Writing a post speculating about a possible meteorite I found got me to thinking.
We as humans, and particularly Americans, have an ongoing love affair with outer space. We search for alien life, we speculate endlessly about alien encounters, and we love movies and books about aliens, faraway worlds, and space travel.
We’ve had this love for space from the very beginning, and it’s only been accelerated with the advent of space travel in the 1960’s, and subsequent technology which allows us to reach out to the stars. We continue to pour massive amounts of funding to the research of that which is beyond our own atmosphere.
Whether one is religious, and believes in other created life living throughout the stars, or one is not, and believes that life on earth could easily have originated elsewhere in the universe, we all seem to agree extraterrestrial life is at least possible, if not downright probable.
One would be hard pressed to find an American who didn’t immediately respond to the words “Area 51”.
It immediately conjures mental images of aliens, previous visits from outer space, and secret government research on life from the far reaches of distant galaxies. No matter what one believes individually, they’ll have to admit the concept is firmly entrenched into the American psyche.
So what will it be like when it finally happens? How will we really react?
That’s been the question science fiction authors and film makers have struggled with from the beginning.
Notice I said when, and not if. Yea, it was intentional. I’m still a little on the fence about this whole topic, but I tend to believe we’re not alone out there. And for this conversation, it’s easier to assume the inevitability of such an encounter rather than to leave it to mere speculation.
Countless examples of the assumed scenarios exist in numerous science fiction movies. From Independence Day, where aliens inexplicably focus their attention on the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, causing us to fight back with patriotism and raw bravado rarely equaled in real life, to District 9, where we seem to have simply captured and incarcerated the aliens in special
concentration camps squatters’ colonies, writers have been driven to predict our reactions.
But how will we really react as a species?
How will we view something that either confirms our deepest trepidations, or shatters our firmly entrenched assumptions?
Will it cause global panic? An instant source of televised mayhem from the masses, and merriment from those who see but don’t yet believe? Mass riots with burning cars and trash cans? While it might not be on the scale of the Vancouver Canucks losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup at home, these things are sure to happen in some form or another.
I think it all depends on the type of encounter it is, and there are several I can think of off the top of my head…
The Truth Comes Out
First, we have the truth, finally uncovered after a number of years.
Whether by some sneak Wikileaks-esque move, simple declassification of government records after the required amount of elapsed time, or something in between, we may see this sort of thing come out of Roswell. It’s not hard to believe something of an extraterrestrial nature occurred in the area, and it may be a matter of time before it’s made public.
With this scenario, I don’t foresee the mass panic and diligence to burning things and rampaging through the streets as might be expected with finding out aliens actually exist.
Sure, we’ll see the occasional fringe loonies protesting something or another and proclaiming the end is nigh, but that’s really nothing out of the ordinary now. That happens every time a significant piece of news hits the air.
But baring the occasional outburst by groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church (in which they inevitably fail to see the irony of not recognizing life outside this world), the news will hit big, but fade quickly and quietly. Many may not even believe it. Sure, there will be an initial burst of incredulous news, in which CNN broadcasts will look like a Glen Beck breakdown, but as soon as the immediate reaction dies down, things will get back to quiet and normal fairly quickly.
Soon it will become a part of life. Science will march on.
Second, we have a peaceful negotiation, where contact with aliens arrives, either by remote message or direct contact.
This is a little more problematic, as it’s more than just the government acknowledging we’ve had contact with intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
It’ll have to be a lot more believable because it’s happening in real time. Those who would almost believe the first scenario will be forced off the fence in this one. There will be too much evidence to explain away or dismiss as just wagging the dog. Society will be rife with conspiracy theories in this scenario too, as people struggle to cope with scenarios they haven’t prepared themselves to accept.
There may be some discord in figuring out how to deal with them. I’m not operating under the assumption they’ll park themselves next to the Center of the Universe, known somewhat colloquially as Washington, D.C., and banter directly with the Commander-in-Chief. Why would they risk championing one single nation and alienating the rest of the world?
No, they’ll come in as neutral as they can possibly come, and it’ll be a series of UN-style negotiations with them. Good thing they won’t be in any need of humanitarian assistance. There may be some dissent in the methods of negotiating, but in the end, the United States along with her closest allies will do the bulk of the communication.
Communication will be key, and it won’t be easy. There is no quick solution to a language barrier posed by such a situation. It’s not like we can get a bunch of linguists assembled who can figure out their language in the space of a two and a half hour action movie, or give some machines a tweak, a little WD-40, and a good smack, and they’ll spit out perfectly understandable English from alien input. Funny how it never works that way in real life.
The third scenario is the scariest one, not only for the obvious reasons, but because there is no consensus in the world regarding a solution for such a situation.
And that situation is an attack by a hostile, invading alien force.
World nations can’t even agree on how to deal with other nations at war, let alone how to deal with an invading alien force. And such an invasion will be too immediate to waste time with UN meetings and debate. With such an advanced society, we won’t have a clue how quickly they could gain a foothold here, but the assumption would have to be rather quickly. If they could not occupy a large portion of the earth quickly, it would certainly stand to reason they’d not have attacked, but rather extended diplomatic negotiations first.
This scenario will be scarier because it would split opinions on an individual basis. In addition to the fringe elements protesting and rioting, there will be a massive divide over how to respond to something like this. And while attacks on a nation are galvanizing events, this type of attack is more than the same type of nation vs. nation hostilities we know from history.
Too many questions cannot be answered with confidence regarding such an attack.
Did we misunderstand their intentions, and cause an attack where none was intended? Could we have responded sooner to preempt intergalactic war? Why didn’t we use more force initially to stop the aliens before they established a foothold on earth?
So many questions with only three polarized possibilities where hundreds likely exist. In reality, each subtle change would fracture one of these possibilities into further variations, creating many different scenarios to play out.
In the end such supposition won’t be definitively answered even with alien contact. There will always be what ifs, always unanswered questions.
And in a field such as this, questions are always welcome.