25
$\begingroup$

So, in this story, my main character and his friends go to the ruins of an old city from the pre-apocalypse years. He needs to go there to retrieve a valuable artifact, but the local tribe that controls the territory won’t let it happen. They are convinced that all pre-war cities were built by gods, not mere mortal men. They say that the cities are the realms of the gods, perfect utopias that humans should never enter. Now, my main character is relatively educated and knows how cities were actually built. He needs to explain the truth to the tribe in words they can understand (they have never seen automobiles, cranes etc.) So, how could you convince the tribe that cities were not built by gods, but humans?

If he does not convince them and tries to go in, they will try to hunt him down and kill him.

They live about 10 miles away from the city. The city is crumbling, with most of the tallest buildings reduced to rubble or metal frames. The suburb houses are there, but the tribe don’t see them as holy. The construction sites are all deep in the city, the parts that they don’t go in. They think it’s utopia because the stories they hear about come from the golden age, before the apocalypse .

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35: Volcanologist Haroun Tazieff reported having met a tribe in Polynesia when studying a volcano, that believed he was trying to hunt the volcano god and bring it away as a trophy. He could stay for a while, but eventually failed to convince them and had to leave for his own safety. $\endgroup$ – castor Apr 30 '18 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ Does the city has a ring road around it? that would do for a nice barrier. $\endgroup$ – castor Apr 30 '18 at 13:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This seems very story based to me $\endgroup$ – bendl Apr 30 '18 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ How many decades do they have to undermine the religion? $\endgroup$ – John May 1 '18 at 3:44
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Would relatively primitive people really confuse technology with magic? $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm May 1 '18 at 8:28

11 Answers 11

66
$\begingroup$

I'd advise against this approach. Your character has very low chance of success. When a dogma is central to a person's religious identity, it will be believed until there is some direct personal reason to stop believing it.

As a real world example of the effect of religious identity, many religious movements believing in creationism reject evolution decades after the evidence for it has become overwhelming. This is not due to stupidity or ignorance, it is because creationism is part of their religious identity, which is much more important to them than this specific biological process.

Evolution as a process is really only directly relevant to palaeontologists, micro-biologists, some computer scientists and so on. Accepting it has no real value to ordinary person that would justify questioning their religious identity. There is no cost (despite conspiracy theories otherwise) to rejecting evolution for most people, while members of such religious movements would pay high personal costs in embracing evolution. Even if other people were totally cool about it, the person himself would still have a serious religious crisis.

So, if I get back to the actual question, the cities being homes of Gods seems really central to religious identity of these "primitives". Questioning the sanctity of the cities would instantly question the entire existence of their tribal gods. Which would destabilize their religious beliefs and presumably entire social structure. Only a complete fool would do that just because some person tells them so and has some proof. The amount and quality of proof or the persuasiveness of the argument is not really relevant.

It is also totally unnecessary. Since you have a practical need to go to the city, not a burning desire to change beliefs of the natives, you can just work within their mental framework. Do not dispute their beliefs, embrace and reinforce them.

Just tell them that the spirits have spoken to you and revealed to you that great disaster will come unless you go to the holy city of the gods and directly beg the gods for their mercy and support in the form of a sacred divine artefact which when you return with it to your home will save your people from demons/disaster/divine punishment.

I assume your character has an actual reason to want this artefact, so you should express that reason in proper language and mental framework instead of lying to good people if you can help it. Similarly your character seems to have special knowledge of the city what is in it and things related to the artefact. Just express those in correct language of visions and divine revelation instead of wasting everyone's time trying to convert people to your preferred way of thinking for no reason.

Since this is arguably a holy quest, your character should have fun playing it up. And problems with his own lack of holiness. The best way to handle that is probably humility. If he openly admits his own shortcomings while repeating his belief in the mercy of the gods and the salvation in the form of the sacred artefact, people should accept him and his quest. Fake humility certainly works for real religious figures who fall short of standards.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 3 '18 at 10:15
10
$\begingroup$

Tell them the gods actually wanted humans to visit them.

