Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: The Human Opportunity

If alien First Contact does occur someday, we will focus our attention to the wonders of the wider universe. Whatever we learn about other extraterrestrial civilizations and the nature of our universe will in turn help to expand our perspective. Of course, how much we learn depends on how much extraterrestrials might be willing to share. Once the wonder dies down the perspective change could also provide a catalyst for human self-examination.
I’m not suggesting that we need to act like aliens or incorporate an alien way of thinking. Learning about other civilizations does not mean becoming like other civilizations. The knowledge that we are not alone in the universe, in and of itself, could help us to make changes here at home. These would be purely human decisions about how to make our world better for everyone. Why should we care? First Contact would present something that we never had to consider before. If another civilization exists, suddenly we have competition in the universe- perhaps not immediate competition for resources or status, but competition nonetheless. We would want to consider our strengths as a civilization and that means coming up with ideas for improving on our weaknesses.

Global Decision-Making

There would be some immediate needs in extraterrestrial contact. We would need a global body to make decisions and take actions regarding alien contact for the entire human race. This could be a newly created group representing all nations or it could be a United Nations committee. The group would need to consider the contact process and what messages should come from humans.

The need for speaking with one voice would make overall global decision-making suddenly much more important. And it would force us to consider a basic fact about our current global relations: they’re dominated by a few powerful nations. In the wake of First Contact, who would be working to ensure that the people of Belize have their voices heard? Who would stand up for the concerns of citizens of Uzbekistan?

Some people might argue that the largest and most powerful nations have the most at stake and the best scientific resources, and thus should lead the effort. But I think that allowing that current system of global inequity to continue would be a mistake. It could also lead to power struggles amongst those power nations. Truly soliciting input from smaller nations, and actually acting on that input, could prevent the power struggles, by adding additional voices to the mix. It could also bring about ideas that we might not have considered.

Powerful nations should view First Contact as an opportunity to lead, not dominate. True leadership comes from recognizing the value of all of the parts of the whole. This will not be easy for the United States, China and Russia. Current politics makes the quest for dominance part of the international agenda. This, however, leads to conflict and in the end, weakens all parties. How so? Just look at the interdependence of economies. We live in a world where economic problems in China can lead to economic problems in the United States. When we quietly applaud as the Ruble falls in value in Russia, we forget that interdependence. Russian economic turmoil may seem like a positive thing for Western nations in the short term, especially for those upset by Russian international aggressions, but in the long-term, Russian financial issues could have a negative global impact for multi-national companies and that has an impact on economies all over the world.

Racism, Sexism and Culturalism

Meeting alien beings should make it quite apparent that differences in human skin tones, facial features and cultural beliefs, are slight when compared to extraterrestrials. We could use that perspective shift to push for a new understanding between human cultures. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all related. We know this. Alien First Contact would take that knowledge beyond the intellectual level and give it new primacy. We are all humans. We live on this tiny planet with many other creatures and organisms. We need to take care of each other and take care of our fragile home.

The entire planet suffers from the consequences of sexism. Women are nearly half of all humans and yet they often do not have the same opportunities as men. This includes education and employment. There is no greater need for positive change on Earth. All women should have opportunities for self-betterment and the ability to make their own choices.

A renewed focus on human concerns could also have a downside. Some people may attempt to use fear to build xenophobia towards aliens. This would be a natural tendency, especially if the aliens look and act much differently from us, which seems likely. Promoting a stronger human alliance does not have to lead to such xenophobia. But the struggle to keep it from becoming so, and thus influencing our decision making in regards to alien contact, will likely be with us for the rest of human history.


A sudden First Contact event could help us realize that things can change quickly. Perspective controls much of what we do. If our perspective on the universe can change so quickly, and without much physical action, than why couldn’t our perspective on human issues change, as well?

Much of the progress made in the American civil rights struggle came relatively quickly once the world focused attention on the plight of African-Americans in the South. Media attention and the leadership of some key individuals helped to change something in the American consciousness. Perspective is an incredible thing.

I’m not suggesting that the civil rights movement didn’t come from years of incredibly daring and dangerous work on the parts of so many. What I am suggesting is that there can be a tipping point in human consciousness where one state of affairs quickly becomes unacceptable due to publicity and leadership. What other areas might we be able to improve human conditions based on a new perspective brought on by First Contact.

What about violence? It’s easy to say that humans will be humans and violent conflict between humans is inevitable, but in the wake of First Contact we could realize that human violence is a choice, not an inevitability. We make such choices each and every day. Clearly, the key to preventing human violence starts with solving the problems that lead to violence and that is extremely complicated.  But a perspective change could allow us to climb out of the trenches, where we are surrounded by those complications, and achieve a wider view. The catalyst of First Contact could lead to a change in how humans resolve conflicts.

The Environment

It would be interesting to hear the alien perspective on climate change as a result of industrial growth. Perhaps such problems are endemic in growing civilizations? We could desperately use some new input on the subject and that would perhaps encourage us to take our environmental decisions more seriously, and, in turn, prod us to make the many changes needed to respond to the growing crisis.

Technology and attitude changes have made a difference in pollution and waste in the United States. But Americans have the furthest to go, as we are among the biggest consumers. Emerging nations need to pay better attention to environmental issues. China may seem like an extreme example now, with widespread pollution in its large cities, but India, Malaysia and Latin American nations are not far behind. As economies grow, consumer pollution and waste increases. Could a new perspective help us to take bolder actions to preserve the health of our atmosphere and ultimately our planet?


Humans have a propensity to support economic systems that keep other humans in poverty. Human development is closely watched by the United Nations and other international agencies. In some parts of the world, such as Asia, it has improved greatly in the last 30 years. In other locations, most notably sub-Saharan Africa, it has improved marginally at best. The UN calls people in poverty “vulnerable” because it defines a whole range of impacts, from employment to health. Could we see humans differently in the wake of First Contact and make significant changes to help those humans who are most vulnerable?

I know that these are rather grand pronouncements. When it comes to human change the devil is always in the details. Real change comes from individual struggle each and every day. But that struggle for positive change could be energized by the change in perspective that would come from extraterrestrial contact. If First Contact does occur some day, we will likely be slack-jawed in wonder for a time. Once we get back to reality, we should use some of that wonder and turn our attention back to planet Earth. Alien First Contact could be a catalyst for positive human change unlike anything we have ever seen. That catalyst could also be ignored and it could be business as usual on planet Earth. That decision will be ours to make.

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