Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: What First Contact Could Mean for You

Most people would expect a flurry of government, science and media activity if alien contact does occur someday. But what would First Contact mean for you, the individual human, without any ties to those institutions? Your primary role would be spectator. Alien contact would likely have people across the globe glued to their TVs. That may be the only involvement for the vast majority of humans. But there is another role that could be critical: a vocal member of the sensible majority.

What is the sensible majority? It’s the group that tends to take a more measured response to controversial issues. You can call it moderate or middle-of-the-road. It describes a set of humans at the center of a reactionary scale. At either pole are the fringe groups. For alien First Contact one would imagine that these fringe groups will be comprised of those who are very enthusiastic about extensive contact with members of alien civilizations and those who are against any contact. You could call it the cheer and fear dichotomy. The sensible majority would have feelings of excitement about First Contact, mixed with concerns about First Contact. The result might be cautious optimism. How can we make such assumptions of human reaction based on an event that has no equal in human history? I think such a continuum of reaction is a part of human nature. Some of us react quite strongly to issues and divide into opposite poles and others tend to weigh both sides and find value in both. The degree to which this occurs would of course be dependent on how First Contact occurs. If it’s a scary and mysterious First Contact you could expect human reaction to be weighted towards the fear pole. If it’s a transparent and positive event, one would expect reaction to be weighted towards the cheer pole.

What does this matter? Human reaction would be the most critical part of First Contact. Fear would provoke a set of actions by governments and institutions. Cheer would produce a different set of actions. This is important, because those governments and institutions will need to make decisions in the wake of First Contact that could impact humanity for many generations to come.

Once again, it seems important that the sensible majority be heard in such a situation. But there is a problem: the sensible majority tends to be quiet. Moderates are not usually found marching in the streets. That behavior is reserved for people at either end of the spectrum. The problem is that media coverage focuses on the actions of the polar groups. It’s tough for the media to put human reaction to issues in a moderate context, because the moderates are quiet and don’t create “newsworthy” events. The only hope moderates have is to be heard through opinion polls, which can show the moderate viewpoints much better than media stories.

First Contact would likely fall into a similar scenario. Fringe groups on either end of the spectrum would be quite vocal, and perhaps violently so. The media will rush to cover the excitement and the result will be a lack of context. This could be quite dangerous. If governmental policy is shaped by fringe groups, poor decisions could be made. First Contact would require careful and thoughtful decision making. Unfortunately, those decisions will also need to be made quickly. It will be a real challenge.

So, what can the sensible majority do in the wake of First Contact? The answer is simple: stand up and be heard. Don’t allow the fringe groups to garner all the attention. Humans across the planet will need to make sure their voices are heard. Governmental leaders will be watching human reaction closely, looking for cues. The sensible majority will need to get out on the streets and show their numbers. This won’t be easy. The fringe elements will have religious, political and social groups to guide their actions. The sensible majority has no such organizations. It will be up to individual humans to make their voices heard through social media and public activities.

Am I advocating a chaos of protests and counter-protests? Certainly not. I am suggesting peaceful demonstrations of views and attitudes for those who represent moderates in the First Contact conversation.

You may be wondering if any of this will be necessary. You may think that human reaction will muted and well-considered. I wish this would be the case. It may be in the first days and weeks after First Contact. But if humans react as they have for thousands of years of human history, it seems likely that the fringe groups will eventually form and the debate will rage. Be prepared to stand up for what you believe or expect to be drowned out.

Join in on the conversation on the Alien First Contact Facebook page.

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