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Can a civilization be highly evolved as far as culture, ethics, societal norms, laws, language, literature and arts, but not ever come to develop any sort of advanced technology besides main practical techniques for construction and agriculture?

They have a culture-religion that is fully integrated with nature, and they are naturally frugal as they are isolated from the other cultures in their world, and live in a continent that is able to provide all they need to prosper.

EDIT: Thanks all for all your amazing inputs. I sort of figured out by myself how to solve this issue I had with this civilization. I will explain it in the end.

First, the clarifications:

  1. They are not human. They are an intelligent species that evolved from warm-blooded reptiles.
  2. They have math (a senary numeric system), literacy (their language is based on clicks like Khoisan), highly developed agriculture, steam, the wheel, levers, pumps, cranes, concrete, highly developed civil engineering and architecture, highly developed metalworks, mining, etc. What I meant by advanced technology was basically war machines, electricity, airplanes, ships, computers, post first industrial revolution technologies.
  3. Their philosophical and ethical level is comparable to Ancient Athens/Ancient China but a little more advanced. So, they are basically very enlightened empiricists by nature observation BUT don't have a full empirical scientific method fully developed (and they can't have a western-like scientific method developed, or they will turn to imperialism, conquest and war. That was the main concern behind my question).
  4. They have another reptilian species of "companions" (they are "slaves" in the economic sense - work for food and shelter -, but are not slaves in the sense we Americans think of slaves, like some people with another skin color that we can rape, abuse, force to work to death, and beat at will, whenever our White European selves feel frustrated and/or down). That reptilian species has an intelligence comparable to a combination of crows, chimpanzees and dogs. So, they are not able to develop abstract thinking, but are able to learn and execute any sort of tasks the main species need then to do. They also have sets of opposable fingers and toes like the main species.
  5. The main species is integrated with nature through their culture/religion as they were essentially hunters gatherers before "the great cataclysm' (something like 70 million years BP). A little before that they had what they call "The 500,000 year march", when they left their original dying (due to basically extinction of resources caused by their own predatory actions) homeland and moved West and then South to this new continent where they been living for 70 million years, totally isolated from the rest of the world. During that "march", their culture of elders/scientists/priests ruling evolved, and they created their literary tradition of passing to the youngsters the knowledge of their whole history, and their nature worshipping religion. One of the main legends is that nature is a live and sentient organism that helps their species by providing and nourishing them.
  6. This is another point. They have a culture (like us humans), so instructions needed for survival are not necessarily coded in their DNA like the other animals. They still have some basic survival needs and skills encoded in their DNA (as we still have too, like, for example, fear of spiders, which is not cultural, as all cultures in the world fear spiders), but most of the skills and needs are passed from the elders to the youngsters as culture.

So, I basically figured out how to make them highly culturally advanced while keeping them without developing advanced technology and war machines what would have their culture necessarily changing to expansionism, imperialism, conquest and warmongering. I basically used two features from their lore, one geographic (their continent is rich in resources, as well as very isolated) and another cultural (their nature-worship religion). As result, like in Chinese Confucianism, to want to leave their parents/clan homeland is really frowned upon. Whoever leaves their original homeland becomes an outcast and a pariah. As they have all the resources they need, there is no need to trade for resources with other cultures. And as they worship nature, their local rivers, forests, mines, mountains, so forth, are very important to them, so they cannot be faraway from it, and must respect that nature, so not bring destruction or building anything that does not look able to fit into the natural environment. As Ming China, they can have a very advanced civilization, but without any need to contact the exterior world. And, unlike Ming China, they don't need to keep a strong military to protect their borders, because they are separated from the other cultures in their world by thousands of miles of open ocean.

Thanks again for all your ideas. And if you have any other ideas that you think would provide any improvement to this way I found to solve this issue I had, I will be really happy to hear them.

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    $\begingroup$ Before the development of technology no civilization had much technology to speak of... First you invent agriculture and pottery. A few thousands of years later, you invent cities. A few thousands of year later you discover bronze. And only then you begin developing technology. Human civilization is not static. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 14 '20 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ You may need to add clarification; some of the answers address the topic but ignore the distinction between technology and advanced technology. $\endgroup$ – rek Dec 14 '20 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ "Not ever come to develop any sort of advanced technology besides main practical techniques for construction and agriculture": I have never heard of a civilization which did not have pottery, textiles, carpentry, leather, administration, and so on. Pottery, textiles, carpentry and leather making are technological areas which are older than civilization. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 14 '20 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ As long as you use humans to do the hard work, it is probably a slavery culture. We stepped up a lot when we started to use horses. If you want machines to allow for the leisure which is necessary for advancing science, then you can't avoid a certain level of industrialization. $\endgroup$ – Anderas Dec 14 '20 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ how are they fully integrated with nature AND using agriculture. What are "practical techniques". this question could use a lot of clarification. As it stands is very vague and open to interpretation. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 14 '20 at 15:00

