What would extraterrestrials think of us? It’s a question that commonly finds answers along two poles: they would love us or hate us. Of course, being the intelligent creatures that we are, we realize that it would likely be much more complicated. However, those two poles are where our hopes and fears lie and with any discussion of extraterrestrial intelligence, hope and fear play big roles. Interestingly, they both make the same assumption: humans are bad.
We fight with each other. We kill. We subjugate the weak. We take advantage of each other. We build nuclear weapons and threaten to blow each other up. We treat our planet and fellow creatures like crap.
We build civilizations. We celebrate complex art and culture. We develop science to help us unlock the secrets of the universe. We spend time, effort and money on medicine and do everything we can to save human life.
The love side of things assumes that aliens will want to help us. They will see the good side of our nature and help us to overcome our conflicted ways and develop new technology to ease our environmental burdens.
The hate side says that aliens would want to control us or get rid of human civilization altogether. They will see the bad side of our nature and decide that they don’t want to deal with us if we manage to develop interstellar travel.
It’s a question of perception. That’s one thing that’s tough to speculate about. Alien perception would be a product of what they are as beings, what they believe and how they have developed as a species. They could be a warring, nasty bunch and consider us to be cream puffs. They could be peaceful and thoughtful and think of us as brutes.
Does it really matter? Of course it does- we want to have a positive relationship with any extraterrestrial civilization that we meet. But are we going to fix our human weaknesses overnight to get ourselves ready for extraterrestrials that may or may not meet us some day? Clearly not. We will be here, warts and all, ready for inspection if an extraterrestrial civilization takes interest. We can’t change who we are in the short term. There are many positive signs that if we don’t blow ourselves up or destroy the environment, we may actually have a peaceful and prosperous future.
The point is that we can’t change where we have come from. We can only work to make the present and the future better for humanity. We need to stop worrying about whether they will love us or hate us. If aliens choose to make contact with us, in whatever form, it will be their agenda and that agenda will be based on their needs, not ours.
However, there is a bigger lesson in this discussion. In the same way we may hope that they don’t judge us on our weakness, we need to be prepared to find many things about their culture and civilization that we dislike. It’s that way in any new relationship with a foreign being. If you list the things you like and dislike about some other nationality, if you know that culture well, it’s bound to be a long list. There will be things about extraterrestrials that we will like and things we won’t like. These likes and dislikes could be dramatic at first, until we truly understand where they have come from and what they want for their civilization. We need to accept their weaknesses, acknowledge their strengths and find a place for mutual understanding.
We are a weird bunch, the human race. But you know what? I bet the aliens are just as weird.
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