In the wide and nearly unpredictable domain of Alien Diplomacy, the very question of ‘How can we improve our chances?’ sprouts a few more mind boggling but not totally impossible to answer questions.
Yes, good question. Thank your subconscious for dragging this up because although the width of the question falls into murky areas, the goal is pretty easy: We want to be valuable in the eyes of a space travelling species.
Without having to prove these space travelling species exist, you can sleep well at night assuming that as the universe is perhaps 10 billion years old, in that time, someone, somewhere, has mastered space travel, likes to travel, and likes to meet interesting people on their travels.
The first point to note is that we don’t offer any value, yet. Earth may be valuable, but evidently we aren’t worthy of an Alien Consulate.
If you can imagine our current lonely predicament where there is not, as far as we are informed, an inter-galactic space hub that allows earthlings the chance to visit other worlds that are home to other intelligent beings, then you assume we will always be cut off from the action, if it at all exists.
The first step to be totally useless in the eyes of extraterrestrials is to give up hope that there is intelligent life out there. As most of earth’s inhabitants have plenty of other things to occupy their minds with, a reputable Earth Intergalactic Diplomatic School (sometimes referred to as Exopolitics) won’t be forming for a while, or making that much of a profit to stay around. Also, sadly, there must be quite a few comfortable planets that mastered sustainability and peace and then decided not to pursue interplanetary journeys because the night sky looked empty and there was no identifiable target screaming at them to come and visit. Of these planets’ histories before and after this moment, spanning the birth and death of this universe (if that’s how it works), of those planets that never ventured to reach out, we will know nothing. Some far reaching inter-stellar species may discover artefacts from these slack civilisations, which will then be displayed in museums and the hallways (leading to the bathrooms) of private collectors around the universe, but it’s a bit like the tree that falls in the forest: Does anyone hear it? If you stumble across it, laying across the path before you, you can only shrug your shoulders and step over it.
So, let’s be valuable. Let’s be worth discovering.
Humans are comfortable creatures. Just look at the suburban sprawls of the first world, and the shanty towns of the rest. If we don’t have to be eating worms in the jungle, we’ll gladly work 9 to 5 and chow down on fast food. Complacency is the demise of all great empires and it takes some imagination and money to reach beyond our own comfort zones.
President Kennedy did it with America’s missions to the Moon. The Soviets and now the Russians keep up some sort of action, and countries with healthy economies do dip their toes into the cosmos. At the time of writing, there are nine guys who kicked up dust on an alien world. The twelve Apollo astronauts that landed on the moon were all born between the years 1923 and 1935 and all will most likely be dead by 2030. If you view those who kick dust on an alien planet as a group, then they are an endangered group, and therefore earth is an endangered planet: Less effort to get off the planet means we’re more likely to die on it.
Yet getting off it costs. Estimates fly around that 1% of the US’s gross domestic product was required to send 12 men to walk on the moon, and though that may seem a waste of money for researching an already known lifeless planet, the flow on effects helped kick-start innovation in the same way that wars force innovation, that in time filters down to our prosaic lives.
But how do you convince governments, tax payers, and voters, of the value of exploring the very great and very incomprehensible unknown when the value is hard to define. Satellites that serve earth are one step, a previous mission to the moon a good reminder, but what would pull the hearts of those that matter most – the voters and consumers.
Probably the biggest hurdle to adding space value to our planet, or inter-galactic credibility, is the goal itself. Who are we meant to impress and why? The ‘Who’ don’t exist. There may be UFO sightings but there isn’t a daft looking extraterrestrial tourist wearing a “I Love Earth” t-shirt, standing at the end of your street looking at an upside down map of your city, embarrassed to be lost but humbly waiting for a kind human to give them some directions and chit-chat. Most earthlings are more concerned about their daily lives than shelving out tax to projects that might gain earth some vague sense of inter-galactic credibility, but that is not to say inter-galactic credibility does not exist, now that billions of dollars is required to make it exist.
It already exists: It is the irrepressible desire to explore. The how, when, who and with what will come in due time, thanks to the same factors that built a series of empires that has resulted in our form of civilisation of today.
The commercialisation of space is hindered by gravity. Once we can escape earth’s orbit we’ll be off and running. The moon will be colonised. Space stations will be staffed. Some nutters will raise the money required to ship their dreamy minds off to Mars. But the biggest windfall will be the mining and commoditisation of materials found in asteroids and planets of the solar systems. This will create a new revolution, the type not seen since the discovery of the New World and the invention of the steam engine. The causes of wars on earth may be eradicated by the bounty from above; precious metals, abundant energy, space to explore rather than to fight over. We may be saved here on earth by the treasures in the sky yet to get there requires a certain kind of diplomacy from within.
The political unification of goals across national interests (the European Space Agency being somewhat of an example) and the commercial energy of private players (the Google Lunar X PRIZE being another example) are a start but the vision needs to spread.
If all the diplomacy spent separating feuding tribes and evening scores (not just the bloody kind, but tit for tat trades disputes) was funnelled into developing a strategic and coherent plan to get our unique form of intelligence out into space to test ourselves and unlock immense value that would benefit us forever, and ever, then that’s a proper start.
Until there is consensus and diplomacy within, we won’t be attractive to an alien species. Getting over ourselves is the hardest task. And then we’re faced, at some point in the future, with a crisis.
When we do come across an alien species, next year, next century or in a thousand years, what the hell are we going to talk to them about?
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.