Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Over on the Postmodern Conservative blog, James Ceaser talks about our current intra-galactic policy :

Most Americans may not realize it, but the United States Government now has what amounts to an official intra-galactic policy. Our position was formulated in the decision to allow the Pioneer and Voyager space probes to go beyond the solar system carrying messages designed to communicate with alien beings. Included among the items for alien perusal are: pulsar-based maps that give the exact location of the earth, pictures of the tree toad, the DNA structure, and the human sex organs; musical selections from Bach, Beethoven, and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”; recorded sounds of whales, mudpots, and a hyena; and a message from President Carter reminiscent of some of his early campaign speeches.

Despite what might seem a clear parallel between intra-galactic and international affairs, foreign policy considerations were apparently ignored in adopting this open-door posture. Neither Kissinger nor Brzezinski, for example, were consulted, although passing over Kissinger may have been a charitable act: one shudders to think of the myriad possibilities under a balance of power approach on an intra-galactic scale. Instead, the policy of sending out probes was proposed by NASA as a scientific, not a political, matter. Yet if there is anything serious about these efforts at communication—and the large fees spent in preparing the messages suggests this was the case—one might well question the wisdom of substituting a scientific judgment, based on the precept of a free and universal exchange of knowledge, for a political judgment, based on assumptions derived from the conduct of international affairs.

Has it ever occurred to the eggheads at NASA that aliens—unlike humans—may not all be peace-loving herbivores? Fortunately, the banality of our “communication” (Chuck Berry tunes, mudpot noises, and Carter speeches? Really?) may be the only thing that prevents alien civilizations from considering the message to be a menu and map to some “good eating.” After all, could a planet with such dull creatures be all that tasty?

But you don’t have to be interested in space politics to see a more terrestrially relevant point: Unelected elites are increasingly making de facto policies that affect us all—and yet we’re not expected not to question their wisdom.

Of course, unelected elites are a necessary evil of complex society. Few of us—even elected officials—have the time or inclination to form relevant opinions about rising superpowers like China and India much less about emerging nations like Genovia. We rely on the unelected elites—the analysts at the CIA, the diplomats at the State Department, and even the “strategic corporals” of the Marine Corps—to help shape our policy. But on foreign policy there is a chain of accountability that leads to President and recognition that such issues are open to scrutiny and political debate.

So why does that change when the policies touch on matters of science? Does anyone even know who the policymaker at NASA—the one deciding that our galactic neighbors need to know what a hyena sounds like—answers to? Does someone at NASA have to clear such decisions through Congress? In what forum do we debate the prudence of these actions? (As an intra-galactic isolationist, I’d like to voice my concern.)

Far too often, when the scientists have decided that Consensus Has Been Established and that Something Must Be Done (whether destroying the economy to cool the planet or destroying embryos to slake their thirst for knowledge) then the issue is settled, the debate is shut down. The only question left to discuss is how much public funding will be allotted to implement the preferred policies of the unelected scientific elite.

Which leads me to wonder: By the time the aliens arrive for brunch, will we have completed our transition from democratic republic to an aristocratic technocracy?

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles