Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: A Planetary Call to Action

We tend to imagine alien First Contact as a matter of what aliens will do to us. We usually ignore the bigger question: what will we do in response to the aliens? Aside from the Hollywood cliché war spectaculars, there is actually some thought that should be put into the subject. Why? The human reaction is the only thing we could control in an extraterrestrial First Contact event. 
I’ll avoid the hostile, self-defense scenarios and instead focus this piece on a particular scenario. What do we do if friendly aliens say hello? There are a myriad of possible ways that it could occur. But generally, let’s say it is high information, direct First Contact. That basically means we have the ability to have a conversation with the extraterrestrials. To do such, in the context of our current knowledge of science, would require that the aliens or a probe perhaps, be in our celestial neighborhood.

I’ve written plenty of blogs on this topic, but I now believe there is one important element that I have left out: the need for a planetary call to action. To prepare for such an event we need to recognize that each and every one of us would have some basic responsibilities in First Contact. You may say, no not me…that’s something for the scientists and politicians to worry about. As important as the role of scientists and world leaders would be in First Contact, your role, as a member of your society, is also quite important. Why? It comes down to the dynamics of reaction. I think that scientists, world leaders, military leaders, the news media, religious leaders, corporate leaders and institutional leaders will all have important roles. But technically, all of those people are supposed to represent you, in one way or another. They will certainly be following public reaction closely and taking cues. Mass hysteria will provoke certain reactions. A calm, thoughtful citizenry will bring about more measured responses.

Each human needs to realize that they would have a role to play in a First Contact event. What would we need to do? Here’s a short list:

Focus on facts: it would be easy for us to be scared and let our imaginations run wild in the initial hours, days and weeks after First Contact. We need to stick to the facts.

Beware of rumors and fiction: even if we can control our own imaginations, there will be those who will not be able to. They will take to the internet, and anywhere else they can spout off, to spread rumors and outright lies.

Beware of scare tactics by fringe groups: some people will spread rumors and fiction to further their own particular agenda.

Beware of inaccuracies. And remember that the most dangerous inaccuracies are the ones that have a grain of truth.

Think critically, act thoughtfully: evaluate the source of whatever information you are receiving. Just because it’s a relative or someone you usually trust, doesn’t mean that they are correct.

Listen to scientists, but realize that scientists have opinions as well. Trust research based opinions.

We owe this to future generations. This is a tremendous responsibility for those of us in this bridge generation…those who knew life before first contact, those who witnessed first contact and helped to set the path forward. That path would be critical for the human race in the wake of First Contact.

I also suggest a call to action for the media, scientists, civic leaders, corporations and institutions. It’s quite similar:

Don’t allow speculation to run rampant.

Don’t chase rumors just because it will boost your ratings. This is one of those times that the media will need to realize a role so much more important than the daily competition. It’s a media reaction we often see in the United States in the immediate wake of disaster. We need the sober, cautious and thoughtful media that we saw in the days after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. And in extended First Contact scenario we would need that media for some time.

Explain and provide perspective.

Calm the public and provide reassurances.

Be cautious.

Be thoughtful.

Listen to scientists, but realize that scientists have opinions as well. Trust research based opinions.

Don’t try to control first contact for national or other self-interest.

Am I expecting too much out of humans? I don’t think so. We’re extraordinarily adaptable. If we pull together and use our heads, First Contact could be an amazing experience. If we don’t, the aliens may be the least of our worries.

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