Lorien Says: I submit that we can expect to be treated by aliens as we might treat them were we to be in their position. Let’s consider our own motives should we develop the capacity of interstellar travel and encounter other lifeforms on distant worlds. Knowledge, natural resources and land, technology, food, water, energy sources, self-defense, chemicals/medicines, entertainment, cheap labor (sentient or non-sentient), and finished goods. Perhaps even genetic diversity. In essence, the same motivations that keep the U.S. from being totally isolationist today.
First, I should point out that we haven’t had a single day without war (declared or defacto) somewhere on this planet since homo sapiens came into existence. The massacre and conquest of the American Indians, Mayans, and Incans isn’t all that far in our past – and that started out as simple exploration. If we can’t get along with each other, I’m not inclined to think we’d get along very well with aliens – and I’m not even considering the massive but justifiable killing for food (which may become a real problem with population growth). I’m quite sure our initial stated objectives would be honorable and noble – and that’s how it would be presented to the public; but I suspect things would become quite a bit more complicated if/when we should actually encounter alien lifeforms. If we discovered life on another planet, I imagine our first step would be to “capture” such life for analysis and/or experimentation. Isn’t that one of the primary objectives or at least hopes behind our only current effort in this direction – the exploration of Mars? We wouldn’t intially intend any harm, but in the course of our investigations, I’m certain we’d seek to discover their makeup, strengths, and weaknesses (and their level of threat and value as food or for productivity) – and I’m also certain that some of them would inevitably be terminated in the process. This could easily occur well before we determined whether or not that life was sentient. In fact, unless there was physical evidence of tools or technology – and lacking any communication (and assuming they weren’t so biologically superior or dangerous that we’d be hosed), I’m sure that would be true. If the lifeforms were advanced enough for communication, we’d initially attempt peaceful contact with the hopes of trade and gaining that which we don’t yet possess. If they showed any type of hostility (i.e., acted like us) and were equivalently advanced, we’d consider them a threat and at least establish some defensive posture – quite probably leading to mutual escalation and either the inevitable consequences of escalation or, if we’re very lucky, detente. If less advanced … well, consider that slavery isn’t all that far in our past – and exists in some places even today. Much would depend on whether or not those lifeforms were aware of still other lifeforms or if we were the first “aliens” they’d encountered.
This branches off into too many areas to cover in one post. If their technology or they were clearly superior, we’d probably take no hostile action – but instead use diplomacy to negotiate something to our ultimate advantage. If it worked, great. If they’re hostile, we’re hosed. If they’re more advanced in certain areas (say, medically) or possess valuable natural resources and have absolutely no or very limited military capabilities at all (unlikely, but possible), I’m afraid we’d eventually forcedly take what we could to advance our own civilization. In short, if they could destroy us (or we couldn’t destroy them), we’d fear them and probably do something hostile to quell that fear – and hope it worked. If we could destroy them (or if they couldn’t destroy us), we’d take advantage of the situation. And I haven’t even started on non-sentient or microscopic lifeforms that are naturally aggressive, toxic, or lethal – as in The Thing (remake) or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If we discovered a microbiological organism that was 100% contagious and 100% fatal (despite evidence of sentience), do you think we’d simply avoid that planet or attempt to destroy it (of course, saving some for “research” purposes – and our bioweaponry arsenal)? I’d like to think we’d act like in Star Trek, but I’m afraid that’s a bit too naive. As flawed as the Federation is, we aren’t anywhere near even that perfect. Perhaps we will be by the time we develop the capabilities. Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure there are many humans (probably the vast majority) who are quite peaceful and abhor even the concept that we’d do such things. I’d like to think I’m among them. Unfortunately, those don’t tend to be the people who naturally seek and rise to power and control in our society. It’s those politicians and military leaders who will determine our actions in space as they do here on Earth – and based on our history, I don’t have a lot of faith in their benevolence.