Of course I am more inclined to believe we will discover the Chamber of Commerce laying mines on the banks of the Rio Grande before mold spores on Europa. Though it is pleasant to discard skepticism momentarily and give license to imagination. There are 100 billion stars in the Milky Way alone. And estimates of possibly 17 billion Earth-sized planets. Surely some of these must blossom with life by sheer statistical weight alone.
As a boy, I would sometimes go outside on cloudless nights and lie down…look up…and imagine. What was up there…and who? Were there people like us? Like me? Could I have a best friend somewhere in that distant formation? I thought it very likely, and hoped one day to meet him. The adventures we would have in the stars. Perhaps his people already could reach Earth, I yearned. If so, we would explore the heavens. I was giddy with anticipation. Such a thrill envisioning the lush worlds that lied just beyond our amiable moon. It still brings a smile to retrieve those innocent mental heirlooms. What a shame when one day they are lost to encroaching dotage.
Though while such guileless meandering may be forgiven a nine year old, one presumes the men laboring at NASA are some years more seasoned. Have they considered the impact of alien contact from an adult perspective? From mine, there is the near certainty that it will be highly unpleasant, and potentially fatal, for one or both parties. We are advised–as if it were religion–that the races of man share some Nth degree of genetic congruence. Yet still we find what minuscule differences remain to be highly disagreeable on balance, and would say so openly in the absence of a rigidly enforced social apparatus. We are reportedly 95% genetically identical to chimpanzees. 85% with a zebra fish, and 36% with a fruit fly–neither of which have we made great strides in dialogue with.
Now imagine meeting something of comparable or greater intelligence–if that concept is even applicable in this context–that is 0% similar. Alien in design, custom, capacity, and cognition. Is it their protocol for messengers to be ceremoniously dissected and fed to predatory vapor? The possibilities for misunderstandings and offense are…significant. The possibilities for belly laughs and back-slaps…remote. And this applies even in the more (though not most) likely scenario of meeting nothing more advanced than those moon-based mold spores. For I do hope our intrepid space agency will be quite circumspect about introducing them to our environment.
Though the one phenomenon we may anticipate with little fear of disappointment is the folly of man. Conservative businessmen will see alien life as something that may be harnessed or harvested. A new alluring profit vector. Labor savings, revenue growth, consumers, H1-B intergalactic visas! Liberals, in contrast, will be felled by spontaneous orgasm at the prospect of a new stratospheric plateau in xenophilia. This is diversity uncut. The ultimate multiculturalism. And what succulent opportunities for moral preening. A whole world full of hate-filled human racists to disparage. Family values don’t stop at the globular clusters–we have a galaxy to integrate.
If the zeitgeist holds for another score, these will be the competing mainstream opinions. With the “just leave them alone and away from Earth” position rightly branded as extremist.
I very much doubt we’ll survive it all.