This one works with a city circled by a freeway that acts as a no man's land. Entrances to the freeway are marked with "no pedestrians" signs. But the MC discovers a skywalk still standing that connects to the city, with a "pedestrians go here" sign. It looks so run down that no one in its right mind would use it, but MC convinces the natives that if the gods don't want him to enter, the skywalk will collapse, and if it holds, it means he's allowed inside. (You'll have to explain why the "pedestrian allowed" sign wasn't found before)

Tell them a god from another city asked the group to retrieve the artifact.

This task shouldn't be done by the MC, who got blacklisted trying to convince the locals with his technology nonsense. Leave it to the group weirdo. You know, the one no one knows if (s)he's crazy or a genius. Hint that the locals are impressed by him(her) and his(her) eccentric behavior. They may believe him(her) more easily than the MC.

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ pretending to be the emissary of gods seems like a workable solution, especially if he has technology they do not. Explorers from technological civilizations have done this successfully before. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 30 '18 at 18:23
3
$\begingroup$

In order for your character to be able to convince anyone of this, I think the following statements have to both be true.

  • Their gods are transcendent. If they believe that a building built by the gods is indistinguishable from one built by humans, then no amount of demonstrating will be able to convince them otherwise. So in the absence of any pre-apocalypse photos or videos of that city, the tribe could simply say that it was built before humans were around.

  • They're familiar with the city. If all they know is what it looks like from a distance, the tribal leaders could declare that anything built by humans is fundamentally different from the buildings in the city-- perhaps they're interwoven with spells, or rose instantly from the ground. The more skeptical-minded tribespeople might get on board with you if you built your own replica of a city building, but most of them likely wouldn't.

If both those statements are true, I think a demonstration by your character would be sufficient to at least get most of the tribe (you'll never reach everyone-- that could even be a plot point later!) that the city was perhaps not built by gods after all.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

One of the issues with dealing with "primitive" people is the lack of reference points. Buildings are a very old human technology, so understanding the idea of large buildings being an extension of building technology really isn't too difficult a leap.

On the other hand, "cargo cults" arose during WWII as American engineers build airstrips and military cargo planes began to arrive delivering the logistical supplies needed to fight a global conflict. For primitive people living in places like New Guinea, the very concepts of powered machinery and aircraft didn't exist prior to the arrival of the allies. Cargo cultists built replica airfields and airplanes in an attempt to continue to receive the bundles of supplies that flowed from allied cargo planes long ago.

enter image description here

Cargo cultists attempting to replicate aircraft

So it may be possible to persuade some of the tribespeople that the buildings in the ruined city are simply very large version of what they live in (and this will be reinforced if the ruins are visibly collapsing: creations of the gods should not be decaying or collapsing). This still needs to be handled with some care, as Ville Niemi suggested in his answer, there may be a large component of people's self identity tied into their beliefs in the city, and no amounts of normal persuasion will likely work (and indeed be counter productive).

If that is the case, you may be better off either subverting the religious prohibitions (hinting at untold wealth that is hidden away), or making a spectacular demonstration that "your" god is much more powerful and opposing you is a very bad idea. If you are lucky, you might even find a complimentary belief system and exploit that; the Aztecs believed that the Conquistadors were gods, prophesied to return from the East, and the Conquistadors simply exploited that belief for as long as possible. (Of course, their access to modern fighting technology meant that they also could apply the "God is more powerful" card as well, delivering a double whammy to the Aztecs).

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Is this tribe in question listening? Is there an opportunity to discuss with? If so, the tribe should be able to give time to your main character.

Once this time is granted, your character must give all the information he knows about the structures. Indeed, if the structures are built by the gods, a simple human being is not supposed to know the subtlety of the buildings. Thus, it would be necessary to give details that the tribe can verify, like how to create the foundations. In addition, it is quite simple to create cement. It would be necessary to create a small quantity to show that it is possible to make solid walls with. Nothing better than to create what the tribe's beliefs are based on to disturb them and show that a simple human can do it.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sounds good to me, with the potential interesting side-effect of this tribe now considering you to be a god/prophet, seeing as you have the knowledge only the gods possess... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Apr 30 '18 at 11:58
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Using our knowledge to "trick" the tribe may be the best option $\endgroup$ – MathieuL Apr 30 '18 at 12:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Nothing better than to create what the tribe's beliefs are based on to disturb them and show that a simple human can do it." You'd think. Really, though, they'd call you a witch, and burn you at the stake. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 30 '18 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn That's such a cliche and not true. People have introduced video cameras and voice recorders to lost tribes (that don't live next to former high-tech cities and will experience stuff) plenty of times and since they are not stupid, they usually seem to understand the basic idea within minutes. (not talking about the hostile tribes that kill you anyhow) And even if, wouldn't they think that he's one of the gods? See James Cook $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Apr 30 '18 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ "That's such a cliche". Stories run on cliches... It's the very definition of Trope. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 30 '18 at 12:55
1
$\begingroup$

