Riots in Cairo. Violence in Libya. Chinese protests calling for war against Japan. Has the world gone crazy? Can a video really inspire such social unrest? Should a territorial dispute over a small island lead to calls for military action?
The world has not gone crazy. It’s merely humans surrendering to fears and then whipped up by dissidents and opportunists into frenzy. Let’s not be naïve. The violence in the Middle East is not just the result of a stupid and insulting video. It’s just the latest pinprick in a conflict between the Muslim world and Christian world that has burned for hundreds of years. The Chinese protests over the ownership of small Islands in the East China Sea are not just a reaction to longstanding national land disputes, but also Sino fury focused on a nation that brutalized Chinese during World War Two.
So, what’s my point? The same simmering conflicts, and many others that exist all over our little planet, could come into play in the wake of First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. That may be hard for folks to understand. We like to view extraterrestrial contact as an event that would join humans together. And while that may ultimately be the case, along the way there would likely be plenty of conflict. That conflict would not come from humans freaked-out over extraterrestrial contact. Many surveys have shown that individually humans would probably be calm in the wake of extraterrestrial First Contact.
However, this isn’t just a question of individual reactions. Those same opportunists and dissidents whipping up frenzy today could decide that there is an opportunity to make a point and gain advantage in the wake of First Contact. Media reports say that the Chinese government may be fueling the fire in the Japan protests. In Libya, there are suggestions that political dissidents may have used the video as an excuse to stage a planned attack on the American Embassy.
This is the reality of life on planet Earth. Depending on the nature of First Contact, social unrest could be a big issue in the weeks and months following such an event. The nature of contact, of course, has a lot to do with it. If scientists discover an engineered signal and take years to figure out what that signal means and where it came from, it seems unlikely that there would be immediate unrest. In the wake of Direct First Contact, meaning we meet up with extraterrestrials in our solar system and have a high-information exchange, it seems more likely that we would have human relations problems here on Earth.
That said, there is a window of opportunity in such a dramatic event. Direct First Contact might lead to a period of stasis, brought on by humans individually and collectively being stunned by the news. People would naturally want to watch and learn at first. Wall to wall media coverage would focus on the discovery. It could take days, weeks or even months for the old conflicts to come to the surface After First Contact. But as people begin to consider how they want to take advantage of the First Contact situation and old rivalries are inflamed by the possibilities raised by First Contact, it seems likely that human hostilities would come to the forefront once again. An active effort to join humans during the stunned period could help to alleviate those hostilities, especially if it is possible to show how out-dated such long-rooted hostilities are After First Contact.
First Contact could provide a new perspective for humans, hopefully rendering many old conflicts moot. Why would you bother fighting over an island in the East China Sea when the future lies out in the universe? The presence of extraterrestrials should show humans that religious differences are really a matter of tiny degrees of difference, not a great gulf, as compared to differences with extraterrestrials.
The end result will depend on individual humans. If we let the dissidents and opportunists whip us into frenzy there may be conflict and social unrest. We are the keepers of our own world. If we choose to ignore those angry voices and look for a wider perspective, we may have a calm and yet exciting future. It will be our choice.