Henry A. Kissinger
Some international bodies have drafted protocols on how to handle contact with the Big A – Aliens.
These volunteer efforts are a start, and maybe your tax dollars fund government and military dreamers to get ‘creative’ on a totally unpredictable scenario. Yet what happens if aliens do arrive depends largely on who they create a dialogue with first.
And here’s where it gets tricky – Do they initiate contact with who they want, or do they land and we by default direct them to who we think is up for the job.
In either situation, there’s pros and cons about any of the main groups we’d expect to do contact. Who should we prefer do our talking for us?
If you’re the pro-active type, can you sincerely trust a government to do your talking for you, even if you gaily voted them in? Your tax pays them to do your talking for you, and as a bonus impose on you things you’ve never, ever talked to them about at all. Most of the time you have no choice what they’re talking about so you’re use to them misrepresenting you. A day without your government mishandling something would be like a day without light: You would sense something is very wrong and troubling.
If they’re doing the first-contact with aliens, at the very least your expectation for a successful outcome is already low. Stay down there. Right now, a government employee (on flexi-time (working a half day), job-sharing with someone else working half of a half day) is tinkering the fine print on a document that stipulates the diplomatic legalities binding our culture to an alien culture, only for the next 1,000 years. On the plus side, they may be slow and cumbersome, but that might be the multi-layered buffer needed between aliens and the common man.
At the Commander-in-Chief level of Government, when someone is running the government and they are (hopefully, gulp) democratically elected from a population that is not dumb as mutton, they do by default have the mandate to be the lead diplomat with aliens. After all, we voted them in? But who is the we? Is the President of the United States more important than the leader of China or Russia? If aliens were in direct contact with one, and one of the others knew about it, then it would be in their best interest to expose the flaw: We on earth are not one (waning or rising) superpower, we are many.
Can you trust in scientists, boffins and geeks to do your Exoplanet Risk Management for you. Yes, the scientists have the models, the software for all eventualities, and the process of peer review, to enable hard-facts, brain-draining, super-analytical, decision making. These masters of the elements have created all the synthetic things in our lives (plastic, food additives, the formula in the database behind the online dating website that allowed you to be automatically matched with ‘the true one’ for just a ‘fling’ that ended with bitter taste in your mouth), so why stop them now? The only problem however, is that rational as they are, an alien interaction may be way out of their best rational calculations. What are we to do then, if what an alien asks is completely way over their heads and incomprehensible? What do they say? In that case, call in the clowns to do the talking. On that note...
There exists in Vienna, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), and after several international newspapers reported that an astrophysicist was appointed by UNOOSA to be Earth's first extraterrestrial spokesperson, the United Nations made a firm denial. Not a good start, in any sense, to trust the United Nations to stretch their agile and acute minds to diplomacy with an alien species. They probably should have someone, publically, on the record, squirreling away on what to do in any alien-to-earth eventuality. If it’s a question of money, how can one more wage (with all the frills and benefits) of a bureaucrat be a problem? The sad reality is that the United Nations is a nice concept, but the people in it are not perfect, or accountable, just a bit more qualified in areas of diplomacy than the average government. But, it is a figurehead, and a brand, that we do accept as speaking for our respective countries, so why not our planet.
Who would trust that a well connected private entity, like a bank, should be the first port of call for any visiting alien? The East India Company was an English joint-stock company formed initially to create trade in the East Indies. Therefore, to a merchant in India and China, their view of the west was formed by their relationship with a company, not a government or a people. Why should inter-planetary contact be any different? If aliens did descend on Wall Street or the Square Mile or in Frankfurt, Paris, Beijing or Tokyo or any other financial hub, don’t panic, they’re just coming for a loan, or some other commercial activity. They may want to invest in earth, or buy it, pump it, dump it, and we’ll be some inter-galactic toxic sub-prime loan – but it’d be better than being alone.
A commercial minded contact is almost inevitable because like it or not, the language of money on our planet is universal, and money (in this case some inter-galactic currency) must also be ultimately universal. What shape would this money take: Information. And what is this information: You’ll have to buy it to find out.
Can humanity trust the religious leaders, or the leaders of the most populous, or popular, religions, to think benevolently of all of Earth’s peoples, creatures and deities, when making both casual and serious chit chat with a visiting alien power? This is probably the most morally appealing decision because we outsource moral imploring to our moral leaders, in turn trusting in the actions or lack of action of our gods. Also, praying is a two-way communication: the gods are tuned in, they know the path. You get struck by lightning, cured of all of your weird sexually transmitted diseases, live a reasonable happy and non-poor life, or you don’t.
