Author Topic: "Uncontacted Peoples"  (Read 3323 times)

Offline Daniel

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"Uncontacted Peoples"
« on: December 19, 2013, 03:52:56 PM »
First, some information:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLErPqqCC54 [short: just 3 minutes]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncontacted_peoples

I relatively recently came across this information. I wasn't aware that there was any specific term or specific knowledge of specific groups that fit into such a category, but it raises some very interesting questions, especially for linguists.


Questions:

  • Why have these people not made contact? Is it out of fear or a desire to be isolated/independent? (I can't imagine being too happy if a group of Brazilians yelling in Portuguese I didn't understand invaded my apartment building to cut down trees!)
  • Would it be a good idea to contact these people, if done properly, whatever that means? Maybe a linguist, someone who would relatively easily pick up their language, would make a good ambassador, just to establish communication, not to change their lifestyle without their consent.
  • Are these groups as "uncontacted" as is claimed? Are they truly isolated, or do they just live in the forest while I live in a city? Have they always been that separated, or is that due to others (=Europeans) invading their territory?
  • Do these people actually know anything about the societies around them? If they did, would they still avoid contact?
  • Is it better to help them by informing them of modern technology (like medicine), or is it better to leave them alone? (Obviously we can all agree that forcing anything on them is bad.)
  • Do you agree with the narrator in the video that these people should be left uncontacted? Or do you get the sense (at least on the one hand) that it's perhaps asking too much of them-- they're the last of their kind, we find them interesting, they shouldn't join society, because that would make the world less interesting. But what about in theory what would make them have the best lives (whatever that is)? Is it their burden to stay uncontacted?
  • Is it certain that all of these peoples have the same genetic capacity for language that we do? Is it remotely possible we could find some different capacity in some of them? (There are broader implications beyond Linguistics, of course.)
  • What linguistic data would be discovered upon contact? More of the same? More languages as apparently unique as Pirahã?
  • Should linguists try to contact them?
  • Ironically, would contact perhaps allow them more secure, still independent futures? If the national convernments were agreeable, contact could establish peaceful interaction and understanding and raise awareness, then they could be left (if they desire) alone. Sort of like neighbors-- you often know who they are and talk to them once in a while, but you don't always want to hang out.

These questions have no easy answers, but they're interesting to think about.


This reminds me of the case of Easter Island (the Rapa Nui). [You might notice my avatar...]
If you don't know the full story, I'd recommend reading about it. But in short, with food and other natural resources dwindling dangerously low, the Rapa Nui were headed for extinction by starvation. And although they may have had ancestral knowledge of a larger world out there, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited locations on earth-- a 5 hour flight from Santiago de Chile, and without anything else much closer-- over 1000 miles of ocean in all directions I believe.
Then in the early 1700s, Europeans arrived (eventually leading to Easter Island being considered part of Chile). They quite literally saved the people from starvation. But they mistreated them horribly (about what you'd expect from Europeans at the time).
So, is contact really a bad thing? What if the contacters didn't mistreat them? Or even allow them independence with basic communication established? Lots of conflicting principles here.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2013, 05:03:11 PM by djr33 »
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Offline lx

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2013, 03:32:14 AM »
I remember when I first saw that video three years ago. It gave me chills as it still does today. The idea that there are communities of people who just live so primitively. We have a web of communication where I can use written language and someone on the other side of the world can read my message, yet these people live the same way my ancestors did tens of thousands of years ago. How can it be that they have never had any sort of contact? Can they speak like we do? What is their language like? There are so many tantalising questions to be answered.

There are stories of people wandering into tribes in Papua New Guinea and making contact, and that wasn't always a bad thing. I can imagine after contact is made, that will be the end of their way of life as we know it, and maybe it would be a shame to lose a community that does live like that. Having said that, the budding scientist in me would want to know their DNA ancestry, linguistic capacity/capabilities and more information on how they live. Their reaction to the plane is just priceless. I can't even imagine what was going through their mind when they saw it. The northern lights were out in force on Saturday and all I could think about was what middle-aged tribesmen thought was going on in the sky when they saw similar things. I know a few people who study the Icelandic sagas. I'm going to ask them if there is anything written in them about what they thought was going on. But in a similar way, imagine having seen that plane, they construed a belief of a flying God or something like that.

