Extraterrestrial contact would likely provide a new perspective for humans. It would probably be different from person to person. However, you could assume that, at the very least, extraterrestrial contact would cause us to perceive the universe differently and in turn our role in the universe. For some people this may be a simple process of understanding. For others it could be a conflict in thinking.
You would imagine that this change in perspective could also change our perception of humanity. No longer would we be the only race in the universe, but simply one group of beings. This could bring us closer together as a civilization and as a planet. That notion, though, carries with it baggage. Humans have wrestled with the idea of a joined humanity for some time now in popular fiction. It is often portrayed as a world society that has sanded away individuality. The primary concern seems to be that if we join together as a planet we will all become alike. There is certainly precedent for this. Suburban Italy or Moscow can look like the suburban United States these days as sprawl becomes a global characteristic. Races are intermixing in growing percentages. English has become a global language. Granted, there is still plenty of interesting differences to go around. One could argue that the localism movement attempts to preserve regional cultural differences and prevent corporate homogenization. For every step in that direction there seems to be many more technological advances that make us more similar: Facebook, Twitter and cell phone use, just to name a few.
So, it seems possible that there will be human identity concerns in the wake of extraterrestrial First Contact. It would have very little to do with the aliens themselves, but rather the process that we would have to go through to respond to First Contact. Alien contact of any sort would require a global deliberation and probably a global response. I think it would be important to stress the point that joining together in a global response to First Contact does not have to mean losing identity. Depending on the nature of extraterrestrial contact (immediate and in our solar system, versus light years away) this idea of preserving what it means to be human and what it means to have a specific culture could be quite important. There will be those who fear extraterrestrial influence as a process that could weaken our identity as humans.
This may seem like a point of lesser importance, given the huge impact that First Contact would have on human civilization. I think that it might, though, be an important part of the conversation going forward. It is the type of thing to not get brought up directly, but linger in the back of people’s minds as they consider how to react to First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.
I think we can maintain who we are and what we care about, while joining closer together as the human race. First Contact would finally bring to bear the reality of our situation: we are one people, one planet, citizens of the universe.
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