Having just watched “Contact” and then “Starman”, I want to paint this little vignette for you, and then make a suggestion:
There you are, beavering away in your in your astronomer’s lab with lots of twinking lights, banks of computer screens with numbers on, and the odd oscilloscope pinking away in the background. Outside the window is rank upon rank of gigantic satellite dish type things. You’re on maybe your fifth coffee of the day. There’s a small sticky bit of desk where you put a full cup down a bit wonky earlier and the coffee slopped over the edge, and you’re such a slob you just let it dry there. You keep getting the elbow of your lab coat stuck in it.
And then one of your screens starts doing something new. It’s nothing terribly overt, but your peripheral vision picks it up, and you turn to look at the screen, and there, right in front of you, is Zorgon. Zorgon is an alien. It has green skin and some kind of fuzzy hat on. Zorgon waves at you and bares its teeth in something you suspect is its first attempt at a smile. You take a quick look around the gaff. There’s nobody here. It doesn’t look as if anyone’s jerking your chain. Just for a laugh, you wave back at the screen. And Zorgon says “Hello $yourname. Is now a good time? I’d like to talk to you about a new opportunity for making friends with aliens. And then I’d like to talk to you about your gas and electricity supply.”
You fight back the powerful urge to hit “end call”.
But it turns out Zorgon is the real deal. A proper alien from a recognised – but distant – constellation. They have base stations all over the place, but the base stations are quite small (you can’t tell it from the screen, but Zorgon is short), and quite far out, which is how we’ve missed them. From where we’re standing they’d look like small space junk. Zorgon’s civilisation is advanced beyond our wildest imaginings. Despite the fact that their technology could crush us in an instant, they are of peaceful intent – or at least, Zorgon says so – and have been studying us for some time and now feel it is time to make contact.
Congratulations. They have chosen you.
Of course, this places you in a Hollywood Dilemma.
If you keep talking to Zorgon, nobody is going to know there’s an alien talking to you through your computer. This means you’ve missed the biggest opportunity for being recognised as being COOL AS that anyone has ever had, since that guy who was born with three penises. On top of having just said “no, I’m alright” to free pints for the rest of your life, who knows whether Zorgon is, in fact, good or evil? What if it’s evil? What if Zorgon doesn’t even exist and you’re descending into madness? Shouldn’t you mention it to someone?
On the other hand, if you contact the authorities, we know what happens. First the well-meaning scientists turn up and probably kill Zorgon. It doesn’t matter if they do, because hot on their heels will come the US military, and they are definitely going to kill Zorgon. It’s practically the first thing they do: roll up in big armoured vehicles and 58 helicopters, and as soon as they’ve done that thing where all the helicopters come up over the horizon, Zorgon can kiss whatever passes for an ass in his neighbourhood goodbye. Within minutes of piling out of the choppers, one of the US’s famous, grizzle-chinned Marines will do one or more of the following three things:
1) lose his shit, presumably because of PTSD caused by whatever grizzled his chin in the first place;
2) forget about that whole guns-have-triggers thing and give the flappy thing under his index finger a squeeze to see what happens; or
3) trip over his boot lace, accidentally unleashing a blast of ordinance at a rate of 312 rounds a second into the cheerful smile and outstretched hand of intergalactic friendship.
Whichever it is, Zorgon’s window for practising its smile is about to be closed with extreme prejudice.
I would like to suggest a third strategy for dealing with the arrival of aliens. And I think it’s one we should possibly write down and post to the other countries. Well, nearly all the other countries.
Because the plan is: let’s greet Zorgon and introduce it to humanity, while maintaining sufficient mistrust that we keep ourselves safe.
But – and this is key – let’s not mention anything about it to the Americans.