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I am currently building a world where one of the most powerful countries/kingdoms is much known for its exploration and architectural culture. To be really short, exploration is a noble profession for its citizens, and they organize trips regularly. The ruling family puts a loooot of money in those few-month trips (to the detriment of lower classes, but that a whole other point that I don't think is relevant here).

I have read books about exploration and did some research, and each time, it seems that the main purposes of these explorations was to expand the country/religion, conquering, doing slavery and/or seeking for wealth and fame.

The thing is (maybe I am being naive), I don't really want what happened with the Maya and the Aztec, for example, where almost all the cultural wealth was destroyed and the cities plundered by Europeans conquistadors.

I am aware that I can't create a feasible world where those things never happened, but for the sake of some part of my world's cultures, my question is : could a country/kingdom do world exploration but only for commercial/be-the-first-to-complete-a-world-map purposes (or any other non-destructive reason) ?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure you've read the book about guy called Columbus? Spanish royal family explled (due to inqusition) most of their money having, laundedring, lending people so they needed to make money. Religion taxation was out of the table so they went for trade. To find a trade route to India. It wasn't religious or conqer need. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Feb 3 '20 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ Portugal's exploration in Asia is pretty close to this: while they did acquire territories, they were mostly trade ports taken for commercial reasons, outside of the spice islands. Some of them were even acquired peacefully (notably Macau, Fort Kochi and Nagasaki). $\endgroup$ – user3482749 Feb 3 '20 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ You mean like in Star Trek? $\endgroup$ – Hink Feb 3 '20 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ A small point: sure, your noble explorers wouldn't have looted the native populations of the America, but chances are the explorers would have killed the natives anyway. Influenza, smallpox, measles etc don't care about intent. $\endgroup$ – Luis Feb 3 '20 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Ernie this is the premise of the famous American TV show Star Trek, which is about a group of explorers that traverse the galaxy seeking out new civilizations. There was a guiding principle called the Prime Directive, which prevented them from exploiting these civilizations. $\endgroup$ – Hink Feb 4 '20 at 8:08

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Exploration as such has rarely been destructive, and when it was destructive is was mainly due to unforeseen side effects.

The main motivation behind great exploration efforts has almost always been purely commercial. Prince Henry the Navigator put a lot of capital behind Portuguese exploration efforts because Portugal needed a route to India bypassing the Muslim monopoly over trade between the India and Europe. For the same reason, Ferdinand and Isabella backed the voyages of Columbus. The quest for new markets and new suppliers motivated Hanno the Carthaginian and Pytheas the Greek.

Religious or scientific motivations, or simple plain curiosity, were behind individual exploration efforts, such as those of Ibn Battuta the Muslim or Livingstone the Scotsman; such efforts are good stories, but they rarely resulted in significant effects.

With few exceptions, destruction of native cultures happened, when it happened, after the exploration was done. Whatever motivations the explorers had, no matter how pure, when they came home with news of new fertile countries, rich in minerals and timber, populated by dirt poor savages, it was human nature that some enterprising entrepreneurs would attempt to take over the land and timber and minerals.

Columbus went west in an attempt to circumvent the Muslim empires which blocked trade between Europe and India. The motivation was commercial. He failed, but returned home with stories of an entire new world, rich beyond imagination, and populated by people who were very very far behind Europe in technological development. From that point on it was unavoidable that somebody, if not Cortés and Balboa and Pizarro then for sure other adventurers, will arm expeditions trying to make themselves masters of that alluring new world.

Exploration rarely did more than put two different human cultures in contact; what happened afterwards is what always happens when different human cultures come into contact. If one of the cultures is clearly much more developed than the other, the weaker culture will wither and die. If the two cultures are at comparable levels of development, then they will adapt and influence each other, with the stronger culture having a stronger influence on the weaker culture than viceversa, but they will both survive in some form.

For a contemporary phenomenon of the same nature, consider the continuous Americanization of the world. The Americans do not have a goal of cultural domination of the world; it just happens, driven by impersonal forces.

Indian culture survived the renewal of the contact with Europe, because India was a rich and developed country; yes, India was behind Europe in technological development, but the difference was not all that great. The Aztec and the Inca empires did not survive contact with Europe, because they were thousands of years behind in technological development. Cortés conquered the Aztec empire, and Pizarro conquered the Inca empire with a few dozen horses and a few hundred men; such expeditions were well with the capacity of ambitious individuals. Trying to conquer India would have required enourmous resources, and no European power even tried.

