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I'm worlbuilding a low fantasy inspired by the dark ages something like 6th to 9th century in our world. The geography is completely different with one supercontinent containing almost all the landmass. And plenty of states & tribes inspired by those in our history: Phoenicians, Mycenaean, Han, Dravidian, Scythian, etc.

I have a person that travels a lot working as a mercenary cavalry, caravan guard & trader. In his travel he brings back many "technologies" to their tribe, such as blast furnace, Archimedes' screw, ballista, improved plough, silkworms, rice, composite bow, water buffalo, ostrich, writing system, etc

The new "technologies" remain in use only in his clan, while the rest of the tribe views them as a mere curiosities.

Is it possible for the tribe to ignore useful technology?

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    $\begingroup$ Depends on usefulness. I once heard a phrase "modern-day vikings would not use axes and drakars. They would wield AKs and attack container ships from submarines." $\endgroup$ – Oleg Lobachev Jul 5 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ only if the have equivalent alternatives, otherwise they will quickly be conquered by the tribes that do adopt them. $\endgroup$ – John Jul 5 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ All I can think of... is the campaign against 5g... $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Jul 5 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ See Amish $\endgroup$ – Bohemian Jul 6 at 4:58
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    $\begingroup$ See Luddites $\endgroup$ – Sidney Jul 6 at 14:12

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There is several reason why theses tribes could ignore theses technology:

Resistance to change: People tend to don't trust new and unknown technology, preferring tech and solutions already used and understood, even if the new technology seem more effective. Even more if traditions or elders are opposed to brutal changes.

Need of adaptation: Integration of new technology impose to learn how it work, construct tools and workstations necessary for manufacturing the new tech and change their habits accordingly (for example, introducing new kind of livestock or crops implies important change in cooking). It's possible that the tribe don't think the gain brought by the new technology is smaller than the cost of implementing it.

Difficulty being taken seriously: Even if the new tech is useful or more efficient, you still need to convince the tribe that this is the case. If the person bringing the technology is too eccentric, mistrusted or bad with selling/presenting his tech, the tribesman will think that the new tech is useless or junk.

Bad experiences with advanced technology: If theses new tech are already spreading, they could be used by hostile tribes and therefore associated with them, leading to negative opinion toward theses technologies and even new tech in general.

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Majority of people don't like changes so unless the technology brings immediate and desperately needed benefits I don't see a problem why it shouldn't be ignored.

  • Blast furnace We don't need cast iron, too brittle.
  • Egyptian screw Droughts only happen every 4th year, and we have sheep to survive
  • Moldboard Plow That's good for the land near the river but sucks at drier soil
  • Ballista Waste of good rope. It kills only one enemy and takes forever to load
  • Silkworms They ate all our mulberries and for what, one single shirt for the wenches.
  • Composite bow It takes lot of time to make and we have good yew. Besides bow is for hunting not for war.
  • Rice You want me to eat that thing with sticks nope
  • Water buffalo Those beasts of yours ain't afraid of dogs, how I'm gonna herd them when they chase off Lassie
  • Ostrich Who could eat such large eggs, my in laws don't visit everyday. Plus my nephews got hurt when they tried to ride them
  • Writing My memory serves me well try my grandpa
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    $\begingroup$ hey that Riceist! you can eat rice with spoon or bearhand just fine. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Jul 5 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Li Jun: In the West, most people actually eat rice with a fork. Bears only get rice when they forage in trash cans, or scare campers away from their dinners :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 5 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ Ballista: "It kills only on - " [ watches ballista shot pierce 2 houses and impale a horse into a tree ] --- nevermind, here is all our money $\endgroup$ – clockw0rk Jul 6 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ The cynicism in these answers is hilarious. But I've seen it, and I've sometimes been there too. There are famous quotes with that same sort of cynicism: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”,"The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper", etc. $\endgroup$ – Garrett Motzner Jul 7 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf yes, when theres no spoon available and i dont want to use my dirty "bear" hand, but it take more time compare to spoon and lots of the rice easily scattered if you lift it unless its sticky rice or just swipe over like chopstick is, but why "bear" it with fork? why not use spoon? it seems more optimal. but dont take this to seriously, i was just joking around. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Jul 9 at 2:01
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There are instances where religious beliefs have prevented cultures from adopting beneficial technology. The best I can think of was the refusal of Indian 'Sepoys' in the employ of the British army in India to use cartridges allegedly greased with cow or pig fat in their rifled muskets. The loading drill required you to bite open the cartridge and poor powder inside down the barrel before putting in the ball. Moslem's considered pigs 'unclean' and Hindus of curse considered cows to be sacred. This is allegedly one of the causes of the Indian rebellion.

