Third World

Thought experiment:

Imagine that in 1880, Europe and the Americas had been brought into contact with another continent on which civilization had already advanced to the point at which we are now in 2009.

Let’s call this new continent Futureland, and place it in the middle of the Pacific where the Polynesian Islands are. They speak a non-Indo-European language. They’re highly secular, but have in their background an essentially animistic religion ala Shinto. The Futurelanders are friendly and open, eager to sell Americans and Europeans high tech products and to build factories in Europe and America. They also happily sell the “old world” modern farming equipment, superior strains of crops, and advise them on more efficient farming practices — resulting in a rapid increase of agricultural output which requires far fewer farmers than contemporary 1880s practices. They’re also quite willing to allow Europeans and Americans to travel to Futureland to attend university, and indeed settle there.

What happens to “old world” language, culture, political institutions, religion and economy? Would such a situation be at all desireable for Americans and Europeans, and if so in what sense?

Would such an encounter be significantly different if it were between Futureland and an “old world” circa 1800 or circa 1650? Or 1950?

40 Responses to Third World

  • My initial thought is that it’s probably always profoundly disruptive (in a bad way) for a culture to come into contact with another which is quantum leaps ahead in terms of technology. I would imagine that even the Europe and America of 1950, if they had suddenly come into constant cultural and economic contact with a continent at 2009 levels of technology, would have quickly succumbed to a lot of the economic, political and cultural disfunctions that we associate with the third world. And the farther back you go (thus the greater the technological disconnect) the greater the disruption.

    That said, I don’t really know that there’s a way of avoiding that. Certainly, I can’t imagine anyone supporting some sort of “prime directive” in which more advanced cultures don’t allow themselves to come into contact with less advanced ones. Not only would this not work (there would be huge incentives to break the rule) but it hardly seems moral to refuse to chare information about things ranging from vaccines to agricultural techniques that would prevent famine. And yet, it appears to be massively destructive to a culture to find that someone else has done everything first.

  • DarwinCatholic:

    What stretches credibility is the fact that the highly-technologically advanced civilization which you conceived herein happens ironically to embrace not only religion but, even more remarkably, a very primitive one at that (i.e., an animistic religion).

    You’ll need to deal first with what I believe to be a discrepancy prior to any further development as to what might occur then as concerning this advanced society.

  • Sounds kinda/sorta reminiscent of Eric Flint’s “1632″ series, with the difference that modern Americans (children of the West) are offering somewhat similar disruptions and benefits to war-battered 17th Century Germans. The clash is much, much less, and the interaction much more beneficial overall.

    In your scenario, I think a crucial element is population–how many Futurelanders are there? If the numbers are significantly smaller than those of Europe and North America,, then I think things may work out better. If not, then it’s going to be rather uglier, regardless of the benevolence of the FLers–it will present much more of a threat to the less advanced.

    Also, don’t discount the possibility of the Europeans/Americans providing a reverse influence on FLers. The currents run both ways, as could be seen by the late 19th century with the burgeoning western interest in “the Orient.”

  • Imagine that in 1880, Europe and the Americas had been brought into contact with another continent on which civilization had already advanced to the point at which we are now in 2009. Let’s call this new continent Futureland…

    What happens to “old world” language, culture, political institutions, religion and economy? Would such a situation be at all desireable for Americans and Europeans, and if so in what sense?

    Would such an encounter be significantly different if it were between Futureland and an “old world” circa 1800 or circa 1650? Or 1950?

    Curious, you weren’t by any chance making some compelling argument for the Prime Directive now, were you?

  • Sounds kinda/sorta reminiscent of Eric Flint’s “1632″ series, with the difference that modern Americans (children of the West) are offering somewhat similar disruptions and benefits to war-battered 17th Century Germans.

    Actually, one can take, for example, Japan and the Meiji era and the “Black Ships” and the subsequent negative repercussions (as concerning their traditional society) that came along with the positive ones that propelled their relatively primitive society to become a comparatively more advanced one.

  • e.,

    What stretches credibility is the fact that the highly-technologically advanced civilization which you conceived herein happens ironically to embrace not only religion but, even more remarkably, a very primitive one at that (i.e., an animistic religion).

