Many things in our human society require balance. It may be naïve to consider human behavior only on the basis of poles and a spectrum, but the model does apply to much in our world. One basic spectrum is between bureaucracy and change. Absolute states of either category don’t exist and for good reason. Complete bureaucratic control would allow nothing to be accomplished. Complete change would be chaos. Our human bureaucracy, in so many forms beyond the usual meanings of governance, allows us to get things done. Bureaucracy in the larger sense of the term is simply an established process with the promise of efficiency. There is no need for humans to determine how to drive a car on the streets. There is a system of rules and laws that direct that action. However, change is needed in any bureaucratic system. It helps us to respond to new conditions, fix problems or engage new opportunities. German sociologist Max Weber is well-known for his work discussing bureaucracy needs and dangers.
What does all of this have to do with extraterrestrial First Contact? The negotiation between bureaucracy and change will be a big deal in human response to First Contact. There will be new conditions created, which will require many human bureaucracies to change. One could argue that this happens all the time in human society; new conditions, bringing about the need for change. My concern is that it may happen very quickly in the wake of Extraterrestrial First Contact and could create instability. Human organizations of all sorts would be impacted- governments, universities, scientific bodies, economic groups, just to name a few. The more immediate the communication with extraterrestrials, meaning a larger amount of information shared, the more change that would be created. New scientific information is one obvious example. But humans could experience problems with corporations, economic markets and religious groups. As I said, I prefer Max Weber’s broader view of bureaucracy to the more common one that emphasizes it as a governmental organization. Bureaucracy is everywhere in human society. First Contact impact could surprise us in terms of which human bureaucracies are affected.
So, how do we deal with a great deal of information from aliens and the change it would create? I think the key is flexible bureaucracies. Humans will need systems to respond to the new information. At first, the only systems in place will be the ones we already have. They have to be allowed to flex and grow as conditions change. If we simply blow institutions up, deciding that some scientific group or organization is no longer relevant in a post-alien society, we risk chaos. Bureaucracies must be allowed to change organically. Forcing change could be a problem. That means people who lead a bureaucracy will need to be aware of changing conditions, listen to different viewpoints and ideas, and then respond effectively. Eventually there will be a need for new bureaucracies to handle human interaction with aliens. But in the meantime, our current system must be brought up to the challenge.