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In this scenario, my protagonist species of aliens stumble upon some pre-industrial civilization. While trying to establish contact with them to uplift their technology and science, they mess up badly and cause shock and panic among the population of the planet, which further devolves into hysteria, breakdown of the government, mass famine, war, and spike in criminal activity nearly on the entire planet. It's an absolute shitshow. In attempts to fix the mess, the aliens end up basically taking over the planet and establishing an occupation, now directly controlling all the major powers. They didn't want this outcome, but it is what it is now.

I'm making an assumption that the spacers culture will be sort of "virulent" and invasive, partially due to its novelty and exoticism from the point of view of the locals (they weren't particularly nationalist or conservative to begin with), and partially because of the overwhelming industrial and technological superiority of the aliens coupled with the fact that they're kind of in charge here and want to proceed with their plans of pulling the locals up the technological ladder. They're mostly hailed as saviors, at least in the initial years of the occupation, so there's no push back against their culture or presence among the native population as well.

Given these conditions, how many years - or, rather, generations, more accurately? - can it take for the original culture to dissolve and wither away under the influence of the more robust and invasive culture of an interstellar civilization, leading to the loss of a significant portion of the local lore?

By that, I mean that more than 70% of the population ceases practicing their original customs, adhering to their original religious beliefs, and so forth - the records about all of this might remain but they become historical and outdated.

Another thing to note is that the aliens don't actively try to replace the local culture, it happens on its own and almost by accident, with the whole thing going largely unnoticed.

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    $\begingroup$ How many generations? Try "how many seasons". Loss of culture does not require that the culture be forgotten, merely that it is no longer in use. This can happen scary quick, if the turmoil is enough. (like a war, famine, or in this case, alien invasion) $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Feb 12, 2021 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Genghis Khan's forces changed Afghanistan's culture so much in a few weeks that it quite arguably still has not recovered. That's an extreme example, but "improvement" to the aliens might envision something quite different than the pre-industrials think. For example, is egalitarianism or urbanism "damage" or "improvement"? David Brin wrote about this 20-30 years ago in his Uplift books: Older species altruistically "uplifting" newer, but also molding thought and culture to resemble their own. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Feb 12, 2021 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ Please do some research. First paragraph, Japan: Meiji restoration, various indigenous populations, Ireland. Second paragraph: Hollywood/ Westernization. So many historical examples.. Short answer: its complicated. $\endgroup$ Feb 12, 2021 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Having no pushback across all of humanity is less less believable than than aliens secretly being fairies and dragons. We have many human who push back against the very idea of feeding starving people. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 13, 2021 at 19:00

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The Day Your Aliens are Hailed as Saviors:

Most likely, if the aliens weren't trying to displace the old culture, there were serious problems not being addressed with society that the aliens exposed with their coming. Both the Aztecs and the Inca were fairly exploitive empires that showed little mercy to their subject peoples. The tiny number of conquistadors wouldn't have stood a chance if the local populations hadn't already been primed to adopt the devil they didn't know over the devil they did.

But consider how radically different the culture shift was from the inequities in Russia for the Bolshevik revolution. Within a handful of years, people completely shifted how they did - well - EVERYTHING. New technologies and values introduced by the aliens tore apart how things WERE getting done, opening the door for new things. I've seen it suggested that the combination of new diseases from Europe plus new agricultural products that required less dependence on a priest class to predict when to plant and harvest killed the mound builder civilization in North America. That was without any intent.

Your aliens did nothing deliberate to cause these changes. The people embraced the change on their own. As a result, the aliens are regarded as heroes like Lenin. 70% is a low target to shoot for. The range and scope of the form of these changes is so vast that any of hundreds of things could completely up-end how the locals live, eat, reproduce, work, travel, etc. rendering the old system moot. Even cultural exchange among the locals themselves could destroy the fabric of society, and the aliens would look like they had no fault whatsoever.

This is not to say that as the changes work their way through the generations, you might not have a significant number of people deciding to re-embrace their "lost" culture, or a romanticized version of it that bears little resemblance to the original. But the real living original culture can be gone in a few years, replaced by whatever can fill its place.

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I think the shortest time-frame in which this can happen is two generations.

While the old generation is grown up in the old culture, the new one is born and raised when the old one is rejecting the old culture to embrace the new one.

Think of what happened on the atolls where cargo cults have developed after WWII: the old generation grew up in the old religion, saw the Americans calling big metal birds stocked of food with colored bats and decided that their gods were more powerful than the ones they worshiped.

So they started the cargo cult while the new generation was growing up being exposed only to it. As a result the old system of cults is gone in just the space of two generations.

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It won't happen. Hawaiian nationalism is more a thing now than it was 50 years ago. Even the worship of Old Norse gods seems to be making a recovery, at least in the arts. Culture comes and goes, takes high forms and low; it's hard to analyze, hard to trace -- but unless you physically destroy all the records this civilization had, and all the records the conquerors made of it, it will be back when you least expect it.

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This is a missionary's dream. Few will fight a soft sell like this.

If I'm starving and homeless, and you offer me a mansion and a large expense account, I'm saying yes, and I'll listen attentively to you selling the advantages of your religion and culture. Whatever you're into gives me such a huge quality of life improvement I'm going to pay attention and embrace it as there is a clear benefit to me.

Given the highly favourable circumstances you've described, and the very low bar of success (only 30% don't adopt), the time to transition will be about as long as it takes to implement the new system from a logistical standpoint and advise everyone of their choices. 10 years maybe?

