Cassini-Huygens, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Claudia Alexander, Climate Change, Derrick Bell, First Contact, Global Civilization, Hakeem Oluseyi, Homophobia, Humanity, Inequality, Misogyny, Narcissism, NASA, Octavia Butler, Primitive, Racism, Saturn, Science, Sentience, Star Trek: First Contact, The West, War-Like Nature, Xenophobia
Last week, NASA gave the Cassini probe a glorious death. After twenty years of travel to and trips around Saturn and its 60-plus moons, NASA plunged Cassini into Saturn’s atmosphere. It was a fitful end to a very successful mission to a planet roughly 750 million miles from Earth.
NASA and various teams of astrophysicists, cosmologists, exobiologists, engineers, and mathematicians in Europe, China, Japan, Russia, and other parts of the world have been working diligently for breakthrough moments. Probes like Voyager have trekked toward the expansive Oort Cloud, inching ever closer to the edge of the Terran System. Between Hubble, Chandra, Fermi, and so many other space telescopes, the universe going back nearly to the Big Bang has already started giving up its secrets. All toward the ultimate goal of humanity reaching the stars, and meeting sentient beings from civilizations far more advanced than the one led by the West on 2017 CE Earth.
But is humanity truly ready to meet extraterrestrials from elsewhere in the Milky Way, or even beyond? Are humans prepared to make contact with beings with technologies that help them traverse a radiation-filled void in a fraction of the seven years it took Cassini to reach Saturn? Do humans have the emotional, psychological, moral, and spiritual capacity to cope with such a history-altering event? Are Homo sapiens humble enough to meet the challenges that will come after finding out that first contact with an advanced civilization is both an end and a beginning?
Of course we’re not! Here’s a short list of leading people and recent events that prove humans are as ready for first contact as a newborn baby is for a seven-course meal. (At least, a meal that would include filet mignon wrapped with bacon and key lime pie for dessert.) Donald Trump. Marine Le Pen. Vladimir Putin. Theresa May. Kim Jong Un and North Korea. Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Capitalism. Neoliberalism. The very need for Black Lives Matter. The limited response thus far to man-made climate change. Hollywood. Las Vegas. The endless fighting over resources and enslavement of peoples for a narcissist’s dream of independence, freedom, power, and wealth. That’s already enough for me to not want to meet humanity, and I’m knee-deep in this muck and mire!
Can anyone who possesses a reasonable amount of empathy and knowledge imagine what the most powerful and learned members of an advanced alien civilization would think of humanity and our stewardship of Earth? They’ve heard and seen us in action for at least a century, since humans started broadcasting on wireless radio. In that time, there have been been two World Wars, ethnic cleansing and mass murder (e.g., Stalin’s Five-Year Plans, the Holocaust, China’s Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot and Cambodia, and Rwanda), the Cold War, and the nuclear arms buildup. Powerful nations and corporations have repeatedly exploited indigenous peoples, the most poverty-stricken in Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere, and the planet’s biosphere. Yeah, I am sure sentient aliens have seen us and feel just as welcome to visit Earth as migrants from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East feel in the US and Europe right now!
Is it possible that sentient extraterrestrials might find some exceptional humans potentially worthy? Sure. Science-y folk like Michelle Thaller, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Hakeem Oluseyi, and the late Claudia Alexander come to mind. One might be able to make the case for humanitarians and social justice activists, for the best writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, vocalists, and actors out there. But from a sentient alien’s perspective, why should any of these people be exceptions? These beings are likely able to use dark matter or dark energy to power faster-than-light spacecraft. They may be able to fold space. They may even possess the ability to convert matter to energy and back again at a whim, to make food and weapons out of thin air and bio-waste. There’s no way they could see any humans as deserving of first contact.
There is also the real issue of what it would take for an alien civilization to become advanced without blowing itself up in the first place. These advanced beings would be collaborative and cooperative to a fault, would’ve long ago assured equity and inclusion as their reason for existence and exploration. They would likely avoid war-loving civilizations like the ones on Earth, while looking to break bread (or the alien equivalent) with more stable, peaceful, and advanced civilizations out in the galaxy.
They may make exceptions, though, for the most vulnerable of sentient beings and other species trapped in warring worlds like our own. These aliens may decide someday to “rapture up” indigenous peoples, vulnerable minority groups, the poverty-stricken, certain women and children, to save them from the leading Western nations and other developed countries on this planet, who seek to oppress and exploit them. It’s something writers like Octavia Butler and Derrick Bell contemplated for Black and Brown folk. It would be the human thing — maybe even, the godly thing — to do.
As for the rest of humanity, we’ll have to wait for a more just, verdant, and glorious age before first contact will work out well for us. We are just too elitist, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, and life-destroying (read, too primitive) to be worthy of prime time on a galactic stage. We’re not ready.