13 Answers 13

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Technology is a prerequisite for civilization

Civilization means cities. The word in fact has a common root with city. To have a city requires a lot of assorted technologies. Building materials. Storage containers. Fire. One of the key ones you've identified is agriculture. In order to have cities, you have to have technologies and capabilities that go beyond strategies that will work for smaller-scale communities. Cities need an external food supply, and they need the wherewithal to get the food from the supply to them.

Efficiency creates more efficiency

I saw a very interesting proposition, which I can't find right now, that put one of reasons for the increase in the technological progress rate like this:

Very roughly, the rate of technological progress is dependent on the number of people that have surplus time, folks whose immediate demands on their time and attention (subsistence, maintaining infrastructure, manning the army, etc) are not total.

See, creating a new invention takes time, often for little short-term practical benefit. The benefits in the long term are astounding - computers, antibiotics, airplanes - but they can take a very long time to be realized. John Dalton discovered the atom around 1800 (although a Greek had hypothesized their existence long before). The first nuclear power plant - a research reactor - came online in 1942.

So a society has to be well off enough to be able to support folks that do nothing but pursue pie in the sky technological innovation and especially basic research. And the more of those folks you have, the more technology you have.

You can't have a civilization at all without people discovering enough technology to make cities work. So you have to have some of them around. And the funny thing is, the more technology you have, the more productivity improves, the society will naturally produce more and more of these folks. (Generally speaking, of course.)

TL;DR yes, technological advancement is a natural consequence of civilization. Necessity is the mother of invention.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if it's where you saw it, but the proposition you mention was explored in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. $\endgroup$ – Seth R Dec 14 '20 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ And in Sapiens by Harari. $\endgroup$ – Ed_Eddie_Edwin Dec 14 '20 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ The first city existed thousands of years ago (well into BC). This may certainly have required technology by some definition, but nothing resembling "advanced technology" by today's standards. Also, just having time may be necessary to make big technological leaps, but it isn't sufficient. Otherwise every slacker would eventually have a few inventions behind their name. You also need a natural curiosity, drive, creativity, intelligence and the means to invent things. It certainly seems plausible that some of those things would not be present in some society (especially if they're not human). $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy Dec 15 '20 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ "And the more of those folks you have, the more technology you have." Only if they're engaging in technological development. If they're off pondering how many angels can fit on the head of a pin or something similar, they're probably not going to be doing too much technological development. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Dec 15 '20 at 13:00
  • $\begingroup$ @NotThatGuy They certainly help, but do you really need them? All you really need, I think, is a) some amount of random experimentation (whether deliberate or accidental) and b) the ability to copy any useful outcomes you happen to come across. $\endgroup$ – Kaz Dec 15 '20 at 13:01
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It depends on what kind of person is populating your civilization

Technology really isn't the result of civilization. From a practical point of view, civilization is the result of technology. Here's why.

Technology at any level exists because...

  1. Someone stubbed their proverbial toe.
  2. Then they uttered a vulgar expletive.
  3. Then they wondered how to avoid stubbing their toe in the future.

Your problem is step #3. It's the natural consequence of a lot of things, including curiosity, desperation, necessity, envy, hatred, love, ... in a word, emotion. It's also the consequence of problem-solving, which any good civilization had in their distant past (somewhere back when something large, fuzzy, and hungry was about to prove that you didn't have problem-solving skills).

You need to get rid of at least one of those. Possibly both. But the consequence is that you wouldn't have music, religion/philosophy, art, architecture, etc., either, because that's just another kind of technology. In modern usage the word is highly focused on things scientific... but generally speaking the word expresses skills, development, and an expansion of thought. Attempting to draw a muddled outline of the little grey dude with big eyes who just flew away like a bird is art — but you can't draw it without picking up a burning brand and discovering art charcoal.

Conclusion

IMO, your options are...

A. People can solve problems, but generally have no motivation to do so (emotionally stunted).

B. People can feel the passion of gods, but they can't figure out how to turn left (problem-solving stunted).

C. People are somehow restricted in that incredibly critical resources (e.g., wood) are nowhere to be found and will never be found, or some irritated god is keeping them from growing as a society by smiting anyone who has a clever thought, or those aliens come back and discover the art wasn't flattering and kill everyone over the age of 11. Some external influence that's forcing the people to live a technologically stunted existence.

