# What would happen if a society's technological development were to far outstrip its cultural development?

Assume a race of intelligent humanoids, possibly far more intelligent than human beings. They have evolved and survived using nothing but their intense intellect, developing new weapons and various armaments to fight off their enemies and nature whenever the opportunity presents itself. (I'll probably develop their society more in a separate question.)

But my question now is this: What would possibly happen to a society who developed technological achievements that far outstripped any cultural/spiritual growth? For instance, if they had developed robots to do the farming for them while still being in a feudal system? Would they destroy themselves? Or would they simply accelerate through their culture as each milestone was reached?

• The trite answer would be to simply say "Look around you" :-) But instead, I'll ask you to explain exactly what (other than some long-disproven social theories by Marx &c) makes current systems more "advanced" than feudalism. – jamesqf Jul 21 '15 at 5:21
• Well, I'll assume that we consider the current system more 'advanced', because it allows more people to thrive (in theory), based on the decisions of the common man (sometimes). Granted, its not perfect, but I would say we've come a long way from the days of kings and serfs. :) – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jul 21 '15 at 6:40
• @FeaurieVladskovitz Can you prove that the current systems allow more people to thrive? In particular, can you show that quality of life would be better in a medival feudalism if it was changed to a democracy? – Taemyr Jul 21 '15 at 8:07
• @FeaurieVladskovitz, I think you've got a compelling case. In social sciences you don't ever get the 5 $\sigma$ standard deviation proofs that the physical sciences can provide. Just note that Medieval Feudalism essentially locked humanity in a relative technological and sociological stasis. As humanity began developing relatively freer societies, humanity moved into the Renaissance period. Since then the average standard of living (economic & social) has improved tremendously for the common man. – Jim2B Jul 21 '15 at 13:00
• Literacy in the church wasn't so much a monopoly jealously guarded as a sanctuary for the learning. During those periods people just couldn't spare the man-hours to learn those things. It was from the kernel of literacy in the church that knowledge grew during the Reconnaissance. I do NOT disagree that knowledge increased much more rapidly after it disseminated outside of the church. Most of my medieval studies courses highlighted the fact that if not for the monastaries almost all Western knowledge would have been lost. The church deserves much thanks from the Western world. – Jim2B Jul 23 '15 at 20:54

## 6 Answers

I would argue that this has already happened. After world war 2, soldiers were coming home wounded but otherwise in good spirits. Men were reprising their roles in the workplace and many of the technological advances made in world war 2 in production gave America a boon.

Emphasis during world war 2 was hardly cultural concerns, and yet culture sprouted around America in the 50s. You saw burger joints and rock and roll become popular. Hollywood came back in full force and started producing new films.

Nobody in America was actively seeking to enrich American culture, and yet culture blossomed from technology. Japan too after world war 2 saw a huge technological and cultural boom, which would suggest that culture fills the container left by the cavities created through technological advance.

Now why is North Korea having difficulty with culture? Despite their technological advances, their culture remains stuck in the 1940s America. I think suppression of free speech and free expression is the antithesis of culture, and I don't think their culture will evolve until they begin to have free expression.

• Huh, I actually never thought about it that way... Thanks for pointing it out! – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jul 21 '15 at 6:57
• However, we could easily see that period as the destruction of existing culture, and its replacement with something that appealed to the lowest common denominator: rock & roll instead of symphonies (denigrated as "egghead music"), burgers instead of cuisine, movies instead of books, &c. – jamesqf Jul 23 '15 at 19:26
• @jamesqf I suppose it depends on your definition of culture. Classical music is no longer produced, but I would hardly say that it is the result of "destruction of existing culture." Likewise could be said for realistic oil paintings in the late 18th century. Nowadays we produce pop rock and works of art presented on html canvases, but I would hardly call that a degradation. – Neil Jul 27 '15 at 6:31
• @Neil I'd say those aren't exactly good examples anyway as people still write symphonies and paint realistic pictures on oil canvas. There are simply more tools available these days, allowing more methods of expression. – JAB Nov 4 '16 at 21:59

I think there is some correlation between technology and culture, but not a strong one.

• Feudal systems are a web of obligations going up and down. They're often inheritable and hard to modify. Say the serfs are required to work three weeks each harvest season on the lord's fields, with the right to get a loaf of bread and a pint of beer for lunch. What happens if the lord wants to buy a GPS-controlled combine harvester? Can he make the serfs work in a factory instead, or would that be a breach of the mutual obligations?
• As technology marches on, factories get larger. The charcoal burner and the blacksmith got replaced by mines and blast furnaces. How do you get the investment capital for new factories in a feudal system? If the answer is bankers or investors, you're subverting the old political order.

On the other hand, North Korea is sliding rapidly back to a monarchy, and they have an embryonic space program.

If a feudal alien had automation, their political system despite coming from a ancient times may stick around if the elite have a hand in it. Your species, if they're traditionalist or reactionary enough may try to suppress the creation of robots to plow in the fields because they may believe that robot made food is inferior to "food made from labor" for instance. I am not one to believe in a forward/backward system for culture, so I am looking at this question through the lens of "rapid change in tech from a feudal society to a 21st century, automation-centric society in <100 years".

For instance, let's say that the Aztecs suddenly invented telescopes, galleys and trains. These technologies in theory might make the Aztecs stop their tradition of human sacrifice, right? With advancement in scientific knowledge, surely the aztecs must see how savage they're being!

Not necessarily.