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    $\begingroup$ @Emie: You are indeed missing something. The essence of the answer is that large successful exploration efforts have almost always had commercial motivations. (The only notable exception is the British and French efforts in the 18th century, which had strategic motivations.) The point of the answer is that the question concentrates on the wrong activity. Exploration is rarely willingly destructive, and explorers almost always have commercial or ideological motivations. What is important is what happens after the explorers open the way. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 3 '20 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ How can you say that no European power tried to conquer India? The British did, and succeeded, as everyone knows. $\endgroup$ – lukas84 Feb 4 '20 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @lukas84: The British never conquered India; they ruled India. For some time, India and the United Kingdom were in a personal union, in that the king or queen of the United Kingdom was also emperor or empress of India; they also were bound by treaties. The British Empire was a unique construction, very unlike anything before or after. India and the United Kingdom have never been parts of the same state. There are many ways to exert control over a country, and conquest is only one of them; just compare the status of British India and French Algeria. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 4 '20 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ A personal union is a very different thing, it's when two independent countries happen to have the same person as head of state. That's not the case. A European power, the East India Company, conquered about half of India by military power (Plassey and so on). Then after 1857 the British Empire took direct control of these territories, and ruled indirectly over the other half by way of treaties with local rulers. Some years later Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India, but that doesn't mean that she was Queen in the UK and Empress in India as separate realms. $\endgroup$ – lukas84 Feb 4 '20 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @lukas84: She absolutely was Queen of the UK and Empress of India as separate realms; to give a straightforward example, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa were all separate founding members of the League of Nations. The British Empire was not a state. (And the East India Company was not a European power; in Europe it was just another joint stock company. It was not an organ of the British state. It was not owned by the British state. To the extent that it acquired lands and power in India it functioned as an Indian state.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 4 '20 at 16:09
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They are passionate about natural history.

beetles

https://amazingwomeninhistory.com/mary-treat-biologist/

The Victorians were exactly that - super excited about insects, shells, fossils - all sorts of things. And not just exotica - they got into the things that were in their own back yards. I shed a wistful tear, marveling at a world where middle class folks attend lectures on biology and go out bug collecting with the family on weekends.

This is the situation for your country. The ruling class has phenomenal zoos and museums and they actually have each carved out niches for themselves - an insect museum, a shell museum, a fern greenhouse, etc. The king and queen have an aquarium which is the most expensive and incredible. The people can visit these places and this serves as "circus" as in "bread and circus".

Like our current voyages to the sea floor or space, the voyages of exploration are to learn about amazing new things and bring back specimens for study and exhibition.

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    $\begingroup$ This kind of thing wasn't just limited to natural history either. Egyptian artifacts, mummies in particular, were wildly popular in Victorian England. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Feb 3 '20 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ Victorian England would put some pokemon trainers to shame! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Feb 3 '20 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer. Reading about Captain Cooks first Voyage: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook it really matches. His expedition existed primarily to measure Venus crossing the sun (in order to measure the distance from Earth to the sun). But seeing as the ship was going out to the other side of the world anyway they brought a load of botanists and mapped some coastlines for the navy. So some astronomical interests can be included too (as well as the mummies). $\endgroup$ – Dast Feb 4 '20 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ Errrrrr... yeah, well, the Victorians maybe loved insects, but they somewhat ended building the biggest colonial empire ever. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Feb 4 '20 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ Even before the Victorians, you might consider Alexander von Humboldt en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_von_Humboldt as an archetype of the gentleman explorer. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 5 '20 at 18:28
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Trade

Exploration to establish new trade can be very profitable and was the main cause for exploration during the Age of Exploration. Many European countries opened more trade stations than they established colonies. Spices and tea were especially popular, but also silk, artwork, chinaware, and more.

Knowledge

New ways of doing things are always in high favor. Many inventions were imported to Europe from China, including paper, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. Medical remedies and knowledge may also be valuable imports.

Prestige

Families and countries can gain fame and prestige for their discoveries. Discoveries may be showcased in zoos, museums, and private collection. Being the first to plant a flag on mountaintops or poles also carries a lot of prestige. All this can also be seen as a display of wealth and power.