Otherwise, the only things any group of people need to develop technology are crises and time.

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No, the other way round.

Civilization is the inevitable consequence of technology. Specifically, the technology called "Literacy"

As soon as a culture starts storing information for future generations, whether by actual Writing and Literacy or via very strict Oral Traditions, that culture starts to gather knowledge.

And this gathering of knowledge is what makes civilization possible. And by gathering knowledge, it becomes easier to live, easier to grow, and....easier to gather more knowledge. More people, more knowledge, is civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ Civilization doesn't have to be a consequence of technology (though it can obviously lead to that), and we have examples in that there are animals who use basic tools but don't have anything that can be called civilization. For millions of years humans also fell into that bucket, and could have easily died out before civilization was invented. $\endgroup$ – eps Dec 14 '20 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ @eps We have examples of animals with literacy? Because that is the technology that I say enables civilization. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Dec 14 '20 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @eps Those animals learn to use tools from watching each other. It is passed down like tradition. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Dec 14 '20 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ In support of @PcMan, animals that use tools, for example Chimps, have a substantial and complex society. We're burdening the words "civilization" and "technology" far too much with a measurement of "today." Chimpanzees have a remarkable civilization that even has the capacity for language - it just hasn't started building walls or writing books. PcMan is correct, technology (aka problem-solving) breeds civilization. Without it, all you have is a herd of animals. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 14 '20 at 18:46
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No

They're both the result of population density exceeding a critical level. Both to cause and maintain.

This goes back to Gobekli Tepe and the stories that go with it. One of them being that it's the first place where population density exceeded that capable of being sustained by a hunter gatherer lifestyle. The earliest evidence of farming is in the same area in the same period.

Civilisation is a relationship between people, the rules of this relationship are dependent on how much people have to interact with each other. You need language, you need laws, you need communication. One person alone can do what they like and need never speak or write, the more people have to interact, the more structure is required, this is the basis for civilisation.

As long as the population density never exceeds what your technological level comfortably supports, there's no driving incentive for increased technology, nor the manpower to support it. The aeolipile remains an interesting toy, not a critical proof of concept.

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Maybe in the sea

I think it is possible, with aquatic species. Ocean is different from land in all the ways that makes rise of sapience possible (hello dolphins), but limits severely what kind of technology they can use. There's no fire, no metals, so your species population density might reach those critical stages where it kickstarts the necessity for regulations, etiquette and so on, in terms of the technology they would be restricted to hunter gatherers or early agriculture at best, since the easy paths that were available for us to start doing stuff like metal smelting would be closed off for them.

Do keep in mind though that we really have little idea about how intricate were social and cultural interactions in our prehistoric ancestors. Nothing except physical artifacts remained, and writing was invented only seven thousand years later. I do not think that before "civilization" they were dumb brutes as they often depicted in media.

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Culture and technology

As stated numerous times now, Culture is created thanks to technology. However, Culture can certainly influence technology and their progress. Culture shows us how we think and thus where we want technological progress, as well as where not. Direct DNA alteration has been heavily retarded in it's progression thanks to Culture. Especially on humans there is still a stigma that we shouldn't touch it. The Inca civilization did know of wheels which we can see on toys, but for reasons unknown to us they never implemented it more practically. Regardless why, the Culture either stopped this development or it was regarded as not needed.

This cultural direction can be taken to an extreme, which we can see in multiple cultures throughout history as well as today. Amish have chosen not to embrace certain technologies, saying that the way they live is correct and shouldn't be defiled by further technology. The dark ages were so long with relative stagnation as the religion stopped technology on multiple levels. Finally, there are cultures in deep forests or islands that haven't changed for generations. Often extra reasons can be given, like small sizes can make it difficult to get many people proposing new technologies and having the time to develop them. Yet this is a part of culture as well.

It isn't a stretch that any culture might decide they have the right culture, technology or simply don't think the new ideas are worth it. For whatever reason, new technology will not arise or stick. As per your question. They are integrated in nature, so a steam engine burning nature will not be accepted. These restrictions make it difficult, if not near impossible, to get to certain other stages. Why would they change their life if their current life is plentiful and happy and this is ingrained in the culture?

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  • $\begingroup$ I misjudged your comment about direct DNA alteration, I thought you were talking about human evolution not an example of a technology being impeded. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 15 '20 at 17:33
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Maybe, if they can overcome population density issues.

The key way to develop all of those civilization issues is to have a very high density of people working together on shared ideas, without them needing to mine the landscape and so gaining greater technology as they get better at mining.