I think it'd be really good to drop a few hot mics in the area and see what was picked up. Imagine being able to establish a connection to a local native American language from a thousand years ago or something like that.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2013, 03:34:35 AM by lx »

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2013, 03:44:18 AM »
Agreed!

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I can imagine after contact is made, that will be the end of their way of life as we know it, and maybe it would be a shame to lose a community that does live like that.
This is the assumption in the video, and it's certainly possible.
But must it be the case?

The Pirahã are an interesting example here: they didn't want to be part of the greater Brazilian political/cultural scene, and they stayed isolated, though they did some basic trading and so forth-- they weren't "uncontacted". Fast forward a few years and some controversial linguistics research* later and now they have a Brazilian school with the kids learning Portuguese. That bothers me, because it was done to them, while Everett (whatever you think of his linguistic anaysis) was just contacting them (he realized early on that his goal of teaching and converting them was not going to work-- good for them!).

So we would want to have a situation where the Brazilian government doesn't actively try to modernize them.

But what if these people then had to the choice. They can stay there (that's fine by me) or they can move to Rio, whatever they want. But that doesn't directly correlate with contact... can someone have a friendly chat with them? (Admittedly they might not be open to it.)

[*The potential effect of Everett's research on the decisions by the Brazilian government is an interesting topic for another thread. In the general case (and without interference by Chomsky?? if that's actually true), linguistic research should not result in the government's intervention! I don't mean to imply it automatically does.]



Do let me know (reply here) what you find out about the Icelandic sagas!


And it's perfectly imaginable that with these people (even with their permission at some point) you could try the elevator experiment: walk into a room and let the doors close, then magically you are at a different height when the doors open. Such basic things about our world and our experience are completely foreign to those who don't have them.


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I think it'd be really good to drop a few hot mics in the area and see what was picked up. Imagine being able to establish a connection to a local native American language from a thousand years ago or something like that.
8) That's such an intriguing idea. Getting approval for this would be extremely difficult I imagine, but the data would be amazing.
I suppose these people need to be considered people that can give consent, so it could be done without their permission, so that defeats the whole point. After all, we would be invading their privacy.
But... I wish there was some way around that.



For the general discussion, one more thought:
"Knowledge is power."
Assuming that is true, and following from it all of our ideals about education, literacy and so forth being a good thing, isn't it the logical conclusion that we should educate these people?
I'm not saying that's actually a good conclusion, but if it's not, then we'd need to revisit the idea that knowledge is important, or perhaps what 'knowledge' means. (I'm sure they know many things we don't! Animals and plants in the area, for example.)
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Offline freknu

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2013, 04:11:58 AM »
The northern lights were out in force on Saturday and all I could think about was what middle-aged tribesmen thought was going on in the sky when they saw similar things. I know a few people who study the Icelandic sagas. I'm going to ask them if there is anything written in them about what they thought was going on. But in a similar way, imagine having seen that plane, they construed a belief of a flying God or something like that.

It has been critised in academic review, but "Hamlet's Mill" makes for a very interesting argument of how the ancient people saw and mythologised the sky. When it comes to Old Norse mythology, Aurvandill is of particular interest.

Even though "Hamlet's Mill" may be scientifically tenuous, I do wonder just how much of ancient mythology comes from watching and marvelling at the sky.

Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2014, 03:23:35 AM »
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For the general discussion, one more thought:
"Knowledge is power."
Assuming that is true, and following from it all of our ideals about education, literacy and so forth being a good thing, isn't it the logical conclusion that we should educate these people?
I'm not saying that's actually a good conclusion, but if it's not, then we'd need to revisit the idea that knowledge is important, or perhaps what 'knowledge' means. (I'm sure they know many things we don't! Animals and plants in the area, for example.)

You're presupposing that YOU are the one who HAS the knowledge. This is a very egocentric and patronizing perspective, with all due respect. Sure, you have different knowledge than they do and vice-versa -- but to extrapolate that it is your duty to educate (indoctrinate) them in literacy, the Bible, proper dietary habits, etc is ill-founded and downright offensive.

Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2014, 03:32:24 AM »
Questions:

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Would it be a good idea to contact these people, if done properly, whatever that means? Maybe a linguist, someone who would relatively easily pick up their language, would make a good ambassador, just to establish communication, not to change their lifestyle without their consent.
I think it is up to them to make contact with the outside world. These days it takes considerable effort (even in the Amazon) to isolate a group. One can be sure it is done purposefully.

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Do these people actually know anything about the societies around them? If they did, would they still avoid contact?
It is very difficult to imagine a group like that in complete isolate from other indigenous groups, at least historically.

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Is it better to help them by informing them of modern technology (like medicine), or is it better to leave them alone? (Obviously we can all agree that forcing anything on them is bad.)
"Informing them of modern technology" presuposes that we have something to offer them. They have their own medicines, cures and treatments. I'd no sooner have you inform them of the superiority of western medicine than I'd have you inform them of the One True God, teach them how to dress properly, explain to them that the earth revolves around the sun, or tax them. Why stop with this group? Why not do the same for those who also are unaware or ignorant of the wonders of your Great Civilization?


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Is it certain that all of these peoples have the same genetic capacity for language that we do? Is it remotely possible we could find some different capacity in some of them? (There are broader implications beyond Linguistics, of course.)
Oh yes, they're possibly sub-human or with some different (by which you obviously imply lesser) capacity for language. This is offensive. These are people, not subjects in a lab. Talk like this gives anthropologists and lingusits a terrible reputation akin to missionaries.

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Should linguists try to contact them?
Oh no no no. This is not for linguists to decide. It is for the people themselves. You have no mandate here.

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Sort of like neighbors-- you often know who they are and talk to them once in a while, but you don't always want to hang out.
No, this is not like neighbors insofar as neighbors live in the same society as you do. These people have chosen to live in the Amazon jungle, to avoid other population centers, and to continue their traditional way of life. They do not need you. If they did, they are more than capable of entering into contact and would do so right away.

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2014, 10:52:43 AM »
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I think it is up to them to make contact with the outside world. These days it takes considerable effort (even in the Amazon) to isolate a group. One can be sure it is done purposefully.
Assuming all of that, the rest of your post makes sense. But I'm not sure I agree with these assumptions.

These people have never fully understood the invading Europeans or modern Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. That's not their fault. But it's still, by definition, ignorance. Bad decisions often come from ignorance. The problem is that by mistreating (and probably fundamentally terrifying) them, the bad actions of the original Europeans (and perhaps continued actions of loggers and so forth) have caused a negative image of possible contact, which might not be a bad thing. For example, if I went there with a microphone and was polite, perhaps helpful in whatever societal goals they have, I'm sure it would be at least better than what they expect. These people aren't hermits to were once part of society and left; they don't really know what they're missing.

I'm not in any way suggesting that there's anything wrong with how they live. Perhaps it is us who can learn from them. But that doesn't mean we can't be in contact.

These people do not have the internet, airplanes, encyclopedias. They just don't know what we're like.


Or... that might all be wrong. If these people really are actively aware of what's going on around them (perhaps occasionally spying on us, as we have on them), then it's totally fine if they don't want to hang out with us. In that case, then, they're not "uncontacted peoples". They're "annoyed peoples" who are intentionally away from society because they do not like it. (I feel like that some days!) But if they're actually "uncontacted peoples" they cannot know whether they'd like to meet us, although they probably do know that they don't want to meet certain outsiders-- the ones who mistreat them. And that ends up leading to bias and more ignorance, for everyone.

Clearly the bad guys in this are the ones who mistreated them in the first place. But now I don't see why doing nothing is necessarily best.

Here's an argument to consider:
Let's assume that within 100 years they will be forced to make contact. I'm not saying this is a good thing; I'm saying it may be reality. With logging in the rain forest and unfair local laws, they may be kicked out of their homes.
What if instead, for the next 100 years, linguists (and other friendly outsiders) could communicate with them, still maintaining a level of respect. Then they could be even more protected in the future or have a way to express their own political views and ask everyone to leave their home alone rather than logging it.

