Conspiracy has been popular in American culture for years and the rise of the Internet has brought it to a fever pitch in certain circles. Nothing breeds mistrust like bad information. Bill Keller of the New York Times has an interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine about conspiracy, tracing the American obsession from President Kennedy’s assassination to the President Obama birth certificate frenzy. Keller points out that much of it seems to stem from a mistrust of authority, whether that authority is a government commission or the New York Times. The Internet provides fertile ground for self-made authorities who buck conventional logic and often reality.
Now I’m about to take the question a bit further than Mr. Keller would have intended. Can you imagine all of the nut bag crazy conspiracy theories that would circulate After First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization? Keller points to a book by Mike Fenster called “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture.” Fenster says that conspiracy is often a response to unusual events. I can’t imagine an event stranger than First Contact. In addition to that potent catalyst, humans will undoubtedly have to deal with the incredible load of conspiracy baggage that already exists concerning extraterrestrials: abduction, government collusion, secret societies and alien infiltration. If folks are already loony about extraterrestrials, and there is absolutely no credible evidence that extraterrestrials exist, what the heck happens if we have actual evidence that they do exist?
I would imagine that after a brief period of shock and awe, which will shut down most of the crazy conversation, the conspiracy bandwagon will grow new stories and crazier plots. The thing that will make it tough to refute the theories: the reality is already bizarre enough. If aliens actually do exist, is it that much of a leap to think they kidnapped and brain-mapped your cousin Clarence? And who’s to say they’re not abducting people and dissecting cows? The aliens? Like we’re going to believe them. How about a government commission? Oh, wait, let’s not go there. Perhaps the New York Times could investigate?
First Contact would fuel wilder and more robust conspiracy theories. The only possible hope is transparency. And it would have to be a brutal, bare-all type of transparency that keeps every decision and each action clearly in the public eye. That won’t be easy. It’s one of the reasons I suggest that an explosive and dramatic Direct First Contact event would be the best way for an extraterrestrial civilization to say hello in person. It bypasses government secrecy and goes straight to the people via the live media. This is an important distinction, not the behind the scenes, we don’t know what you’re leaving out or putting in media, but the live media. Events and actions need to occur in full public view and live television offers that ability in a way that no other medium can. Even with that approach there will be years and years of debunking and myth busting necessary and unfortunately the alien visitors would have to be front and center for that questioning. Sure, it’s rather annoying to say hello to a new planet and then be brought before some organization that will ask you if you have been anal probing the very beings you have just met. Annoying and necessary.
And I have one prediction that I know will stand up in any First Contact situation. No matter how transparent and no matter how many questions are answered there will always be new conspiracy theories and paranoia will fester for many, many years. It’s just the way some of us humans think and unfortunately my alien friends if you embark on a relationship with us humans you get all of us.