I often find myself splitting human response to First Contact into two poles for this blog. In reality, most human responses operate on a spectrum- a nuanced range from one pole to another. Fear is such a thing.
There is, of course, legitimate fear. Such fear has kept animals of all sorts, including humans, alive for millions of years. A little paranoia is not a bad thing. Caution would be important in the wake of First Contact.
Fear also has negative side. It can be irrational and not based on fact. Or more likely, it could be an overly fearful response to something that should provoke caution. This kind of fear can be fueled by misinformation and rumors. Irrational fear can be really dangerous. It can cause people to do all sorts of awful things in reaction.
The spectrum tells us that humans will likely have a wide variety of responses to First Contact, with some responses falling to the poles. Some people won’t be fearful at all. To the contrary, they will welcome any alien interaction with open arms. Those on the opposite side of the spectrum will want to halt all contact and build space-based missile batteries in defense. The more well considered reactions would probably fall to the middle: openness balanced with caution.
It may seem that I am always promoting the moderate response on this blog. It doesn’t have to be a wishy-washy position, if the moderates are taking the best ideas from throughout the response spectrum. Moderation can be people diluting everything to build consensus. I would agree that moderation of that sort is not helpful. It seems to me that what is required is active and bold moderation. This may be an entirely different animal than what we are used to in human decision making.
My big point for this post is that there are people who will attempt to use fear to get what they want in the wake of alien First Contact. These individuals will speak to groups of humans and stoke the fires of fear to provide the leaders of the groups with power After First Contact. They will use rumors and falsehoods to get people agitated and then provide a fear-based solution of their own making. If people look behind the scenes they will see that there is a clear agenda with this type of individual. They hope to gain something from the agenda: power, money or influence. Exposing this agenda in the course of discussion will be critical. People must ask themselves: is this leader working for their own benefit or for the benefit of humanity? It won’t be easy. The debate inspired by First Contact is likely to be a cacophony at first.
Media outlets around the world will have a huge role to play in this situation. They will have to sort through the tumult and find the carefully considered ideas. They will have to expose those who use fear to leverage their own power. The fear mongers could come from politics, religion…almost any of the human institutions. They may be very highly placed individuals in government or business. The media and the public will have an obligation to go beyond the rhetoric and find the true nature of each fear-based argument. Is it designed to increase power for an individual or organization? Is it a well-considered concern that can help all of humanity? I would imagine that, like so many other things in the human realm, those things will often be wrapped up together. A legitimate concern may be turned into a fear-based power grab. The best human lies start with a kernel of truth. Politicians have been playing these games for centuries.
Critical thinking will be essential After First Contact. It isn’t an easy thing to do. We are all lazy at times and would like someone to tell us what we should think. This is fine for some things. None of us have the time to dissect everything around us. But for the big issues, critical thinking is important. It must be utilized by institutional leaders and the media. But more importantly, it must be utilized by the public and the public in every nation on Earth. This may be demanding for countries that don’t allow for freedom of expression. But those governments will have to allow debate internally if they want to truly be part of the global discussion. Sociologists and political scientists will have to design methods of listening to the public in many different nations at once. We may have to refine global opinion polling and take it to a new level.
In the end, we will need to think beyond ourselves. Sure, there is plenty of reasonable fear to be had when considering the impact of Alien First Contact. But if we are thinking about everyone on the planet and considering future generations, our decision-making can move beyond fear and to a place that will help us move forward with equal parts of optimism and caution.
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