Monday, February 14, 2011

Unrest After First Contact

The Egyptian situation is interesting for many reasons. It does appear to be part of a growing world trend, where information technology and rapid communication can assist protest movements, which then combined with the force of the international news media, can quickly turn protest into the disintegration of governments. The big question for this blog: could those same technologies and forces cause similar unrest in the wake of Direct First Contact? To be sure, the context and the catalysts would be vastly different. Egypt has had an active underground protest movement for many years. Anger has been building and it is directed primarily at one man and his immediate government. The catalysts are unemployment and government corruption.

What protest catalysts might develop out of extraterrestrial First Contact? It really is a matter of what type of First Contact. A random message discovered far away (the most likely scenario) would probably cause little disturbance at first. Substantive communication with a far-off extraterrestrial civilization would be more of a concern. Direct First Contact has an immediate nature that would cause the most dramatic security and cultural impact concerns, and ultimately those two worries could be strong catalysts for unrest.

It all comes down to trust. What popular groups would support interaction with an alien civilization and what groups would be opposed? In a sense, individual nations and their governments would be stuck in the middle.

If the government of a country was to support a U.N. diplomacy process with an extraterrestrial group, it could be a cause of division within that country. Factions in the populace could view extraterrestrial contact as a conspiracy and religious groups could hold apocalyptic views. That could lead to direct protest and major problems for the government. On the flip side, a government could respond to such popular concerns by attacking the diplomatic effort and attempting to change the UN process.

First Contact could also cause popular uprisings against oppressive regimes, merely by opening the door to change. The Egyptian situation shows that organized internal dissent, coupled with international media attention can have a huge impact in a very short time. It is something last witnessed during the fall of the Berlin Wall. The only thing standing between status quo and change is catalyst and action. First Contact could provide a powerful catalyst by opening the door to new ideas and new perspectives. Social media and the Internet provide the tools for substantive action.

Needless to say, speculation is tough in this particular arena. We are trying to figure out not only the types of events involved in something that has never occurred on Earth, First Contact, but also how governments and people will react. There are no reasonable precedents. I admit that my comparison to the Egyptian situation is a stretch. However, current and historical comparisons are all that we have to examine when it comes to the consideration of human reaction After First Contact.

So, why bother even considering the issue? Like everything in First Contact speculation, it at least provides a dirt path going forward, certainly not a clear road or a highway forward, but perhaps a trace through the grass that can help us if First Contact ever occurs. We could use a framework to watch for specific events After First Contact and then respond to them, before they get out of hand. Nothing would impact a First Contact scenario more than political strife inside and between nations. It will be important to look for warning signs and develop proactive responses before situations get out of hand.

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