Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Takers vs. Leavers

There's a debate going on about whether or not supposed "uncontacted" tribes discovered in the Amazonian basin should be contacted. This reminds me of the Prime Directive, although there are some obvious critical differences. A policy of noninterference is important because it allows people to make their own mistakes and they are forced to take responsibility for them. Letting them in on the "secret" of a greater, more advanced society means that those of that society must shoulder some of the burden that comes from the inevitably bumpy transition that must be made by that smaller, isolated people.

Anthropology will tell you that people in less-advanced societies work fewer hours and are generally happier than we are, in our big, globally-connected civilization. But then the question must be asked, why do primitive societies often opt to join our society? And when they discover not everything is fun and games, why are they unable to back out? I think it's for the same reason we ourselves adopt new technologies that do absolutely nothing for our overall personal happiness (cell phones, computers, etc)--because we can. Why pass up progress and innovation? We thrive on competition, and competition with everything around us drives us to find supposedly better ways to do things, when in reality all we're doing is forcing ourselves to work harder. So often, people who wish to retain the "old ways" of their people are painted as backwards and ignorant, but we're again forced to ask questions like exactly what our progress has afforded us. Are we happier, as a society? It's debatable, but probably not. Regressing, however, is simply not an option. It will never happen, at least not voluntarily. The more progress we make, culturally and technologically, the more we find that these things do not make us any happier or better, but paradoxically, in knowing that there exists what innovations we have made, we can't handle the thought of "going back" to the way things were. Why is that?

Should we tell the isolated Amazonian people that we exist? I don't know. If we don't, they live on for as long as possible just as they are, oblivious to us and what we've accomplished and their lives are certainly no less valid than ours. If we do, it's obvious they'll be unable to enjoy most of the truly revolutionary aspects of our culture for at least a generation or two, if not more, and I'm sure they won't be any happier for it in the end. If we do tell them, like Cain killing Abel, the farmer society will destroy the hunter/herder society like it has since the beginning of human civilization, and are we in some way guilty?