As such, you need natural skyscrapers.

One way to do this is with Inosculation where you can grow trees together. This civilization could have very advanced tree growing techniques where they can grow trees together to form houses and homes and platforms for their homes. The trees could naturally provide a large bounty for them. As such, they could have huge cities of tens or hundreds of thousands on shared trees, without having any technology that is useful on a scale of less than years.

The main problem is working out how they handle conflict and danger.

They can be peace loving sure, but what happens when a hostile pest destroys their food stocks, or a natural disaster wrecks their home, or a plague kills their people? When times are tough, people often resort to war to get new resources, no matter how peace loving. For this I would suggest flower war.

Rather than having costly and large engagements, small fights between mostly nobles and some commoners would be the norm. You meet on a set date, fight with proven weapons, and whoever is more skilled in melee combat wins. You can trade resources based off this. This would prevent the need for large scale costly wars which would advance technology.

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Technology per se is a rather broad term. You can have civilization without certain technologies.

The Mayas had a fairly developed civilization with respect to weapons, astronomy, religion, architecture and agriculture, all advanced to a quite good level.

Despite that they never came out with the technology of a wheel for transportation, which I would say it's at the base of the practical techniques.

So, yes, it's totally plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ All late Stone Age civilizations were in the Stone Age. It's just that the Mayas were surprisingly late for a Stone Age civilization. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 14 '20 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ probably because they have access to river and its a pain in the ass to build road in rainforest. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Dec 14 '20 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ they also lacked an animal that could turn a wheel from a toy in to a useful piece of equipment. early wheels are not very useful without draft animals. doubly so in mountainous terrain. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 14 '20 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @John Indeed. Actually, Mayans knew the wheel. Wheels have been found in Mayan toys for children. It's only they weren't practical in that environment . $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Dec 14 '20 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ The Mayans had specialized stone tools, networks of roads and bridges, water management systems, rubber, writing and mathematics, sailing ships, the ability to conduct astronomy, and sufficient engineering prowess to build megastructures. I'm baffled that you'd use Mayan civilization as an example of a society without technology, simply because their environment did not necessitate the invention of the wheel. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Hoagie Dec 14 '20 at 15:31
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Can a civilization be highly evolved as far as culture, ethics, societal norms, laws, language, literature and arts, but not ever come to develop any sort of advanced technology besides main practical techniques for construction and agriculture?

I've added emphasis. How do you expect your civilisation to produce writing, drawing sculpting etc materials without technology? And what is the need for a complex set of laws when only a few hundred people who the land can support in proximity can interact?

Does your technology level of "agriculture" include food storage? Processing of fresh food into preserved forms for winter? Transport of foodstuffs?

The other issue is that if there is a similar civilisation nearby which has also developed all of these items, but has additionally developed weapons, then your civilisation will not last long before it is attacked and its resources are captured.

However it is feasible, and has happened in the real world, that a geographically isolated civilisation could last a very long time with just enough technology to meet current needs whilst focussing on developing literature and arts. You will still need to think about how it would cope with unexpected events: famines, earthquakes etc. if there is little culture of problem-solving and technological development

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Technology far predates Civilization (and construction and agriculture)

Assuming a standard definition that nearly all scholars use for technology, it has existed since humans could first reasonably called humans, and probably even before that. Technology is:

Technology is the sum of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation.

...

The simplest form of technology is the development and use of basic tools. The prehistoric discovery of how to control fire and the later Neolithic Revolution increased the available sources of food, and the invention of the wheel helped humans to travel in and control their environment.

Basic tools date back to 2.6 million years ago. The earliest civilizations are only thousands of years old.

With that we can easily answer the question:

Is technology a natural consequence of civilization?

and

Can a civilization be highly evolved as far as culture, ethics, societal norms, laws, language, literature and arts, but not ever come to develop any sort of advanced technology besides main practical techniques for construction and agriculture?

Technology is obviously not a consequence of civilization, it far predates it. Moreover, it is unthinkable that you would have civilization without technology, even with the caveats given. The technology used to create construction and agriculture would inevitably lead to those techniques being used for other things. We can see that tools were used millions of years before construction and agriculture were even conceived.

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Maybe, in a magically-powered fantasy universe with inconsistent physics.

In fantasy world where the laws of physics behave in an inconsistent fashion but there is sufficient amounts of magic to allow life to function despite that, it might be possible that a society doesn't develop much if any technology if it relies primarily on magic instead. For instance, if smelting iron ore into a consistently usable form isn't possible without magic, then they probably won't use non-magical iron tools. If gears randomly jam up and break, then you won't have clockwork or watermills. If refining flammable oil is as likely to result in an explosive as lantern fuel, then you won't see any oil lanterns.

