A few nights ago, I watched The Lost City of Z, which is about British explorer Percy Fawcett who was sent to Bolivia and later made several attempts to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon. He disappeared in 1925 along with his son on an expedition. It got me thinking about people today who are still uncontacted by the rest of humanity. It’s a bewildering thought, indeed, but could there be anything that they could teach us? I think so.
Some people want to protect these “lost tribes” from contact with the Western world for various reasons. For example, our “civilized” immune systems have developed immunities to diseases that would kill most of them. Many feel that these uncontacted people should be left alone to determine their own destiny; that we should afford them the same basic human rights that we (supposedly) apply to the rest of humanity. Reservations have been created to prevent the abuse of those rights where businesses large and small would like to encroach on tribal territory. Questions of morality arise in complex ways.
What intrigues me, of course, has nothing to do with their rights or protections. I’m concerned with the philosophical implications, as selfish as that might sound. These uncontacted people have no ideology or sense of history that could be remotely similar to the rest of humanity. I’m sure they have their own simple ideologies and codes of ethics to live by. The point at which I think we could learn from them lay precisely in these differences of worldview.
Many of them are still preliterate and think thunderstorms are the work of gods. They may even look upon us as gods with all of our great technological advancements. But what of their moral sense? A thought experiment: a human being is raised and lives in the wild for the entirety of their life. Would they develop the same or a similar sense of morality that we civilized Westerners have? Do unto others? I tend to think not, though some would disagree.
The point at which we could learn from the lost tribes lay precisely in seeing how exactly we Westerners are conditioned from birth. It makes me think twice about my own study of philosophy. They live close to the earth, as it were. We are mostly emancipated from the earth. They are not burdened by our lifestyle, yet we feel that they must be living miserable lives out there alone in the wild. What I am studying, really, is the history of the thought processes of civilization. And what is my concern with history? Why do I believe it to be so important?
Lastly, though less important I think, the entire situation makes possible another thought experiment: suppose there exist intelligent life forms outside of Earth that look upon us as we look upon the lost tribes. Or suppose that we happen across a newfound planet that contains intelligent life forms similar to us, but far less technologically advanced. These thought experiments inevitably bring up serious questions of morality.
The movie gave me a lot to think about, so I figured I would share my thoughts. Should we take a closer look at how we are conditioned? Would it be healthy to attempt to live a more simple lifestyle? More than our material lifestyle, I mean to question our spiritual lifestyle. Perhaps they go hand in hand. In any case, I think the thought deserves some consideration.