Have you felt the urge to strangle someone who supports a political party that you oppose? You are not alone. Some analysts suggest that America has the most polarized political climate in 150 years. The Washington Post has a cool graphic representation. And it’s not just the United States. Europe is also suffering from a political polarization problem.
So, what’s the big deal about political polarization and how does this tie in to extraterrestrial First Contact? Polarization is the movement of political debate to the extremes of the political spectrum. It moves debate away from moderate, and potentially problem solving discussion, to extreme stances that make negotiation problematic. Political polarization makes it difficult for governments to get things done. Polarization in a Direct First Contact event would likely come down to two extremes. The first would be people who want complete, open contact with visiting extraterrestrials. They would view First Contact as a tremendous opportunity for humans and not be concerned with security issues. The opposite end would be individuals who don’t want any sort of relationship with extraterrestrials. Fear would be the driving factor for people on that pole. How does all of this compare to political polarization? Politics would be a big part of a Direct First Contact event. Nations would need to decide what they think of a relationship with extraterrestrials and those views would be represented in the United Nations. And current political polarization could play a part. One could imagine that in America liberals might be in favor of a relationship with extraterrestrials and conservatives would be concerned about human safety and perhaps be protectionist.
The primary problem is that the likely battle between both sides of the spectrum…those in favor of a human relationship with extraterrestrials and those opposed to it…would make decision making difficult. Consensus is important in any process. When two sides cannot find some degree of agreement, everything bogs down. The inaction of the U.S. Congress in recent years is an example of what can go wrong.
Why do we care if the extraterrestrial relationship process takes longer? There are important decisions that would need to be made immediately. They include protocols for handling extraterrestrial contact and the assurance of human security and autonomy. The issues are complex and would require input from experts in many different areas. If political polarization makes that process even more difficult, we could be in for trouble.