By Florencia Rodriguez Steube
Since H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds” was published in 1898, audiences of books and film have been fascinated with the idea of extraterrestrial creatures, or as most know them, aliens. In the United States alone, billions of dollars are poured into funding the exploration of other planets each year, partially towards efforts to find life somewhere else in the universe. But beyond the thrill of knowing that there are others like us out in the universe, would discovering intelligent, human-like aliens really do anyone any good in the long run?
Should astronomers find aliens, the social repercussions would hit fast and hard. In today’s era of social media, it’s not difficult to imagine the memes that would immediately take over the internet. While they may seem harmless, memes like these can easily have negative consequences: when information and ideas spread so far so quickly, there will always be misinformation and potentially harmful jokes. As these memes are disseminated, humans are likely to have either overwhelmingly positive or negative expectations for these newly-discovered extraterrestrials before we even contact them. What perspective Internet culture will take on the aliens is largely up to chance, but what is certain is that it will be inaccurate and potentially damaging.
However vast online effects might be, governmental effects would be even more intense. The world would find itself in another space race as countries battled to reach the celestial body that aliens were found on. It would be impossible to tell how long this race would take, but throughout its duration, funding from countries involved in space exploration will be directed away from Earth affairs and towards their space exploration agencies. This redirection of tax money can only lead to the neglect of other departments. There is no doubt that discovering intelligent life forms on another planet would immediately shake up human life.
As the years pass, it is almost inevitable that humans will become able to contact aliens. The initial discovery of the life forms would spark a raging philosophical debate: should we consider these aliens persons, and what amount of human rights should they have? The answers society initially comes up with to these questions will determine the nature of our coexistence for years to come. Our decision will probably, at least at first, revolve around how similar they are to humans.
If they communicate with verbal or written language, then we will likely be able to cooperate well enough with one another, assuming they are not immediately hostile towards us. Nonetheless, we would almost certainly have problems with discrimination against these life forms. Politics would be suddenly flooded with new kinds of discussions. Debates over extraterrestrial issues like alien suffrage, marriage rights, and immigration rights would be in constant discussion across the world.
On the other hand, if the life forms are too different from us, and we cannot communicate, then there is a fair chance that we will try to subjugate the extraterrestrials just as the Europeans did to Native Americans in the 1500s. The human race is not known for their acceptance of things and people unlike themselves, so we will likely attempt to conquer, massacre, or enslave the alien population. Though we have likely learned enough from our past mistakes to not immediately resort to conflict before at least attempting to cooperate peacefully, there is no telling what heinous acts we would feel entitled to commit if we fully classified these aliens as “other.”
So next time you are watching “E.T.” and wishing you could have a cute little alien friend of your own, take a minute to think about how we would deal with the massive consequences of discovering intelligent life forms on another planet.