The uncontacted tribe

Saw a news item on CNN.com about pictures of an uncontacted Amazon tribe — the region, not a gynocracy. Also read a Boing Boing thread about the same.

Thought for a while about it, but couldn’t shake my first thought: Those poor people, and we the evil bastards that won’t contact them.

This is mostly a reaction to the common opinion of the matter: “Oh, how wonderful! They have a culture uncontaminated by our Western evils! We must protect their uniqueness without ever interfering with them.”

What kind of a foolishness is that?

As I understand things, the life of a member of such a tribe is usually, and proverbially, nasty, brutish and short. Mostly free of Alzheimer’s and cancer, though, because you’re mostly down and out long before that ripe age. And they have natural medicines — which are basically a few of our modern medicines with the various other exciting parts of the roots and leaves in question left in. And there’s the shaman, which unlike our tame priests acts as the doctor, the surgeon, the economicist and possibly as the barber as well. And as the judge, if the ju-ju spirit of the male-cacapo loving male-cacapo spirit has intruded into you; he has a big metal hook for getting than out of you.

In that jungle mothers die in childbirth; children die in bad years of a nameless fever, in good years of diarrhea; boys die of infected wounds and men of machete-fights and tribal wars; girls are snatched by leopards and women not much older are killed by their husbands; the old, those that make it to the natural old age of the human animal (forty or fifty?) are bent, blind, racked by bad joints and constant pains, and die cursing diseases they cannot understand, much less cure.

I guess this is much better than obesity, reality TV and staring at Angelina Jolie’s behind; but then again I admit I’m tremendously hostile at the idea that the past was a nice place, and that human beings are somehow obligated to keep alive whatever baggage the past generations have vomited on them.

Contact the tribes, I say; this time we have something useful instead of Christianity and the Empire. This time it might go better than the last time; and I think it can’t make their lot much worse. (I admit I know nothing of the morals of those people, but I’m well willing to guess they did not somehow miraculously end up with our shared 21st-century bleeding-heart humanist ideals except without the commercialism and greed bit. The problem is, a lot of people seem to implicitly assume just that: a happy jungle utopia where the sexes are equal and free of roles, where there are no serious diseases and not too much work, no need from work-saving machines or gadgets, no need for vaccines or prostheses; a utopia where gays and straights and believers in all gods and none frolic in soft slanting beams of sunlight, all unoppressed and free. Which should be a ludicrous enough strawman to tell my opinion of that line of thought.)

There would be the culture shock, that is true; and it might destroy a generation. But mind you, an upheaval of all your life in exchange for that life becoming longer and more luxurious — does not seem like a bad trade for me. (Then again, the contact-maker could be a burly cretin with a rifle and a racking cough, saying he owns your land and hey, how much for the wife.)

We could wait for them to come to us; but how could they know what they are missing? They know there are those devils in denim there over somewhere, arrogant men with big weapons and no appreciation of the best cuisine; but that is not all. Our world is technologically vastly more advanced than theirs. Even morally, we are better than in the days of the Cross and the Conquering King, and much better than in our days of the vastly overrated Noble Savage; or at least I hope so. (Not that high moral values are evenly distributed in any particular group.)

Look upwards and imagine us into their position: say one day an alien heli-ship lands on the White House lawn and announces vast superior beings are here to give us godlike technologies and a few bits of advice on law. For this analogue to work, assume they are good-intentioned, but not omni-anything: the society they’re drawing us into tries to be good and all, but the result vary. (I’m willing to assume, continuing my assumption in the previous case, that they are more equal, and more just, than we; though the difference may be so great they initially seem slightly mad to us.)

How much diminution of our status and certainties would be too much for the cures to AIDS, Alzheimer’s and old age? Would it be too much to be immortal, if that meant living in a world where “humans” were a weird barbarian minority, struggling to understand the immensity of the galaxy, and to fit in? To have powers now undreamed at your command, and still be a beggar in a galaxy of infinite riches? How about eternal youth, and the ability to move wherever in the cosmos you wanted, if the price was a cosmos where you suddenly weren’t the boss, where to others your former riches were glass beads and nothing more, your poetry a small “tribal”, “exotic” thing, your scientists timid walkers on the first steps of a path traversed immensely farther by others?

What if, despite their best intentions, those visitors failed? A space-plague wafted down to us before the vaccine for it, leaving Earth empty and quiet? What if some distant interests required clearing half a planet for the new Wayhouse of the Hamburgirian Galaxy Express? What if green men took our young and hooked them on direct stimulation of the pleasure centers of the brain, or told them to regard their parents’ cultures as just inconsequential chaff, a barbarian remnant not worth a second thought, those Shakespeare and Mozart and all? What if, in the galactic economy, we were the ultimate unskilled workers, reduced to whatever degradation or crime that paid? (Could a spacefaring culture still be so economically cold that it couldn’t guarantee some basic income to all its members, old and new?) What if, in that new world, there was no real work for us to do: nothing but a dreadful lassitude of new godlike powers, and insufficient vision to do anything constructive with them?

What if that future was a very mixed deal?

I’d leap in a heartbeat.

Our present state is a mixed deal too, and as I believe in progress, I think there’d be much more shit in our pure-human sundae.

Cultures and diversity be damned; we are all individuals and each of us deserves better than such condescension. (“Look at the humans! They are so quaint! I’ve been watching them for a millennia now, perfectly self-sufficient and pain-free, watching how they just keep scampering after that food thing! And ooh, that genocide thing they’re so fond of. I really admire the purity of their cultures, their innocence, oh innocence is such a nice thing; they are so untainted by Galactic polities and the dreck of our trivision.”)

One Response to “The uncontacted tribe”

  1. William Lawson Says:

    Perhaps take a look at “What He Didn’t See.” Especially the brief film clip at the end of the post…which accounts for the title.

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