You could easily make certain cloth, say silk 'unclean' if local religious practices state that insects are unclean for instance. Same for newly introduced foods.

Notwithstanding the example I gave which was a special case your biggest problem would be getting others clans to reject new weapons and/or tactics introduced from outside the region. If history shows anything its that getting your ass kicked by an enemy with new weapons or ways of fighting pretty quickly convinces all their opponents that they have to get there hands on the 'new stuff' pretty quickly. Otherwise they won't be around to worship anyone.

One or two stark defeats and suddenly local priests are finding reasons why that new newfangled catapult of gun powder etc is not blasphemy. (Perhaps gunpowder can offend the local thunder God?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, religion is a common reason. See this post judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/115134/… Okay, that's only seasonal but there are always taboos.Most British people refuse to eat horse meat where the French consider it acceptable. $\endgroup$ – chasly - reinstate Monica Jul 5 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ Interestingly, this style of cartridge is claimed to be the source of the expression "stiff upper lip". $\endgroup$ – Hot Licks Jul 5 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't really an example of not accepting technology (whether or not it was beneficial is a separate question), but of ignorance/insensitivity to cultural factors, and the adroit use of propaganda. The cartridges would have worked just as well if greased with vegetable oils (and for all I know might have been), so it wasn't the technology at all. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 8 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ It was until a solution to the problem was found. Grease of some type was essential for preservation of the cartridge - a key part of the technology in question or if you prefer an essential input like carbon in steel making. No cartridge - no (then) modern weapon system. The fact there was a workaround once the problem was recognized doesn't undermine the original proposition. Local populations initially rejected/ignored introduced tech for religious and cultural reasons. $\endgroup$ – Mon Jul 9 at 0:34
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You are begging the question about what counts as 'useful'. Useful to who? New technology is not a good thing per se. Writing for example, is a means of social control: originating almost every time in tax gathering systems to enable large-scale government. It did not begin to benefit the average person for centuries. Silkworms are only useful if you want to make silk, always a luxury good. Making better weapons is a dubious advance.

Your other clams may be smarter than you give them credit for. And perhaps they are making advances that your protagonist misses because he doesn't see the benefit?

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    $\begingroup$ If you're likely to get into fights with bow-wielding folks, a silk shirt under your armor is anecdotally a very useful thing: it bunches up around an arrowhead and makes it penetrate less, while also making it easier to extract the arrow after the fight without further hurting the person the arrow is sticking out of. $\endgroup$ – Roope Jul 5 at 9:44
  • $\begingroup$ Roope silk is historically not a very effective armor (silk bulletproof vests were tried). But it might be cheaper and more effective to have a silver breastplate :) $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Jul 6 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ I was going off of the commonly disseminated story of Genghis Khan issuing silk vests to his soldiers to wear under their actual armor. Here's a quick link to what I'm talking about $\endgroup$ – Roope Jul 7 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ It is possible that nobles wore silk vests for this purpose, but it is way too expensive to issue to everyone and is not very effective as armor -- academia.edu/28300041/… -- and it still begs the question of whether fighting wars and sending more sons off to die is a good thing. $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Jul 13 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ The paper you link to has the same story about the Golden Horde using silk as an under-armor layer to stop / mitigate arrows, along with examples of ancient Chinese soldiers wearing layered armor made of in part silk? $\endgroup$ – Roope Jul 13 at 10:48
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While it is possible that a tribe ignores useful technology, I do consider it highly implausible that they ignore it when one clan is actively using it.

