Finding intelligent extraterrestrial life would throw countless wrenches into cultural debates about morals. These especially applies to arguments that decry previous colonialist efforts on Earth for countries to spread democracy, peace, or capitalism. What happens when we encounter aliens that naturally worship violence rather than peace, seek to enslave us, or apply “equal” treatment towards situations where human species are biologically disadvantaged?
Such alien societies aren’t unrealistic when considering human society is the only sample we have so far. These ideas, with arguments about how humans should approach searching for life, are explored by theories such as the The Dark Forest Theory. What if it’s best for us to stay silent and stop broadcasting our presence?
The yellow dot shows how far our radio broadcasts have spread in the Milky Way (so far). Are we sure we want to give ourselves away like this?
Problems with existing moral arguments mainly arise from a resource-limited view of anthropocentrism. This is most obvious with Gen Z Culture Wars that excessively focus on inequality and existing human limitations without remembering to also emphasize the improvement of everyone’s wealth. We should focus the rhetoric more on how to make everyone a billionaire, rich and happy beyond current imagination, instead of ‘billionaires shouldn’t exist’. Because when the aliens arrive in their starship fleet, you can bet there’s going to be some inequality between us and them. Some will be intrinsic differences, such as aliens having 6 arms, or much more advanced intelligence. Forget globalization, it’s now about galaxization–the only way for us to incorporate such a development would be to solely adopt a positive-sum mindset. Everyone, including us, can improve their absolute stance in the intergalactic economy.
There will be quite some hiccups in other debates too. How should we think about unity and race? Can you deny all humans jobs in the Andromeda Cynanide mines because they’re biologically unable to breathe in them? How should we modify the governance of Earth’s population if we encounter aliens who want to trade? If they want to go to war and exterminate us? What’s the best governing system on earth to fight back? Should we try to ally with other alien societies when fighting others? Which, and why?
Colonialism also rears its ugly head as a natural dynamic of those with more power and less. If we find a lesser planet, should we try to introduce capitalism / democracy to this alien world? Do we have a moral responsibility in the universe to do so? Should we respect their gods that contradict human religions?
What about “peace”? If some warrior-culture alien society enjoys fighting and bloodshed, and don’t even understand what peace is, how should we deal with them? What if they demand equal treatment among their colonies, and that we integrate with their morals of bloodshed? It might turn out to be a disadvantage for us if reincarnation turned out to truly exist for their species.
Different forms of consciousness would also evidently raise problems for human principles of liberalism and governance. If their organization of consciousness is different–perhaps if they have a hive mind–the idea of how to respect an individual might not jive with us lowly humans. They might even be able to execute Marxist socialism successfully with this different form of intraspecies interaction (not unlike certain insects colonies on Earth).
Now, what if they find us first? Imagine they’re driven by some holy alien doctrine to forcefully subjugate Earth’s most developed Western countries to socialism, not considering our species’ different dynamics. Maybe it’s time for another dimension to be added to classical liberalism, where a planet allows other planets to express their liberties and internal governance however they want.
On the bright side, global conflict among humans might finally be stemmed if all of humanity had to unite against a common enemy.
So, if our moral philosophies fail when confronted by intelligent extraterrestrial life, were we ever ‘right’?
I believe we’ll be forced to debate this–hopefully voluntarily and in peace–by ~2080.