An ancient malady of modern humans is the weakness and pervasiveness of pride. It goes without saying that if First Contact is made with a species even more prideful than us many problems could arise. While this may be limited to diplomatic sensitivities, the potential for fallout is real. If miscommunication is too severe not only would that alienate us from this species, but potentially the wider galactic community. It is wrong to project human motivations on alien species. However, we would be well-served to test this thought exercise to its limits so that we might be better prepared for the nuances of character and personality during First Contact.
With that in mind, let’s take the notion of pride as we understand it. Within ourselves we have long cautioned against being prideful. Most of the world, collectively, is taught this value as children. However, like so many things that linger away from us as we reach adulthood and, for some, remain allusive into adulthood, pride is itself a cyclical trait that reinforces itself within and without.
Human are not even free to find security in morality and ethics and hope to escape pride. Pride comes with the best of intentions just as easily as it does with the worst of our human desires. It is quite simply, part of our human bondage of earthly life. I am a firm believer that there are many societal ills that humanity can leave behind with a greatly reformed education system, but I am not so certain pride can be as easily extricated from our ontological frame. In time, perhaps, it may come after generations of growth post-radical education reform, but until then we do not have the right to expect it to leave us.
In the same way not counting on the various vices (as we would call them) that may be culturally bound to an alien species, there well could be something just as entangled into their being as pride is to us. Perhaps by some stroke of common creation they also struggle with pride. Perhaps they have never seen it as a weakness. Perhaps they do, but it is only a minority that expresses such ideas. Perhaps the very nature of space travel necessitates that particular characteristic for them to excel at what they do. Perhaps it is some other instinctual element of character other than pride that is just as insidious and just as overtly plain to see upon First Contact.
As I write this, I am reminded of the Babylon 5 episode, “Acts of Sacrifice” (1995). Susan Ivanova is placed in charge of attempting to lure a newly acquainted alien species, the Lumati, into becoming an ally. Their species prizes intellect above all else, or so they present themselves. However, they are quite cruel in their understanding of survival of the fittest. The believe any deviance from what they understand as the performance of intellect means that individual, or that entire species, is best addressed by letting them expire so that they do not procreate and weaken the gene pool of the next generation. Obviously, as you might expect, their own flaws are exposed in the process. However, what is striking is that Ivanova does not lose sight of her mission to gain the Lumati as new allies. She attempts to address there misunderstandings and even turns cultural confusion on its head when it is to her advantage. Of course, the world building of Babylon 5 is one in which humans are used to the idea of dealing with alien cultures as well as cultural conflicts. We lack that advantage; the advantage of experience.
If First Contact is made with a species more prideful than our own it will take more than skillful diplomacy to retain the relationship. What we also must consider is if the price is too great. While a healthy relationship with a new species would bring a wealth of knowledge and growth for humanity, perhaps we should be prepared to know when to let go of the dream. This point, I understand, may be found to be the most contentious that I have mentioned so far. Still, we should be mindful that this resemblance of hyper-pride, as humans would understand it, is symptomatic of much greater risks in the long run than would be in our interest to try to maintain.
Let us also consider what I have always found to be true, that every trial in life is a test of character. This is true whether it is fair or not, whether it is deserving or not. How can we be sure that we would not be tested in a First Contact scenario? Consider the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode, “Spock Amok” (2022). Starfleet has been attempting to bring the R’ongovian Protectorate into the United Federation of Planets. The R’ongovian are discovered to have a unique diplomatic technique that at first escapes the understanding of Starfleet. While appearing to mimic the culturally embedded characteristics of the species they are interacting with, Pike comes to understand that what they really want to is to be understood. “Radical empathy,” as Capt. Pike calls it. This understanding works and the Federation gains new allies.
Beyond diplomacy, beyond instinct, wisdom will allow us to understand what crisis we are presented with during a First Contact. It is only through generations of education reform that we might stand a chance to know what it is at that moment. It is only through human growth that we can rely on something greater than chance to secure our place in the relationships, or non-relationships, of the greater galactic community when that time comes.
[Header Image: © Babylon 5/ Babylonian Productions inc and Star Trek / Paramount]