Let's Put Our Worst Foot Forward With Alien Intelligences

Want to make a good impression on extraterrestrial civilization we encounter? The best bet is to showcase our dark side — our foibles, our mistakes and even our most horrifying aspects, says Douglas Vakoch, director of message for the SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute. It's too bad the Voyager spacecraft only contained Pollyanna-ish messages about our lovely aspects, and our propensity for cooperation, because any advanced spacefaring races we come across will probably just think we're not just primitives, but lacking in self-awareness.

Says Vakoch:

Might not such an attempt to put the best face on our current situation unintentionally reveal a potentially far more dangerous fault of humankind: a tendency to hide from our own problems and to avoid these threats to our very existence?

Here's the crux of Vakoch's argument, as far as I understand it: any interstellar society we encounter is likely to be much, much more advanced than us. After all, the chances of two cultures developing the ability to communicate across interstellar distances in the same part of the galaxy within the same historical moment are infinitessimal. So the aliens will either have been spacefaring for longer than us, or else their space-going era will already have ended — in which case we won't meet them.

So let's assume that a more advanced race, technologically, will also be more advanced in its cultural development. In that case, we'll be like messy, screamy, food-flinging, barfy children to these space demigods. And the most valuable contribution we could make to the interchange would be to remind our new friends of what it's like to be more primitive and id-driven. In any case, if we try to sweep our wars, our environmental destruction and our general crazoid behavior under the celestial rug, they'll probably be able to figure it out and we'll just look like idiots. Our best bet is just to emphasize everything bad about ourselves when we first meet other intelligences, so they'll know what they're in for.

Actually, Vakoch's argument veers sharply towards the end, and he starts talking about how acknowledging our "Shadow" (in the Jungian sense) is just good for us generally, and how we should just own up to our worse natures because it would be therapeutic and healthy. So maybe he's actually got some other agenda, and he's one of those Jungian infiltrators you hear about. [Space.com]