In short, certainly doing something could go wrong, but that doesn't mean that doing nothing is inherently better. Doing nothing can be just as wrong.
It all depends on the details, and I don't think anyone knows the details-- they don't, and we don't.
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Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2014, 02:27:29 AM »
OK, a few things:

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These people have never fully understood the invading Europeans or modern Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. That's not their fault. But it's still, by definition, ignorance.

So they are ignorant of somethings which our society deems as important for them to know. The fact is, the reverse is surely also true by which I mean we are surely ignorant of some facts that their society deems highly relevant. The difference is, they don't feel the need to preach to us about it.

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I'm sure it would be at least better than what they expect
If they value cultural isolation and insulation, then no, a grad student with a mic and notepad would be precisely what the expect, in a sense. They may have little reason to share the intricacies of their language and culture with an outsider. They may value it as highly private or cherish its secrecy as part of their continued autonomy. They may well be right about that.

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These people do not have the internet, airplanes, encyclopedias. They just don't know what we're like.
Oh goodness gracious! Just HOW do they do it without those things?! (note sarcasm)
Hint: they do it just fine and have done so for quite some time now.
They do just fine without encycolpedias in the way you do just fine without their local oral traditions.
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What if instead, for the next 100 years, linguists (and other friendly outsiders) could communicate with them, still maintaining a level of respect. Then they could be even more protected in the future or have a way to express their own political views and ask everyone to leave their home alone rather than logging it.

As if linguists and scientists are the outsiders that they want to meet! How presumptuous! Yes, codify their language, commidify their culture and then give it away to journals who will publish it and raise your publication index. What do they get in return? Well, they get to meet you! How congenial!

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Doing nothing can be just as wrong.
How so?

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2014, 10:28:41 AM »
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So they are ignorant of somethings which our society deems as important for them to know. The fact is, the reverse is surely also true by which I mean we are surely ignorant of some facts that their society deems highly relevant.
I disagree significantly!
I'm not suggesting that only they are ignorant. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge. Both cultures not in contact are ignorant, and both could learn. What I am saying is that it's very unlikely that the best decisions would come from ignorance, from either side. They should know the real possibilities of what might happen if contact began, and we should know what their motivations are for not wanting contact-- there are many possible reasons for that! Beyond this, there are more specific things that we could learn from each other, such as our medical knowledge and their knowledge of local plant and animal life.
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The difference is, they don't feel the need to preach to us about it.
You can't possibly know that! They might be plotting at this very moment to convert us to their religion and just wondering how they can save us from our evil ways of technology. That's my entire point: you're assuming many things about these peoples.

My best guess is that the situation is based on fear, as the primary motivator. Everything else follows from that, whatever the details may be. They might want to preach to us about living as they do. They might not. We don't know. But I am fairly confident that they're afraid of us.

It's like a young child who goes to the doctor and needs a shot. Sometimes the immediate fear gets in the way of something that is actually beneficial.

I have no direct evidence for any of this (no one does), and that's exactly why I'm curious and asking these questions.

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If they value cultural isolation and insulation, then no, a grad student with a mic and notepad would be precisely what the expect, in a sense.
The Native Americans often fear/dislike linguists because of what happened historically. Again, the problem may be communication and intentions rather than what it appears to be on the surface.
However, I'd be very surprised if your description there is accurate. I expect that on a daily basis they're much more concerned about the loggers who are tearing about the area where they live.

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They may have little reason to share the intricacies of their language and culture with an outsider. They may value it as highly private or cherish its secrecy as part of their continued autonomy. They may well be right about that.
That's possible. But there's no reason to assume that's the case. It might be. It might not be.

