The People We Left Behind

Tribes deep in the Amazon have never had contact with the outside world. Are they missing out or lucky? Photo courtesy of CreativeCommons

by Michael Rutledge

Welcome to the only spot on the face of the planet where no one has heard of Angry Birds.  A series of pictures, released by Survival International, reveal a recently discovered tribe in the Amazon rainforest who has been completely untouched by the modern world. reports that there are believed to be around 100 or so of these uncontacted tribes left in the world, most of which are located deep in the Amazon.

These may be the only people who are truly and completely unconnected to the flow of modern society.  Try to go one hour without checking your phone for a text message; now try and imagine not even knowing what a text message is.  When you see these tribes they almost appear alien to us, as if they don’t belong here on this planet.  We feel like we’ve left them out on some big secret, but have we really?  Is this kind of isolation a blessing or a curse?  They live in a world where Facebook, Twitter, CNN and Charlie Sheen’s drug problems don’t exist.  They also live in a world free of terrorist attacks, economic collapses, social inequality and taxes.  When they wake up in the morning they don’t have to hear about recent casualties in Iraq or listen to the latest bravado about why Mac is better than PC.  So who are the lucky ones in this situation, them or us?  They are the extreme example of an unconnected society, but in the same respect are we a radical example of a society that is too connected?  I’m sorry, but I don’t need to know every little detail about every single person at every single moment of the day.  It feels like we’re polluting the cosmos with our garbage sometimes.

Isolated tribes have carved out small sanctuaries in the Amazon rainforest. Picture courtesy of CreativeCommons

Now, it’s important just to look at the communication side of things.  Modern medicine, longer life expectancy and clean water are worth the price of seeing Lady Gaga in a meat suit once a year; but just from a connection (Facebook, Twitter, txt, etc…) standpoint, are they really missing out?  Haven’t they already proven by their very existence that going two hours without a cell phone will not, indeed, kill you.

Is it right to view these tribes as relics of an archaic era?  What do we do with them?  Should we protect them, reach out to them, force them to adapt?  These isolated people pose ethical questions that transcend our debates on whether Facebook is good or the downfall of Western civilization.  Should we have the right to interfere if two tribes go to war?  Should we send in doctors if a disease takes hold?  Should we send in educators to teach them about efficient agriculture?  We are curious by our nature, but I think that in this one case we should leave well enough alone.  By some miracle (or cosmic accident for those nonbelievers out there) these people have carved out a small piece of the world for themselves that is completely free from our meddling.  They don’t have any of the benefits we do, but they also don’t have any of the problems.  Is that a fair trade?  That is up to you to decide.


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