Sunday, June 21, 1998

What shall we do about the lost tribes of Surbiton, Seattle and Sydney?

What shall we do about the lost tribes of Surbiton, Seattle and Sydney?

LAST WEEK it was reported that a 50-strong tribe had been "discovered" deep in the Brazilian rainforest. The tribe had spent the last 70 years trying to hide from prospectors - only to fall victim to an anthropologist. The question is being asked: what should we do about them?

I wonder what it feels like to be "discovered". The only comparable situation I can think of would be if the Lords of the Galaxy suddenly noticed the Earth for the first 
time and then got into a debate about what to do with the people who lived on it.

Naturally they would not dream of imposing their own galactic religion or social norms upon us. They would leave us to practise our own customs freely, and would not tolerate any old-fashioned nonsense such as missionary work or the exploitation of our planet for resources. This would be a simple question of respect. If Lords of the Galaxy started rolling up on Earth in their rocket ships in order to gawp at us, the whole fabric of our society would be placed in jeopardy. Once we had got to know about the fantastic standard of living enjoyed by the rest of the galaxy, we would not be content to endure the drudgery of being confined to Earth.

We would soon cast aside our primitive cloth-based fabrics and start dressing up in the latest plutonium foils. We would knock down our houses and erect towers of moonrock. Our youth would start cavorting with galactic travellers and lose all sense of their Earthly morality. As for technology - the visitors would leave our Ferraris looking like East German Trabants.

In short, we would lose our characteristically Earthbound appearance and start looking just like any old planet anywhere else in the galaxy. And what a loss that would be for the heritage of the universe.

No, tourism on Earth should be a controlled and discreet affair, designed so as not to disturb the local environment. Visitors would watch us going about our business from secure hides in the sky. They would be limited to strict quotas, and not expect the standards of comfort and hygiene to which they were accustomed.

Which is not to suggest that there would never be grounds for galactic intervention under any circumstances. If we Earthlings were in flagrant breach of galactic law, action might have to be taken. Our barbarous habit of eating meat would be looked at very carefully, as would our childish fantasy that there is such a thing as "property".

Then there would be our welfare to consider. Could the Lords of the Galaxy stand by while we insisted on pursuing our antiquated medical practices? Could we be permitted to grow old and die, for example, when the technology of eternal youth was available on the Galactic Health Service? Agonising choices would have to be made on our behalf. If our galactic overlords marched in and abolished human death,where would that leave our culture? Would we be taught the main galactic language of commerce? Without it, we would be disadvantaged in the galactic market. Unable to enter universities or find work, we would be trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Worried? Just think how the monks of Mount Athos must be feeling. The 1000-year-old tradition forbidding women from entering their "Monastic Republic" is under threat. Strict application of the Schengen Agreement - which allows free access to all parts of the European Union - may result in Athos being thrown open to women as well as men. Watch out for a lot of very, very angst-ridden monks.