Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let Humanity Lead the Way

Certain events can strip away the strictures of society and reveal the basic elements of human cooperation. In a New York Times book review, Dwight Garner discusses a new work by social critic Rebecca Solnit called “A Paradise Built in Hell”. Her theme is disaster and how communities respond in the aftermath. It is something many of us have witnessed: People join together in the immediate aftermath of calamity, helping each other in ways they usually would not. After a disaster the conventions and needs of day to day life seem to evaporate. There is a new common goal: recovery. As Garner points out, Solnit finds that people throughout history have risen to the occasion. Social alienation “seems to vanish.” The result is a new world of sorts. Solnit posits that disaster often tears away the fa├žade of ordered society, revealing a more elemental society of human cooperation. Of course this situation is limited in time and scope.

I think the lessons of disaster can apply in many respects to what will happen during a First Contact event. The extraordinary nature of First Contact would probably give people a sense that they have stepped out of the bounds of normal, organized society and into a reality that is much larger and stranger than they knew. I think this could lead to a period of human cooperation and understanding more profound than any we have known. The question is how long will it last?

The first few hours of First Contact will be a time of wonder and awe. Of course a reasonable reaction would also throw in a healthy dose of wariness and some fear. This is a moment that can join the entire world together as one people. So, what happens next? Undoubtedly governments will need to get involved. This is a natural part of the process and something that will have to occur. The real question is how governments get involved. Do they attempt to shut down the First Contact process and control it in secret? Do they treat the alien visitors like strange bugs which need to be examined under quarantine? The danger in these reactions is that they get in the way of the most important part of First Contact: the start of a new relationship between humans and an extraterrestrial civilization. First Contact should foster good will and mutual understanding. The worst case scenario is poisoning the new relationship through a series of knee jerk governmental actions.

What does government need to do? It needs to stand back and organize a response effort behind the scenes. Let First Contact be a positive introduction between humans and extraterrestrials. Let humanity lead the way. Government and science can do what needs to be done while allowing this relationship to grow. If I were to speak to governmental leaders on the eve of First Contact I would make a few suggestions:

-First Contact is an event for the entire world to share. Help extraterrestrials reach out to the world population and don’t let local, state or national governments take over the process.

-View the response to First Contact as an international effort and work to build global cooperation.

-Act behind the scenes, and in quiet ways, to ensure the safety of the public. First responders and government scientists can do environmental tests without having to disrupt the event. If there is not a threat to human safety government scientists can remain in the background, monitoring the situation.

-Coordinate military readiness behind the scenes. There is no doubt that military units will need to be on alert. This can be done without dominating the First Contact event. It is essential that military response be carefully managed to prevent any unintended results.

First Contact would be an event remembered for the rest of human history. Let’s make sure we get it right. Let humanity lead the way.

Idea Hello Introduction Space Visitors First Contact Extraterrestrial Alien Proposal

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