thousands of years of advancement in society and technology has not changed this basic fact on planet Earth, it is unlikely to be different for other intelligent life forms. The type of conflict may change, but conflict may be an essential part of intelligent life.

-Politics and conflicting political ideas would most likely exist in extraterrestrial civilizations.

-One extraterrestrial civilization could be made up of many different sub-groups, competing and conflicting.

-Multiple extraterrestrial civilizations would have complex political and social interactions.

-No matter what the nature of First Contact, political and social issues need to be at the top of our response agenda.

-We need to have a response agenda to be able to tackle these issues if they ever arise.

Any of these dirty scenarios lead to the danger of human conflict between nations. First Contact would be complicated enough in a clean scenario situation, if you throw in global politics and active interference in our very fragile system of world cooperation, the results could be war and even nuclear war.

There is one clear defense to these dirty scenarios and that is the power of world government. We must speak as one people and be united in purpose to properly respond to First Contact. If we allow the current web of world politics to dominate the First Contact conversation we will be weak and open to all sorts of disappointing outcomes. We can speak as one with strength, or speak as many in weakness.

The world government idea scares plenty of people. Some see it as a harbinger of apocalypse and others worry about the loss of culture and individuality. The weak state of the United Nations hasn’t helped the cause much. Critics have too many failures to point out when the subject of a stronger United Nations is broached.

The United States could lead this effort. We could propose the formation of a United Nations group to study the issues and scenarios involving First Contact. That group could then help develop a response plan. The United Nations has touched on such subjects in the past, but in oblique ways, and with no real outcome. We need a concerted effort with real results.

I know all of this seems silly considering the great issues we currently face here on Earth. World hunger, political instability, economic decline, environmental deterioration, and nuclear proliferation are real threats that need real solutions. But should we be so quick to dismiss the concerns of extraterrestrial contact?

There are three basic ways that First Contact could occur. It could be SETI based and involve the reception of a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization or even communication with such a civilization. It could also occur as an archeological event, where we determine that an extraterrestrial civilization has visited the Earth, moon, Mars or another planet in the past. The third type is a Direct First Contact event with extraterrestrials traveling to Earth and saying hello. The first two types of contact are indirect, and while they would be deeply profound in how we view ourselves and the greater universe, they would provide plenty of time for discussion. This in turn would provide plenty of time for us to change our perspective, update our sciences and incorporate the knowledge of extraterrestrial life into our way of thinking.

Direct First Contact is an entirely different animal. It is more threatening, it is more demanding and it would have a vast impact on us very quickly. Even if there is only the slightest possibility that Direct First Contact could occur, shouldn’t we have some response plan? Shouldn’t the discussion be raised in a thoughtful way?
Certainly there are some brave academics that have done this over the years. Wendt and Duvall (2008) examine the threat issues in an article called “Sovereignty and the UFO” which can be found on the UFO Skeptic web site. They argue that the very concept of extraterrestrial visitation threatens political powers here on Earth. They also categorize the threats into two concepts: physical threats to life and ontological threats to social being. The ontological threat for nations is clear: any contact by an extraterrestrial civilization would threaten the power base of the various nations here on Earth.

Wendt and Duvall use this to explain, in part, why nations have thus far not taken up any serious study of UFO sightings or the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, outside from the safe realms of current science. It has become acceptable to look for signs of extraterrestrial life in astronomy. But it is always with the premise that we are looking for the building blocks of life through careful scientific study and not an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization. SETI has certainly expanded the range of this study, but still with the safe notion that any such discoveries would give us a safe buffer, of both physical contact and communication, with our new neighbors.

Wendt and Duvall talk about the challenge to anthropocentric rule and the fact that merely examining the current UFO debate is problematic for nation states. Extraterrestrial visitation would rock the very foundation of modern political rule: who is in charge here, man or the new visitors? Would weaker nations turn to the extraterrestrials for help in acquiring greater power here on Earth? How would the visitors view our rather imperfect system of governments?

The one area that I differ with Wendt and Duvall is on the issue of investigation of UFOs. I have no problem with an evaluation of each sighting, much in the way we have done so far here in the United States. I don’t see a need for a systemic review of all sightings and a continuation of mass studies in the style of the Condon Report (1968). It seems to me that the greater issue is how we should prepare for a Direct First Contact event. Once they are here and have announced themselves the issue of UFOs is put on the back burner. It’s time to prepare for what would come next. First Contact and the aftermath have extreme consequences for the future of the human race.


Wendt, A. and Duvall, R. (2008). Sovereignty and the UFO. Political Theory, Vol. 36, No. 4, 607-633

The Condon Report. (1968). Conducted by the University of Colorado Under contract
No. 44620-67-C-0035 With the United States Air Force Dr. Edward U. Condon, Scientific Director as provided by the National Capital Area Skeptics

First Contact Extraterrestrial Alien Proposal Idea Hello Introduction Space Visitors


Anonymous said...

Let me preface this by saying I don't believe any extraterrestrial civilization has made contact with any terrestrial civilization.

That said, it's quite easy to imagine a group making secret contact with the US government and not being found out. Our government isn't as open as you seem to think, and any evidence that they've been talking to aliens is going to get dismissed as conspiracy theory rubbish when it does come to light. Frankly I think they could keep that secret (if I believed it existed, which I don't) indefinitely unless someone did something stupid.

Eric Melcher said...

You have more faith in the powers of the government than I do Anon.