This video has also been around a while, but I just saw it this weekend.
Watching this, I had three conflicting sets of emotions. The first is amazement that there are still tribes in the wild that have not yet been contacted by the outside world. I find that remarkable.
The second is a feeling of fear for these people. Because sooner or later, they are going to be contacted, and history shows that there is a good chance that the results are not going to be good for their society, their worldview, their way of life, and their overall psyche.
But then there is the third, which is that who are we to decide whether or not these people should be contacted? We could argue that the people themselves probably don’t want to be contacted and that we should respect their wishes. I have two issues with that. The first is that the people almost certainly have no clue what it is they’re avoiding contact with. The second is that saying “the people” is lumping all of these individuals human beings into one monolithic group and assuming their desires are uniform.
Consider what life must be like for these people. Infant death is probably common. They probably are subject to dying suddenly from communicable diseases, injuries from accidents, and a host of other easily treatable conditions, at least with modern technology. Their lives, by our standards, are probably short and harsh.
On the one hand, they know no better and might consider themselves happy. Taking that away from them seems like a crime. On the other hand, they don’t know what it is they’re missing. In Jared Diamond’s book ‘The World Until Yesterday’, he describes how natives overwhelmingly choose modern lifestyles when they get access to them. Having actually lived it, most of them don’t share the romantic view many of us have of living closer to nature.
In these situations, all we can do is ask what we would prefer in their situation. I know that if an alien species was debating whether or not to contact us, because just the act of doing so would probably overthrow our entire worldview and way of life, I would still want that contact because, after the shock, I would expect life to eventually be materially better. But I expect there would be a lot of people terrified by the idea, and would wish that the aliens had just stayed away. Whose wishes should be respected in these scenarios?
In some ways, this is a moot discussion, because the people will certainly eventually be contacted. (If they haven’t already. The video is a few years old.) If the local government or international organizations do nothing, that contact will most likely be by people who don’t have their best interests in mind. In my mind, far better that their first contact be with responsible parties. We shouldn’t let our feelings of colonial guilt lead to unnecessary suffering.