October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Let’s say that, at some point in the future, humanity makes contact with an alien society. I do not believe it is possible to generalize the response of all humanity to such an occurrence, for I feel that the human reaction would vary greatly among different age groups. At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, let’s take a look at what seems to me the likely responses of these various segments of society.
Children worldwide would be thrilled with this discovery. They read and dream of aliens, star fleets, space travel, time machines, and innumerable other related phenomena, and this establishment of contact with an actual alien race would assure them that their imaginative ideas were not merely idle dreams, but were reflective of reality. All that they had hoped to be true could in fact be true, and all the adults who had peered down condescendingly upon their “child’s play” would be proven fools. Children would not fear the changes the encounter with an alien race could bring; they would not tremble at the possibility that meeting a truly foreign race could threaten the norms and standards of human society, challenging things that humans take for granted as absolutes. In fact, children would love for these “absolutes” to be revealed as no more than artificial constructs cramping their inquisitive, rebellious childlike styles.
Adults would find the discovery of an alien society to be much more disconcerting than would children. They might not realize how unsettling such an encounter would be, and indeed might even support and pursue such an encounter, but, once they realized the implications of interacting with beings with a way of life radically different from our own, they would be fearful. Over many years, adults have had universal standards and norms instilled in them. There are features, from moral beliefs to physical characteristics, that are shared by all humanity and that define and constrain our way of life. Meeting a race that did not abide by these “absolutes” would expose them to be false, and who wants to learn that their very existence has for years been determined by artificial conventions? Our entire frame of reference would change and expand, allowing for new possibilities never before conceived of by humanity—a frightening prospect for those firmly grounded over many years in this humanity.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think that the elderly would be particularly perturbed by this discovery. Nearing the end of their years, they would have seen a great number of things come and go, and their response to an alien encounter would be affected by their level of boredom with the current state of things, having seen the same entities and patterns for many years and thus eager for something fresh and new, and potentially by their realization, gained over the years, of the shortcomings and flaws of the artificial constructs humanity has created for itself. They may, in the end, decide that the world they inhabited for so long, when all was said and done, left something to be desired, and they may thus be encouraged by an alien encounter as a potential for change.
Obviously, there would be substantial overlap and gray areas among these groups, and young people may have “old souls” and vice versa, but the fact remains that different people cannot be expected to evince identical reactions to the discovery of an alien society.