    Yeah, I’ll admit that’s an odder element. What I was trying to think of was that their religious background was something very different from Christianity and the monotheistic faiths generally. I landed on an animistic one basically because one of the things that’s always struck me as interesting, as someone with an affection for Japanese culture, is the way in which bits of Shinto hold on even in modern Japanese society, which is arguably one of the most technological in the world.

    But it does leave aside the argument, which I think has merit, that the monotheistic faiths and understanding of faith/reason compatibility is one of the things that resulted in Western civilization advancing more than other cultures.

  • This puts me in mind of a similar thought experiment Mencius Moldbug posed a while back:

    [W]hat would become of 1908 America, if said continent magically popped up in the mid-Atlantic in 2008, and had to modernize and compete in the global economy[?] I am very confident that Old America would be the world’s leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America….

    [W]ithout computers, cell phones or even motor vehicles, 19th-century America could rebuild destroyed cities instantly – at least, instantly by today’s standards. Imagine what this vanished society, which if we could see it with our own eyes would strike us as no less foreign than any country in the world today, could accomplish if it got its hands on 21st-century gadgets – without any of the intervening social and political progress.

  • Meetings between civilizations at different levels of technology are endlessly fascinating and they don’t always go the way one would expect. The Philistines for example clearly had a technological and economic advantage over the twelve tribes of Israel and yet Philistia ultimately lost the struggle. If the technologically less advanced society can withstand the initial rush of the technologically advanced civilization, time is not always on the side of the more technologically advanced.

  • Obviously this experiment is flawed in that we can never know what would have happened or what may happen. Nevertheless, it is very interesting.

    The point that strikes me and I am sure there are many, is that we are addressing the technological superiority of Futureland. Of course, we can discuss how and why ad infinitum. What if Henry VIII had not destroyed the Catholic monasteries? Would the industrial revolution have occurred before America was populated by Europeans? Would a more religious people have handled technology better?

    The key here, at least to the aspect I noticed at first, is the question of the primacy of technological development or religious revelation?

    More advanced technology does not necessarily mean a better ‘quality of life’ it just means better means. What we, or in this case the Futurelander’s do with the technology is a matter of philosophy and application not development. I say philosophy and not religion because here we are addressing the underlying view of the culture, which may or may not be religious. Someone brought up the Star Trek Prime Directive which would be the practical application of that culture’s philosophy (clearly a secular fascist/militaristic/socialist/arrogant one).

    As neo-Shintoists or animists I would be quite fearful of what these Futurelander’s would do with superior technology. I fear conquest, domination, eradication, assimilation or a horrible combination. Their ethos would likely be utilitarian and they would perceive us as ‘lower’ and in need of their brand of ‘quality of life’. I know that we are guilty of that to some extent with our Third World; however, that is the result of human weakness and not our philosophy. At least not the primary philosophy based on the Revelation of Jesus Christ and the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Covenant.

    Keep in mind that Queen Isabel charged Columbus with bringing the Word of God to the indigenous people and decreed laws forbidding slavery and subjugation. It failed because we are fallen but the overriding attitude was make their lives better by preaching the Gospel first and applying utilitarian technology as a fruit of that and not as the primary purpose.

    I fear that Futurelander’s wouldn’t be so kind and respectful because they wouldn’t have any knowledge of the inherent human dignity that God gives to all of his creatures. They would view us as sub-par, much like Nazis thought of Jews or Klansmen think of Catholics. The results cannot be good. I also doubt they would adopt the utopian Prime Directive of observing us like you would ants in an ant-farm unless it is to learn the best way to assimilate us like the Borg.

    Either way a solid argument can be made that it is our Christian faith and the vestiges of it in our culture that we are so aggressively trying to kill that not only dispose us to want to help everyone we encounter (no matter how we screw it up) but also facilitates our technological advancement. What we do with it remains to be seen and although we have used it to improve conditions in the Third World we have also ravaged the Third World, intended or not.