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Oh goodness gracious! Just HOW do they do it without those things?! (note sarcasm)
Hint: they do it just fine and have done so for quite some time now.
They do just fine without encycolpedias in the way you do just fine without their local oral traditions.
I'm not saying these are inherently good things. I'm saying that they just don't understand us. Equally true is the fact that we don't understand how they live without them. (Well, some of us more than others-- scientists [me among them] tend to at least hypothetically try to understand and value variation.)
The problem is that when they see the airplane in the video (which represents perhaps 50% of their contact with other humans) they may think it's an attack, or a god, or a spy [it is, perhaps!].
If there is a good kind of contact to be had, then clearly the best way to do that would be by somehow first establishing communication and limiting ignorance. As for encyclopedias, I'm talking about ones that would describe the rest of the world. They know their own culture well, but they have little information about what else is out there. If I'm going to visit Russia, I'll first look up information on Wikipedia. They don't have the resources to do that.
As for the internet and so forth, I mean that those would be useful technologies for contacting them. These aren't teenagers who have "blocked" you via instant message. They aren't fully aware of what will happen if they unblock you. They just don't know what will happen, and are certainly afraid of that. They also might not want to contact us because they don't care or want to be isolated, but I see no reason to assume that. Independence and isolation are not bound together.

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As if linguists and scientists are the outsiders that they want to meet! How presumptuous!
There are three reasons:
1. Linguists and scientists are not violent or threatening. Most of their previous contact has probably been with threatening individuals with guns. So perhaps the cast of American Idol could be the first ones to show up, whatever. As long as they don't have guns, that's an improvement.
But linguists are usually calm and patient, which would help more.
2. Linguists and scientists are (uniquely?) prepared to understand and respect diversity and to learn to communicate with these people. I would say the same thing about any situation where cross-cultural communication is difficult. Very simplified, translators would be needed. The fact that Russia and America have ambassadors doesn't mean that the two cultures are any more similar now; it just means that there is a way to have communication when it's needed. At the very least having a linguist (=translator, primarily) as ambassador seems like a reasonable idea; then we'd know what they want and could answer their questions.
3. We'd benefit from contact with then without doing massive damage. For example, compared to loggers we would not destroy their homes. And this is, I freely admit, also selfish: we'd like to know about them.

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Yes, codify their language, commidify their culture and then give it away to journals who will publish it and raise your publication index. What do they get in return? Well, they get to meet you! How congenial!
That's overly simplistic of you. There are many possibilities.
Meeting us could be helpful. Linguists are often involved in political activities that support the rights of diverse populations. If we knew more about these people and what they wanted (whether that's remaining "uncontacted" or just to be allowed to live!) then we could help them via knowledge.
Many linguists are not primarily motivated by funding and publication but by the ideas of science. For practical reasons there is often an effect, of course: we might not make a year long trip to the rain forest for this without funding, but that's a valid concern: would it be appropriate? That doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it. It might be that the best thing to do would be to make a gamble: show up, see what they would like, and then not publish if they don't consent (after, of course, communication is possible).

Many fieldworkers are dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of the individuals and cultures they work with! I read an article recently with copyright held not by the author or publisher but by the community of speakers of the language, because that was most respectful and was what they wanted. He was working for/with them, rather than just taking from them. Preserving their language could help them in the future when, perhaps inevitably, some evil company destroys their homes by logging. Linguists are rarely the cause of major problems like that, and then the question is whether they can help (or, if in bad circumstances, they go along with it, adding to the problem).

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Doing nothing can be just as wrong.
How so?
I wrote about Easter Island above. Those people actually needed help. Though it came from the Europeans as a form of discrimination and mistreatment, they still needed the help. At least in that case, it's perfectly imaginable that a different group to make first contact would have simply been helpful-- giving them food, and giving them space.

In this case, there are two possibilities for why no contact could be a bad thing:
1. Sharing knowledge and resources might benefit everyone involved.
As a simple argument, I bet their life expectancy is not as high as for other "contacted" cultures, due to nutrition and a somewhat harsh environment. (Our life expectancy has increased for the past 1000 years or so; there's no reason for theirs to have done the same.) So while there are lots of factors to consider in a decision, it's nothing to laugh about that we might be able to extend their lives by 30 years or so. Perhaps they don't value long lives. I don't know. But very simply, there are ways it might benefit them. They might just love watching TV or skateboarding. Should they be "preserved" in a way that they'd never get to tell us?
2. Contact can promote understanding and help to protect them. If no one understands these peoples, then at some point someone is probably going to ignorantly destroy their cultures. I think we can all agree that would be bad. So if linguists were able to promote their cultures as worth preserving and explain how to do it (for example, do they need us to not log within 5 sq. miles of forest, or 500, or 50,000?) that would actually be the start of ensuring their futures.