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in my opinion, i think its possible if we are not talking about human as the focus, but alien lifeform or other animals society, especially if they cant manipulate tools and depend on group work.

for example ant and bee, at least from quick google they are considered as civilization with their society, and i think ant are quite advance regarding agriculture/domestication and building, but they dont develop any tools as far as i know, and only using their body feature or ability including using their larvae silk to glued the materials in case of weaver ants.

i dont know why mine get downvote, after seeing OP edit it turn out not about human anyway and mean electronic technology specifically, but here copy paste some answer from quora, also i want to remind ppl that OP originally is fine with advance agriculture and architecture technology.

I. Embryonic civilizations, which still only possess the basics of the elements of civilization (although they are still very advanced; the Sumerians were embryonic and are famous for being the first civilization and for being advanced)

II. Advanced civilizations, which feature advanced elements of the keys.

The five key elements of civilization are:

I. Centralized Government

II. Organized Religion

III. Job Specialization

IV. Social Classes

V. Arts, architecture, writing

We can assume from this point that the ants are an embryonic civilization.

Ants and Technological Advancement

Fun fact: Did you know that ants discovered agriculture? For millions of years, in fact, ants have developed the skill to grow, harvest, and eat several small plants.

Other fun fact: Ants & Vassals.

A vassal kingdom is an otherwise independent country which pays tribute to a greater power. Tribute is essentially, in historical cases, a portion of supplies and manpower. Vassals would pay their rulers in soldiers, food, or labor. One species of ants, called Slavemaking Ants, literally invade colonies and take 10% of their larvae every month or so. This larvae is carried home and raised like the slavemakers’ own children. These ants, after being birthed, genuinely think that they are part of the colony, even if they’re another species of ant, and will then join their kidnappers in raids against even its home colony without any memory. Slavemaking ants use this strategy to boost their numbers.

Social Heirarchy:

Simply put:

Queens—Alpha & Beta Males—Soldiers—Omega Males & Females.

Every ant knows its place.

Religion:

A hive mind, one could potentially argue that ants worship their queens as if they were deities. Like chimpanzees, they cold hypothetically possess a very primitive spirituality. Chimp religion, however, is still under research.

Architecture & Arts:

Ants all have one uniform colony style: Tunnels and mounds. Larger queendoms can be several interconnected mounds spanning multiple acres. One of the largest ant Queendoms of all time, located in Japan, spanned over 640 acres and possessed 45,000 different anthills. Its population could’ve consisted of as many as 306 MILLION ants.

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed the ants; case in point, a confederacy societal structure of ants in Switzerland (of all places!) where the civilisation of particular kind of ants counts in billions of individuals. For an overview see theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/dec/29/… and/or watch the documentary imdb.com/title/tt7830168 it's fascinating! Arguably ants have some technology - building anthills, just no high technology or industrial revolution. $\endgroup$ – user2510 Dec 16 '20 at 2:35
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Yes, technology and advanced civilisation are not related. The most advanced civilisations may have no recognisable technology and be completely integrated with nature, working with it instead of against it, without war, crime, poverty or hatred.

Other cultures will sneer at them as mere hippies, or decry the entire concept as a reversion to the 'noble savage stereotype' ...while secretly envying their relaxed lifestyle.

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    $\begingroup$ You might be confusing civilization with culture. You might also be confused by what "technology" means. When cave men picked up burnt sticks and started drawing on the walls, they invented a tool. AKA, technology. When the cultures you mention use weapons for food, tools to cut leather and create transportation, they're using technology. And for the record, there has never been a civilization on the planet that was war, crime, poverty, and hatred free. You can't get that among animal groups, much less cultures and civilizations. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 14 '20 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ No, I'm not. Remember, these are not human beings; they don't have to pick up sticks and paint walls. They can develop a complex society, government, social heirarchy etc without any need for technology. $\endgroup$ – David Hambling Dec 15 '20 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ (a) Your answer was posted 6 hours before the clarification about being non-human was added - you were talking about humans. (b) "Aliens" is not a magic word that means "anything can happen no matter how nonsensical simply because they're not human." Evolution is competitive by definition and the only way to create a civilization that is anything more complex than a family group is with the multiplying leverage of tools. (c) And lest we forget, the OP's original (and existing) question said the culture had to have "laws, language, literature, and art." Pencils. Tools. $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 15 '20 at 20:49

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