    The amazing thing is they love us for our technology and hate us for our values. You’d think those are the values of Christendom that we inherited but I think they hate our neo-liberal, secular progressivist values. When Christian missionaries go visit the Third World, especially Catholics numerous souls are converted to Christ because He draws all men to Him. America still draws more men; however, it is drawing them for economic opportunity or because they are economic parasites and not because of our quality of life given us by Christ. We need to fix that.

  • I am very confident that Old America would be the world’s leading industrial power within the decade, and I suspect it would attract a lot of immigration from New America…

    Blackadder has just morphed into John Edwards with all his talk concerning Two Americas.

    If the technologically less advanced society can withstand the initial rush of the technologically advanced civilization, time is not always on the side of the more technologically advanced.

    Again: Japan.

  • Someone brought up the Star Trek Prime Directive which would be the practical application of that culture’s philosophy (clearly a secular fascist/militaristic/socialist/arrogant one).

    Actually, although I myself am not quite the fan, I believe you have a failed comprehension of what exactly is the reason for the Prime Directive and what it actually consists.

    In fact, quite ironically, it was because of the principle that mankind shouldn’t arrogantly impose inter alia their own belief system on peoples of more primitive cultures and, indeed, allow these to develop naturally on their own without their deliberate interference which could ultimately result in ominous negative repercussions for that particular people.

  • Blackadder,

    Interesting point about rebuilding efforts in that past. I remember being struck when I read the history of the Hoover Dam of the astonishing (by modern standards) speed with which it was done.

  • To let my inner geekness out I submit the following statement. Is this a violation of the prime directive?

  • e. I see what you mean; however, I know that is the intended reason but like all things Star Trek you have to read between the lines because Star Trek is a utopian secular progressive’s dream.

    What about the damage to the society because you did not introduce yourself? For example in the 4th movie installment the Enterprise crew is in 20th century San Francisco and Bones gives a kidney dialysis patient a pill and she’s cured. Would it have been ethical to withhold that?

    A more practical example: DDT kills mosquitoes; however, it may also cause damage to human beings. Africa suffers from malaria and we stopped using DDT for ‘environmental’ reasons decades ago and millions of African children have died of malaria because we saved the environment and the lives of the few that may have been killed by the side effects of the DDT. Is that ethical?

    Should we withhold preaching the Gospel because those that haven’t heard the Good News may have some cultural issues with the Word? Was it arrogant of Cortez to destroy the statue of the Humming Bird Wizard and replace it with a Madonna and Crucifix?

    I think the Prime Directive is a cowardly approach. It is condescending and arrogant and self-loathing. The assumption that all culture is morally equivalent is false. It is equally false to assume the stronger culture is better in a Neitzschian view. We must subdue the earth by unleashing our cooperative creativity – this is only valid when we creatively cooperate with the Creator.

  • What if the society that is more technologically advanced also has a large population in there Country that is still living at same level of the americas and europe? As in the “haves” are the ones with the technology and the “have nots” are not able to buy or use or whatever the advanced technology that there country actually produces.

  • DarwinCatholic,

    Note that the Empire State building was built in one year and seven or so weeks. Ground Zero has been vacant (other than the post 911 solemn clean up) for eight years.

    Amazing how the less moral a culture is the less their technology is used well. We can kill more babies in a single day than Ghengis Khan could have ever imagined!

    Things don’t look good for Futureland.

  • Rick that would denote a socialistic system in which arbitrary power determines who has and who doesn’t.

    In a free market system everyone can have access to the technology eventually.

    How much was a DVD player ten years ago? Who had them? How much are they now? Who doesn’t have one that wants one? H. D. Ford was able to reduce the price of the automobile from $3,000 to $300, a price his employees could afford.

    The socialistic system can only develop existing technology and only for a short while without a free market system to copy and acquire capital from or the incentive of war.

  • Ground zero may be empty not for lack of technology, but more for lack of will. No one is really sure what to do with it, or how anything that is done will be viewed. Also, it may be a question of economics.

  • The problem with Ground Zero is that the Gub’ment is in charge. WTC 7 was also destroyed on 9/11. The new building was operational in 2006. That’s not quite 1908 levels (the red tape of regulation applies to private enterprise these days too), but I think it indicates where the problems lies.

    Also, the Prime Directive is for sissies.