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    $\begingroup$ Another example of exploration for the purpose of trade was the treasure voyages of the Ming dynasty. That beautiful cobalt blue for which Ming vases are famous? It's from Iran, not China! The voyages made China ridiculously wealthy and an economic, political, and military superpower, without having to conquer anybody. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Feb 3 '20 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Was going to call out tea and the East India Trading Co, but think also about technological and medical trading. Details depend on the era of your particular world, but it's always good partnering with a country that has better medicines (herbal, nanotech), communications (telegraph, cell phone, communicators), and transportation (steam engine, helicopter, starship, FTL). $\endgroup$ – brichins Feb 3 '20 at 22:17
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One thing you need to understand is that, for the Spanish and English in the colonial era, the "three Gs" (God, glory and gold) were noble causes. The notions of the "divine right of kings" and the continuing Great Commission of Christianity painted these men as not one iota less than the missionaries of God, charged by His Anointed Kings with spreading the Good News to all who would listen (and eradicating the unfaithful so that the faith may flourish), obtaining the preordained dominion of men over the land given to them, and glorifying God and His Anointed Kings with tribute of material wealth as the fruits of these missions.

So, you always have to take a subjective quality like "noble" in the contemporary context to the use of such a term. The expansion of religion, the conquering of land and indigenous peoples, and the exploitation of nature's bounty of material wealth were absolutely noble reasons in the 1500s for the actions of the conquistadors and the English colonialists.

Today, much of humanity has a very different set of principles, and a similarly different view of societies other than our own. Modern historians have heavily "de-romanticized" the notions of European exploration and colonization of the Americas, now aware of the true horrors visited on the indigenous tribes of the Americas by the Europeans. The "conquest of the Americas was seen as exactly that - an invasion of the New World - and the slaughter of the millions of native people living here is quite rightly seen as the textbook definition of genocide.

The fact that this term wasn't coined until 1944, to describe the actions of the Axis powers in Europe, is downplayed by modern scholars, as is the fact that the act of killing every man, woman and child that you view as your enemy was considered by all sides as a totally valid tactic to win a war. Keeping noncombatants in your newly conquered territory alive and productive under your control was a purely economic decision until about the 1800s, with the Hague Declaration being a very monumental piece of international law in that, for basically the first time in human history, there were "rules" of war both sides were bound to follow.

These contextual semantics are downplayed, because our "moral calculus" has evolved over time. The worth of a human life has increased in the general case, and as such we tend toward the deontological over the relativist when looking at actions resulting in human death, especially a lot of it. We retroactively condemn these actions as criminal, and that's not wrong, but that's not how it was viewed at the time or indeed for decades or even centuries thereafter. In the interest of evolving the collective human conscience beyond such barbarism, we teach these events as examples of what not to do (the whole "those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it"), but IMHO the omission in many studies of the contemporary context and worldview of those involved make it that much more likely that similar atrocities will be committed, because while we will know what others did, the subtleties of how and why things got to that point will have been lost, leaving us that much less able to realize what we are about to do until "too many wheels are turning".

Anyway, the connotation behind the concept of a "higher purpose" has also changed dramatically in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Modern human society is much more secular than it was even 100 years ago, because we've found that a zealous belief that you are right because your religion says so has been a primary cause of human death for most of human history. Today, explorers "come in peace for all mankind", even though they still leave the flag of their home nation wherever they've been. The purpose is to be able to say, for yourself, for your country and for humanity, "I/we did that". You pushed the boundaries of human experience or ability, by being the first to do something, thus writing yourself into the history books of humanity forever.

Who knows; in another 200 years or so, we might look back on such "self-centered drives to accomplish" as being totally against the spirit of humanity as we understand it in the 2200s. While we like to think that what we do, we do for everyone, let's face it, having your name remembered forever by your posterity for what you did is a powerful drive. We might, in another 200 years, shift our moral calculus again toward the truly selfless, and such "selfish" acts as Neil Armstrong's will be deromanticized as thoroughly as John Smith's have been today.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer conflates the setting of the fictional work with the question itself, which is definitely asked in this world. The question is really about worldbuilding; it's asking us to construct a fictional world in which the Age of Discovery coincides with the Age of Enlightenment. That the real world differs is already observed in the question, so there's no point in repeating that. $\endgroup$ – MSalters Feb 4 '20 at 10:39
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As you said the ruling family puts a lot of money in to it...if it costs money it has to make money or it will eventually collapse in on itself. So if conquest or religious taxation is out of the question the only solution would be trade.