If the old system weren't a disaster, if the new system wasn't such a step up, it may never happen, or it may take centuries.

Especially if the new system is respectful of the old system and allows it to still exist, then nobody will protect their heritage because they don't sense a threat to it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd expect bits of the old culture (entertainment, some food, some clothing) to persist somewhat, but it certainly would be set in a radically changed context $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Feb 15, 2021 at 4:41
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It depends on how brutal your occupation is

Throughout history there have been many different types of occupations. The fastest and most compleate way to change a culture is to slaughter anyone who opposes the ideals you wish to impose. In the case of a totalitarian uprisings like Communist Russia, you can see massive cultural damage happen within just a few years. While plenty of people will still remember the old way, it is a death sentence to even talk about it. Propaganda is very effective at changing people's minds when you can not make a counter argument against it. Within a few years, even most of the supporters of the old way who have kept quite enough to survive will have a hard time remembering how things used to be; so, even trying to go back would just be an estimation.

That said, your aliens don't seem to want to be totalitarian, but they may choose to experiment with Forced Melting Pots. I believe this strategy was first implemented by the Babylonian Empire where they would round up entire conquered populations and move them into Babylonian cities. They would force these peoples to learn the Babylonian way of life before allowing them to go back to their homelands. Alexander the Great pioneered a similar but more effective approach by founding Greek colonies throughout the lands he conquered. It is really hard to say how quickly these methods can destroy a culture because they are like drinking poison: once you do it, you may not see the effects right away, but the path in that direction is set barring any extreme interventions. The Macedonian Empire only ruled over some places for a couple of years before falling apart, yet those lands still became very Hellenistic because the colonists were already there and entrenched in their societies.

The final way a culture is subverted is exposure to goods. This is what happens when one society's commodities are made commonplace somewhere else. Proliferation of goods generally does not damage another culture so much as add onto it unless the commodity actually replaces the local equivalent. For example, Sushi is now a common food to have in the United States, but it by no means replaced the Hotdog or the Hamburger. In contrast, European industrialisation made clothing so cheap in many parts of the world that the textile cottage industries in many other nations completely failed leaving other countries with only European fashion styles to choose from. In this case, part of those cultures were irrevocably destroyed. By introducing alien technology, you will likely see a lot of these changes happen very quickly, but it is unlikely that everything alien will be superior or universally preferable. So it is likely that significant portions of human culture will remain unaffected.

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    $\begingroup$ The second worst scenario is where the invaders are brutal, suppressing all that the native culture considers "traditional" with an Iron Fist. ... Worst, of course, is if they come bearing gifts, toys, new foods, new entertainment, new drugs, and 24/7 free million-channel HoloView entertainment systems for everyone. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Feb 12, 2021 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ All that kind of stuff can certainly add to a culture new things very quickly, but the OP is specifically asking about the tearing down of the old culture. HoloView entertainment systems will certainly become instantly popular, but you will still see a lot of people decades later still watching their favorite childhood movies and video-games on flat screen devices. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 13, 2021 at 5:55
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Most of the answers here are over-simplistic and deal mostly with material culture and the superficial layer of values and beliefs. Culture is much more complex and profound than this.

Take a look at Japan. While the Meiji era led to major changes in lifestyles and material culture a lot of cultural values stayed the same. WWII and post-WWII occupation brought another round of changes, yet, the core values, the culture of interpersonal relationships remained.

Going back to your question, it is hard to give you an accurate estimate since many variables are unknown: How many humans did survive? Were they displaced? Did the aliens institute a new educational system? What are the alien values? How soon were humans integrated into the galactic society? Do humans travel to other worlds? Are humans discriminated against? Do alien societies implement any newcomer assimilation practices? and so on.

The shortest time for a fundamental change in culture is 1 generation. This implies that all children go through compulsory education which includes cultural education and training. Boarding schools on alien planets where humans are mixed with aliens would be the best choice. Adults should get vocational training which includes some cultural training as well.

Another requirement is a fundamental change in the environment and daily practices. For example, instead of home-cooked meals, people eat in canteens supervised by the aliens. Personal relationships and social hierarchies should undergo changes as well. Massive changes in material culture are assumed since aliens are more technologically advanced and aim to raise the level of humanity.

Cultural assimilation should be encouraged, supported, and widely promoted. Aliens should pay attention to ghettos (do not allow their formation). Ideally, aliens should implement mandatory desegregation and mass relocation.

If all these and similar measures are implemented the grandchildren should be fully or almost fully assimilated into the alien society. Some traces of original cultures can be still found but they mostly are limited to family structures, some interpersonal interaction patterns, and systems of values.

If your aliens are not interested in intentional changes in human culture, it may take hundreds of years and many generations for the transformation of fundamental cultural values. A good example would be China where values of Confucianism persist despite massive economic and political changes. Moreover, some old cultural and ethical values might become an integral part of the identity that distinguishes humans from aliens.

I think that academic research of Westernisation and Americanisation would be of great help to you. In many cases (especially when it comes to Japan), Westernisation is similar to the situation in your world. Academic papers can give you some idea about different aspects of culture and how they are affected and also provide some insights regarding realistic timelines for cultural changes.

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It will take as long as it takes to addict the majority of the population to drugs, robbing them of ambition, education, social connections that are valuable to their future, free will, identity and self respect, and a sense of wonder. The sheep will follow.

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