So what if aliens want to talk directly to the world’s religious leaders? If all religions, and therefore religious leaders form a scrum and have it out with whatever arrives before them from another planet (another realm), it’ll seem quite moronic, tragic, colourful, but entertaining to watch on television, and if that’s what the believers of the world want (and there are more believers (though of them being a virtual pet, no-one has asked that) than non-believers (who wouldn’t be at all surprised to be supervised in an alien’s virtual experiment)) and what an alien wants, then that’s what we’ll get.
However, if an alien bee-lines for a particular religious group, then all the others will have a fit, and if they don’t decide to convert to the winning religion, they’ll have a nice little war about it too.
The nagging answers to the nagging question of why aliens would assume to make contact first and foremost with any religious element are: Their gods are angry with them, they have very deep spiritual questions, they’ve come to convert us, or they know that control over earthlings is through control over earth’s religions.
They are entrusted with your security, and they usually have the best technology, so they have a definite advantage. Yet against a superior alien race, the military have little to say, or do. After all, their start of the art weaponry amounts to no more than to flimsy darts when against formidable, advanced, cross-galaxy and maybe even multi-dimension battle tested, ray guns. Or the aliens have weapons we can’t imagine, but maybe a hack sci-fi writer has craftily speculated, but being a hack, his or her work never reaches the wider public and we have no idea what we’re in for. Neither do the military: Our modern armies take decades to shift stance from Cold War to War on Terrorism. By the time most modern forces are equipped to hunt fanatics in caves, the tide will turn and it will be the age of the pocket-battleship-satellite.
Unknown-unknowns is the catch word yet an alien contact, if they’re up to nastiness, is unknown-unknown-unknown. Play that out in a simulation, test that in a war game, and then release a report about it to the public: Any race that makes it here can pretty much do what they want with us. History offers a treasure trove of examples, and the Spanish Conquistador are a shining example: With their European diseases sometimes preceding them, the local populace, often struggling against new and nasty epidemics, was easy to decimate.
If aliens are on their best behaviour and instigate contact with the military, then we can assume that it’s the discipline and secrecy of the military that they value. Perhaps the shock of alien contact upon our societies is something that only our military can contain.
The Prophet, I hear you asking? What is a Prophet these days anyway? Well, to be a profitable prophet, you need media appeal, charisma, and funding. You also need to connect like the slimiest politician and vaporise your detractors like the best of the Roman Emperors. To command from the towering heights in spiritual matters, you must outshine Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed. Being the Prophet that talks to visiting aliens is a very hard task indeed. And where do we find this prophet? They could very well be a Nutcase (as discussed earlier) or they could be the right politician, scientist or general in the right place at the right time to make the right round of sound-bytes that summarises ‘actual alien contact’ for the awe-struck masses wired into CNN or Twitter. Someone can easily step in the limelight and steal a good show with a few crafty one-liners. Competition will be tough, but it is history in the making, and who in a position of power would want to miss out?
The other avenue for the Prophet is the contestant that survives the ordeal and is ordained as the ‘one’ to do the talking with ‘the Aliens’. Reality television shows, like their game show predecessors, filter from the ‘chosen few’ the ‘chosen one’, almost too predictability. If there are reality television shows for talentless artists, sociopaths, models and porn stars, then it’s no great leap of the imagination to have a global show to find out who should be, as voted by esteemed judges (for a nominal fee) and the public, ‘Our Diplomat to the Aliens!’, and be showered with all sorts of adverting-backed valuables. If you think the author outlays this weird scenario to make up word count and fatten by a miserly one paragraph this text, then you are sadly mistaken. Creative ideas are not isolated. If the author dreams it, then there must be some TV producers meeting up in Cannes, scoffing down champagne and mulling over the same scenario, imagining how many billions would watch the franchised shows, how many entrants there would be, and what consumer items could be advertised to beef up the scripted entertainment and their wallets.
“No, you ask first.”
Any one of the previous possibilities opens up wounds on many levels, and any choice (if there is a choice) triggers our new alien friends to ask some basic questions, and then finer questions, depending on who they’re actually dealing with.
