Monday, July 25, 2011

Collective Mediocrity or a Celebration of the Human?

Who do we become After First Contact? How do we perceive ourselves and other intelligent beings in the universe? Human diversity models may provide a framework for moving forward. The diversity initiative seeks to celebrate human cultures while allowing for differences. Diversity in action says: I celebrate my culture and yet I am interested in learning about your culture. Through dialog, we can respect, and hopefully enjoy, the cultures of others.

Does all that sound like consultant-inspired, touchy-feely, mumbo-jumbo? I’ll admit the rhetoric does get to be a bit much sometimes. But diversity is an important concept for humans, especially in a country as culturally rich as the United States. It helps us to grow stronger by exploring our differences. Those differences inspire creativity, new approaches in business and entrepreneurism.

Diversity has important implications for First Contact. It says that we can take pride in what it means to be human, while respecting, and hopefully enjoying, the culture of extraterrestrials. In all seriousness, what could be more important After First Contact? Understanding is the bridge to start a new relationship, assuming of course, that communication allows us to share such information.

The Foundation For the Future report “When SETI Succeeds: The Impact of High-Information Contact” spends a great deal of time examining the impact of First Contact on the collective human psyche, with special attention to the challenges presented if the extraterrestrial visitors are thousands of years further along in development than us. Albert Harrison has an article entitled “Social Comparison, Identity and Self-Esteem.” It may sound a bit esoteric, given the groundbreaking set of circumstances inherent in high-information First Contact. In reality, as Harrison points out, it may be one of the most important issues for human development After First Contact. Do we experience a feeling of collective mediocrity? In many human First Contact situations the less technologically advanced society is more likely to change, sometimes in drastic ways that undermine the cultural foundation of the lesser civilization. Harrison says that the type of ETI we encounter will decide our outcome. Are they overtly controlling or domineering? Do they provide us with much information and technology, essentially solving our problems for us and causing us to suffer from a type of learned helplessness?

The future After First Contact does not necessarily have to be this bleak. We can decide how we want to change. Comparing ourselves to ETI thousands, if not millions, of years more developed than us seems like a destructive waste of time. It’s not unlike humans comparing success: there will always be someone richer, more attractive and happier than you. Peace of mind means knowing who you are and not worrying about your status in relationship to others.

What could we do After First Contact? It would seem important to celebrate the distinctive elements of human culture. Reinforcing what we find valuable in being human could help protect our civilization. Controlling the rate of change, through careful filters in the dissemination of extraterrestrial knowledge, would also help. We would need to keep looking forward as a civilization to where we are going and where we want to be and not let extraterrestrials decide the path for us. We should determine the road forward based on our own needs and unique characteristics. An extraterrestrial civilization could certainly provide valuable insight into how we might progress, but ultimately it should be up to us to decide what we will become.

Harrison makes one other prediction in his article. He says the outcome for human civilization will be set in the first few decades After First Contact. If true, this would make it imperative for humans to respond quickly to the identity challenges After First Contact and set a self-guided course for humanity into the new era.

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