  • I think the Prime Directive is a cowardly approach. It is condescending and arrogant and self-loathing. The assumption that all culture is morally equivalent is false.

    Again, I think you have a flawed understanding of the purpose of such a directive.

    Although not really an ST fan myself, this is perhaps one of the underlying reasons I took particular interest in ST because of such things as the Prime Directive, principally due to the kind of philosophical exercise it inspires.

    Think of it: if an advanced civilization were to surrender advanced technology to a very primitive people; do you really believe doing so would not actually harm them?

    For instance, that primitive people would not have learned how to develop technology on their own (thereby, making them heavily dependent on the advanced culture for continued supply & maintenance of such advanced technology; disregarding the need for self-sufficiency), would not learn by themselves how not only to develop such technology but even technology that was distintively theirs, would not learn all the lessons necessary that only comes with that people personally undergoing their own periods of technological advancement & development (thereby, forfeiting the much needed wisdom that only comes with that process of natural development of technology), etc.

  • I’ve only read the last few comments and this is hilarious. I don’t even want to read the other comments just so I can keep this in my head all day and laugh!

    Also, the Prime Directive is for sissies.

  • Uhhhh… sorry to disappoint, but that is something that Blackadder yet again borrowed; it’s actually found on many t-shirts, in fact.

  • I don’t care, BA made me laugh!

    When I laugh I smile!

    So apology accepted son.

  • Blackadder’s delivery is what made it hilarious. (No surprise; he is, after all, Blackadder)

    Of course, the deciding factor, in this particular case, could very well be the inane simplicity of that little mind which it had consequently amused. *smile*

    The Prime Directive Rules… literally.

  • e.,

    I think I may not be posting clearly. I am far from a professional or experienced Internet poster. I can barely turn my computer on and no one will help me becuase of some directive :)

    I understand exactly what you think the Prime Directive is. I think the stated premise is false. The Prime Directive is a flawed, cowardly and immoral directive.

    As another poster put it so eloquently — it is for sissies.

    Technology is not art. It is not some kind of cultural expression. Technology is born of understanding the laws of the universe as made by the Supreme Lawmaker, to the extent he allows. The application of that understanding is manifested in technology.

    Prometheus didn’t steal fire from the gods. Man discovered fire in nature and learned how to use it as technology. Fire was not invented by a certain culture. Fire belongs to all men. If a man who knows how to use fire to cook food comes across another tribe of men who don’t cook their food and die from all manner of disease, does he have an obligation to share his discovery of fire with them? Does he have a right to withhold his discovery? Will the other tribe burn him to death with the new power he gives them? We can keep going.

    In any event it is immoral to view other humans (or in the ST world sentient beings) as a sociological experiment to observe from a cowardly distance for your own amusement or out of a hubristic sense of superiority. Rather it is incumbent on us to share the benefits we have been given and try hard to not share the decadence we have inherited. Foremost it is incumbent upon the West to baptize all nations in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    If Rodenberry was a Christian and not a secularist, then Star Trek may actually be cool. Rather, it stinks of a Brave New World that is antiseptic, vapid, Godless, pointless and banal. Sadly, it may be the shape of things to come if we sit back and wonder about what went wrong with our culture and seek solace in some other non-Christian culture. Instead we should be charging forth with what we know is right and begging Mercy for what we know is wrong in our own.

    The only Prime Directive is to know, love and serve the immoveable Prime Mover.

  • Technology is not art. It is not some kind of cultural expression. Technology is born of understanding the laws of the universe…

    That’s just it –

    Such a primitive race would not have any such understanding of the very gravity of such advanced technology, the wisdom required to use it wisely; the knowledge required to handle, let alone, maintain/develop it; etc.

    Now, again, that required knowledge and wisdom are usually gained only by a primitive race developing such technology on their own.

    Consider these development periods as required growth periods that must be endured by that primitive race in order to gain such knowledge and wisdom necessary for not only effectively developing and even using that sort of technology wisely but also advancing that people as a whole morally, too.

    Think of the act as being the equivalent of giving some toddler a highly technologically advanced apparatus in order to satisfy an immediate basic necessity, but without the knowledge & wisdom necessary, may potentially result in remarkably devastating consequences.