Cultural developments can be quite resistant to scientific revelations and usually it may take generations for "updating of the culture" (a term that is a bit soulless, I know) to occur, if ever. The aztecs, even if they had spaceships may well continue their human sacrifice. Why, they may start directly feeding people to the sun itself ritually using ceremonial spacecraft if their priests make the case for it.

In our world consider modern Islam in the middle east. Islamists in the arab world, despite "the modern world" are quite avid in trying to make god-made law the norm and enforced like secular law by the state (despite shariah being a muslim only obligation) and will continue to do so because they have no reason to suddenly renounce their beliefs. Why would they? Just because iPhones now are a thing? Saudi Arabia may have oil and make use of cars, but politically the only changes made are changes designed to keep the status quo despite development of technologies that undermine a state's control of information. Technology may influence culture, but it doesn't inexplicably change it and conservative cultures undoubtedly will do anything they can to limit the impact of technology on traditions. In the west liberalization and secular thought were concepts that came from the enlightenment and neoclassic periods, centuries before the industrial revolution or the world we live in. Mind that the concept of secularism or liberal democracy in the West hasn't eroded people's faith in Christianity in the slightest until much more recently. And that's only due to a cynical EU that had suffered massive amounts of death in the first part of the 20th century.

A alien species that is highly conservative, but rapid innovating technologically will likely adapt the technology to their culture instead of adapting their culture to new technology. Their technological development may incidentally reflect this, because technological developments are more influenced by culture than the other way around. Information Age technology for instance, being the product of a increased need to connect to a global society.

italics = sarcasm

I suggest you to check problems happening since 1850's with some local inhabitants (Polynesia, New Zealand, Native Americans). It seems to me there will be some cultural and health problems when technology and culture doesn't match.

• I think your example may prove to be an excellent one. Can you cite some of the specific problems those cultures encountered and provide a link or two? – Jim2B Jul 21 '15 at 12:57
• I don't think those are a good examples. They were invaded by an "outside context problem" ... tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OutsideContextVillain – o.m. Jul 21 '15 at 18:07
• I am more familiar with Polynesian and Maori, the food and alchool are very bad for bodies which are not "used" to them. Plus some people have a lot less restrictions with them (mainly teached by social education). This link is quite interesting regarding health. You can check here a story of Maori adaptation to western civilisation. – Olivier Jul 21 '15 at 18:11
• @o.m. Well you got a point, but I still think that too much differences probably means a brutal social rebalance of that society. – Olivier Jul 21 '15 at 18:17

With each technological advance there may be people who are either positively or negatively influenced by it. When the civilizations of the Americas met the shockingly more advanced Europeans it was the cause for their almost complete annihilation.

While it can be said that the spanish flu had much more of a devastating impact on american civilizations than the spaniards themselves the very ability to find, navigate to, and settle on such distant and foreign land was a tribute to technology.

On the other hand European discovery of the Americas was beneficial to Europeans because technological advances were on their side. The number of people who spoke english, spanish, and portugese multiplied by several times. The same can be said for the land controlled by European powers and the number of followers of Christianity.

To relate this back to your original example those whom the technology did not favor (peasants) would have a much harder time surviving. However, those whom the technology does favor (nobles/landowners) would profit significantly from not having to pay the peasants nor for an army to protect them (but likely for an army to protect themselves from the revolting peasants).

A lot of peasants will likely die of starvation if they are unable to find new occupations. The children of the nobles will likely fight (and kill) for the right to be the heir of the now extremely powerful estate. The country, now in a state of economic and political turmoil might fall prey to foreign invasion.

While that did not happen during the post middle-age agricultural improvements in Europe, that is because the Industrial revolution introduced technology that provided occupations for all those peasants in factories.

You mean like western society?

History answers this question.

During the middle ages, Europeans were generally quite savage and blood thirsty and had extremely poor hygiene.

But they managed to sail a boat to China and stole the secret of gun powder.

They then started mass production of cannons and muskets and colonised the entire world, whole heartedly compelled by the conviction that THEY were the enlightened ones, and that everyone else was lucky to be their slaves.

Other, more pacifistic or cooperative cultures stood no chance regardless of how culturally or spiritually advanced they may have been.

• I actually considered this. Which is why I was slightly worried my race would blow themselves into smithereens. – Feaurie Vladskovitz Jul 23 '15 at 1:29
• You mention that 'History answer this question' then proceed to provide nonfactual history. I know this is world building, but your just wrong on all accounts there. WTF – FiringSquadWitness Nov 19 '15 at 5:21
• What exactly do you mean by "non-factual"? Are you asking for me to support my narrative with citations? Or are you explicitly claiming that what I said is inaccurate? If it is the later, then I require you to provide citations. – Lorry Laurence mcLarry Nov 25 '15 at 0:44
• Your understanding of that period is grossly over simplified and in some cases totally inaccurate. For instance, it was the Muslim Ottomans who used gunpowder to break through the walls of Constantinople in 1453, well before the New World was ever discovered. Europeans weren't the first outside of China to use gun powder, and not the first to use it to build an empire. I imagine if the East had discovered the New World first that the result would have been pretty similar to what actually happened- and they'd probably have told themselves something to justify their actions. – shiningcartoonist Mar 16 '16 at 17:46
• I realise that my narrative is an over simplification of history; that's what the word 'narrative' means. How could we draw any kind of conclusion or point of interest from history without drawing a narrative? And how does the ottomans using gunpowder subtract form my narrative? Uncivilised Europe stole the secret of gun powder and then went back and used it to destroy China despite china being clearly more civically advanced. I think this clearly answers the question. Hypotheticals about china colonizing the Americas is besides the point. – Lorry Laurence mcLarry Mar 17 '16 at 8:50