If your people are reluctant to use violence they could instead make trade deals with lesser evolved civilizations. If the setting would be a fictional one, something in the area of two empires forming a symbiosis would be a possibility.

One peaceful as you describe, who don't care for war or religion but instead focus on fair commerce. And one that is more militaristic (Viking like) who offer protection to the peaceful ones as a means of securing easy and cheap resources (Because why conquer it if somebody else can just buy it for you?). A form of tribute that was sometimes used by vikings in the old days.

Your people would then become a cow of sorts. As long as it gives milk the farmer keeps it alive, when it stops killing milk it will get butchered. This would be incentive for them to seek out more trade to make sure they will always have enough milk to give. (Might sound unfair, but the only way pacifists survive is because they are able to provide a service to those who are willing to fight.)

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Strange Tidings and Lost Cultural History

These things are easier to overplay the more you lean into fantasy - though they can played in more mundane settings as well.

On the strange tidings front, a sufficiently prosperous nation could be inclined to investigate disturbing rumors from abroad. For instance, from a medieval European perspective the far east was an unknown place despite the fact that European countries traded with them for exotic goods. If rumors spread of some strange or catastrophic event (or even an invitation or declaration of tournament) beyond the sight of your nation, an expedition could be funded to investigate.

On the lost cultural history front, if your current kingdom did not originate from the land it currently occupies it may be interested in where it came from. For example the original inhabitants of Britain had a strong tradition of oral history. By the time the Brits started writing the oral history down most of it had been forgotten. I could see a race of prestige between noble houses to follow an uncovered trail of the kingdoms origins.

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This sounds to me like the Ming treasure voyages by China from 1400 to 1430. First, the voyages where never intended to start some conquering or colonizing of new found lands. Instead they intended to project unrivalled power, technology and wealth (they succeeded). Several of the countries visited become tributaries to the Chinese empire so there is a little bit of 'conquering' involved.

Secondly, only a few years after these voyages internal Chinese politics changed and no further exploration was done. So for several of the visited countries, they had these super powerful explorers show up once and then never heard of them or their civilization ever again.

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If wealthy people are investing heavy in exploring, make sure it's because they get a return in their investments. To be able to call "dibs" in a new and exotic market can mean both a reputation and an economic boon.

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The problem you are up against is that in a society made up of individuals who are distinctly unique, any motivation can potentially be subverted to darker aims. Monopoly is a board game, its designed and intended purpose is an evening's entertainment amongst people who (presumably) want to have fun...and yet games of Monopoly can potentially devolve into bitter strife if the participants get competitive and have to "win".

You've set aside the goals that are inherently destructive of the contacted culture (conquest, spread of religion). That still leaves a host of different possibilities, all of which CAN degenerate into destructive behavior.

If the aim is commercial, it could start with the best of intentions. We'll trade good X for your good Y. Everyone comes out ahead. But what happens when the contacted culture says they've got enough X for now, but the people back at home demand more and more Y? Someone is going to start taking Y by a shady means, because the demand for it is high, and your race/country/culture is made up of a broad spectrum of individuals, presumably at least some of which are of shady character.

If the aim is scientific, and discovery for the sake of learning more about the universe is the goal, it could start out with the best of intentions. We're here to learn from you. But...do we share our knowledge with you too? Does our more advanced culture contaminate and destroy the culture you already had in place? Also...the people back at home...they want to start studying the artifacts first-hand instead of just seeing reports and analysis...so things start to go missing, and we're in the same scenario as the commercial one. The acquisition of Y becomes the end, and someone is willing to use any means to get it.

I think about the closest you could come to what you're asking for would be a hidden scientific study, with an extremely strict cultural taboo about discover and interaction. I'm reminded about a few different Star Trek episodes, and particularly the movie Star Trek: Insurrection, where the goal was to observe the civilization without interfering or disrupting it, without being seen or heard at all. And, of course, each of those episodes (and the movie) go horribly wrong in the process...either a technological failure, or because of one of the scenarios described above.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wandered for five years because learning and seeing new things was fun. I had no motivation to exploit anyone, and I had sufficient income to get by with no reason to search for more than that. Why couldn’t that be a general attitude of a country in general? I know it isn’t for USA, but … $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Feb 4 '20 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ For individuals, that works just fine. Even as the "general" attitude of a country. the point I'm trying to raise is that if the nation/society/culture is made up of distinct and unique individuals, some of them will resort to the less noble motivations. And when they are rewarded (socially, economically, etc.), they will encourage others to do likewise. I'm with you personally...I'd love to explore just for the sake of exploration (haven't done so, but certainly share the same mindset). I do, however, doubt that I could get an entire nation to agree with this approach. $\endgroup$ – Bob Cooper Feb 6 '20 at 22:42
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Some nice real-world examples such as Ibn Battuta or Zheng He have already been mentioned. Some others might be:

  • Your civilization is under attack by mysterious outsiders and you need to urgently make peace/find allies/learn as much about them as you probably can. This is what motivated e.g. Carpini and Rubruck

  • Because your kings wants to go on a spiritual journey to learn about some new foreign religion, as seems to have been the case with some Japanese explorers of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries

  • Because there are some really intriguing geographical questions, such as whether there is a Northwest Passage or whether Cathay is really just another name for China

  • Because you are looking for other lost explorers, e.g. the Laperouse or Sir John Franklin

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The question is answered, but I'll add my two cents because I don't think all the answers separate enough the explorers from the backers who fund the explorations. Among the individual explorers there were some people motivated by greed as much as the conquistadores, but also scientists or people just seeking to enrich their culture. You see that most of the past explorations ended with the exploitation of the explored lands because in the past exploration was expensive and the funds were in the hands of people with a not so altruistic mindset.

Nowadays the technology dramatically cut the cost of travelling, but there are so many people willing to explore that the only unexplored places are remote and expensive to reach, like open space and the bottom of the seas. Therefore those who share the spirit of the kind of explorer who's just willing to expand their culture mix up with common tourists.

In the context of the advanced civilization mentioned in the question I think that all the exploration should be self funded as much as some tourists today are willing to put a big chunk of their savings in some trips that they hope they'll be worth remembering for the rest of their lives. They are the best proof that exploration does not have to be motivated by greed.

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  • $\begingroup$ The idea of self funded explorations is really interesting, but what would prevent the ruling family to take advantage of it ? (I mean to find a way to be part of the funding or something like that) $\endgroup$ – Emie Feb 5 '20 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Self funded should be fully self funded. Nowadays there are people who save for a life to pay for their round the world trip by themselves. In the context of the question a member of a powerful family might be willing to cajole or defraud other family members or people of the lower classes in order to put up the required sum. $\endgroup$ – FluidCode Feb 5 '20 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ BTW. I just thought that involving some parties with selfish interest doesn't mean it will always end up in the worst case scenario. If I remember correctly the expedition of the Beagle was funded by the British Admiralty. $\endgroup$ – FluidCode Feb 5 '20 at 18:04
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To show off for other countries

Space exploration has been mentioned, but I think it deserves more attention, as it's probably the best modern example. For a few years, NASA used over 4% of the budget of the USA (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA ) and your country could perhaps spend even more with similar motives, even without nukes in the picture.

One option would be too keep the knowledge about the world secret, and only show off the results. If your country can start selling exotic peppers, or rare shades of mother-of-pearl to competing countries, this not only generates a profit, but it shows everyone that you're a force to be reckoned with. This would perhaps be particularly relevant if your country is fairly closed to the outside, with neighbours not having an all too clear picture of it's real strength and level of technology, but cold probably be a factor anyway.

Maybe this isn't quite as noble, but without knowing more about your world I thought it might be worth considering.

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Isn't this the entire premise of Star Trek (OS & TNG)? To seek out new life & new civilisations, not for conquest or exploitation but to culturally & scientifically enrich society through discovery and diplomacy.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I recall that TNG was based on a popular prairie western kind of drama about exploring. $\endgroup$ – Todd Feb 5 '20 at 14:15
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You have not placed on the table one important (very important) piece of information:

How technologically advanced is your civilization?

If the U.F.O phenomena is "really" about advanced extraterrestrial beings visiting Earth it looks like they do not intend to destroy our culture.

Even the fictional fierce aliens from the Predator franchise https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Predator_(film) are not motivated by a desire of colonization. They want to hunt some of us :(. But they keep themselves hidden most of the time.

An advanced civilization could make world exploration without destroying a newly visited less advanced civilization. May be it has been done by the mythological "Atlantis" from Atlantida. According Plato's information they were very advanced, but they never influenced other civilizations.

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  • $\begingroup$ What is U.F.O phenomena ? $\endgroup$ – Emie Feb 5 '20 at 11:57

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