Monday, August 20, 2012

Extraterrestrial Contact: Civil Society and First Contact

I often discuss the impact of high-information First Contact on human institutions. But what about society, outside of government, religion and science? How would civil society be impacted by First Contact? At first there would probably not be much impact at all. The most immediate decisions would be ones of diplomacy. Institutions would have many responsibilities in the response to high-information First Contact.
However, after months or years there may be needs not met by government and religion. Education reform would certainly be a huge need for humanity after high-information First Contact. While secondary schools and universities may tackle some of that reform on their own, there would likely be outside forces calling for change, especially if there is opposition to change from within the academic ranks. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are particularly suited to such debate. They have the ability to tackle ideas that may be unpopular at first. NGOs often have advocacy experience. They can act as intermediaries between society and the government. NGOs may also have to act in an advocacy role when it comes to the changes needed in government.
One would expect that high-information First Contact would provide much information for the public. However, it seems likely government and science institutions would attempt to control that information. While that may actually be a prudent move at first, it would need to be tempered by organizations calling for a more open diffusion of information. Once again, NGOs would be perfect for such a fight. The media may pay attention to such issues at first, but as we all know, the media attention span can be quite short. There may need to be transparency advocacy organizations operating for years after First Contact.
Another issue would be the deepening of the knowledge divide in the world. Some people in our society are already left behind when it comes to computer access and general education. One would imagine that in a high-information First Contact situation this could get worse. We could have a situation where the elite of human society are on a speeding train of change, while the information poor are left sitting at the station. NGOs could have a monitoring and advocacy role in this area.
Social science in many aspects would become important After First Contact. NGOs could have a critical role in monitoring the health of human society and signaling where we may have issues going forward.
This may seem like a rather narrow train of thought, but I think it does speak to a larger issue. We haven’t thought about First Contact in much depth. Most of us still figure that the aliens will land on the White House lawn and say hello (or blow up) the President of the United States. While that may be clearly na├»ve, the range of impacts to human society has not been well considered. High-information First Contact would have a far-reaching impact. We will need all sectors of society, including civil society, involved in the response.
What do you think? Chime in on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

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