In the end, you might be right. But it's not certain that you are. That's why it's worth discussing, and, in my opinion, it would be great to discuss it with them.

A simple argument against contact is: they aren't initiating it, and if we do it might be dangerous for everyone. Fair enough. But as I said, we don't know why they're not initiating it and there are arguments to be made for why it would help to have contact.
« Last Edit: January 24, 2014, 10:30:59 AM by djr33 »
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Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2014, 02:47:25 AM »
My point is that it is their decision (not) to contact the outside world. We have a social obligation to respect that. It seems we disagree on that. Although I understand your motivation to extend a hand to them and see if they want to benefit from all we have to teach them (!!!!), I am unconvinced that this is a decision that the dominant culture is in a position to make.

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2014, 03:02:29 AM »
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My point is that it is their decision (not) to contact the outside world.
But how can that possibly be an informed decision if they are uncontacted? If they are actually contacted and just decided to live apart from other societies, then that would be fine.

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We have a social obligation to respect that.
Of what society!? What kind of social structure? Theirs? Ours? Some social obligation you impose on them because of your beliefs?
What if, just imagine, it turned out that contacting them was the best thing that ever happened to them, even if they didn't know they wanted it.

I completely agree we should be respectful. What I'm wondering is what would be the best way to do that.

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Although I understand your motivation to extend a hand to them and see if they want to benefit from all we have to teach them (!!!!), I am unconvinced that this is a decision that the dominant culture is in a position to make.
Children don't know that school will be useful to them, yet we make them do it all the time.
Certainly the situation here is different in terms of maturity, but not in terms of experience or knowledge.
We may not be in a position to make it (though note that a friendly linguist isn't exactly "the dominant culture", especially if they didn't represent the government).
But are they?


This reminds me of situations of minority languages. As linguists we like to pretend that it's "good" to preserve languages, that people "should" do that. But from any reasonable social perspective, it entirely depends on what the culture wants. The Basques are amazingly dedicated to their culture and language, so they should preserve it. But some other groups may not find their language helpful or beneficial, so they may not preserve it. We shouldn't judge them for that. We should support them.
In the case of these uncontacted peoples, we are making a biased decision to keep them "uncontacted" to "preserve" their ways of life. That scientific/social perspective is biased and may be putting an unfair burden on them. They don't contact us, they assume we are bad; we let them continue. Is that really necessarily the best outcome?



What I would consider suggesting would be a friendly, non-threatening linguist who arrives in order to talk to them, to start a conversation. "Do you want to know more about us?"
It's invasive, but it might be a good thing. It might also be a bad thing. We just don't know.
To me, the best option in any of this seems to be having a conversation, if there is any reasonable way to do that.

I would NEVER suggest forcing anything upon their culture, not at all. But "forcing" a conversation with a friendly outsider? Doesn't seem destructive or that invasive to me.


While I am not in any way comparing these people to apes, the way that Jane Goodall interacted with gorillas comes to mind. I don't think she was believed to have destroyed their habits or culture or really disrupted them at all. Instead, she simply got closer and closer, calmly, until they accepted her. She was kind, even helpful at times (against poachers for example). With this calm and low pressure approach, the gorillas eventually grew to like her.
I don't see why this can't be made somehow similar. And in this case, there could be a dialog as the result rather than just observations.
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Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2014, 01:58:12 AM »
Look, to summarise:

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But how can that possibly be an informed decision if they are uncontacted? If they are actually contacted and just decided to live apart from other societies, then that would be fine.
Just because they are uncontacted (= the outsiders have not contacted them) doesn't mean that they don't have some idea of what the outsiders are doing. In fact, it takes a lot of effort to remain "uncontacted" what with religious fanatics, socio-political organisations, and other groups constantly angling to use these tribes as capital of one kind of another, we must agree that being uncontacted is a choice.

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While I am not in any way comparing these people to apes, the way that Jane Goodall interacted with gorillas comes to mind. I don't think she was believed to have destroyed their habits or culture or really disrupted them at all. Instead, she simply got closer and closer, calmly, until they accepted her. She was kind, even helpful at times (against poachers for example). With this calm and low pressure approach, the gorillas eventually grew to like her.
I don't see why this can't be made somehow similar. And in this case, there could be a dialog as the result rather than just observations.
Yes, be kind and gentle to the exotic other, watch them from afar and show them the majesty of your ways, but above all, document them for your dissertation and get a PhD and give exciting slideshows to the funding board.

