Monday, July 21, 2014

Extraterrestrial Contact: Respecting Human Institutions

Direct First Contact, where representatives of an extraterrestrial civilization travel to our solar system, would provide many challenges. Security would likely be the first and foremost concern for humans.  A threat to security could come in the form of armed action. This is the scenario we most often dwell upon. But another threat is possible: manipulation, and in dire circumstances, it could be just as harmful.

As we all know, the human civilization is really a conglomeration of cultures, nations and alliances. At best, it can be a complex system. And at worse, the divisions lead to conflict and war. The divisions could provide an opportunity for an outside agent to manipulate humans. An extraterrestrial with an agenda could side with one nation or group of nations to better accomplish their goals. That could create a dangerous situation on Earth, as countries or groups of countries compete for extraterrestrial favors. What would we give up if there were to be some sort of technological information bidding war? How much would a clean, renewable and robust energy source be worth? Would you give up your autonomy for it? Considering such technology could make a nation dominant on Earth, it might be a trade some leaders would consider.

But manipulation doesn’t have to be that drastic. It could also be done in a much more stealthy manner. An extraterrestrial representative could decide to throw humans into conflict, to weaken them. That could be done behind the scenes and without much notice. Divided humans would be much easier to control.

That’s why I think humans must demand and fight for control of any First Contact situation. Humans must make sure that our institutions are not manipulated. That means that we need to speak forcefully and with one voice. Setting ground rules, immediately in the aftermath of a First Contact event, would be essential. Those rules could be revised later, according to need. But at first we would need to be cautious and protective of our human institutions and our human way of doing things.

Humans, left to their own devices, will have a tough time handling First Contact with aplomb and dignity. While we could hope for such a reaction, the reality would probably be messy and full of conflict. But that is how humans operate. Everything in our lives is complicated. We make plenty of mistakes on the road to progress.

Humans need to be human. We need to have the room for a debate about how to proceed After First Contact. That debate needs to be free from extraterrestrial influence. The demand for that freedom is a message that would need to be delivered with one voice. We must have one united voice when speaking to outsiders. And then, here at home, we can splinter into our usual human way: conflict and mess.
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