In any meeting of minds, as in interviews, friendly innocuous questions are potential probes for weaknesses. But some questions are ordinary, easy to answer, and still open to interpretation. We shall expect aliens to ask questions, and because they have the upper hand, they’ll know what to ask, whereas earthlings will have a vague idea of what to ask except for the obvious: Where are you from, do you have ice cream there? A checklist of what to ask has been compiled for your ruthless examination further on.
Some basic questions from them will be to clear any confusion, and we should have some answers ready. Expect whoever is in charge of answering to prudent aliens to squirm over the following:Earthlings, When Do You Stop Killing Each Other?
This is the opener for any earth-to-alien conversation. It neatly sets the stage and lowers us to some primate level – so beware – thump your fists on your chest or breasts and looked offended. By the way, it’s none of their business when we stop killing each other.
What’s their track record? What’s their planet’s strife-torn body-count in comparison to their population? Let’s compare before we answer with the following: When we have abundance of food, energy and living space. Next.At What Point Will Your Population Meet Environmental Sustainability?
Another typical opener. But, a tough one to tackle. China is a very brave and courageous country to maintain a one-child policy, genetically modified foods (though they weather bad PR and sometimes results) are increasing crop yield, and if it hasn’t happened already, the number of obese people will outnumber starving people. Good question, and the answer is very simple: When the rule of law is enforced across all lands to abolish corruption and make fair and open trade more possible. To do that earthlings need something to believe in, so please alien visitors, share the spoils of the universe.Do You Fancy Space Travel?
Yes. Some of us will sacrifice our first born for a whiff of space travel.
With any ‘open’ contact with aliens, and their offer to let some of us come for a ride, the more people who can partake the better. The opening of our eyes to space will do more good than a thousand painful reality television shows meant to explore our inner, nauseating selves.Can I Buy Anything on Earth?
Yes! Establishing a trading link is probably the best form of communication. Forget diplomatic niceties, let’s barter over the price of objects unique to earth (like, say, a toilet) with aliens from far, far away, who have never seen a toilet like ours before.The Internet is Confusing Us
Their initial question will be a bit more arduous: Our onboard artificial intelligence has trawled through all the user profiles on Facebook, all the porn on the internet, read all the blogs and Twitter comments, and digested all digital content. We’re still confused. We are pretty flat out processing all the data added to the internet, every second. Are we missing something?
Very tough to answer because the internet is not filtered, it is not like a traditional encyclopaedia, nor is it static enough to pin-point at any given time what all that data actually amounts to. The best answer is, “You tell us what it is.”Howdy, Partner
Partnering with “one” when there are no others to compare it with, other than our own limited history, is fraught with peril. A visiting partner-seeking alien will argue, “Join my wining team because out there are some bad ass aliens. Please sign here. Join our crew!”
And as a token of our participation they’ll pay us with interesting barrels of a radioactive material.
Whatever deal is proffered, history shows, that we’re very unlikely to profit in the first instance.
While contingency plans are made at all levels, it’s most likely up to the visitor that decides who among the hosts to talk too, all dependent on their needs. If an alien culture has invested money and time getting here, a further small investment of active study of our culture will give them a firm idea of who to talk to first and why. And if aliens zoom down straight to the jungles of Africa and start by talking to the apes, we’ll know we’re in some deep shit.
We are more connected than ever before, more educated, and hungry for knowledge. We also recognise that no one voice can ever represent us. The digital age has democratised information, for good and for bad, and this communication is a two-way street, unless your government is paranoid and censors your internet.
While we will bemoan that not anyone should be the fulcrum which leverages all our voices with an alien culture, we have to accept that an alien culture, millions if not billions of years ahead of our own, has probably mastered our primitive digital technology, and can at a whim mass communicate with us, without us knowing about it. All an alien culture has to do is weasel into our communication network and spam us, coax us into conversation, and most importantly, interact with us, in order to extract what they need, to develop what we need.
As one can poke someone on Facebook, an Alien culture can mass poke humanity.
Alien Contact will be eclipsed by Alien Diplomacy, yet we trust our (if you’re lucky) democratically elected governments to fill the diplomatic chair with competent people to do our talking and then we sit back and let the poker-faced games begin.
