It is the dream of many and nightmare of some that the inhabitants of this Earth will someday in the future make contact with a race of intelligent creatures beyond our solar system. The dream of many is that we will discover that in the vast expanse of the universe we are not, in fact, alone. That life is a constant and that there are others that share the struggles that we endure. That ask the same questions that we ask. The nightmare of some is the fact that the beliefs that they cling to concerning our place in the firmament are wrong and that we are not special, but part of a grander system than they can possibly imagine. That we aren't destined or chosen, but simply are.
Life on other planets is, based purely on the mathematics, a certainty. Carl Sagan and a great many present day astronomers are sure that somewhere in a universe as vast as the one in which we reside there must be a place, perhaps not unlike this one which is home to beings not unlike ourselves. Or perhaps vastly different than this one that can still claim to have sentient beings totally unique unto themselves as it's inhabitants. In either event the numbers simply make disbelief in such an idea a difficult proposition. Given enough time and the expenditure of enough resources contact is certainly possible. Thus our commitment to the S.E.T.I. program.
But when contact is finally established, what will it mean to the two planets and races that have at last found one another? Given our history and a small amount of imagination it is possible to flesh out a few scenarios. Of them there aren't any that seem to be good ones. That may well be the greatest gift of the vastness of space. Good neighbors give one another a very wide berth and never trespass against one another.
Scenario one: Earth receives a call from a planet seeking it's neighbors and discovers that the race sending the message is far more advanced than we are. Not good. We stand a chance of being destroyed by another race that seeks to reach beyond the confines of their own planet and utilize what resources we haven't yet depleted in the furtherance of their own survival. They understand us to be powerless against them and take no time in deciding to lay waste to all that live on the Earth.
Scenario two: Earth is called from a planet that has a race of beings that lag behind us. We are the superior power and have little trouble recognizing the fact. Humans understand that a race of beings that can be easily beaten might offer us an opportunity to branch out ourselves and find more resources to squander on our needs and thus we begin the process to bring another race to it's end in the furtherance of our own survival. We very good at that sort of thing as I'm sure we are all too well aware.
Scenario three: Earth is contacted by a race that seems to be running neck and neck with us in terms of technology and we begin a civil exchange of ideas as neither side can handicap a clean win for themselves. Things progress nicely until we stumble onto the subject of theology and we discover the incredible and insurmountable differences between us. Relations grow strained and logic becomes a ghost as the two races now wage a war over the concept of a Deity that neither race can even prove exists until there is no one left to worship at the feet of the statues anymore and both races are wiped clean from their respective planets.
Finding and entering into a dialog with another planets race would be a wonderful thing. It truly would. The problem lies with the immaturity of human kind and that is where this vast universe protects both others from us and us from ourselves. Thank,...well, whoever is responsible. If, in fact, anyone actually is responsible.