I am at a continual loss to comprehend the complete lack of imagination applied to the enigma of human reaction to contact. Astronomy seems to be emotionally detached and approaches the subject in an academic monotone. UFOlogists just don’t get it and the liberal sciences rarely think of it.
Either people can’t envisage the response or they don’t want to.
Of course, it’s an unknown quantity but I simply can’t go along with the thinking that not a lot would happen, that people would be under-whelmed or that little would change. The manner of contact would be key and the consequences would understandably vary depending on whether we were being attacked or whether, for example, an artificial extraterrestrial construct was discovered in space. For the sake of this thread, let us assume the most benign possibility of them all; SETI detects a signal. And it comes from light years away and somehow SETI are able to establish that those transmitting are unable to reach us. There is no danger, no immediate threat of eradication, just a presence.
Hysteria anyone? Well inevitably there would be but to what degree is anyone’s guess. For guidance, Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds is what we point to, amidst revisionist claims that the reaction has since been exaggerated and was nothing like it has historically claimed to have been. Perhaps the myth is greater than the reality but the relevance today is oblique. Gone are the pre Second World War tensions of 1938 and the memories of a devastating depression, to be replaced with a hyped up, fear driven, head in the sands religious zeal of biblical intensity and dogma. Is there more fire and brimstone now than in 1938? Yes but, no but. It’s different, it’s the same.
But Roswell happened and if anything, that was more real. At least we all went looking to kick Orson Welles’ butt after the joke was revealed but in 1947, one of them actually landed here in America, did it not? The cheek of it! No, no hysteria, just intense curiosity.
Sixty years later we’re still in the same mess. For different reasons, what prevails now is what has prevailed for ever; fear. The Iron Curtain has gone and is replaced with Iran or terrorism or both but whatever, we’re still under the cosh, we can never relax, and at one level at least, human existence is a pretty miserable experience.
Conflicting with this zeal are increased levels of education, awareness, maturity and suspicion of government - the counter weight. Today is what matters and it’s a difficult call. My opinion is that there would be substantial elements of world wide hysteria which couldn’t be ignored, for it would inevitably impinge on the calmer elements. The most un-endearing quality within the psyche of the human spirit is arrogance. Our world is full of strutting little despots, be it militarily, politically, administratively, the religious realm, or even in our personal lives. People full of their own self importance and power, without humility or empathy, who would seize the opportunity to terrify and manipulate. Martial law in some quarters would be a real possibility. After all, this would be an event of a life time.
Would calm ever be restored? Would the threat of the devil a’coming be assuaged sufficiently for people to shrug their shoulders, go back to work, and get on with their lives? I guess pretty much, particularly when the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse miss the starting line up for the 3:20 at Kempton. But sociologically, it could never be the same. A fissure of irreparable width would sear through the human throng and the mountains of Montana and other world wide remoteness would begin to resemble overcrowded metropolises. This, mind, relates to the “bad” part of hysteria, those with the complete screaming had-dabs, rolling tongues, staring eyes, and dribble down their chins. The “good” part are those who merely expect rapture. Large numbers of these will die in road traffic accidents as drivers attempt to swerve out of the way of figures kneeling in prayer in the middle of the road. It’s not beginning to look like a good thing.
Back in Normalsville, how would Mr Average react? Why don’t I ask him? Well, if I was absolutely assured of their non threatening behaviour, I’d be very curious, I would want to know whether they were ahead of us technologically, whether they would want to meet, what they looked like and what their world was like, what we could learn from them and them us; the usual things. I don’t think my inner self would be changed because of the realisation that we are not unique but rather to the contrary, there would be a real pleasure that we weren’t alone. I would probably undergo some element of spiritual sensation but only to the extent of putting candles around the bath. I wouldn’t start high tailing it off to church or temple any more frequently than I don’t do now and I wouldn’t get the colly wobbles either. I would feel different, certainly. I would be uplifted and feel like there was a point to it all after all. I would expect a reaction from my political leaders by way of an example and if it failed to come, I would be prepared to launch a physical attack against them because of their stupidity in not taking an opportunity for change. I would expect to see a world wide improvement in international relations a la the Regan principle. I would expect a realignment of views and approach. Frankly, I would expect a changed world and peace to break out all over the place. And if it didn’t, I would be very, very cross. It would be time to cut the crap.
So, he’s got an opinion or two then. What he left out is how small the Earth would begin to look and yet at the same time, how wonderful a place it will seem. Mental health issues would surge to the fore - “ordinary” issues like depression and schizophrenia would be rampant. The suicide rate would undoubtedly shoot up. There would be social unrest, disquiet, and extremes of communal highs and lows. There would be great joy, dramatic displays of human kinship and love and an animosity towards authority.
Science will pause and hold its breadth, not knowing which way to turn. Astrobiology will be cock a hoop. Anthropology will be thrown into confusion. Physics will want to give up. There will be many more questions than answers. The economy will suffer dramatically. Substantial numbers just won’t care anymore and will stop working. Markets will crash and turmoil will prevail. The quality of life will assume an even greater importance than it presently does.
What happens if I’m just not interested? That’s not an option – you won’t be allowed to be not interested. You won’t be left alone. Your senses will be assaulted by every conceivable media outlet. Your friends, your work colleagues will have little else of conversation. Literally, the only way to avoid it would be to lock yourself away in your house and shut the rest of the world out.
All this just from a confirmed SETI signal. I wonder what it would be like if we were under attack?