    As far as Rodenberry being/not being a Christian; although, as I’ve earlier remarked, I’m not an avid fan of the series (so, I hope somebody who is can correct me on this), wasn’t there an episode where Jesus was actually alluded to wherein Uhura (or however you spell her name) made mention of Him at the end of an episode?

  • I don’t know about all the ST episodes. I am sure some sci-fi freak on here can tell us. However even the devil knows Scripture so just a mention of Christ doesn’t make it a correct message, that is why we have Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Mageserial Teaching.

    Nevertheless, just becuase they don’t have the social understanding to use the fire of the gods doesn’t mean we get to be gods deciding if they should benefit from the technological discoveries and inventions or not. What we need to do is help them learn how to use it responsibly and why we should share our culture before we share our technology. By culture I mean our ancient culture and not the new secular crap.

    Also what makes you think that just because a society discovers a new technology that means they would know how to use it becuase it happened organicaly? We invented the nuclear bomb and then dropped it on the two largest Christian cities in Japan. Sin is sin is sin and we cannot get away from it on our own. Withholding technology from the more ‘primative’ doesn’t free them from sin and may just allow more of them to fall into the abyss.

    That is Prime Irresponsibility.

  • We invented the nuclear bomb and then dropped it on the two largest Christian cities in Japan.

    THAT’S THE POINT!

    Because of our having developed that technology (knowledge) and our experience with it, we have learned (wisdom) of the horrors of its misuse that we, in the future (hopefully), would dare not repeat such horrible incidents again in our history.

    (Although, keep in mind, within the context of the ST science-fiction (again, open to correction), the human race had achieved the kind of society wherein wars between human peoples themselves were no longer waged, most likely due to the collective experiences (whereby they gained the knowledge + wisdom necessary that ultimately made this possible in the first place) that they endured as a race.)

  • You assume that we can only transfer technology and not cultural values or lessons from experience. I think history would disagree with you.

    As for the Star Trek utopian, they don’t have war in their world becuase it is science FICTION! It is fabricated on the premise that WE are the MASTERS of our destiny and we can achieve peace by sheer will and power.

    We will NEVER have true peace in this lifetime, becuase of WILL and POWER.

    Only the LORD can bring Peace and he won’t be restrained by no stinkin’ Prime Directive.

  • What we need to do is help them learn how to use it responsibly and why we should share our culture before we share our technology.

    Seriously, are we talking about a roughly advanced race here or a primitive one?

    In the case of a primitive race, how can such a people learn how to use technology if they do not possess the knowledge (e.g., an understanding of quantum physics or advanced molecular biology, etc.) required for it?

  • I think we have taken the Futureland hypothetical situation into outer space too far. Sorry for getting off on a tangent. I was trying to keep my Star Trek references limited to only the Prime Directive as brought up by someone else. I meant to discuss the intent of the Prime Directive in reference to DC’s Futureland scenario. In that regard we aren’t talking about phaser toting Kirk, Spock, Bones and crewman #5 beaming down to a planet of troglodytes, well except the hottie that Kirk makes out with.

    I was trying to apply the Prime Directive to similar people that have disparate technology. Like the USA compared to say, Belgium.

    Australian aborginines wear sneakers and have iPods. Nomadic Arabs use satelite phones. Primative African villages have access to modern medicine and water purification from missionaries and Doctors without Borders.

    So I think in the more realistic (at least more so than Star Trek) scenario of Futureland and 18th century Western culture the Prime Directive is for sissies. Furthermore, the key concern, as per my original point, is their animism combined with technological superiority as compared to our Christian faith with technological inferiority.

    I’ll keep Christ you can have the Vulcans.

  • I meant to discuss the intent of the Prime Directive in reference to Futureland scenario.

    I don’t think anybody here was actually arguing for the Prime Directive being applied to Futureland.

    Moreover, I don’t think the purpose of DarwinCatholic’s entry here was to contradict the Christian faith or challenge the spreading of the Gospel, as somebody here seems to have mistakened.

    Although, I would’ve love to have witnessed Blackadder becoming unnerved once again by remarks concerning a much beloved British Empire, which could’ve easily been the subject of DarwinCatholic’s own Futureland!

