Is the concern whether we are ready to meet UFO’s, or whether we are ready to meet aliens? I imagine that it’s the thought of contact with aliens, not their spaceships, that keeps people up worrying. Are we ready to meet aliens? Are we ready to accept differences that not only challenge our science, philosophy, and values, but even our own biology? That’s a very big question, so step back, and look closer to home.
While “alien” is commonly used to mean “extra-terrestrial”, it also means “foreign” or “different”. Consider how humanity deals with things that are foreign and different. We scorn our neighbors who don’t have the right color of shades. We argue vehemently over differences of opinion, politics, money, and most anything else. We’ll even go to war and kill over differences in religion. Discrimination over nationality and skin color is still rampant. In short, despite some progress that has been made as the world grows more global, different is still bad. We are slow to accept that which is different, and even slower to accept that which we don’t understand. (“How can they live like that?” “How can they possibly believe such nonsense?”)
When an actual, interplanetary alien introduces itself (there’s no guarantee that they’d have gender – or that there would be only two genders either), humanity will face something utterly unique, different, and at least temporarily incomprehensible. The automatic response to such a situation is hostility. Self-control and curiosity are the weapons to keep the automatic response in check, but ask yourself whether you believe that the majority of people are governed by self-control and curiosity.
Assuming that the aliens would survive initial contact (either because they have the ability to protect themselves, or because humanity actually manages to restrain its natural impulses), they would introduce all sorts of novel ideas. Science would undoubtedly have decades of study and learning to catch up with, including the need to accept that various assumptions have been wrong. While a normal part of science, scientists, like everyone, are slow to embrace change, and will likely not be happy to have been proven wrong in so many ways in such a short time. Alien culture is certain to present a completely novel set of customs, beliefs, and values. Their social and family structures will likely be different, as well as their sexual habits (if they have any), their appetites, their views of life, nature, and lower life forms – possibly including humans. Certainly they won’t have as high an opinion of our societies as we ourselves do. Beyond any doubt, they will follow neither Islam nor Christianity. (They won’t follow Buddhism either, but Buddhists are probably the least likely to care, and the most likely to accept aliens as they are.) Perhaps worst of all, with superior technology, they are certainly a threat militarily. Even if the aliens themselves came with only benevolent intentions, paranoia is certain to strike large numbers of people. (After all, some people are already paranoid, even without having met aliens with superior capabilities.)
Given how badly humanity is likely to respond to an alien introduction, I have to affirm that we are far from ready to make contact. Of course, we are powerless to make that decision, should alien explorers arrive. On the plus side, one would expect that an explorer would choose to observe us before introducing itself. In so doing, it might realize just how unprepared we are. Indeed – it would likely feel akin to the way you would feel if someone suggested that you walk down the streets of a backwater slum and introduce yourself to the first twenty people you met there, offering to take them home to dinner. Would you? Would the majority of people that you know? Would an alien?