Seriously, and with all due respect, examples like this make me think that this dialog is going nowhere.

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2014, 09:55:44 AM »
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Just because they are uncontacted (= the outsiders have not contacted them) doesn't mean that they don't have some idea of what the outsiders are doing.
You have no evidence one way or the other, though. If they do know all about us and wish to remain uncontacted, then we should probably respect that. But again, they can't possibly know what all of us are like and it's incredibly likely that the people they have encountered have mistreated or threatened them in a way that not all outsiders would.

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In fact, it takes a lot of effort to remain "uncontacted" what with religious fanatics, socio-political organisations, and other groups constantly angling to use these tribes as capital of one kind of another, we must agree that being uncontacted is a choice.
It depends on where they are located. Deep in the Amazon rain forest is one place (perhaps the only place?) where contact really has been limited for practical reasons and the only people interested in the area are loggers. (Maybe scientists too, but they probably don't often venture that far.)
Secondly, again, the biasing experience of encountering outsiders in a bad way means that these peoples don't actually know what it would be like to encounter friendly/helpful outsiders, whatever that would mean. Perhaps you want to suggest that we aren't capable of being friendly/helpful and that therefore we shouldn't take that risk. Maybe you're right. But in theory, I don't see a problem with that.

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Yes, be kind and gentle to the exotic other, watch them from afar and show them the majesty of your ways, but above all, document them for your dissertation and get a PhD and give exciting slideshows to the funding board.

Seriously, and with all due respect, examples like this make me think that this dialog is going nowhere.
You're reading a lot more into what I wrote than what I intended. I'm not suggesting we should do this for selfish reasons (although that would be a bonus-- it would be great to know about their languages and cultures-- we'd surely learn a lot from them). Humans are social animals, so all things being equal, it would seem that contact is a good thing.

There are obvious precautions that should be taken and many possible negative outcomes. But that doesn't mean there isn't some potential positive outcome.



The issue comes down to this:
Informed consent
What is "informed"? I don't believe that these people are informed enough to make a decision about consent. I also don't believe they should be coerced into consenting. That's what makes this complicated.
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Offline zaba

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2014, 10:15:55 AM »
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these peoples don't actually know what it would be like to encounter friendly/helpful outsiders
so who decides who's friendly? a christian evangelist thinks he's friendly. even a well-intentioned logger may consider himself friendly. a linguist does too, obviously! no doubt you, too, consider yourself friendly.

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so all things being equal, it would seem that contact is a good thing.

Many of these peoples, decimated by contact-related issues, would beg to differ.

Offline Daniel

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Re: "Uncontacted Peoples"
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2014, 10:46:14 AM »
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so who decides who's friendly? a christian evangelist thinks he's friendly. even a well-intentioned logger may consider himself friendly. a linguist does too, obviously! no doubt you, too, consider yourself friendly.
Completely valid point.
Wouldn't it be reasonable to let these peoples decide who is friendly? We could certainly make a good faith effort to initiate friendly contact and soon after ask them what, if anything, they would like.  There is a huge difference between initiating communicating and other activities like logging or converting someone to a religion. There's nothing wrong with asking "would you like to know more about our beliefs?" But there is something wrong with assuming they do.
As for who is friendly, another way of looking at this is that one who assumes he is friendly is probably not. I'd constantly question it, if I was in that position. I also don't know that I'd personally be the best for this situation. But surely someone who is genuinely kind and doesn't intend to be disruptive would be better than the people they've encountered so far!

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Many of these peoples, decimated by contact-related issues, would beg to differ.
Then something is very wrong with the term "uncontacted". Do you actually have any evidence that these uncontacted peoples have been decimated by contact?
I'm well aware that many contacted peoples have been decimated by contact. But that seems to be a critical distinction.


Important question:
Are there any uncontacted peoples??

I'm assuming there are and discussing that. If all of them actually have been contacted, then the situation is quite different.
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