  • My last comment was tongue in cheek, e., I wasn’t trying to disparage. I also didn’t think anyone was trying to disparage the Christian faith. I am confident that was one aspect, the one I discussed, that was actually central to the discussion on account of the people of Futureland being animist.

    There are many aspects to this interesting question that we can discuss. I think the most relevant to the US at this time is the fact that we import our errors (even though they may only be promoted by a small cabal) rather than our successes. Successes born of the vestiges of Christian philosophy that we inherited from Christendom. The same values preserved by the Church.

    I am reminded of the splendor of the moral, relatively considering they were pagan, Roman Republic that was the springboard for the Roman Empire, which collapsed under the wieght of its immorality and diminishing warrior capacity borne of it. The fights between the Optimates and the Populares are a foreshadow of the Republicans and Democrats today.

    From the ashes of Rome rose Christendom, warts and all, and the conduit was and is the Church.

    We still hold on to more Christian values than most would care to admit, yet that is not the face we show the world. Assuming we are the Futurelanders, we are foisting our errors on the world while we let our true successes falter. This cannot last and if we shirk our inheritence, we will go the way of Rome and the less ‘advanced’ cultures will overtake us or we will become slaves for a small oligarchy becuase we are so weak.

    Of course, I could also be completely off base and have no idea what DC expected when he posted this interesting scenario.

  • I’m not entirely convinced of DarwinCatholic’s argument though.

    Although, I admit, his theory here seems quite interesting:

    But it does leave aside the argument, which I think has merit, that the monotheistic faiths and understanding of faith/reason compatibility is one of the things that resulted in Western civilization advancing more than other cultures.

    If one were to survey history itself, many of the advances that collectively contributed to the overall advance of Western Civilization itself were largely due to those that happened to eminate from once great civilizations, which were themselves non-monotheistic.

    Firstly, DarwinCatholic needs to provide evidence for his claim, however interesting it may very well be for the Christian personally.

    Yet, I’d suspect that a compelling argument can be made similarly wherein Western society was only able to make such great strides only when it dare challenged the existence of “God” and not actually because it was generally monotheistic.

  • Besides, Muslims are monotheistic.

    And while they once possessed great medical technology back in the middle ages, look at where their countries are now.

  • e.,

    You call for DC to provide evidence and maybe that is a good idea. Then you make some assertions and provide no evidence yourself.

    What are these great strides of the West that eminated from poly-theistic cultures and the times that the West challenged the existence of God?

  • Also, the Prime Directive is for sissies.

    Dang skippy!

    wasn’t there an episode where Jesus was actually alluded to wherein Uhura (or however you spell her name) made mention of Him at the end of an episode?

    They’d been assuming that folks were “Sun” worshipers, and they were “Son” worshipers. The roman gladiator ep.

    You assume that we can only transfer technology and not cultural values or lessons from experience. I think history would disagree with you.

    For real people, I agree with you; for the Star Trek people, well… they’re not so very bright, y’know? One of their Smart Guys chose *Nazi Germany* as a good template when he broke the Prime Directive….
    I don’t think they’ve got the gumption to effectively transfer culture, since they can’t even manage to say “boo” (or stop following a treaty) when the Romulans break treaties left, right and center.

    They also decided that Data, despite all evidence, was not a person in a moral or legal sense, and are letting the Cardassian empire rebuild without any attempt to tilt them towards, say, a Republic instead of a military dictator-bureaucracy. About the only group that tries to spread their “faith” is the Ferangi– oh, and Ambassador Spock is trying to convert the Romulans to logic….

    Why, yes, I am a geek who knows a bit about Star Trek…..

  • Woah! You lost me somewhere around the leap from ST to DS9 :)

    Funny, they have these rules that they honorably stick by no matter what the consequences are. The problem is the rules are man made and flawed. Kind of like the leader of a powerful nation bending over backwards to appease and apologize to nations that want his dead. All the while he attacks his own people. I wonder if something like that would ever happen here. . .Hmm. . . ?

  • Let’s just say I’m praying for a Sisko… or even a Spock….

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