Wars have been waged over what seems trifle causes; World War One presenting a prime example if you care to sift through the historical build up and causes, where things obviously got out of hand leading to the organised murder of generations of young men in their prime. The outcomes was that a whole generation of women were without prospective partners, and a horde of children were without fathers. Alternatively, if diplomacy works between visiting aliens and our robust leaders, we praise ourselves for voting in our leaders. If diplomacy doesn’t, the maddest and most determined of us reaches for a sniper rifle, while the rest moan and bleat about ineptitude, conspiracy or lack of justice.
In the pre-internet, mass-communication, analogue era of mass media the news networks had total control over information feedback: If there was credible alien contact in that period we wouldn’t know about it, because a few key editors could block the syndication of a real page turner or ratings grabber that could lead to massive social upheaval. All the end consumer was left with was X-Files (a popular television series) and a few documentaries that managed to bubble up from alternate scenes into mainstream.
Thankfully, with all its warts and mundane media mashes, the internet is here to stay, so if something credible does happen it can spread as a virus and infect our minds, providing of course we aren’t in suspended awe at some YouTube Stupidity Stunt Gone Viral (proving humanity is not as smart as we wished it could be).
An alien culture knows that feedback with billions of connected individuals is not accomplished by dealing with elected leaders’ chosen diplomats and media monopolies, and that the true nature of alien diplomacy and its impact on earth should not be entrusted to a few elites who see no difference between commercial content and benevolent propaganda. An alien will prefer an open network as a fair alternative to a top-down hierarchy; a hierarchy that hasn’t had any major success with alien contact yet. Aliens will see the value in Facebook (which is now as much an embedded utility as Google) for global feedback, and even the business focussed social media website LinkedIn. And as the internet was designed to withstand a nuclear attack (again, at your leisure, sift through the history behind the internet), it is resilient against censorship in most countries.
At the time of writing, a social network like Facebook has 800 million users. It may represent an instantaneous means to mass communicate with 10% of the world’s population. However, not all Facebook users can be replied on to correctly interpret a message from the stars; most are awestruck by the common Hollywood stars’ carefully crafted Twitter rants and what the gossip industry feeds people in order to ramp up fervour for the next vehicle for a star; a movie, a song or album, maybe even a book. The downside of social media is that it relied on herd mentality to gain a critical mass to sustain itself, and what does the herd do next? Cannibalise itself`? Facebook has potential, but there is something with much more appeal and connectivity: ET won’t phone home, he’ll text you.
Mobile phone networks function (for all intents and purpose let’s just jump over volumes of technical jargon about GSM, 3G, 4G etc and say...) because the data whizzes through the air: Ideal for a forced transmission.
For a forthright alien that requires immediate access to earth, they’d be extremely efficient if they layered earth orbit with some communication drones that in staggered (so as not to create a jam) sets commenced contact backed up by something visible. You get a text message that says, “Hello Dave. We are aliens and we real. We’re making contact. If you don’t believe in us, at high noon look out your window and you’ll see one of our craft doing figure eight patterns over your capital at four times the speed of sound.”
From that point, the 6 billion mobile phone subscribers can then quiz the alien visitor with whatever comes to mind. The beauty of text messaging is that the recipient can hopefully read and converse and is therefore not that dumb, and one message in one language can be used as the meta language of all translations. Unlike social media movement, the communication is one-on-one.
A ‘mass alien texting’ is probably the most ‘open source’ or ‘crowd/swarm’ inspired method for communication between them and us. After tedious questions and answers (answered thanks to some all knowing alien brain residing in an alien mother ship that maintains a vigil against attack from earth mobile phone carriers and their hedge fund owners) there would be some common ground established, the beginning of a bridge, and a sense of purpose. The mass-communicative aliens would then be able to probe and execute what they’re after: How would humans like to be remembered before they’re exterminated, or how deeply do humans wish to explore space, and a portion of their day and wealth they are willing to sacrifice for space exploration? At the moment, thanks to our top-down-hierarchy, the individual has little input on how a slice of their tax could be used to really inspire their offspring.
Sooner or later, mass communication forms a bedrock on which humanity comes to worship the messiah from the stars. The outcome is that humanity permitted its own destiny, and our elected leaders can sleep in peace, until they’re ousted by shaggy haired, dog-like, extraterrestrials from the planet Melmac.
Copyright 2014 Simon Drake
Simon Drake.com contains information about my science fiction and non-fiction, (including where to paperbacks and ebooks), plus some short fiction.