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Happy with the government’s management of the pandemic? Happy with how much government grew during the pandemic? How well do you think governments would manage our realization that we have nearby extraterrestrial observers? It’s hard to know what that would mean for our future, but such a presence could well pose a singular menace to humanity. It might ignite panic, to say nothing of the bedlam that would ensue with the actual ingress of extraterrestrials or their intelligent machinery.

How would governments handle it? If the pandemic is any guide, my guess is they would follow the authoritarian impulse. For our own safety, that is. Hoarding and shortages of key goods might ensue. Curfews and stay-at-home orders would be seen as a way to limit civil disorder. Depending on the perceived threat, draconian measures such as limiting the use of electronics and communication devices might be considered. No telling what might seem appropriate to political leaders, but a military component to the response is much more likely than under a pandemic, and not just because of the external threat.

Let’s assume we’re talking about observers, not battalions of landing parties. A lot would depend on what’s known about them, or more specifically what the government knows. Why are they probing our atmosphere? Why are they studying our planet and our civilization? Are they waiting for a larger force to arrive? Can their machines self-replicate using resources mined from elsewhere in the solar system? Of course, the reaction of the public depends on how the government characterizes the presence of our observers. That gap in knowledge is of great concern.

But let’s take a step back. Is it real? We know the pandemic was “real”, but many question its true severity and the appropriateness of stringent non-pharmaceutical interventions, including yours truly. Some would say the government’s response was opportunistic, calibrated to force a change in political leadership, and calibrated to transform the role of government in our lives as well as attitudes about that role. Now imagine the opportunity for even more drastic change in the role of government given the prospect of an intersection with a potentially grabby alien civilization!

Like many others, I am fascinated by the possibility of life beyond our planet. Discussions of the Drake equation and the Fermi paradox are like candy to me. UFO sightings are always a matter of curiosity, except now we’re learning to call them “unexplained aerial phenomena” (UAPs) under guidance from government and military authorities. Lately, we’re hearing a lot about UAPs observed and filmed by military aircraft and detected by other forms of telemetry. These admissions are considered a sea change in the government’s attitude toward sharing sensitive, and possibly socially disruptive, information with the public. By June 1, a large batch of information on additional UAP sightings is due to be released under the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2021, which was signed into law by President Trump in December.

I’m as curious as anyone, but there are many reasons to be skeptical about UAP sightings, at least insofar as entertaining the possibility that these are extraterrestrial beings or machines. For example, there are natural (and technical) explanations for the images seen in the Navy videos. But some have speculated that these are sightings of top-secret technologies developed by an agency of the federal government such as the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). A former Pentagon UFO Program Chief dismisses that as improbable. Well, if you say so. Another possibility is that a foreign government has leaped far ahead of the U.S. in the science of flight. That would be threatening to U.S. security, though perhaps not as threatening as the machinery of an interstellar expeditionary force.

Whether the potential threat is an intersection with extraterrestrials or simply advanced technology possessed by an earthbound adversary, might it be in the interests of certain factions to promote our vulnerability? Or to manufacture evidence of such a vulnerability? Forgive my tin-foil hat, but I think the answer is yes. For example, it would be an opportunity for the defense establishment to garner more funding. It’s also a potential opportunity for those who wish to impose a more authoritarian order. There is always something to be gained from potential threats, so much so that major segments of our society seem to thrive on them. But is that what’s happening?

Defense funding is one thing, but the kinds of threats in question might call for widespread actions on public safety at all levels of government. Federal funding will be required to meet these needs, after all, and only the federal government can print money to create the means of competing for resources with the private sector. This is consistent with other federal initiatives that, beyond their stated public purposes, seem almost designed to eviscerate the power of state and local governments:

The plan to federalize government is already moving and has three parts:

  • Flood every unit of local government with federal cash, irrespective of need, while prohibiting tax cuts, thereby bailing out failing states and cities.
  • Make that flood of federal money made regular and permanent.
  • Annul or override state laws that make certain states competitive, thereby eliminating their competitive advantages, and federalize elections to make it all permanent.

The third point has as much relevance in the context of any threat to our security as did the pandemic. Once lower levels of government are dependent on federal funds, there is little they can do to resist federal demands. The more credible the threat of an incursion by an extraterrestrial or foreign force with awesome technological power, the more likely are voters to accept expansive programs to enhance their safety, including assistance to lower levels of government for providing various forms of local protection … the federal way.

The pandemic did little to promote faith in the government’s ability to manage a crisis. Nevertheless, look no further than the federal budget explosion induced by the pandemic for evidence that advocates of expansive government did not let the crisis go to waste. Will they want new crises? I’m sure they will. There’s certainly a possibility that a drummed-up threat from UAP’s would be a candidate down the road. It might need a little more percolation, but make no mistake: it has potential value to statists.

I still prefer to call them UFOs, and it’s still fun to think about them, but if they’re “real”, or even if they belong to a foreign power, we might be in big trouble. If they’re not “real”, our own state actors might toy with us enough to make us wish we’d never heard of UFOs.