Monday, July 1, 2013

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Transparency Divide

I often speak of the importance of transparency in any contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. That concept of transparency refers to how human institutions should share all possible information about extraterrestrials with the public. I’m not speaking of any current situation. I don’t believe humans have had contact with extraterrestrials, yet. But there is a flipside to this argument: what expectations do we have for extraterrestrials in regard to transparency? The simple answer is- high expectations.

Transparency is just the latest buzz word for an integral part of human life. Most elements of human society consider honesty and openness to be important and admirable behaviors. They are also behaviors that we often fail to live up to.  That’s quite the dichotomy and one that visiting aliens might have trouble understanding. Honesty and openness are behaviors that we strive for and yet the gray areas are much more common. It would be tough to explain to extraterrestrials the concept of the white lie. Complete honesty and openness could cause chaos in our daily lives, and yet we hold such behavior in high esteem.

So, if the concept of transparency, tied to the human behaviors of honesty and openness, is so complicated for humans, what hope do we have of communicating this concept to aliens? It’s an important consideration. Any direct extraterrestrial contact will likely have an element of fear for humans. The only way to quell that fear is through communication. Extraterrestrials would need to let us know their motives for making contact and make clear their goals for having a relationship with the human race. Honesty is a pretty big part of that communication. How do we trust aliens we know nothing about? One would imagine that their concept of honesty and openness could be quite different from ours- especially when you consider how complicated it is here on Earth.

The situation has been made worse by our colorful imaginations. Books and movies have portrayed so many fearful and disturbing images of alien contact that it would be tough for visiting extraterrestrials to overcome the weight of popular culture. The claims of those humans reporting alien abductions would suddenly need to be reevaluated. Skepticism and caution on our part would require us to take the fears and concerns seriously. We would need honest and upfront communication from aliens. Have they been here before? What previous contact have they had with humans, if any?

Direct First Contact makes one thing easier. If it occurs in the human realm, which I would define as our solar system, it becomes our playing field. Visiting extraterrestrials would need to operate on our terms and work to make us comfortable. If aliens are able to visit our solar system they would be far more technologically advanced. That would put humans and extraterrestrials on unequal footing. The only way to even out the equation is to play by our rules. Our house, our rules.

One would expect visiting extraterrestrials to consider human public relations issues in order to put the best foot forward. Whether or not we believe them is another matter entirely. I suppose that would depend on the quality of their PR plan and the circumstances behind First Contact. A poorly executed First Contact plan could lead to immediate distrust and fear. That wouldn’t help anyone.

The next question is whether we humans would be able to uphold honesty and openness in First Contact? If governments, and other institutions, attempt to keep First Contact under wraps, it will send a message to extraterrestrials: we don’t really value honesty and openness. We just like to talk about it. Provide us lip service and that will be fine.

Lip service- from aliens or from our government could prove to be disastrous. First Contact would create a huge upheaval in human perspective and have a ripple effect throughout human society. Fear and distrust in humans could hurt the relationship with extraterrestrials and, in turn, hurt human civilization. If we are to truly benefit from extraterrestrial contact, human perceptions of honesty and openness will have to be the goal of humans and aliens alike. Extraterrestrials may not fully understand it and humans may have trouble living up to it, but in the end transparency will be the most important part of the new relationship.

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