Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extraterrestrial Contact: Cheer and Fear

In my last entry I spoke of the importance of the sensible majority- those humans who will have a moderate reaction to First Contact and carefully consider the decisions necessary for humans to make in the wake of First Contact. I also mentioned the Cheer and Fear groups: the poles likely to be found on either end of the human reaction spectrum. The Cheer group would be people enthusiastically positive about First Contact, and thus more likely to want open relations with extraterrestrials. The Fear group would be the polar opposite: they will advocate for little, if any, contact with extraterrestrials.
I think the sensible majority will ultimately have to speak up and be heard. But there is also an important role for the fringe groups: they will spark conversation and highlight important concerns in alien contact. The fringe groups should not be ignored. They will make many valid points. Eventually, once the debate has progressed, it will be up to the sensible majority to sort out the issues raised by both poles and come to some sort of moderated response plan.

The Fear group may be the more interesting of the two. They will include people who are resistant to change, who follow strict religious and culture rules, who worry about personal freedoms and cultural freedoms, and those who are generally wary of new things. This may include people who are paranoid or militaristic in nature. It may also include human leaders who are worried about losing their power in the wake of First Contact. As with any fringe movement, there will be a lot of hyperbole mixed in with sound arguments. The sensible majority will have to sort out the results.
A little paranoia can go a long way in self-protection. Fear is an important part of human survival. It keeps us from rushing into potentially dangerous situations. It can also render us unable to move in new directions. Fear would be a reasonable reaction in a First Contact situation. It will be impossible for us to verify what aliens tell humans about their history of interaction with planet Earth and their intentions in contacting humans. They may tell us one thing and do another. It is likely that aliens would think quite differently from humans. Concepts such as honesty and truth may not be a part of their alien psychology. However, if extraterrestrials, even ones very different from us, have done their homework, they will understand that concepts such as honesty and truth mean a lot to humans, even if we don’t always practice them ourselves.

If aliens are interested in having a safe and productive relationship with humans they will have done extensive homework. It would be easy enough to plug into the human Internet and do all sorts of research about how we behave in various situations. From this research, aliens could develop a game plan for contacting humans and maintaining a relationship with them. In that respect, any alien civilization that has been planning the best way to talk to us will have a huge advantage. They can know quite a bit about us and we will know nothing about them, until they tell us.
The process of listening to the fringe groups in an extraterrestrial contact situation will not be easy. The debate is likely to be lively at best and vociferous in some circumstances. It may appear at first as chaos and hype on all sides. The sensible majority will need to listen and not rush to judgment. Governmental and institutional leaders would also be quite important in this process. Academics, civic leaders and scientists will need to help the public make sense of the arguments and sort out what is a legitimate concern and what is not.

Perhaps the most important group in this process will be the media. First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization will have to be the finest hour for the world media if humanity is going to move forward and prosper from alien contact. The only analogy I can find is the media response to the 9-11-2001 attacks in the United States. The media spent several days in a state of heightened awareness- rooting out rumors before reporting on them, and generally engaging in sober and thoughtful reporting. The world media would need to follow suit in a First Contract situation and such sober and careful reporting would need to continue for many months. The 9-11 history is also instructive for how things could go wrong with media coverage. In the ramp-up to war, as a result of 9-11, the American media suspended much of its critical reporting and became cheerleaders for war, with disastrous results.
We will actually need to listen to each other and consider opposite view points in the wake of First Contact. When it’s apparent that people are reacting out of political or other gain, we will need to take that into account. We will need to be on the lookout for opportunists hoping to use First Contact to build their own power base by using fear or intimidation.

First Contact will be a tough time for humanity. There will be much to do and a whole number of possible decisions. We will all have to be at our best.  I think we’re up to the challenge.

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