You say that your character is educated and knows that the cities were constructed by men. Does he have 'old' books or photographs wjere he learned this information from. Bringing photoes along where human workers build a part of a sky scraper or work in a crane would definitely help more to convince them than mere words. If the technology is still available to him to play videos that would be even better.

In any case, he would have to explain simply how to build a simple house (in case the tribe has lost even the knowledge of this), before moving to explaining more advanced structures. School videos for kids in primary school which explain the building of large houses and concepts behind constructing cities are probably a good source for obtaining ideas of how to explain complex notions to people who lack a lot of background information.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

You can't combat religious dogma with logic and reason. Your character would be better of lying through his teeth to convince them he's been appointed by the gods to enter the city. Use their religion against them.

Does he has any technology that he could use to fake the voice of god?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" Arthur C Clarke

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

"He needs to go there to retrieve a valuable artifact, but the local tribe that controls the territory won’t let it happen."

If he knows enough lore he could try to convince the locals that he is on a mission from one of their deities. Does he really need to try to change their minds in order to manipulate them?

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

This entirely depends on your various Character's motivations

If the tribe is not that devout or maybe only a small number of them are then some simply explanations and demonstrations of the principles of the pre-apocalpyse tech that gave rise to the stories that in turn gave rise to them being Gods, might be enough. or he'd have to convince the tribe that entering the city will not anger them and therefore they have nothing to fear and demonstrate that

If he refuses to lie to the tribe, but happy to bend the truth then he will simply have to tell the tribe he will not enter the city of the gods leave the other way and then go round them. i'm presuming the tribe have not built a huge circular city of their own around the ruins??? being that the city is not actually a city of the gods, then his statement is true, while also deceiving, hence bending the truth

If the MC is happy lying Then as above saying he has divine permission is the simplest way to progress

If the MC refuses to lie, and refuses to bend the truth and go round them, and the tribe devoutly believe it is the city of the gods... then he'll need to setup and schooling system, educate the young of the tribe so they can grow up to educate their offspring, develop suitable water treatment and farming to improve upon the tribes lives, then force the tribe into an industrial revolution, where they can begin to build basic versions of the pre-apocalypse technologies, throw in a couple of world wars, to further enforce the development and even more advanced tech, learn to split the atom...

Then have a neighbouring tribe start a complicated game of oneupmanship, until is finally ends with the tribe landing on the moon...

then after another Generation or two, they may have a few tribesmen, usually teenage boys trying to show how fearless they are to impress a girl. might venture into the city. once this has been done and the MC (which would need to be very very long lived) might be able to convince those same boys that would have since grown up that its was safe and the old very devout members of the tribe have all died of old age, then maybe they could be convinced with reasoning... but scientists have been trying that for centuries.

For the majority of mankind, their beliefs will always take priority over fact. to use an above example:

Evolution is provable fact, and yet creationists still exist...

The earth being round is provable fact, and yet flat earth believer's still exist...

DCEU movies have pretty much all been utterly terrible is an obviously provable fact, and yet supporters still exist...

These are not criticisms of the believers, just simple facts...

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Perhaps the MC could say that city was created by gods, but the gods decided to play a game in which they transformed into humans and forget who they were. So they left the cities.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

If your goal is to explain the cities were build by men like you and him, not gods, you could mention the graveyards and funeral houses in a city. You need to explain the limits of those who build the cities so you can show the builders were not gods.

If your goal is to show off the technology, build something that the tribe cannot deny the usefulness of and explain something they have no explanation for.

If your character does this and the tribe is concerned about this, what then? Using more technology would be like opening a Pandora's box for them. They could say, "Embracing this would lead to same destruction of the gods." You will need to build trust with them to convince your path is the right one.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.