Confronted with a working demonstration of the advantages, there remain a few options: Ban it, and force the clan to abandon the technology if there is some stigma attached to it to restore purity. If it is a purely economic calculation instead, they may try to sabotage or destroy any equipment to nullify the advantage, and/or adopt it themselves. When it comes to military technology, then it becomes especially non-justifiable to not try to get the best equipment.

Pretty much the only way technologies can get ignored when in direct contact with them is if they are only idle curiosities, without practical application.

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You might want to check out the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is about the adoption of new technologies and the factors that influence the speed of adoption. It also has some examples of societies that actively ignored or even uninvented new technologies. One of the examples is Japan, which banned guns because of social pressure from Samurais who wanted to keep their monopoly of armed force.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the samurai that banned guns, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was the BFF/underling of a samurai warlord (Oda Nobunaga) who had used guns to nearly conquer Japan during their civil war prior to his murder by a traitorous underling. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Jul 6 at 15:37
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A historical example of a society largely ignoring a useful technology is the first steam engine being developed in the first century A.D. Roman Empire: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile#Practical_usage

One could speculate that because the Romans had a mode of production based on slavery, they didn't have need for developing labor-reducing technologies such as this.

Another reason that a group may reject a useful technology is a desire for defining themselves through differentiation from another society. David Graeber and David Wengrove write about this, using the historical example of two American Pacific Northwest tribes: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324199410_Many_Seasons_Ago_Slavery_and_Its_Rejection_among_Foragers_on_the_Pacific_Coast_of_North_America_Slavery_and_Its_Rejection_among_Foragers

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  • $\begingroup$ The sort of steam engine that the Romans developed wasn't of much practical use, since you'd need more slaves to gather fuel than you'd save with the engine. Indeed, the initial Newcomen-type steam engines were of use only in limited circumstances, because they were very inefficient. It wasn't until James Watt invented a more efficient one that they became really practical: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watt_steam_engine $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 8 at 16:58
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All of the above, and necessary specialization -

The rest of the tribe must at all times train and work to fight against the Badguysbeyondthathilloveryonder. And some of them must do the rain dance or there won't be any rain. And the silly walks clan can't just drop everything and learn to read and write.

These are must-haves, or conceived must-haves for the tribe's survival. Each person/clan specializes in something that the tribe needs and spares others the need to take care of it. They're all thumbs-up for the techy-tech clan to do useful magic for the tribe, just don't bother them about why the flux capacitator won't charge the space-time infinity crux, or explain that Alibaba cloud limits disks to 5 times the amount of instances in the account.

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Actually, I could easily see gunpowder weapons being seen as curiosities. The materials needed for the powder are not exactly common. And that is setting aside the amount of work that goes into making even the simplest cannon (hand or otherwise). A traveling tribesman is unlikely to bring back enough to make much of a difference.

With muskets if you can't get powder you basically have a club, and not necessarily a good club.

Improved farming (plows, irrigation) is a much harder sell, particularly after a year or two of seeing increased yields.

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There are some real life examples of "tribes" not using better technology, despite them having it.

The Steam engine was already known to ancient Greeks, but no one really cared, because you don't need labour saving devices, when it's not your labour, it's that of your slaves. Need more labour? Get more slaves. Devices which were found in sunken ships, like the Antikythera mechanism, were probably technological marvels of that time, but they were scarce and as far as I can tell only some interested individuals had any use for them.

Other example are the Chinese. They had a culture, were new revolutionary methods to do something were discouraged, because "it works fine and we were doing it for centuries". Sure they found the black powder by accident, as most discoveries are made, but it never really was used for more than Fireworks and very unprecise guns. Until one single British ship came and conquered whole china.

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