Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


26.4  Human Sociocultural Response

What will be the effects on human society when first contact with extraterrestrials takes place? Most writers, drawing upon the record of the European expeditions of conquest and colonization of African, Central American, Indian and aboriginal populations, automatically expect the worst. Carl Jung once wrote:

In a direct confrontation with superior creatures from another world, the reins would be torn from our hands and we would, as a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find ourselves "without dreams," that is, we would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as to leave us completely paralysed.1920

For example, Mircea Eliade has described the wanderings of a group of Australian aborigines who always carried with them a pole which was planted in the middle of each new settlement to constitute "the center of the world." When missionaries arrived, they confiscated the pole to help cure the natives of their heathen superstitions. The tribe soon withered away and died, its collective belief structure shattered.3584 Perhaps the discovery of the existence of ETs similarly may collapse our basic human cultural paradigms by jolting mankind’s common anthropocentric delusion that we are the center of the universe. According to the Brookings Institute Report on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs in 1961:

Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different life ways; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior.1336

There is some dissent from this position, however. The English historian Arnold Toynbee believed that the rise of civilization was not a matter of racial, historical, or environmental differences, but rather was due to a people's response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty and hardship that rouses them to make an unprecedented effort. Under this theory, difficult rather than easy conditions would prompt men to cultural achievement; an encounter with beings from space thus might be expected to trigger a cultural rebirth, a new renaissance, a great flowering of human civilization -- not its collapse.

Even more interesting are the ideas of the Canadian-born American historian William H. McNeill. According to McNeill, a people rise to civilization as a response to the threat of force from alien societies. The mobilization in the face of this threat is often accompanied or followed by an absorption of the aliens’ technology, institutions, and ideas. In McNeill's own words:

The history of civilized mankind can be considered largely as a product of the progressive breakdown of this isolation. When habit and custom, formalized into institutions, written into law, and supported by religious beliefs, are not exposed to the challenge offered by alien ideas, techniques, and manners, no very important changes in the sacred ancestral ways are likely to occur. But, when contact with aliens becomes extensive, something has to be done. Sometimes it is possible to reject the new as unholy; ... sometimes alien ways recommend themselves and are willingly adopted because they seem to offer practical or aesthetic advantages. Most often in history, however, what makes most powerfully for social change is the application of force. Alien ways can always be brought urgently to the attention of a people when the bearers of those ways are militarily powerful and threaten raids or conquest.3585

The historian admits that culture contact may prove harmful more often than not, but still maintains that these risks are necessary if sociocultural evolution is to occur:.

The argument does not imply that every collision between peoples with alien ways of life leads to a superior blending and recombination of elements. Such is of course not the case. Failures and abortions are probably far more usual than successful recombinations, though, almost by definition, the failures bulk far less large in our historical records. But I do suggest that contact with alien ideas and manners provided the mainspring for historical development through most of the recorded past. Without such contact, whether peaceable or violent, men would not have been stimulated to change their ancestral patterns of life; the rate of social evolution would certainly have been vastly slower.3585


Last updated on 6 December 2008