Xenophobia, Communication, and Our Dissuading First Contact – Richard J Tilley: Space Strategist and Ethicist
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Xenophobia, Communication, and Our Dissuading First Contact

We must learn to see ourselves as alien. After all, the dream of first contact comes with the reality that to other species, we would be the aliens. With an internalized, objective directive and series of thought experiments for ethicists and philosophers, they could teach scientists and strategists to reframe our humancentric understanding and learn to step outside ourselves, to view ourselves as alien. We dream of being like the Other, but we will not know if an alien first contact will share that value.

Along with this series of teaching directives we may then extend ourselves to possible language barriers. Other species may not have the patience or desire to break the communication barrier and find a common understanding of communication. Communication. It is the most essential element of human understanding that we have most often taken for granted. We dismiss its central place in our lives. An alien species may not value communication at all.

In The Orville episode, “Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes,” Mercer expands on an idea that when a planet goes into space and discovers they are just one among many species, one of two things happen, either they embrace the diversity and accept that they are no longer the center of the universe, or, they ratchet up their xenophobia. I am paraphrasing from memory, but that may be the exact lines Mercer states. Language is the central value that we communicate first and I advise that we be prepared to do so. If we cannot incentivize another species to talk to us we cannot hope to learn, grow, or maintain relations, of for that matter, even succeed in a peaceful, productive first contact.

It is likely that we, being so-called intelligent life, will find that the majority of humans would indeed “rachet up their xenophobia” and they could further project that along humanity’s current course it is unlikely that those of us who are ready to embrace the diversity of life in the universe will not become of majority in the near future, if at all. Just think of the dream of a neighboring star gifted its solar system with a habitable planet that sustains intelligent life long enough that they could reach out to the stars. Does this guarantee that they would want to communicate as well as locate us?

Think about it. They could very well make first contact just for the sake of doing so, but not want anything to do with us beyond that. The importance of communication may not be a priority. This would only amplify human xenophobia if an alien first contact was anti-climactic. People would like be paranoid that just because this alien species did not prioritize communication that they had something else in mind, such as an imminent violent altercation.